All You Need to Know About Pygmy Seahorses in Bali

Here in Bali there are two species of pygmy seahorses (bargibanti and denise) which we regularly see at our dive sites, especially at sites around Tulamben, Seraya and Amed. Here are some interesting facts and information about these tiny jewels of the ocean…

The Hippocampus bargibanti was the first species of pygmy seahorse discovered in as late as 2000. There are now known to be several species of pygmy seahorses which rarely grow to more than 2cm in length including the tail. Pygmy seahorses are not found worldwide and the majority of them inhabit the area of Asia known as the coral triangle (which encompasses Bali). They are part of the sygnathidae family (which includes seahorses, pipefishes and weedy and leafy sea dragons) whose distinctive features include having tubular mouths into which they suck their food, very short snouts and the males carry their young inside their trunk as opposed to in a pouch on the tail like other seahorse species.  The majority of pygmy seahorses, including the bargibanti, are found on sea fans although some species are also found on algae and soft corals.

Bargibanti’s (Hippocampus bargibanti) live on Muricella gorgonian fans (between 16 and 40 meters) and they are able to match their skin colour and appearance to that of the fan almost exactly which when combined with their tiny proportions makes them very difficult to spot. Their camouflage ability is no coincidence – they appear to live in symbiosis with the fan which leads to them reacting  and developing ‘tubercles’ which mimic the bulbous textures of the fan corals; the most common colour variations are pink, yellow and light purple. The maximum length of a bargibanti is 2.7 cm (including the tail) which makes them the largest of all the pygmy seahorse species.

Pygmy seahorse denise at Tulamben – photo by Ivan Choong

Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) is smaller than the bargibanti and measure only up to 2.4 com in length and it tends to be less fleshy. Denise’s are found on numerous different species of fans rather than just being limited to one particular host. The Denise’s species have considerably fewer tubercles which gives their skin a much smoother appearance. They also have a number of color variations including red, yellow, brownish and orange. Denise’s have been sighted at depths of up to 90 meters.

Both species are a real treat for macro underwater photographers and if you are hoping to see one when you are here in Bali just ask our dive guides – they know the best times and the best sea fans for spotting them in!

We hope you have enjoyed this Fact File and look forwards to welcoming you to Bali Scuba soon!