When marine biologist George Bargibant was examining the Muricella spp gorgonians (soft corals) he had collected for the Nouméa museum, he stumbled upon a tiny surprise. He found that the specimen on his dissection table had two stowaways: a pair of seahorses no bigger than his thumb. He initially hadn’t noticed them because of how well they blended in with their host. And so, on what would have been an otherwise unremarkable day in 1969, the scientist discovered the first-ever pygmy seahorse species known to science, Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti).
Found in various areas in the Philippines, Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses grow up to 0.94 in (2.4 cm) long. They feature rounded tubercles or skin nodules that match their skin color, which in turn matches the color of their gorgonian host: pink for the purple-skinned ones, and orange for those with a yellowish hue. To give you a better idea of how small they are, up to 28 pairs—that’s 56 seahorses—can fit on a single gorgonian.
It took more than three decades before marine scientists discovered other pygmy seahorse species. Little is known about the feeding habits of these fascinating creatures, though experts say they likely eat small crustaceans. Unfortunately, these mini-seahorses are at risk of getting wiped out, due in no small part to coral reef deterioration, habitat loss, and rising ocean temperatures brought about by the ongoing climate crisis.
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