Pygmy Seahorse ‘Santa Claus’ & its Friends

Santa Claus denise pygmy seahorses in Raja Ampat with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia

Santa Claus Pygmy in Raja Ampat

There is a very special little seahorse who lives in Raja Ampat. It is red and white and particularly popular on social media at this time of year! It is of course the Santa Claus Pygmy Seahorse!

The Santa Claus pygmy seahorse is actually a special colour variation of the Denise pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise). When they are born pygmy seahorses are released into the water column by their father pygmy. Like all seahorses it is the male who carries the brood. The tiny baby pygmies will float around in the currents for two to three weeks. They will then settle on a gorgonian sea fan of their own.

Once the little pygmy settles it will change in colour and texture to match its new home. Dr Richard Smith was the first person to complete a PhD on pygmy seahorses. He recorded the transition of a juvenile pygmy and it took only five days to match the gorgonian.

Therefore, the Santa Claus pygmy could be the relative of other more commonly seen Denise pygmies. But because they landed on a red gorgonian, they took on the colours and textures of that fan.

Here is a video of a Santa Claus pygmy in action.

Denise pygmy seahorses in Raja Ampat with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
The more commonly seen Denise pygmy seahorse.

Pygmy Seahorses in Raja Ampat

In Raja Ampat you have a chance to see four different types of pygmy seahorse. All of them tiny and all of them really hard to find!! The largest adult pygmy seahorse measures less than 3 cm! The Bargibant’s pygmy, along with the Denise pygmy live exclusively on gorgonian sea fans.

The Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse was the first species to be discovered. It happened in 1969 when scientists collected specimens of Muricella spp gorgonians. While Georges Bargibant was examining the sea fans, he noticed a pair of tiny seahorses. In 1970 Hippocampus Bargibanti pygmy got its was official name.

This pygmy seahorse is a habitat specialist and lives only on the Muricella gorgonian. They spend their whole adult life on one sea fan. This type of pygmy has the largest habitat range. It is found from south Japan, through down into Indonesia and also as far as Australia and Fiji.

Bargibanti pygmy seahorses in Raja Ampat with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
The perfect camouflage of the Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse in the usual pink colour.

If you are really lucky you might get to see a colour variation of the Bargibant’s pygmy. Sometimes we can find them on the yellow Muricella gorgonian, as shown in the photo below.

Yellow Bargibanti pygmy seahorses in Raja Ampat with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
Special yellow variation of the Bargibanti pygmy seahorse.

Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse

Pontohi pygmies (Hippocampus pontohi) can be found in the Coral Triangle areas of Indonesia, PNG, Soloman Islands and Fiji. They are much smaller in size than the Bargibant’s and Denise. Adults can reach up to 1.7cm in length from their snout to the end of their tail.

This species of pygmy seahorse is not associated with gorgonian corals and is free-living. In Raja Ampat, especially in the Dampier Strait, we most often see them living on hydroids. They are often in pairs so if you see one, look out for another one!

Pontohi pygmy seahorse in Raja Ampat
One colour variation of Pontohi pygmy seahorses that you can see in Raja Ampat.
Pontohi in Raja Ampat with Coralia Liveaboard in Indonesia
Another colour variation of Pontohi pygmy in Raja Ampat.

Satomi Pygmy Seahorse

Satomi’s (Hippocampus satomiae) is the world’s smallest seahorse. This pygmy grows to only 1.4 cm top to tail. It is also nocturnal and moves around a lot, making it very hard to photograph. This type has only been seen in Indonesia. They could possibly be in other areas, but they are so tiny and so hard to find nobody has found them anywhere else.

Satomi Pygmy Seahorse
Satomi Pygmy Seahorse.

Our dive guides on Coralia Liveaboard would love to show you some of these pygmy seahorses. Join us on a cruise in Raja Ampat! Have look at our cruise schedule here.

Learn More about Marine Life in Indonesia

Have a look at our other interesting articles about marine life in Indonesia in Coralia’s news section: