The Pygmy Seahorses are without doubt among the most attractive critters – they are cryptic, hard to find but yet beautiful. And for a lot of divers the Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi or Weedy Pygmy Seahorse) is even more special than other Pygmy Seahorses.
The Pontohi Pygmy Seahorse was first seen in 2003 in Bunaken (by a local guide named Hence Pontoh) and officially described in 2008 – so it is a rather recently discovered species. No wonder, as the Pontohi is not as “easy” to find as other Pygmy Seahorses. While other Pygmies prefer specific hosts (like the hippocampus bargibanti for example likes the muricella seafan), the Pontohi hangs out in between small halimeda algae and hydroids – which means basicly everywhere along walls and rocks 😉 So looking for a Hippocampus pontohi means screening more area than just checking specific seafans.
The Pontohi grows to about 1 cm in size, lives mostly in pairs and comes in two general colour variations: White-Yellow with some red and Brown-Black with some red. The pontohi mimics dead halimeda leafs and therefor likes to turn his body with the surge – which makes it hard at times to take pictures of it. The Pontohi can be found in between 1 and 25 meters depth.
Best Places to see Pontohi Pygmy Seahorses in Lembeh Strait: Nudi Retreat 1-3, Angel’s Window, California Dreaming, Batu Sandar, Tanjung Tebal, Tanjung Kubur, Nudi Falls.
Photo Tips: Use a 100mm Macro or longer – please do not attempt to photograph Pontohis with a 60mm Macro, as they live on the walls and you will have to go so close that your camera and strobes will damage the reef. Consider also to use a Teleconverter or Diopter with the 100mm. Try shooting Pontohis only when there is not much surge or choose deeper living specimens – as they will move less. Try manual focus.
This Picture of our Repeater Guest Mood shows a beautiful Pygmy seahorse found by our dive guide Paulus. Paulus has found already several of them over the last 10 years – but not many. And this is one of them. It is most probably a variation of the Denise Pygmy Seahorse and usually found in the Raja Ampat area. But sometimes also here in Lembeh Strait. Unlike the “ordinary” Denise it has little Bumps – much like the Hippocamus bargibanti. But it has clearly the Body Shape of the Denise. Some people also say, that it might be a separate species – which we don’t think. Denise Pygmy Seahorses are (unlike Bargibantis) to be seen in different species of seafans … so this might be just be a better adapted variation to a specific kind of seafan.
To follow a guest request we went to see a sea fan with Denise Pygmy Seahorses on yesterday’s morning dives. This particular fan had 3 individuals living in it. As the seafan is easiely accessable from both sides, they are very cool to watch. Two of them had big blown up bellies and were obviously pregnant. Most probably these two indiviuals are gonna be proud fathers within the next week …
As all seahorses the male denise pygmy seahorse is the one that incubates the eggs in his belly. Pygmy seahorses mostly live in Pairs (sometimes several in one fan) and release their hatchlings usually at night. The babies then drift off in to a pelagic state and hopefully will settle down on another seafan. In Lembeh at least 4 species of Pygmy Seahorse can be seen: Bargibanti, Pontohi, Severn’s Pygmy Seahorse and Denise.
The Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse (hippocampus bargibanti) is the most common Pygmy Seahorse and found all over the Indo-Pacific region. It was the first Pygmy Seahorse that has been discovered (1969) and still counts as the classic Pygmy Seahorse.
It grows to maximum 2 cm, lives only in Muricella Seafans and matches the colour of their host: Bargibantis can be Pink, Purple or Yellow. They live in couples or groups of sometimes up to 20 in one fan. Like all Seahorses and Pygmyseahorses the male gets pregnant by receiving eggs from the female and fertilizing them in his pouch. A Pygmy Seahorse can give birth to around 30 Baby Pygmies (usually at night).
Best places to see Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorses in Lembeh: Nudi Retreat, Batu Sandar, Angel’s Window, California Dreaming, Dante’s Wall, Tanjung Tebal, Makawide and other Coral Sites in the Lembeh Strait.
Best lenses to use: Best Lens to use is a 100mm – a teleconverter or a diopter can be added for extra magnification. A 60mm is not advisable as the strobes would touch (and damage) the seafan at minimum distance. Please also respect the animal: Do testshots on pieces of coral before shooting Pygmy Seahorses and then minimize your shots – they can’t close their eyes and they can’t swim away!