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Liberated seahorse dads carry the babies

Seahorses are unique in the way they love and mate.  

From Kathy Slobogin
CNN Medical Unit

(CNN) -- When it comes to the burdens of parenthood, women usually trump men with one simple fact -- only females can get pregnant and give birth.

Think again. Behold the pregnant male seahorse.

"Seahorses are the only kind of animal in the world in which it's the male that gets pregnant," says Alison Scarratt, curator of fishes at the Baltimore Aquarium.

Scarratt says the seahorse is unique in the animal kingdom. It's is also one of nature's true romantics.

Seahorses are faithful to each other and -- in some species -- for life. Even a tankful of available singles won't tempt them. When mating, seahorses do a kind of dance -- tails linked, inseparable.

"They'll promenade around the bottom, twirling around sea grass shoots or corals and this is a daily dance that will happen every single morning between them," says Scarratt.

Gallery: Love -- seahorse style 

The female injects eggs into the male, who has a pouch where the eggs are fertilized and nurtured till they're born.

A seahorse, depending on the species, can deliver between 15 and 1,000 babies at a time and can deliver in the morning and get pregnant again in the afternoon. Then again, the delivery only takes half an hour.

CNN took an informal poll of the public and found that overall, men don't suffer from seahorse envy.

"I think I'm glad I'm not a seahorse," comments one man.

"I've always thought it was wonderful that my wife did the job," comments another.

And how do people think the world would change if men could get pregnant?

"I think there'd be a lot less children running around," says Eric Bensing.

And Guy Cox says, "I don't think epidurals would be optional -- I think it would be required."

But Jenny Childress notes, "I think women would be making more than men."

"They would probably have about five to 10 years of maternity leave," says another woman.

The male seahorse may sound like a fantasy parent. In fact the female, behind the scenes, does a lot of the work. She thoughtfully packs nutrients for the babies in the egg lining before she mates with the male.

But once the male seahorse delivers, the kids are on their own. The perfectly formed miniature adults go on to feed on their own in the ocean currents till they, too, find a mate.




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