Photograph by Steve Childs

Pygmy Seahorse

The term pygmy seahorse is not used for denoting a single species – it is the collective name of a group of seven species of tiny fishes, most of them measuring up to 2 cm, with fused jaws that make them look like small horses.

The Habitat and Distribution of The Pygmy Seahorse

These tiny creatures are very clumsy swimmers. Therefore, they prefer warm and shallow water areas, usually in the range of 16-40 m in depth, where the currents are very mild and food is available in abundance. Found mainly in the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia, pygmy seahorses usually live among the corals, some of them exclusively on and around fan coral colonies, while others hiding in sea grass meadows.

The Physical Features of the Pygmy Seahorse

These tiny fish are horse-shaped masters of camouflage. They are bony fish, with their bones arranged in rings and covered in thin, stretched and scale-less skin that is covered in bumps called tubercles. Their rigid body does not allow them to swim like other fish – they advance in a strange, belly-first fashion, helping themselves with their tiny fins located on the sides of their head. Being so small and awkwardly shaped, they need all the help they can get to be able to hide from predators. They can change color rapidly, within milliseconds and melt into their environment, becoming perfectly invisible to their enemies – the first pygmy seahorses were actually discovered by accident when scientists examined a gorgonian coral in the lab and they found the tiny creatures among the branches, looking exactly like the coral stem itself. Finally, here’s another strange physical feature of these tiny creatures: they have only one gill, not a pair of gills like other, larger species.

Feeding Habits of This Tiny Seahorse

Pigmy seahorses feed on small shrimps and other crustaceans that float around in the water, but they are also known to prey on other species such as copepods and the larvae of other animals. They make the most out of their strange swimming style – their peculiar way of locomotion makes it possible for them to approach their prey unnoticed, so they come as close as possible and then quickly grasp the prey. They also feed on planktons. Pygmy seahorses have no digestive tracts, therefore they eat almost all the time – when they don’t eat, they rest to recover after the exhaustion caused by the hunt for food and by the process of eating.

What Are the Mating Habits of the Pygmy Seahorse?

Many species belonging to the group are known to be monogamous, living in pairs. The mating season lasts all year long. Strangely, it is not the female, but the male individual that carries the fertilized eggs, releasing young seahorses, usually 6-34 of them at a time, only when they are sufficiently strong. When released, juveniles look exactly like their parents in miniature and are completely independent and able to take care of themselves. After that, they don’t receive any more care from their parents – once out in the water, the young pygmy seahorse is completely left to its own devices.

Blane Perun

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Whale in Ocean