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Pygmy Seahorses (Teleostei: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus)

Pygmy seahorses are among the smallest vertebrates known. To date nine distinct pygmy seahorse species have been identified, i.e. Hippocampus bargibanti, H. colemani, H. debeliusH. denise, , H. minotaur, H. pontohi, H. severnsi, H. satomiae and H. waleananus. Refer to the article* by Lourie and Kuiter for detailed explanations and comparative features of these tiny fishes.

Due to their size and scarcity, it is extremely hard to spot a pygmy seahorse in a single dive. Their tendency to live on a particular coral, algae or hydroids dictates where to look for them. I send my gratitude to all of the eyes of experienced dive guides, who are just as eager as I to find at least one in every dive.

They are so famous and glorious amongst experienced underwater photographers, being that their body ornamentation is exceptional. The most bewitching attribute of these animals is obviously the head and eyes. They readily stand attached to the, “housing coral”, or, “hydroid”, often hooked up by their tails. They are usually found hanging up to the closest arm of the coral and swinging back and forth. When disturbed, they prefer to jump to an adjacent coral arm or swim for a few seconds and end up holding another arm.

Click here for other seahorse species on Alp Can Photo Portfolio.

*Lourie SA, Kuiter RH: Three new pygmy seahorse species from Indonesia (Teleostei: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus). Zootaxa 1963: 54-68, 2008.

Photo Tips

Camera: It is totally ineffective using a “point and shoot camera” to picture these tiny animals. Any SLR camera with an appropriate lens is a must.

Lens: Undoubtedly, a macro lens is needed. Additionally, I prefer to use a close-up lens with +2 or +3 dioptry in front of my 60 mm or 105 mm macro lens.

Exposure: Since they prefer current water, a higher exposure value is needed (as a rule, I set the exposure value to >250).

Aperture: It is always risky to set the aperture to lower values, which would highlight the in-focus animal among a blurry background. So, it is wise to set the aperture to higher values (I prefer >28).

Lighting: Strobes (preferably from two opposite directions) having short recycle time would be beneficial. Undoubtedly, I set the strobes to TTL mode.

Hippocampus denise Lourie & Randall, 2003

It is identified as its plain orange color. It has relatively smooth body curvatures lacking anal fin. Its total size was reported as 1.5 cm. It lives in rather deeper water (>25 meters) specifically on gorgonian Annella Reticulata. I took those presented photos at Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia 2010.


Hippocampus pontohi Lourie & Kuiter, 2008

Hippocampus pontohi has been recently identified (December 2008) by Lourie & Kuiter as a new species in the seahorse family (Syngnathidae), after being discovered in 2003 by Hence Pontoh who was a dive guide in the Bunaken Marine Park, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. This is where I took the below images on August 2008 at a depth of 16 meters.

This tiny seahorse just 1.4-1.7 cm in size, is often found closely associated with certain algae or hydroids jumping from one to the other.

The color variation ranges from white to yellow, to red. It is extremely rare compared to H. bargibanti or H. denise.


Hippocampus bargibanti
Whitley 1970

It is the most well recognized pygmy seahorse found in the Western Central Pacific. It is found from southern Japan to Indonesia.

Hippocampus bargibanti” is no larger than about 2.4 cm. Nevertheless, it is relatively bigger compared to other pygmy seahorses.

There are two known color variations; grey with red tubercles (on gorgonian coral Muricella plectana), and yellow with orange tubercles (on gorgonian coral Muricella paraplectana). It lives in deep water (+20 meters) and in current areas. Its extremely cryptic body shape, coloration and skin texture make it extremely hard to spot. As in the other seahorse species, the male carries the eggs in a brood pouch, which is found under the tail.

I took these presented photos off the Sipadan and Mabul Islands, Malesia 2009, and the Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia 2010.






















Hippocampus severnsi Lourie & Kuiter, 2008

The smallest pygmy seahorse recorded so far. Practically, it is identified as a tiny black spot on the hydroid Halicordyle disticha. Its total size was reported as 1.5 cm. Nevertheless, only 0.5-0.7 cm of its body could be identified since it uses its tail to hold the hydroid. Based on my observations, this species is rather stationary. It does not tend to move from one location to another. It rather conceals itself by decreasing its mass. This makes for a rather narrow view from a camera angle.

This is one of the rarest species among other pygmy seahorses. I had a chance to find it in the, Raja Ampat, Indonesia on a complex hydroid, at a 8-meter deep.


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