Coastal waters of Indo-West Pacific Ocean
Visual planktivore (predator)
Class Actinopterygii, Order Syngnathiformes, Family Syngnathidae (pipefishes and seahorses)
Hippocampus bargibanti, known commonly as the pygmy seahorse, is one of five known species of pygmy seahorses. They are found in the Indo-West Pacific at depths of 52.5 to 131 feet (16-40 m) and live exclusively on gorgonian corals of the genus Muricella.
As their name suggests, pygmy seahorses are tiny fish that are nearly indistinguishable from their habitats due to their size and extreme camouflage. They are so well camouflaged that Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse was only discovered after a host gorgonian was collected and observed by marine biologist George Bargibant.1 2
Pygmy seahorses grow to an average size of 0.55 to 1.06 inches (1.4 to 2.7 cm).2 Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse grows to a maximum length of 0.94 inches (2.4 cm) and has rounded tubercles on its body that matches the color and shape of its host gorgonian coral. This species is usually one of two colors: purple with pink tubercles or yellow with orange tubercles, depending on the host gorgonian’s color. A single gorgonian can be home to up to 28 pairs of Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses.1
Pygmy seahorses, including Bargibant’s, presumably feed on small crustaceans, but more research is needed to confirm the genus’ feeding habits.3
Like all other seahorses, pygmy seahorses give birth to live young. Breeding pairs of Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses are possibly monogamous. Males brood the eggs in a pouch for about two weeks1 before giving birth to upward of 34 young. Newborns are each a mere 0.07 inches (2 mm) long.4
Coral reef degradation, habitat loss, ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures are some of the threats pygmy seahorses face. As a coastal species, Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses suffer from habitat destruction through indiscriminate fishing practices like blast fishing and gillnetting, as well as pollution and coastal development. The species is also impacted by the effects of climate change, including increased ocean acidification and temperatures, that harm pygmy seahorse coral reef habitats. Further research is needed to understand the full extent of these threats on pygmy seahorses and their host gorgonians.3
1. Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses live between 52.5 to 131 feet (16-40 m) deep.
2. Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses grow to a maximum length 0.94 inches (2.4 cm).
3. Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses take the color of whichever species of gorgonian corals they live on.1
4. Unlike other seahorses, male pygmy seahorses use a pouch in their trunk – not their tail – to brood their young.
5. The Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse was discovered accidentally in 1969 on a gorgonian coral being examined and was the first pygmy seahorse species to be discovered.2
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