All you need to know about Pygmy Seahorses

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So normally for these “what I learned today” videos, they are much shorter, and just interesting little tidbits I learned that day about some ocean stuff. But this week I dove down the rabbit hole, and found out a whole lot of crazy stuff about the Pygmy seahorse.

For instance, did you know that there are actually 8 different species of pygmy seahorses named so far? Neither did I.

Most divers, if they have seen any at all, have only seen one species, the Bargibant’s, so in this article, I am going to show you the other 7, and tell you where you might find them, if you search hard enough.

Before I get started, a little disclaimer: I am AT BEST an amateur, untrained wannabe naturalist, and in no way an expert. All the information I’ve gotten for this article came from Dr. Richard Smith, the world’s first and only PhD specializing in the pygmy seahorse, who also discovered/classified that latest 2 new species.

Almost all my information comes from his site or from his book, and I am just sharing this information to you!


1. Bargibant’s Pygmy seahorse

All pygmy seahorses are relatively rare, hard to find, and still unseen by most divers, but this little guy is the most known and seen of the 8 species.

In fact, of the 8, this is the only one I’ve seen myself, despite 2100+ dives. There are a few different colorations of them, I’ve seen purple ones in Indonesia, and the red ones in Indonesia and Philippines.

If you want to go find this little dude, just like most of the rest, your best bet is to search locations within the Coral Triangle. Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, E. Timor, Papua New Guinea and probably Solomon Islands will have them. Although, still hard to find.

The Bargibant’s pygmy was classified and named only in 1970.


2. Denise’s Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus denise)

After talking to some diver friends here in Philippines, where I am now, they are actually surprised I havn’t seen a Denise’s. Apparently they are semi common in a hand full of the locations around the area.

This little fella is sometimes confused with the Bargibant’s as they can look similar, but according to Dr. Richard, while the Bargi lives almost exclusively on one species of gorgonian fan, the Denise’s has a whole range of host species.

Since all seahorses change colors and textures to adapt to their home, that means that Denise’s pygmy can come in many different colors, and textures as well, depending on their host’s polyps and “bumps”.

Ya, I know “bumps” isn’t very scientific, but…ya know.

Apparently since the Bargi and Denise’s rely so closely on delicate hosts, they are most susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss and changing water temperatures, or ocean acidification…Or anything else that might kill off delicate gorgonians and soft corals.

The Denise’s pygmy was classified and named only in 2003.


3. Ponto’s Pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi)

The Ponto’s is a much smaller pygmy, topping out at 1.7cm. I wasn’t even sure how big 1.7cm was, so I looked it up and it’s about .6 inches. Thats tiny.

Unlike the Bargibant’s and Denise’s, the Ponto’s is free ranging in their territory, and not confined to a single gorgonian. They are more often found in Halemeda and calcareous alga (ok, I just imagined finding a halimeda pipefish next to a Ponto’s pygmy seahorse).

They are found Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and possibly Fiji, at depths from 5 to 20m.

 Severn’s pygmy seahorse use to be thought of as a seperate species, although almost identical. The brown ones were Severn’s, and white ones the Ponto’s. But in 2016 they were classified as being the same species, and the name Severn’s was abandoned.

I’ve certainly never seen one, but if you do find one, look around as they like to live in pairs or even groups.


4. Satomi’s Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus satomiae)

The Setomi’s, named after a guide that collected the first known specimens, is even more hard to find, is found in very few locations, and has almost no information on it.

So far, Satomi;s have only been found in parts of Indonesia, around Derawan, Borneo and maybe the Lembeh Straights, but Dr. Richard explains that they might have have a wider range, but it is too hard to know, as this species is highly active, and only comes out at night.

Because it is nocturnal, great at camouflage, and super tiny, they are too hard to find, so little is know about them.

Actually, it is interesting to note, that the Satomi is officially the smallest known seahorse in the world, topping out at only 1.4cm.

Satomi’s pygmy seahorse wasn’t scientifically identified and named unitl 2008, and can be identified by their small size, as well as orange filaments and markings. Let me know if you ever find one of these!


5. Coleman’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus colemani)

The species was described in 2003 by Rudie Kuiter, and according to Australian Museum, it can get up to 15mm, or about half an inch. There is very little known about this pygmy, and it has only ever been confirmed to be seen around Lord Howe Island off of Australia, with a few unconfirmed reports around around New Guinea.

I really don’t know what to say about this little guy, as it is super hard to find information on them. I will say though, that I hope more people like Dr. Richard pop up and start studying these rare and threatened critters, so we have a better understanding of them.


6. Walea Soft Coral Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus waleananus) 2009

The Walea pygmy lives of various soft corals, and since those have much bigger stems to hold on to than a gorgonian, they have the longest tail of any pygmy. They need that to wrap around a hydroid or xenia.

The Walea might be one species that is in real danger of dying out. The reason is, that it is only known in one small area of the world, in the Togian Islands of central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

On top of that, it relies on delicate soft corals to survive, and if climate change and human encroachment continues to kill off soft corals around the Tomini Gulf, then the Walea will go with them.

I really hope that there is a conscious effort by someone, to help save all of these species of pygmies, and if you know of ways people are helping, let me know!


7. Japanese pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus japapigu)

The Japanese pygmy seahorse is a newly classified species, found only in Florida….. ok ok just kidding, its found only in Japan.

This is one of the new species that Dr. Richard found, and studied, and eventually helped classify. He is also the only known person to have studied this species, and there is no other research going on.

Also called the Japanese Pig, this little guy, reaching about 1.6cm, has only been found around the Izu Islands, about 180 miles from Tokyo.

Although it is possible they do have a wider range, as they do not depend on single species hosts for homes, and prefer to cling to algae tufts, in those subtropical regions.

The Japanese seahorses was only classified in 2018, and as there is so little known, this gives the next generation of marine biologists and naturalists and zoologists much more to discover.


8. Sodwana Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus nalu)

Introducing the one and only pygmy seahorse to ever be recorded in the Indian ocean!

In 2018 Dr. Richard received a photo of a strange seahorse, from a local in South Africa. He immediately recognized it as a pygmy, but then realized that no pygmy had ever been seen in the Indian Ocean! So he flew down to take a look.

With the help of that local, Savannah Nalu Olivier, he was able to photograph a handful of these new species, and eventually with the help of fellow researchers, in 2020 was able to classify and name it.

I think that is the dream come true for and scientist or naturalist!

This all just goes to show, that if in 2020 we are still finding new species that have yet to be identified, in brand new locations, then what else is out there? It’s enough to get anyone with a sense of adventure motivated to start looking!