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The Wakatobi Critter Challenge

Wakatobi's Pygmy Seahorse Quartet
by Richard Smith - www.OceanRealmImages.com

Several new species of pygmy seahorses have just been scientifically named and described with two of them commonly seen at Wakatobi! This brings the total number of pygmy seahorse species you might see on one trip to four. We've even had all four on one dive site so don't forget to bring a magnifying glass!

The new species have been named as Pontoh's (Hippocampus pontohi) and Severn's pygmy seahorses (H. severnsi). Neither species live on gorgonian corals like the other two species at Wakatobi; Denise's (H. denise) and Bargibant's ( H. bargibanti). The two new species can be found living freely on the reef, which makes them all the more difficult to spot, especially since both are less than 2 cm in length! Luckily the guides have amazingly keen eyesight and will do their best to find them for you.

Pontoh's pygmy can often be found in or around Halimeda algae and is white or off white in colour to help it blend into this habitat. It also has red filaments on the head and back, which help break up its outline and camouflage it further on the reef. This species was first seen by Lorenz at Wakatobi over a decade ago but has only recently been officially named.

Severn's pygmy on the other hand is mostly brown in colour with red and orange patches, the filaments in this species are often transparent. Severn's pygmy lives on algal turf or hydroid tufts and is much less common than Pontoh's. Luckily both species inhabit only a small home range so guides can return to the same spot and, fingers crossed, find them again.

Apart from the amazing abundance and diversity of pygmy seahorses at Wakatobi there is one more tiny gem on our reefs. The recently described pygmy pipehorse Kyonemichthys rumengani reaches only 3 cm in length and is much more slender than the seahorses. It uses its prehensile tail to grasp small holdfasts on the reef. Without a guide to point this animal out it would easily be mistaken for a piece of weed!

Pygmies do not like strong lights or any manipulation and can easily be damaged or even killed if great care is not taken when photographing or viewing them. Please listen to your guides who will be happy to show you Wakatobi's amazing new pygmies in a manner that will not harm them.

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