Pygmy Seahorse, <i>Hippocampus bargibanti</i> Click to enlarge image
A Pygmy Seahorse at a depth of 22m, reef 35 km south-east of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, August 2004. Image: Erik Schlögl
© Erik Schlögl

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    The Pygmy Seahorse grows to 2 cm in length.

Hippocampus bargibanti was the first Pygmy seahorse to be described in the world. This species of fish were first discovered by accident on a piece of gorgonian coral (Muricella sp) which was collected by Georges Bargibant for the Nouméa Aquarium in New Caledonia in 1969. They cling to the coral with their prehensile (curly) tail and mimic the colours of the coral so well, they are hard to see.

Hippocampus bargibanti
Hippocampus bargibanti on Great Barrier Reef. 27.7m Image: Andrew Trevor-Jones
Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)

As its name implies, the Pygmy Seahorse is a tiny fish. It lives on gorgonians (sea fans) of the genus Muricella.

The first specimens of Hippocampus bargibanti were collected in New Caledonia at a depth of 30m. The male is only 13mm long and like all Syngnathid species, can become pregnant and give birth to young independent seahorses.

Pygmy seahorses are defined from "other" larger seahorses by their size (<27mm SL), a single gill at the back of the head and trunk brooding of their young. Hippocampus bargibanti has a short snout, rounded knob-like coronet and irregular bulbous tubercles on the body. It has a rounded spine above each eye and on each cheek.Two colour morphs are recorded for this species, one is pale grey or purple with pink or red tubercles, the second is yellow with orange tubercles.

Pygmy Seahorse, <i>Hippocampus bargibanti</i>
A Pygmy Seahorse at a depth of 22m, reef 35 km south-east of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, August 2004. Image: Erik Schlögl
© Erik Schlögl

Since the discovery of Hippocampus bargibanti in 1970, seven more pygmy seahorses have been discovered including Hippocampus denise (2003) from Indonesia, Hippocampus colemani (2003) from Lord Howe Island, Hippocampus pontohi (2008), Hippocampus satomiae (2008) and Hippocampus walaenanus (2009) ; all discovered from Indonesia, Hippocampus japapigu (2018) discovered from Japan and most recently Hippocampus nalu from South Africa (2020).

Hippocampus bargibanti
Hippocampus bargibanti - Great Barrier Reef Aug 2006 Image: Andrew Trevor-Jones
Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)


This species is known from coral reefs of the Western Pacific including Australia.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.


Caboz, J. 2020. Meet the Indian Ocean's first pygmy seahorse - which was discovered in KZN. Business Insider South Africa.

Gomon, M. F. 1997 See ref. at BHL A remarkable new pygmy seahorse (Syngnathidae: Hippocampus) from south-eastern Australia, with a redescription of H. bargibanti Whitley from New Caledonia. Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria v. 56 (no. 1): 245-253.

Gomon, M. F. and R. H. Kuiter 2009. Two new pygmy seahorses (Teleostei: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus) from the Indo-West Pacific. aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology v. 15 (no. 1): 37-44.

Ketchell, M. 2020. How an underwater photo led to the discovery of a tiny new seahorse species. The Conversation.

Kuiter, R.H. 2000. Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives. A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes. TMC Publishing Pp. 240.

Kuiter, R.H. 2001. Revision of the Australian Seahorses of the Genus Hippocampus (Syngnathiformes: Syngnathidae) with Descriptions of Nine New Species. Records of the Australian Museum. 53: 293-340.

Kuiter, R. H. 2003. A new pygmy seahorse (Pisces: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus) from Lord Howe Island. Records of the Australian Museum v. 55: 113-116. . See ref. online

Lourie, S.A., Vincent, C.J. & H.J. Hall. 1999. Seahorses. An Identification Guide to the World's Species and their Conservation. Project Seahorse. Pp. 214.

Lourie, S. A. and J. E. Randall 2003. A new pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus denise (Teleostei: Syngnathidae), from the Indo-Pacific. Zoological Studies v. 42 (no. 2): 284-291.

Lourie, S. A. and R. H. Kuiter 2008. Three new pygmy seahorse species from Indonesia (Teleostei: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus). Zootaxa No. 1963: 54-68.

Main, D. 2020. New pygmy seahorse discovered, first of its kind in Africa. National Geographic.

Reijnen, B.T., et al. 2011. Fish, fans and hydroids: host species of pygmy seahorses. ZooKeys 103: 1–26.

Short, G., Ri. Smith, H. Motomura, D. Harasti and H. Hamilton 2018 See ref. online Hippocampus japapigu, a new species of pygmy seahorse from Japan, with a redescription of H. pontohi (Teleostei, Syngnathidae). ZooKeys No. 779: 27-49.

Short, G., Claassen L, Smith, R., Brauwer, M., & Hamilton, H., Stat M., Harasti, D. 2020. Hippocampus nalu,​ a new species of pygmy seahorse from South Africa, and the first record of a pygmy seahorse from the Indian Ocean (Teleostei, Syngnathidae) ZooKeys. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.934.50924.

University of Leeds. 2020. Meet Africa's first pygmy seahorse species. Phys Org.

Whitley, G.P. 1970. [Bargibant's sea-horse from New Caledonia] in Abstracts of Proceedings. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. 94(3) No.421:294.