Sunday, February 15, 2015

Killers on the Reef

I came to Murder is Everywhere in part because I write mystery novels set in samurai-era Japan -- but my "prime directive" also included my hobby: life on the reef.

A writer's life doesn't have enough distractions, so I also have a 60-gallon marine (salt water) seahorse reef, which sits beside my writing desk.

How's that for a distraction?

Seahorses are one of nature's strangest predators. They have no fangs--no teeth at all--no claws, no spikes, and no poison.

Instead of arms and legs, they have only four tiny fins for locomotion (the smallest of which is really only a rudder).

Not as easy as it looks.

And yet, in the wild, they eat only live, meaty foods: small shrimp and crustaceans foolish enough to swim or wander near the seahorse's hiding place,

See horse? He sees you.

or which the seahorse manages to "dive bomb" in midwater.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

In many places, seahorses are endangered in the wild, so my seahorses are all captive-bred, from a breeder in Florida. I have six at the moment:

Ghillie, the oldest, who I've had since he was a baby. He's a four year-old male, and he's even had babies once himself. (Now he's the self-styled protector of little Magellan.)

Big Ghillie, little Magellan - buddies.

Kirin and Vega are five months old - I got them at Christmastime, 2014:

Kirin (front) and Vega (behind) eating from a feeding station.

along with Magellan, who's the same age as Kirin and Vega, but much smaller (we'll discuss his issues another time).

Magellan: small but determined.

Finally, Rigel (top) and Moya - who arrived last week.

Rigel and Vega, hanging out on the reef.

In the wild, seahorses are territorial ambush predators. Their eyes move independently, like a chameleon's, and seahorses also possess the ability to change their colors and patterns at will. Most of the time, they opt for colors that blend into the environment, but when mating or communicating with one another, they can (and do) turn any color.

Vega, "blushing" to get Ghillie's attention.

(Ghillie tends to favor pink and mauve when he's in the mood.)

The title "murder on the reef" most likely made you think of sharks, or other dangerous creatures from below. Adjusted for size, the seahorses and other syngnathids--the sea dragon and the pipefish--are actually far more aggressive, and ruthless, than many creatures people fear far more.

Hang around...these guys will be back in coming weeks.

-- Susan ... on a bloody Valentine's Sunday under the sea.


  1. Susan, I have met (cyberilly--a word that should exist) those fascinating creatures on the your Facebook page. I am so happy to hear more about them here. I would not get a thing done if they were mine.

    1. Thanks Annamaria! Sometimes they are a distraction, but in a good way. Also, at least they keep my butt in the chair!


  2. Fascinating! Somehow I thought seahorses would graze peacefully in a languid cream tea and cucumber sandwich kind of way instead of their real life Sawney Bean tactical deployment. .... Anyway, my new book has a huge aquarium featured in it, which houses the intriguingly named Prince Axel Wonder Fish.

    1. They're definitely more on the Sawney Bean side of the scale. I love that fish name. I have a watchman goby named Emperor Maximus Angryfish I. We'll meet Max in another post down the line.

  3. Susan, you're living my one-time dream, and Caro, you're writing about it. As a child, my brother had seahorses and I was fascinated by them. When I was a daydreaming college student--way too often--I'd sit in class and doodle away at creating my dream house: built underground into a hillside with its rear wall a massive sea-water aquarium.

    Alas, that's not come to pass, though I guess you could say the spirit of the sea horse has stayed with me, for there are stables at my farm and I live by the sea. Trouble is, they're in different parts of the world. :(

    1. Stables are a dream of mine, Jeff. I was a competitive rider in High School and I've loved horses (land and aquatic varieties) all my life. I also dream of a wall-sized aquarium - my husband and I have plans to build one into a house someday. Our only disagreement is whether it will hold seahorses (my choice) or lion fish (his preference) since they can't live together.

      Maybe we'll need two walls...

    2. Or an extra thick wall with TWO aquariums back to back, so you can through both of them, and see everything "together" ... and yet apart?

    3. "... so you can SEE through both of them..." Sigh.

  4. I had too much trouble keeping a FRESH-water tank going, I'm afraid I'd be a total failure at a salt-water tank!

    AmA: cyberilly IS a word. It describes the behavior of someone (take silly Jeff, for example) who is almost always oddly humorous when writing on-line. A second, but lesser known, meaning is a hick who lives in the sticks (take hillbilly Jeff, for example) who somehow also has a computer and knows how to use it. But I can see your usage and definition catching on, too...

    1. I started with fresh water, and like any addiction, it grew over time...

      Fortunately, salt water is a LOT easier now than it was even a few years ago. I can buy my water pre-mixed, and only have to do a little chemistry to keep it going properly. The biggest time-sink is keeping the seahorses fed, because they have to eat three times a day.

  5. Fascinating is the word. I had one when I was a child, but not for long. I was a kid. I didn't know about the different colors.

    1. Thank you! It was surprising to me too, to learn how completely and how often they can change.

  6. I am just fascinated by these little guys! Thanks for sharing their stories, and I can't wait to read more about them -- and what fabulous photos!

    1. Thanks Lisa! I'm fascinated by them too (as my Facebook wall attests...). They're amazing creatures, and far more complex than I thought before I started raising them, for sure.

  7. I like this a lot. Thank you for sharing. I'm always looking for upcycles like this. In the end, you don't know it was a shipping pallet to begin with!
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