Hide and Seek, Sea Horse Style
Clocking in at ¾ of an inch is the Pygmy Sea Horse, one of the smallest species of sea horse in the world. These little guys are so small and so well camouflaged that they were only discovered on accident in a lab studying coral that they lived on. Like other sea horses, the pygmy uses its tail to hang onto something, so that it won’t get swept up in the currents. The pygmy prefers coral, especially gorgonian, or sea fans.
There are several traits that separate the pygmy from their larger cousins. For instance, the pygmy only have one gill opening on the back of their head, instead of two opening on either side of their neck. Their snouts are also shorter, and the males brood the young inside their trunk instead of in a pouch on their tail. Besides that, they have the same fleshy head and the same prehensile tail that wraps around coral.
Anchoring themselves to the coral is actually a key part of the pygmy’s survival. They are weak swimmers, and larger fish would gobble them up in an instant. So, instead of floundering in the open water, pygmy sea horses stay around the coral, typically in clusters of about 20.
Their diet mostly consists of young bring shrimp, since they are one of the smallest creatures the pygmy actually can eat. The pygmy feeds fairly often, but they eat slowly, drawing out their meals and making the shrimp last as long as possible.
One of the reasons the pygmy wasn’t discovered until the last fifteen years is because of their camouflage. They can change the pigments of their skin to match their surroundings, making it nearly impossible to see them. Couple that with their small size, and it’s no wonder we only found them on accident.
Typically, a pygmy sea horse is yellow or orange, and some are even gray. It all comes down to location though and what coral they live on, since they change their coloration to match their homes.
These sea horses are also in a rather small area overall. They can only be found in the wild between southern Japan and Northern Australia.
Mating for the pygmy sea horse occurs all year long, depending on their levels of stress and the availability of food. If stress is low and food is high, then courtship begins. The opposite is also true: if stress is high and food is low, then there is no courtship.
Courting among the pygmy doesn’t take long. It consists of a male and female studying each other and learning the other’s behavior, but since they live in such close proximity they are already familiar with one another. The major difference between all sea horses and many other species, however, is that the females deposit their eggs into males, instead of males depositing sperm into females. The females don’t go easy, either. They’ll deposit hundreds of eggs at a time, and then they leave it all to the males. Development can take several weeks too before all those eggs hatch. It all depends on water temperature; warmer water means faster development. Once the baby pygmies are born, they are left to discover the world on their own. They receive no parental guidance of any kind. It’s okay though; they have some of the highest survival rates of underwater creatures. At least, that’s the assumption. It’s a little hard to tell when they’re so hard to find.