AboutZoos, Since 2008


Pygmy sea­horse, mas­ters of camouflage

pub­lished 13 Decem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 13 Decem­ber 2014

Pygmy seahorseOver the sum­mer, biol­o­gists from the Cal­i­for­nia Acad­emy of Sci­ences in San Fran­cisco returned from an expe­di­tion to the Philip­pines with some very rare and diminu­tive guests, a mat­ing pair of pygmy sea­horses. The two tiny fish, each shorter than an inch and bright orange, were col­lected as part of a larger study of the stun­ning bio­di­ver­sity found in the “Twi­light Zone” of the ocean. It’s a rel­a­tively unex­plored envi­ron­ment located at depths where the bright trop­i­cal sun­light barely penetrates.

Pygmy sea­horses live their entire adult lives attached to a type of vibrant coloured coral called a Gor­gon­ian sea fan. The sea­horses use their long tails to grab on to the del­i­cately branched sea fans. But what’s really amaz­ing is their abil­ity to match the coral’s bright colour and knobby tex­ture. They blend in so per­fectly that they are nearly invis­i­ble to both preda­tors and researchers, even to a trained eye.

(Source: Deep Look YouTube channel)

Researchers of the Cal­i­for­nia Acad­emy of Sci­ences are among the first to study these tiny, fas­ci­nat­ing pygmy sea­horses. They have suc­cess­fully bred them in cap­tiv­ity for the first time. Finally, they’re able to study the sea­horses’ amaz­ing act of cam­ou­flage up close.

(Source: Cal­i­for­nia Acad­emy of Sci­ences YouTube channel)

The pygmy sea­horse
The pygmy sea­horse (Hip­pocam­pus bargibanti) is one of the small­est sea­horse species, mea­sur­ing less than 2 cm in height. It has a spe­cific habi­tat, being found only on gor­gon­ian corals (Muri­cella plectana) at depths rang­ing from 1640 metres. Fur­ther, very lit­tle is known about this tiny sea­horse species, though it appears to form pairs and may be monog­a­mous. They can be found in ocean waters around Aus­tralia (Queens­land), Indone­sia, New Cale­do­nia, Papua New Guinea and Philip­pines.
Major threats to the species are cur­rently unknown, how­ever, their attrac­tive coloura­tion makes it pos­si­ble they could be col­lected for the aquaria trade.
Over­all, there is so lit­tle infor­ma­tion avail­able on the pygmy seahorse’s extent of occur­rence, area of occu­pancy and pop­u­la­tion size that the species could not be assessed against any of the IUCN cri­te­ria of the Red List of Threat­ened Species. There­fore its con­ser­va­tion sta­tus is cur­rently listed as Data Defi­cient (DD).

(Source: KQED Sci­ence, 21.10.2014; Cal­i­for­nia Acad­emy of Sci­ences, sci­ence news 06.10.2014; IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species)

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