Pygmy Seahorse [Hippocampus bargibanti]

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a pregnant male

The pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti, is a seahorse of the family Syngnathidae in the western central Pacific. It is tiny, from few millimeters to 2.4 cm. There are two known color variations: grey with red tubercles (on gorgonian coral Muricella plectana), and yellow with orange tubercles (on gorgonian coral Muricella paraplectana).

This species is known to occur only on gorgonian corals of the genus Muricella, and has evolved to resemble its host. The tubercles and truncated snout of this species match the color and shape of the polyps of the host gorgonian, while its body matches the gorgonian stem. The camouflage is so effective, the original specimens were discovered only after their host gorgonian had been collected and placed in an aquarium.

The pygmy seahorse is found in coastal areas ranging from southern Japan and Indonesia to northern Australia and New Caledonia on reefs and slopes at a depth of 10-40 m.

Well-camouflaged pygmy seahorse on a gorgonian coral Muricella plectana. See this image to identify the pygmy seahorse. On the lower portion of the abdomen, males have a brood pouch in which the female lays her eggs. They are fertilized by the male, and incubated until birth. (text source: Wikipedia)

Pictures: Misool Islands, Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia by Sami Salmenkivi

Denise’s Pygmy Seahorse [Hippocampus denise]

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Denise’s pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus denise, is a species of fish in the Syngnathidae family. It is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Its natural habitat is coral reefs. The pygmy seahorse is undoubtedly one of the most well camouflaged species in the oceans, being very difficult to spot amongst the gorgonian coral it lives in. The camouflage is so effective that the species wasn’t actually discovered until its host gorgonian was being examined in a lab.

Large, bulbous tubercles cover this species’ body and match the color and shape of the polyps of its host species of gorgonian coral, while its body matches the gorgonian stem. Two color morphs exist – pale gray or purple individuals scattered with pink or red tubercles are found on the similarly colored gorgonian coral Muricella plectana, and yellow with orange tubercles are found on gorgonian coral Muricella paraplectana. It is not known whether individuals can change color if they change hosts.

The seahorses combine the unique characteristics of several different animal species such as the head of a Horse, using its tail,(grasping) like a monkey, it carries its young in a pouch like a Kangaroo, has a bony external skeleton like an insect and the independent eye movement of a Chameleon making this one of the most spectacular of any fish species. Other distinctive characteristics include a fleshy head and body, a very short snout, and a long, prehensile tail. This is also one of the smallest seahorse species in the world, typically measuring from few millimeters to 2 cm in height. The male carries eggs and young concealed within the trunk region. They are the only creature known where the male gives birth to young live ponies.

The male Seahorse courts the female by attaching his tail to a “hitching post” next to the female and vibrates his tiny Dorsal Fin rapidly to attract her attention. Eventually, she will respond to his advances by extending her “egg tube” slightly and grasping his tail twirling and spinning towards the top of the water while delivering her eggs into the males expanded open pouch. They swim in an upright position with their tails down and their heads up. Their dorsal fin moves them forward and the pectoral fin controls steering and turning. Very little is known about their life cycle. They are thought to eat the same zooplankton as the seafans that they inhabit and they seem to prefer seafans to other family members, as there are normally few other inhabitants on a pygmy’s seafan.

Seahorses are found all over the world and inhabit coral reefs and sea grass beds. They are Widespread in the Western Pacific, including in waters around Indonesia, Malaysia, Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Vanutu. (text source: Wikipedia)

Pictures: Misool Islands, Raja Ampat, Papua, Indonesia by Sami Salmenkivi