Meet the ‘Japan pig,’ a newly discovered pygmy seahorse that is as tiny as it is beautiful.
The Syngnathidae family is a wonderfully odd bunch of fish. Including curious creatures like pipefishes, pipehorses and seadragons, the family also boasts seahorses amongst its members. And now there’s a new member of the tribe, the Japan pig.
Named for its cute little snout that reminded local divers of a pig, Hippocampus japapigu, is not actually new, of course, but newly discovered as its own species.
The Japan pig is one of just seven known pygmy seahorse species, named for their diminutive size. The Japan pigs fit right in at a mere 15 millimeters long. The newfound seahorse is about as long as a grain of rice. Or, small enough “to fit two or three on the nail of my pinkie,” says Graham Short, ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences and lead author of the paper describing the discovery.
Occurring exclusively in Japan, very little is known about them, and about pygmy seahorses in general, says Short. Though he says that they are not that rare and they appear to have a fun side, noting that “They seem to be quite active, even playful.”
It comes as little surprise that Japan would play host to such an exquisite little fish. Recognized as “a global hotspot of marine biodiversity,” the authors note in the paper, the waters of Japan are home to 53 recorded species of syngnathids, including ten species of seahorses of which four are true pygmy seahorses.
Given their tiny stature and clever coloring, which helps them blend in with the seaweed and algae of their habitats, it’s kind of amazing that they were seen in the first place. Which will hopefully work to their advantage. Tragically, the numbers of larger seahorses are plummeting thanks to the aquarium trade and their popularity for use in traditional Chinese medicine, notes Short.
Thankfully, Short says, “This will never be an issue for pygmy seahorses, because they are just too hard to find.”