Pygmy seahorses are fascinating creatures with a number of sub-families, many of which are only newly discovered. In fact, the first discovery of these tiny seahorses was pure accident! In the late 1960s a biologist took a sample of a sea fan to study and discovered this miniscule and brilliantly camouflaged creature hiding within the sea fan’s branches.
When compared to other seahorses, pygmy seahorses have a shorter snout and are of course much smaller, generally growing between 2.5 and 3 cm in length.
Pygmy Seahorse – Hippocampus Bargibanti
Found in the waters that stretch between Southern Japan and Northern Australia, these seahorses are usually found in high current areas deeper than 20 metres. Due to their cryptic appearance, divers searching for pygmy seahorses are often disappointed as they often run out of bottom time when searching the sea fans, especially when the current is strong.
The body of a pygmy seahorse is covered in tubacles, tiny round outgrowths that are perfectly matched in texture and colour to the red polyps of their gorgonian sea fan hosts. Whether the sea fan’s polyps are retracted or open, seahorses are excellently hidden within the branches.
If a diver is lucky enough to come across a pygmy seahorse, the next challenge for many is proving it by taking a photo. This requires a good macro lens and a steady hand, often a difficult task when the currents are strong. Unfortunately some underwater photographers have been known to break off coral branches or interfere with the seahorse in an effort to get the perfect shot. This behaviour is of course unacceptable and any divers seen doing this should be reported immediately.
Pygmy Seahorse – Hippocampus Denise
New species of pygmy seahorses have been discovered as recently as 2003, when Denise’s Pygmy Seahorse as it is commonly known was described. Documented in the waters of Indonesia, Pulau and Borneo, this little seahorse is similar to the Hippocampus Bargibanti but is much smaller overall. It is also very mobile and moves freely around its seafan host. This doesn’t make the pygmy seahorse any easier to spot however, and it is a very uncommon sighting to see one of these fascinating creatures.
The Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti) is one of the smallest fish species in the ocean. It belongs to the family Syngnathidae, which includes all other species of seahorses, pipefish and sea dragons. This species is so small that it only grows to a maximum height of 2 cm. This is the size of the fingernail on your small finger! It can be found in the waters of the Western Pacific, Coral Sea, Northern Australia, to southern Japan and ranging into Indonesia across to Bali.
The species is associated with particular coral species, especially the red polyp gorgonian fan (Muricella sp.) that can be found at depths of over 20 metres. It seems that they have a symbiotic relationship with the coral as part of the coral grows in their skin and reacts in a wart like growth that covers their head and body. It is this disguise that makes them extremely well camouflaged on the gorgonian fans as they blend in very well with the coral polyps. The Pygmy Seahorse colour can vary from a reddish/pinkish to a pale orange colour.