Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley 1970

Other Names: Bargibants Seahorse, Gorgonian Seahorse

A Pygmy Seahorse,Hippocampus bargibanti, at Raja Ampat, Sorong, West Papua, Indonesia. Source: Elias Levy / Flickr . License: CC By Attribution


This tiny seahorse is a master of camouflage. The pinkish or yellowish body with its tubercles, spots and bands, mimics the stalks and polyps of gorgonian soft corals (seafans), especially Muricella spp. This highly specialised species forms monogamous pairs that cling to seafans with their prehensile tails.

Video: Pygmy Seahorses - Masters of Camouflage

Cute video of Hippocampus bargibanti.

Closeup of Hippocampus bargibanti at Ambon, Indonesia.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson, Hippocampus bargibanti in Fishes of Australia, accessed 28 May 2024,

Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley 1970

More Info


Tropical West Pacific, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Inhabits coral reefs and reef slopes at 16-60 m, usually on gorgonian corals of the genus Muricella.


Meristic features: D 13-15; A absent in adults; P 10; trunk rings 11-12; tail rings 31-34; subdorsal rings obscured.

Head and body extremely fleshy without recognisable bony rings; spines or tubercles not visible, becoming overgrown with soft tissue, forming large bulbous or wart-like lumps in adults; snout extremely short, tip bulbous; head angled at 90° to the trunk.

A single prominent rounded fleshy bulbous spine is present above each eye and on each cheek; spines otherwise absent. Body ornamentation is in the form of irregular prominent bulbous tubercles on the body and tail.

Coronet rounded, knob-like, spines absent.
Dorsal fin very short-based, wholly on trunk; anal fin absent in adults.


A tiny species, reaching a maximum height of about 24 mm; mimimum height at maturity 13 mm.


Colour is variable depending on the host gorgonian species. Individuals living on the gorgonian, Muricella plectana, are pale striated grey or purple with pink or red tubercles to match the gorgonian. Individuals living on M. paraplectana are yellow with orange/yellow tubercles. The tail is striped with dorsolateral circular markings.


Presumably feeds on tiny crustaceans and may also feed on tissue of gorgonian corals, or on tiny zooplankton trapped in the polyps or slime.


The sexes are separate, and the males give birth to tiny independent young. The female uses an ovipositor to transfer her eggs into an elaborate enclosed pouch under the abdomen of the male. The male not only fertilizes the eggs inside the pouch and provides physical protection for the developing embryos, he also osmoregulates and aerates the embryos and may provide some nourishment until the offfspring are born. 

The breeding season extends from March to November and the Pygmy Seahorse seems to prefer the red polyp Muricella spp in depths over 20 m during breeding. Adult males and females are usually found in pairs or clusters of pairs (up to 28 on a single gorgonian) and may be monogamous.
Males brood the eggs in an enclosed pouch on the underside of the trunk. Brood size about 35 eggs.
Larvae are Pelagic. Larvae are born after a gestation period of 2 weeks and are about 2 mm long at birth; larvae morphologically similar to adults; post-pelagic young have the enlarged tubercles and distinctive colour pattern of the adults and settle on various gorgonian hosts.


There is no known trade in this species for the aquarium industry. Pygmy Seahorses are reliant on their gorgonian hosts and would be very difficult to keep in home aquaria.


CITES: Listed under Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna  (CITES).

IUCN: Listed as Data Deficient on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened species (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

EPBC Act 1999: Marine Listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act 1999)


Part of the gorgonian coral appears to live symbiotically in the skin of the Pygmy Seahorse and reacts into wart-like growths around the short spines on the head and body. The resulting camoflauge is so effective that the species was only discovered after a pair of individuals was found attached to a gorgonian seafan collected by Georges Bargibant for the Nouméa Aquarium in New Caledonia.

Similar Species

H. bargibanti most closely resembles H. denise Lourie & Randall 2003, and H. satomiae Lourie & Kuiter 2008, both of which are not found in Australian waters. Although somewhat similar, the very rare H. minotaur, found in relatively deep waters off southeastern Australia, has no obvious tubercles on the body.


Hippocampus is from the Greek, ippos = horse and kampe = curvature. The species is named for Georges Bargibant who collected the gorgonian sea fan on which H. bargibanti was discovered.

Species Citation

Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley 1970, Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. 94(3): 294, New Caledonia.


Dianne J. Bray & Vanessa J. Thompson

Pygmy Seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti Whitley 1970


Allen, G.R. & M. Adrim. 2003. Coral reef fishes of Indonesia. Zool. Stud. 42(1): 1-72.

Baine, M.S.P., Barrows, A.P.W., Ganiga, G. & Martin-Smith, K.M. 2008. Residence and movement of pygmy seahorses, Hippocampus bargibanti, on sea fans (Muricella spp.). Coral Reefs 27: 421. DOI: 10.1007/s00338-007-0352-5

Gomon, M.F. 1997. A remarkable new pygmy seahorse (Syngnathidae: Hippocampus) from south-eastern Australia, with a redescription of H. bargibanti Whitley from New Caledonia. Mem. Mus. Vict. 56(1): 245-253.

Foster, S.J. & A.C.J. Vincent. 2004. Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. J. Fish Biol. 65: 1-61.  

Hoese, D.F., D.J. Bray, J.R. Paxton & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. In Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds.) Zoological catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia, 2178 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 2001. Revision of the Australian Seahorse of the genus Hippocampus (Syngnathiformes: Syngnathidae) with descriptions of nine new species. Rec. Aust. Mus. 53: 293-340.

Kuiter, R.H. 2009. Seahorses, Pipefishes and their Relatives. Aquatic Photographics, Seaford, Australia. 333 p.

Kuiter, R.H. & T. Tonozuka. 2001. Pictorial guide to Indonesian reef fishes. Part 1. Eels- Snappers, Muraenidae - Lutjanidae. Zoonetics, Australia. 302 pp.

Laboute, P. & R. Grandperrin. 2000. Poissons de Nouvelle-Calédonie. 2nd Ed. Catherine Ledru: 520 pp.

Lourie, S.A.  & R.H. Kuiter. 2008. Three new pygmy seahorse species from Indonesia (Teleostei: Syngnathidae: Hippocampus). Zootaxa 1963: 54-68.
Lourie, S.A.  & J.E. Randall. 2003. A new pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus denise (Teleostei: Syngnathidae), from the Indo-Pacific. Zoological Studies 42(2): 284-291.

Lourie, S.A., A.C.J. Vincent & H.J. Hall. 1999. Seahorses: an identification guide to the world's species and their conservation. Project Seahorse. London UK. 214 pp.

Michael, S.W. 2001. Reef Fishes Volume 1: A guide to their identification, behaviour and captive care. TFH Publications Inc. New Jersey, USA.

Pogonoski, J.J., D.A. Pollard & J.R. Paxton. 2002. Conservation Overview and Action Plan for Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes. Canberra, Environment Australia, 375 pp.

Project Seahorse 2003. Hippocampus bargibanti. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <>. Downloaded on 14 January 2011.

Randall J.E., G.R. Allen & R. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press, Bathurst. 2nd Ed. 557 pp.

Reijnen B.T., S.E.T. van der Meij, L.P. van Ofwegen. 2011. Fish, fans and hydroids: host species of pygmy seahorses. ZooKeys 103: 1-26. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.103.953 PDF

Smith, R.E. 2010. The Biology and Conservation of Gorgonian-Associated Pygmy Seahorses PhD Thesis, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland. 162 pp.

Smith, R.E., Grutter, A.S. & I.R. Tibbetts. 2012. Extreme habitat specialisation and population structure of two gorgonian-associated pygmy seahorses. Marine Ecology Progress Series 444: 195-206. Abstract

Tackett, D. & L. Tackett. 1997. Pygmy seahorse: the lilliputian reef rider. Asian Diver October/November 1997: 61-63.

Whitley, G.P. 1970. Bargibant's sea-horse from New Caledonia. In Abstracts of Proceedings. Proc. Linn. Soc. N. S. W. 94(3)421: 292-295.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37282106

Biology:Males brood the eggs

Conservation:IUCN Data Deficient; CITES Listed

Depth:16-60 m

Habitat:Gorgonian sea fans

Max Size:24 mm

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map