Fascinating Facts About Pygmy Seahorses

Among the World's Smallest Seahorses

pigmy horse
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The common pygmy seahorse or Bargibant's seahorse is one of the tiniest known vertebrates. This seahorse was named after the scuba diver who discovered the species in 1969 while collecting specimens for the Noumea Aquarium in New Caledonia.

This tiny, expert camouflage artist thrives among gorgonian corals in the genus Muricella, which they hang on to using their long prehensile tail. Gorgonian corals are more commonly known as a sea fan or sea whip. 

Description

Bargibant's seahorses have a maximum length of 2.4 cm, which is less than 1 inch. They have a short snout and fleshy body, with many tubercles that help them blend into the knobby setting of the coral. On their head, they have a spine above each eye and on each cheek.

There are two known color morphs of the species: pale grey or purple with pink or red tubercles, which are found on gorgonian coral Muricella plectana, and yellow with orange tubercles, which are found on gorgonian coral Muricella paraplectana.

The color and shape of this seahorse nearly perfectly matches the corals on which it lives. Check out a video of these tiny seahorses to experience their incredible ability to blend in with their surroundings.

Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Gasterosteiformes
  • Family: Syngnathidae
  • Genus: Hippocampus
  • Species: bargibanti

This pygmy seahorse is one of 9 known species of pygmy seahorse. Due to their amazing camouflage ability and tiny size, many pygmy seahorse species have only been discovered over the past 10 years, and more may be discovered. In addition, many species have different color morphs, making identification even more difficult.

Feeding

Not much is known about this species, but they are thought to feed on tiny crustaceans, zooplankton and possibly the tissue of the corals on which they live. Like larger seahorses, food moves through their digestive system quickly so they need to eat nearly constantly. Food also needs to be located close by, as seahorses can't swim very far.

Reproduction

It is thought that these seahorses may be monogamous. During courting, males change color and get a female's attention by shaking his head and flapping its dorsal fin.

Pygmy seahorses are ovoviviparous, but unlike most animals, the male carries the eggs, which are contained in an on his underside. When mating occurs, the female transfers her eggs into the male's pouch, where he fertilizes the eggs. About 10-20 eggs are carried at one time. The gestation period is about 2 weeks. The young hatch looking like even tinier, mini seahorses.

Habitat and Distribution

Pygmy seahorses live on gorgonian corals off Australia, New Caledonia, Indonesia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines, in water depths of about 52-131 feet.

Conservation

Pygmy seahorses are listed as data deficient on the IUCN Red List due to lack of published data on population sizes or trends for the species. 

Sources

  • Feng, A. 2009. Pygmy Seahorses. Fusedjaw.com. Accessed January 30, 2016.
  • Lourie, S.A., A.C.J. Vincent and H.J. Hall, 1999. Seahorses: an identification guide to the world's species and their conservation. Project Seahorse, London. 214 p. In Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2015.FishBase(10/2015) .  Accessed January 30, 2016.
  • McGrouther, M. Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley, 1970. Australian Museum. Accessed January 30, 2016.
  • Project Seahorse. 2003. Hippocampus bargibanti. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2003: e.T10060A3158205. Accessed January 30, 2016.
  • Stockton, N. 2014. Baby Pygmy Seahorses Are Even Cuter Than You Think. Wired. Accessed January 30, 2016.