Crocs Uncover

Bizarre Species

martes, 26 de mayo de 2009

Five New Pygmy Seahorse Species Found

The Walea pygmy seahorse is one of five species named in a flurry of recent seahorse discoveries from coral reefs in the Red Sea and Indonesia. All five are less than an inch tall (2.5 centimeters) and are among the tiniest known vertebrates.

It was thanks to the keen eyes of underwater photographers and divers that these secretive specimens came to light.

The seahorses, described in December 2008 and January 2009 studies, are the first to be discovered in five years.

The Walea seahorse is named after an island in central Sulawesi, Indonesia—the only place it has so far been found.

One of five newly discovered seahorses, Hippocampus debelius, or the soft-coral seahorse, was named after Helmut Debelius, the underwater photographer who led a successful campaign to track down this miniature Red Sea inhabitant.

After initial sightings in 1993, it took over a decade to find the specimens described in a January 2009 study.

"This is a great honor for me," Debelius said.

Despite having several other marine creatures named after him, Debelius confessed he was excited to have a "son" in the seahorse family.

Severns's pygmy seahorse, named after diver Mike Severns, is one of three new species named in a December 2008 study.

Study co-author Sara Lourie from McGill University in Canada credited local dive guides and photographers without whom the seahorses would have remained a mystery.

All the new seahorses were officially recognized after divers had shared photographs of their discoveries with scientists, Lourie explained by email.

"It's a truly collaborative process," she added.

At under half an inch tall (13 millimeters), Satomi's pygmy seahorse—named after dive guide Satomi Onishi—is a strong contender for the world's smallest seahorse. With their tails stretched out straight, two Satomi's pygmy seahorses would fit head-to-head across the face of a penny.

These miniscule seahorses from Indonesian reefs have been seen giving birth to tiny offspring, each about the size of a 12-point apostrophe.

Together with two other species, Satomi's pygmy seahorses were named in a December 2008 study.

Pontoh's pygmy seahorse, named after Indonesian dive guide Hence Pontoh, is one of many tiny specimens described in a December 2008 study.

Pygmy seahorses are high on the "wish lists" of many divers, who want to spot one for themselves, co-author Lourie remarked by email.

"There is a lot of local pride surrounding these and other pygmy seahorses in Indonesia, where they were discovered," Lourie said.

Their presence creates strong incentives to conserve the threatened coral reefs on which seahorses depend, she added.

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