The dorsal fin engine of the seahorse (Hippocampus sp.)

J Morphol. 2001 Apr;248(1):80-97. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1022.


The muscles, fin ray joints, and supporting structures underlying the dorsal fin are described for two seahorse species: Hippocampus zosterae and Hippocampus erectus. A fan-shaped array of cartilaginous bones, the pterigiophores, form the internal supporting structure of the dorsal fin. Each pterigiophore is composed of a proximal radial that extends from a vertebra to the dorsal side of the animal, where it fuses to a middle radial. The middle radials fuse with each other to form a dorsal ridge upon which sit the spheroidal distal radials. Each distal radial articulates with a fin ray on its dorsal side and is attached to the dorsal ridge on its ventral side by a material that has been histologically identified as elastic cartilage. Together these connections form a two-axis joint that permits elevation, depression, and inclination of the ray. Each fin ray is actuated by two bilateral pairs of muscles, an anterior pair of inclinators, and a posterior pair of depressors. The anteriormost fin ray is actuated by three bilateral pair of muscles, the inclinators, the depressors, and a pair of elevator muscles that are positioned anterior to the inclinators. Preliminary examinations of the ray joints of the pectoral and anal fins of adult H. zostera and the pectoral fins of newborn H. erectus revealed structures similar to that seen in the dorsal fins. To further explore the structure and function of the dorsal fin gross dissections and simple functional tests were performed on H. erectus and H. barbouri and behavioral observations were made of all three species plus Hippocampus kuda.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cartilage / anatomy & histology*
  • Cartilage / physiology*
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology*
  • Extremities / growth & development
  • Extremities / physiology
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Joints / anatomy & histology*
  • Joints / physiology
  • Locomotion
  • Male
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Swimming