Which is the only animal in which the male gives birth?

Question: Which is the only animal in which the male gives birth?

Show answer

The seahorse.

In the animal kingdom, the most notable example of a species in which the male gives birth is the seahorse. This unusual and fascinating reproductive strategy sets seahorses apart from nearly all other animals. While there are other examples in nature where males play a significant role in the care of eggs and young, seahorses are unique in that the males actually carry and birth live offspring.

Seahorses belong to the genus Hippocampus, within the family Syngnathidae, which also includes pipefish and sea dragons. In these species, reproduction involves a distinctive role reversal: female seahorses deposit their eggs into a specialized pouch located on the front of the male’s body. This reproductive pouch in males functions somewhat like a womb.

During mating, the female seahorse transfers her eggs into the male’s brood pouch. The male then fertilizes the eggs inside the pouch. Following fertilization, the male effectively becomes pregnant. The eggs are incubated in the pouch, where they receive nutrients, oxygen, and protection from the male. Throughout the gestation period, the male nurtures the developing embryos, regulating the conditions within the pouch to ensure their well-being, adjusting for salinity, oxygen levels, and temperature.

After a gestation period that can vary from 10 days to six weeks, depending on the species, the male undergoes a process akin to labor, expelling the fully developed, miniature seahorses from the pouch. This birthing process can be quite strenuous and can last for hours, with the male contorting and writhing to release the young seahorses.

This remarkable reproductive strategy is thought to have several advantages. By the male carrying the offspring, seahorses can produce more young in a given breeding season, as females can start producing the next batch of eggs while the male is still pregnant. Additionally, having the male invest in the care of the young ensures a high level of paternal investment in the survival of the offspring, which can be a beneficial strategy in their specific ecological niches.