How many Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses do you see?

By Kately Nikiforuk

In April we were showered with Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse observations! iSeahorse user nudisusie (aka Susannah Erbe) spotted nearly a dozen of these knobbly cuties clinging to a single seafan in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. But just how many Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses were captured in this snapshot?

bargibanti-iseahorse-nudisusie.jpeg

At first glance, it might look like there’s one camouflaged seahorse in the centre of the frame. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see another seahorse to the right, even tougher to distinguish from the surrounding coral than the first. Then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll see yet another seahorse to the left – which, this time, really is just a branch of coral.

Considering their tiny size and knack for hiding, it’s impressive that there are divers with the skill, passion and patience to spot a Hippocampus bargibanti, and we really appreciate each and every pygmy seahorse observation submitted to iSeahorse. If you want to be the next person to do so, please be sure to read the Code of Conduct Guidelines for pygmy seahorse photography, created by Dr. Richard Smith (iSeahorse’s global pygmy seahorse expert). His easy-to-follow rules include not damaging gorgonian coral with your fins, minding the direction of your exhalant bubbles, and no night diving so you don’t wake sleepy seahorses.

The reason for the don’t-destroy-gorgonians-with-your-fins rule (other than for the coral’s sake, of course) is that this easily damaged coral is crucial for H. bargibanti survival. They are extreme habitat specialists that live on a single gorgonian coral - a bond lasting for the duration of the seahorse’s life. In fact, the Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse was accidentally discovered in 1969 when a scientist brought gorgonian coral back to a lab and noticed hitch-hiking pygmy seahorses upon close examination. H. bargibanti was the first pygmy seahorse known to science, so biologists have only known for 50 years that pygmy seahorses even exist. Several pygmy species were discovered within the last two decades, and the Japanese pygmy seahorse was formally described only last year.

There is still so much to learn about these incredible creatures - thanks, nudisusie, for contributing to pygmy seahorse research!

Find out more here:

https://www.iseahorse.org/Observations/Details/22988913

https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/10060/54904073