The secret world of pygmy seahorses, where males give birth – photo essay

After spending loads of hours watching pygmy seahorses for my doctorate, I knew precisely when Tom, a Denise’s pygmy seahorse in Sulawesi, Indonesia, would give start. He swam with nice unravel (1) from the place he slept every evening along with his spouse, Josephine, in opposition to the present, to the brink of the gorgonian seafan (one of those coral) that the 2 inhabited.

He by no means faltered. On the fringe of the coral, the present was once at its most powerful, providing the best likelihood of sweeping his offspring out to the relative protection of the open ocean.

A male Denise’s pygmy seahorse’s urinogenital opening.



Having grabbed directly to the brink of the gorgonian along with his tail, Tom started to present start. Over a number of events I witnessed him free up between six and 12 fry. The labour was once clearly onerous and he was once crunched over, panting for breath. Two of the dark-coloured fry are noticed right here (2) forcefully being expelled from his brood pouch. With adults measuring not up to 2cm in duration, the fry are simply 2-3mm lengthy. Their darkish color offers them some extent of camouflage within the open ocean and they’re going to spend two to 3 weeks floating freely in currents, earlier than settling to a gorgonian of their very own.

Two fry being born from a male Denise’s pygmy seahorse.



It took Tom a short time of crunching, drawing in water and crunching once more earlier than the remaining child after all popped out (three). The juvenile were with its siblings for just about two weeks within the brood pouch. When they’re born, apart from color, they look like miniature variations in their oldsters. It’s no longer till they settle to a brand new gorgonian that they adapt in floor texture and color to compare their specific house. I recorded the transition of a juvenile pygmy seahorse and it took 5 days to turn out to be a super fit with the gorgonian.

A male Denise’s pygmy seahorse giving birth through its urinogenital opening, south-east Sulawesi, Indonesia.



Male Denise’s pygmy seahorse giving birth



  • three. Tom holds open his brood pouch with one remaining child nonetheless ultimate. four. Tom noticed along with his wrinkled, now empty, brood pouch

In the end the young children have after all been launched, the male pygmy seahorse is most likely the one male within the animal kingdom to really be afflicted by stretch marks. His empty brood pouch was once now wrinkled (four) following the start of the fry he were wearing. Even if he was once obviously somewhat exhausted, Tom instantly headed again to the place Josephine was once resting. There wasn’t a second’s respite for him, as Josephine temporarily emerged and started a sequence of ritualised quivers to put across her goal to continue to the following a part of the reproductive cycle.

A pair of mating Denise’s pygmy seahorses. The female on the left passes eggs to the empty brood pouch of the male on the right.



A pair of mating Denise’s pygmy seahorses. The female on the left is passing eggs to the brood pouch of the male.



After a sequence of ritualised dances, Tom and Josephine each launched their grip of the gorgonian coral and their tails intertwined (Five). Tom was once nonetheless very deflated after having given start 20 mins or so earlier than. Josephine, at the left, is obviously relatively plump as a result of she is stuffed with a grab of unfertilised eggs. Women folk start to hydrate their grab a couple of days earlier than mating. The day by day courtship rituals are performed to assist synchronise the pair’s reproductive cycles. It is necessary the feminine doesn’t start to get ready the eggs for mating too early as they will smash if the male isn’t in a position.

It took 45 seconds for Josephine to push the unfertilised eggs throughout to Tom’s empty brood pouch (6). As they entered his reproductive gadget he fertilised them. The series allowed Tom to make certain that each child he would raise could be his personal. This simple task of paternity is terribly uncommon within the animal kingdom, and explains why male seahorses put such a lot effort into elevating their offspring. It was once an honour to be the primary individual to witness and document this collection of occasions.

Bargibant’s and Denise’s pygmy seahorses live exclusively on the surface of gorgonian seafans, corals that can get as large as a car’s windscreen



Bargibant’s and Denise’s pygmy seahorses are living completely at the floor of gorgonian seafans (7). Those seahorses are very laborious to search out on account of their miniature dimension and unbelievable camouflage, so understanding which species of gorgonians they live to tell the tale is a large assist. Gorgonians are fan-like corals that may get as huge as a automotive’s windscreen. They connect to the reef the place ocean currents hit, bringing huge volumes of vitamins. They’re lined in polyps that lure plankton for meals. Those are animals, no longer vegetation, so don’t want daylight for power.

Japanese pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus japapigu



In 2013 I used to be in Okinawa in Japan to wait a convention. Years earlier than, I had noticed an image of an peculiar pygmy seahorse taken in Japan that piqued my hobby. After hours trawling the web, I tracked down a location the place I assumed I may to find it and headed to the small island of Hachijō-jima, south of Tokyo. Amazingly, over the process a couple of days I controlled to search out greater than a dozen of them (eight) and was once certain they had been distinct from all others I had noticed earlier than.

It wasn’t till I used to be presenting at some other convention a couple of years later that issues began transferring forwards. All the way through my keynote presentation, I discussed those pygmy seahorses and that I used to be certain they had been a brand new species. Graham Brief, a professional in seahorse taxonomy, got here and spoke to me, which right away started a flurry of seahorse pleasure. Eighteen months later, we named the brand new 2cm-long pygmy seahorse Hippocampus japapigu (nine). On the time, it was once concept to just happen within the waters off Japan, but it surely has since been showed as a ways south as Taiwan.

Japanese pygmy seahorse.



Hippocampus nalu, the South African pygmy seahorse, in Sodwana Bay, off the north-eastern coast of the country.



  • nine. The Eastern pygmy seahorse has additionally been discovered off the coast of Taiwan. 10. The South African pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus nalu, was once recognised as a brand new species in Would possibly

In Would possibly of this yr, colleagues from the World Union for Conservation of Nature and I named a brand new species of pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus nalu (10). A couple of months previous, a dive information had noticed it in Sodwana Bay, in north-eastern South Africa. I went with a colleague to watch it first hand. It’s the first pygmy seahorse to were recorded anyplace within the Indian Ocean. The waters off South Africa are somewhat wild, and it wasn’t simple to search out and photograph them as every surge wave dragged me a number of metres clear of the topic.

A pygmy pipehorse



A number of years in the past a diver got here throughout a abnormal fish and assumed it was once New Zealand’s first indigenous seahorse. It was once, in reality, a brand new species of pygmy pipehorse (11), an excessively shut relative of the seahorse. I controlled to seize some of the simplest pictures of this species within the wild in 2017. At the moment, it hadn’t been noticed in over six months. The pipehorse is simplest Five-6cm lengthy with immaculate camouflage. I discovered a couple clinging to a tiny algal frond.

A velvet ghost pipefish, Solenostomus species



An undescribed species of ghost pipefish, repeatedly referred to as the velvetghost pipefish (12), has a tendency to are living round brightly colored sponges, and every person pipefish suits precisely the color of the sponge instantly adjoining to the place it lives. There are part a dozen or so different ghost pipefishes discovered around the Indo-Pacific oceans, and every is very tailored for its habitat. Some are white, others red and even scarlet. They generally are living in male-female pairs that hunt tiny shrimps and different crustaceans.

The thread pipehorse, Kyonemichthys rumengani



For the reason that flip of the millennium there was a flurry of discoveries of miniature fishes. I consider it’s because the megafauna – reminiscent of sharks, turtles and rays – round south-east Asia have dwindled to such an extent that leisure divers and their guides started to take a look at smaller creatures to meet their interest. This thread pipehorse, Kyonemichthys rumengani (13), was once described in 2007. It’s only 2.6cm lengthy and looks as if a number of intertwined hairs transferring round. Identical to seahorses, those fish brood their younger in a pouch at the male’s stomach.

Lynne’s pipefish, Festucalex rufus



Lynne’s pipefish, Festucalex rufus (14), was once simplest named in 2015. Once more, it avoided detection owing to its small dimension, habitat specificity and extremely environment friendly camouflage. It’s the dimension of a cocktail stick and lives simplest amongst little patches of a definite sponge discovered on coral reef partitions under round 15 metres intensity. It suits the sponge precisely in texture and color, or even whilst you’re having a look at once at one, it’s virtually inconceivable to peer it.

Walea Soft Coral Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus waleananus



Two chance components for a species’ likelihood of extinction are their habitat specificity and geographic vary. This pygmy seahorse (15) was once named in 2009 because the Walea cushy coral pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus waleananus. Within the yr earlier than it was once described, I seen it within the wild and am some of the few to have achieved so. It is just present in one small bay in central Sulawesi, Indonesia, the place it lives simplest at the floor of sure cushy corals. There hasn’t ever been any analysis on their biology however the relative dangers to their populations are nice.

Pontoh’s pygmy seahorse, which was named in 2008, in Indonesia



Only one species of pygmy seahorse was once recognized earlier than the flip of the millennium. Since then, some other seven were added to the checklist. I took this symbol of Pontoh’s pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus pontohi (16), which was once named in 2008, in February this yr in Indonesia. The dark-coloured Pontoh’s had been firstly described as a definite species, however genetic research has proven that they’re the similar because the white shape. Seahorses are extraordinarily variable in color and floor texture, which has resulted in many new species being erroneously named over time.

Japanese pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus japapigu



The Eastern pygmy seahorse (17) seems superficially very similar to a number of others, however genetic research displays it cut up from all others round eight million years in the past. It has a couple of morphological variations, too, which permit the skilled eye to spot it. Not like Bargibant’s and Denise’s pygmies, which live to tell the tale the outside of gorgonian corals, I discovered the Eastern species greedy to the algal tufts that duvet the massive volcanic boulders discovered round Hachijō-jima. As a result of this, it’s a lot more difficult to search out them. The massive swells off Hachijō imply it’s tricky to stick nonetheless sufficient within the water to control them.

Pristine coral reef in West Papua, Indonesia



  • 18. A unprecedented, pristine coral reef, in West Papua, Indonesia

Unfortunately, pristine coral reefs like this one in West Papua, Indonesia (18), are turning into a lot more difficult to search out. Probably the most biggest threats comes from coral bleaching. When the water round coral reefs is 2C above the common for the time of yr, the symbiotic algae inside the coral’s cells turn out to be stressed out and go away. The algae comprise photosynthetic pigments that supply power to the coral. In alternate, the coral supplies the algae with its personal waste merchandise, which act as a fertiliser. With out the algae, coral is left ghostly white. Some researchers consider coral reefs of their present shape would possibly not live on past 2050. That, in flip, method the pygmy seahorse faces an unsure long term.

The Global Underneath: The Existence and Occasions of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral Reefs by way of Richard Smith is printed by way of Apollo

In finding extra age of extinction protection right here, and practice biodiversity newshounds Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all of the newest information and lines

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