Can You See Me? Pygmy Seahorses, Masters of Disguise
Seahorses are kind of magical undersea creatures because they defy our expectations. They turn our world upside down by doing things differently. For example, the dads give birth, not the moms! And, once they are born, they are totally independent. No need to ask mom and dad for help or an allowance or permission to do something because baby seahorses are off on their own as soon as they are born! But today, we're going to focus on CAMOUFLAGE, the amazing art of disguise.
There are many kinds of seahorses all over the world, but one seahorse that fascinates me is the pygmy seahorse. They are so tiny (2 centimeters) that you can easily miss them underwater. 2 centimeters is about the size of a nickel or the height (not the width) of your space bar on your laptop. In a big ocean full of all kinds of animals, that's a pretty small creature, kind of like looking for an ant in a meadow. But ants are black or red and grass is green. Pygmy seahorses don't make it that easy. In fact, they were only discovered and identified when scientists were studying the corals! No one even knew they were there. But now that we know about them, we can search for them!
Pygmy seahorses live in a kind of coral called gorgonian corals. Gorgonian corals are sea fans with long fingers of coral polyps that drift in the ocean current. Unlike hard coral that looks like a rock (but remember, corals are tiny animals too!), sea fans look like intricate, brilliantly colored spider's webs. They are a little heartier than an actual spider's web (think more like the thick stalks of a plant and less like strings), but they are more delicate than the hard corals. Pygmy seahorses spend their whole lives on the same gorgonian coral, drifting back and forth in the ocean current.
Cool coral fact #1: Gorgonian corals get their name from Greek Mythology. Remember Medusa and her amazing snake hair? She was a Gorgon!
Cool coral fact #2: Gorgonian corals are a type of octocorallia, corals that have 8 arms, just like an octopus!
Enough background. So what about CAMOUFLAGE? I'm glad you asked. Pygmy seahorses are masters of disguise. Can you spot the seahorse in the photograph above? Pygmy seahorses take on the color and the texture of their homes. Imagine if you were the same color and texture as your house. Would you be blue with wood grain? White and slippery vinyl? Yellow and stucco? Imagine the possibilities! In the photo above from ARKive, you can see that the tiny seahorse mimics the pink and red color of the coral. You can also see that it has bumps all over its body. Those bumps are called tubercles and they look just like the bumps on the coral host!
Geek out #1: The name for this coral is Muricella paraplectana
Geek out #2: This pygmy seahorse is called the Hippocampus bargibanti. There are several different species of pygmy seahorses.
Take a look at the seahorses in action. See how they change color and texture to match their environment!
Want more about seahorses? Check out ARKive's detailed information on different kinds of seahorses, including other pygmy seahorses!