|Image: Steve Childs|
Yet it looks like nothing more than a piece of knotted string or a random piece of algae-covered muck. It's about an inch long, so at least we know how long this particular piece of string is, but how long is a random piece of algae-covered muck?
Sometimes, it's about an inch long.
That's why it took until 2006 before someone said "hey! That's no algae-covered muck! That's a fish pretending!" And thus was born Kyonemichthys rumengani, a name which means "Rumengan's swollen thread fish". I wasn't far off with knotted string!
Video: EunJae Im
Most people know it as the Lembeh Pygmy Pipedragon or Lembeh Sea Dragon. So if you ever need to slay a dragon to win a princess's hand in marriage or to enter the upper echelons of a chivalric order, here's your chance! You just have to find it first. Also note that the dragon may curse you, resulting in a permanent -5 penalty to Charisma for hurting something so adorable.
It looks like a cross between a Seahorse and a Pipefish, and that's exactly what it is. A species of Pygmy Pipehorse. The Pygmy bit is added to differentiate it from the Pipefish of the genus Solegnathus, which are called Pipehorses because they look like a pipe that's been bent out of shape, but not quite as horrifically mangled as a Seahorse.
There are 6 other known species of Pygmy Pipehorse in the world, spread across 3 other genera.
|Image: Nick Hobgood|
They should have waited 150 years. They could've been the Bastard Sea Dragon.
|Image: Jonathan Lavan|
|Image: Sylke Rohrlach|
Sydney's Pygmy Pipehorse (Idiotropiscis lumnitzeri)
They can't bend their neck anywhere near as much as a Seahorse so they end up looking like a Seahorse that got straightened out a bit. Which shouldn't be a bad thing, but all these guys are so rigid and awkward I can't help but feel a little unnerved looking at them. How can they possibly survive in the mean, gnashing sea?
I'm tremendously moved. Yes. Moved.
Video: Bill Kuiper
Sydney's Pygmy Pipehorse
In their day to day life, Pygmy Pipehorses live slow and stationary. Like other members of the order Syngnathiformes their body is encased in bony rings so they can't twist their body and swish their tail to swim like, you know, a fish. Instead, like all Seahorses and many Pipefish, they wrap their prehensile tail around a bit of seaweed and stay put.
Many of them are cryptically coloured and adorned with various tufts and tendrils for camouflage. Some even have algae and bryozoans growing all over them! It's like they're not even pretending to be algae-covered muck any more. That's why we must all teach our children not to pretend to be muck. There's only so much pretending you can do before you become your pretense.
Acentronura tentaculata, pregnant and male
With this "in between" status it's no wonder that people are unsure where to place Pygmy Pipehorses on the Tree of Life. Some say they should be in a subfamily with Seahorses, others a subfamily with Pipefish, still others reckon on a whole new subfamily of their very own.
Only one fossil Pygmy Pipehorse has been found so far and it dates back a mere 12 million years, a time when Seahorses were already around. The oldest Pipefish fossils meanwhile are a good 50 million years old.
Clearly, the palaeontologists and phylogeneticists have their work cut out. These Sea Dragons are hard masters!