Science Today: Pygmy Seahorses | California Academy of Sciences

Science Today: Pygmy Seahorses | California Academy of Sciences

The pygmy seahorses are remarkable little animals. Their camouflage is so amazingly good. You really have a hard time seeing them against the coral unless you know what you’re looking for and even then, it’s really difficult to see what they’re doing. They live in this obligate relationship with another animal, coral. And they’re only found on that one coral. It’s the only place you ever find them. They spend their entire lives, almost, living attached to that coral. We thought this would be a great animal to bring in. No one’s worked with it, no one’s had success with it. So we thought, if we can bring them back and get them established here, in a controlled environment, we could make observations and study various aspects of their biology and their life history that’s just unknown to science. I challenged the aquarium staff to keep that coral alive. We collected some pieces of it back in 2011, and we actually kept it and grew it for about three years before we even attempted to collect the seahorses, just to make sure that we could keep its home alive, so that we had a better chance of keeping them happy and healthy. We collected them in the Philippines, as part of the Philippines Biodiversity Expedition that the Academy went on in May 2014. You never want to touch the seahorse. You don’t want to just pluck it off because it will damage and hurt it. Obviously, it’s so small. So what we do is we take a cutting of the coral, a fragment of the coral, and sort of coax them to go onto that. And once they’re on that, they stay firmly attached to that, they go into a jar, and then we slowly bring them up to the surface. And these were so special, that we essentially went from the collection in the wild and then immediately got them on a plane in Manila and immediately shipped them back here. From the time they were in the wild to the time they were in an aquarium in San Francisco, was, I think, something like 36 hours. They like it pretty well. They’ve been breeding, so that’s kind of an indication of “liking-ness.” And then all of a sudden they started producing babies. The male gave birth to babies in captivity, which is amazing and something we couldn’t have predicted to happen. Of the challenges in keeping and displaying them, there are really two. The first is that they’re very small, so you’ve got to get them food, and you’ve got to get the coral they eat food, and you’ve got to make sure they’re eating. So they eat a lot of tiny, tiny foods that we have to keep alive and find and be able to grow here ourselves. And the challenges of displaying them, of course, is going to be the same thing: They’re very, very small. We’ve had lots of discussions about possible ways to make them viewable for the public. They’re only the size of my thumbnail when they’re adults. My favorite part about caring for them is that everything is new. There is a lot of stuff that’s unknown. Nobody had ever actually witnessed the birth of the species, ever before. So we were the first to observe that. We’re just looking forward to being able to spend a bunch of time writing this up. They’re just so highly adapted to life, to the niche that they live in. They’re so specialized to live and mimic this coral so perfectly. They’re just a really great story about evolution and biodiversity– just life persisting in the strangest places. And they’re really a joy to work with.


  1. getting permits in the Philippines is not an easy task, this are prohibited to be kept as pets and the CAS is one of the institutions allowed to transport them out of the country and into the US :)….im confident they are still a lot of them still undiscovered in the Verde Island Passage

  2. please can anyone help me by sharing the link for my fund raising effort? any help would be appreciated! many many thanks for any help you can give! xxx

  3. They just had to ruin the whole thing with their utter nonsense about this evolving.
    Selling evolution is their true occupation, not science.
    And can they prove this evolved?
    Not even remotely close. That isn't science. That's story-telling, that's pure speculation based on pure assumptions, based on obvious errors. All being passed off as "science". It isn't.

  4. And the official 'cutest lil scientific experiment eva' award goes to the Steinhart Aquarium with free 'baked by Melissa' mini cupcakes for all the aquarium staff for life, yaaayyyyyy….

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