The amazing appearance of the pygmy seahorse, the king of marine camouflage and the world's smallest vertebrate. Can you see it?
Down in the marine waters and especially in the coral reefs, life is an explosion of colorful expression. With corals of vibrant hues and equally colorful fish, this ecosystem is a visual spectacle in itself. But within it, you can also find a king of camouflage, whose discovery took a long time because of its ability to get lost among the sea gorgonians. This is the pygmy seahorse, one of the smallest vertebrates in the world and whose ability to camouflage surpasses anything seen by humans.
A lucky serendipity
The pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), a member of the family of syngnathids, is so adept at camouflage that until a few decades ago no one knew anything about it. But in 1969, while examining coral samples from the Coral Triangle, researchers were surprised to discover a tiny hippocampus whose appearance was almost identical to its coral home. Since then it has been categorized, although, even today, it is still very difficult to find these little guys in the depths of the ocean because of their masterful ability to camouflage themselves in their environment.
In fact, after their discovery in the 1960s, another specimen was not found until 2000. Today they are known to inhabit the Coral Triangle that stretches from the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, and reaches the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Still, these seahorses are very difficult to find nowadays.
The pygmy seahorse is one of the smallest vertebrates in the world. It barely reaches 2 centimeters from its tail to the tip of its nose. This size is even smaller when it is observed bending over like all seahorses. Not only is it one of the smallest seahorses, but it is also one of the tiniest vertebrates in the whole kingdom.
The art of camouflage of the seahorse
The perfection with which it camouflages itself makes it the king of this art. It usually grows to form calcified tubercles on the surface of its tiny figure, to mimic the appearance of gorgonians (Muricella paraplectana), which is the type of coral they take for their home. In this way, it blends into the surrounding landscape as its diminutive size places it in a very vulnerable position to marine predators.
The most surprising thing is that they develop their bodies to take the color of the corals where they live. In this way, pygmy seahorses can be found in different colors ranging from yellow to purple and even vibrant reds. Without a doubt, the pygmy seahorse is the king of marine camouflage.
According to researchers at the University of California, when seahorse babies emerge from their father's womb, they all come out the same color. With a brownish hue, seahorse babies are born the same. However, as they decide on their home and spread out among their ecosystem, they will gradually take on the shape of the environment they will inhabit. And this is where the amazing camouflage of the pygmy seahorse comes in. A creature, although tiny, greatly amazing.
Text courtesy of Ecoosfera
Photos: Flickr: Francois Libert /Wikimedia Commons /Wikimedia Commons
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards