Over 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 (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 16 – 40 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).