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Who Knew? Seahorses Are Stone Cold Killers: VIDEO

Sharks? They're pussycats in comparison.

Piranhas? More like hah-hahs.

Sea snakes? Call them sea fakes.

According to new research from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, the pokey little seahorse is an aquatic killing machine:

"In calm conditions, seahorses are the best at capturing prey of any fish tested. They catch their intended prey 90 percent of the time."

Why are these inch-long creatures such effective killers? "Their heads are perfectly shaped," the Texas team says.

It seems that "a dwarf seahorse can sneak unnoticed remarkably close to prey — less than a penny's thickness away — thanks to the way the horsey head shape moves through water," Science News writes. It adds that:

"New imaging reveals a seahorse trick. As its head nears the prey, a zone of water above the front of the tip of its snout stays calm. ... The trick fools copepods, which rely on antenna hairs to pick up the incoming whoosh of water in front of an attacking predator."

Copepods are tiny crustaceans that the seahorses devour.

The Texas researchers have used high-speed digital 3-D holography to capture what happens as a seahorse creeps close and than snaps up its prey. Remarkably, the university says that what you see in their video is in slow motion — and the kill is still lightning quick.

Here's another astounding passage from the university's report about the research that shows how copepods aren't just slugs sitting around waiting to be eaten:

"Copepods escape predators when they detect waves produced in advance of an attack, and they can jolt away at speeds of more than 500 body lengths per second. That equates to a 6-foot person swimming under water at 2,000 mph."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.