Seahorses have always been one of my favourite types of fish, probably because since I was eight I’ve ridden horses, and so anything with ‘horse’ in its name means I automatically like it. Today’s animal, Bargibanti’s seahorse or the pygmy seahorse (I’m going to stick with pygmy seahorse because it’s easier to spell and type), is, as the name suggests, a tiny seahorse.

It is, in fact, one of the smallest seahorses in the world, only reaching 2cm in height. These little fish are only found on fan corals, where they spend their entire lives. The seahorses use their prehensile tails to latch on to the coral and then stay there, swaying with the current just like a piece of the fan coral. The seahorse’s actions aren’t the only thing that mimics the coral – their bodies do too. The pigmy seahorse’s body is coloured like that of the coral they live on, and they have tubercles all over their body that look like the feeding polyps of the fan coral.

This disguise seems to be extremely effective, for the pigmy was only discovered when scientists removed a fan coral from a reef for study. Once they placed it in a tank, I guess they noticed the little hitchhikers on the coral. Which seems like a pretty cool way to discover a species to me. Just imagine being a scientist, grabbing some coral to do some mundane tests on it (I assume), and all of a sudden you’ve found a new species of fish! I have to think that it must have been one of the best days ever. Because that’s how much I’d love to find a new species. Anyway, here’s a picture of the seahorse in its home to show you how well it blends in:

Can you find the seahorse? Pull the sliders to the left to reveal it’s location! Image By Jens Petersen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

As I said before, pigmy seahorses spend pretty much their whole lives on the host coral. They sit on the coral and open their mouths and just let seawater flow in. This brings along planktonic animals which the seahorse gobbles up. I must say, as an incredibly lazy person, I’m a little envious of seahorses. Being able to sit around and just have food fall into your mouth doesn’t seem like that bad of an idea.

Often there are multiple seahorses on one coral, which makes finding a mate pretty easy. These seahorses may be monogamous, although it’s not known for sure. What is known is that after mating the female lays her eggs in a pouch on the male’s trunk, who then incubates and takes care of the eggs. After about two weeks, the eggs hatch, and out come tiny little pigmy seahorses. Once they’ve hatched the parents no longer take responsibility for their children and leave them to their own devices.

Image By Steve Childs – originally posted to Flickr as Hippocampus bargabanti, CC BY 2.0

Because of their unusual looks and cuteness, pigmy seahorses seem like prime candidates for the aquarium trade, but so far this has not been the case. Most likely this is due to the fact that when put in captivity, all pigmy seahorses and the corals they live on have died. Which is a pretty good defence against been harvested, I have to say. I do think pigmy seahorses are adorable, and hopefully they continue to flourish in coral communities.

Cover image By Christian Gloor from Wakatobi Dive Resort, Indonesia – Pygmy seahorse, CC BY 2.0