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Seahorses Are The Assassins Of The Sea, New Research Finds

12/19/2013 03:00 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Choose the least dangerous animal in the following list: great white shark, seahorse, vampire squid.

If you picked seahorse, you're dead wrong. According to findings recently published in the journal of Nature Communications, the seahorse is one of the ocean's deadliest assassins, by some measures even deadlier than the shark. (Despite its fearsome name, the vampire squid doesn't hunt live prey).

While a great white's successful kill rate hovers around 48 percent, the seahorse boasts a 90 percent success rate, mainly, researchers say, because of its oddly shaped head. A seahorse head moves through the water in near "hydrodynamic silence," meaning it barely disturbs the surrounding water and does not startle its prey as it approaches.

Scientists found that seahorses float with the current, enabling them to gradually creep closer to their target. Once they've sneaked close enough, they snap their heads toward the animal -- often a tiny crustacean known as a copepod -- in a move called "pivot feeding."

Using advanced imaging techniques, researchers filmed the seahorse's kill shot in action. The movement is so imperceptibly stealthy, other copepods don't even notice. The achievement is even more remarkable, notes Ars Technica, because copepods are incredibly sensitive to movement, fleeing from "even tiny fluid deformations" around them.

Discover Magazine went one step surther, labeling the technique "the stuff of nightmares."

Despite its ruthless attitude toward copepods, seahorses face innumerable other threats. The most commonly traded seahorse species, Hippocampus erectus, is considered "vulnerable" due to its popularity in aquariums, as a curio and in traditional Chinese medicine.

WATCH the seahorse "pivot" in action, above.

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