Beware the Mighty Seahorse, Predator Extraordinaire

They look delicate but these tiny fish have a predation success rate that lions would envy.

They don't realize it yet, but the tiny crustaceans on which seahorses love to feed don't stand a chance. A seahorse is coming in for the kill. In less than a millisecond, the relentless predator sucks down the hapless copepod.

There's more to the seahorse than grace and beauty, it turns out. Using advanced high speed camera technology, scientists in Texas have demonstrated that the seahorse has a hunting technique that makes it among the most lethal predators on the planet.

The seahorse is one of nature's slowest swimmers, but that, say researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, is the secret of its hunting success. Its angled head produces no disturbance in the water, leaving prey oblivious to its presence...until it's too late.

The researchers used a high speed camera technique called 3D digital holography to illustrate the fish's skill.

Copepods can escape a predator at more than 500 body lengths per second - fast, but not fast enough to avoid becoming the seahorse's supper.

Once a copepod is within range, the seahorse is able to catch its prey more than 90 percent of the time. Those are odds, the researchers say, that prove the mighty seahorse as one of nature's most effective killers.

Lionesses for instance have had to resort to cooperative hunting in order to improve their chances of impala for brunch but even with the help of the sisters, their success rate is believed to max out at about 38%.

By the way, "seahorse" is not one type - there are 54 known species of the fish, and they're all pretty small. They are found mainly but not exclusively in warmer waters, and three known species live in the Mediterranean Sea. But for all their fierceness in predation, they're a shy bunch and not easy to spot in the wild.