A new species of pygmy seahorse has been discovered in Japan, named the Japanese Pygmy Seahorse, or Japan Pig (Hippocampus japapigu). Only a few millimeters long, these charismatic creatures inhabit shallow waters and blend in well with the algae-covered rocks where they live. They are not found living in close association with a specific host such as a gorgonian or soft coral, rather they cling to algal turfs in the subtropical reefs on which they live
The species is characterised, and distinguished from the other free-living pygmies, by a reticulate pattern of white lattice over the body, which often has a black spot within it. There are also several morphological and genetic differences between this and other pygmy seahorses. The body colouration is brown, beige, to pink and whitish. They inhabit subtropical and temperate reefs from southern to the central west of Japan. The Izu islands of Miyake and Hachijo are good locations to find these elusive seahorses, as well as Kushimoto and Sagami Bay.
Richard Smith, part of the team that put forward the scientific paper to name this new species, states “I’m so pleased that this project naming the Japanese pygmy has finally come to fruition. It all began over a decade ago when I first saw a picture of an unusual pygmy seahorse from Japan. In 2013, after completing my PhD on the biology of their cousins the Bargibant’s and Denise’s pygmies, I went to a fish biology conference in Okinawa, Japan primarily with the goal of adding on a trip afterwards to hunt for the elusive fish. I found a dozen of them, when I took many of these images and made early field observations. Jumping forward to a seahorse biology conference in Tampa, Florida, for my involvement with the IUCN Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group, I met Graham Short and told him about the seahorse, and the rest is history!”
For more information and images of pygmy seahorses, visit Richard Smith’s website by clicking here.