Social media uncovers two pygmy seahorse species new to Taiwan

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Social media uncovers two pygmy seahorse species new to Taiwan

November 03, 2019 - 04:55
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Here's a story of how you just can't hide from social media these days—not even if you're a pygmy seahorse just minding your own business.

The Japanese pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus japapigu), found in Hejie, Kenting, Taiwan.

For many researchers, keeping an eye on their subjects in the field isn’t easy. It takes time, effort and funds to keep track of the animals’ movements and behaviour. This is particularly true if you happen to be studying pygmy seahorses that measure about 13 to 27 mm tall.

A modern-day solution to this is to make use of social media.

This was what the team comprising Joseph Heard, Drs Jeng-Ping Chen and Colin Wen from Tunghai University and Taiwan Ocean Research Institute, did.

In 2017 to 2019, they conducted searches of Facebook and Instagram posts and photos using the keyword “豆丁海馬” ("pygmy seahorse" in Chinese). A manual search of some Taiwanese underwater photography and marine organism identification groups was also done. In addition, they also contacted individual users who frequently shared photos of pygmy seahorses on Facebook and Instagram.

Their efforts yielded 259 social media items, including 75 photos of 78 pygmy seahorses in their natural habitats at five different locations in Taiwan. These were subsequently identified as five different species: Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse, Coleman's pygmy seahorse, Pontoh's pygmy seahorse, Denise's pygmy seahorse and Japanese pygmy seahorse.

The last two species had never been discovered in Taiwan before.

This finding, published in the ZooKeys journal, identifies Taiwan as a hotspot for pygmy seahorse diversity.

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