A new species of pygmy pipehorse, a fish closely related to the seahorse, has been named by kaumātua (senior leaders) of Ngātiwai in a collaboration with biodiversity scientists from Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.

This is the first time that an indigenous group has been formally listed as the naming authority of a new species of animal.

Due to the fact that the new species has been observed almost entirely within Ngātiwai’s rohe (customary territory), the other co-authors of the description, Graham Short from the California Academy of Sciences and Dr Thomas Trnski from Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum, approached kaumātua of Ngātiwai to share in the naming and, as a result, to form part of the species’ scientific name forever.

The pygmy pipehorse has been found off the northeast coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand from Nukutaunga (Cavalli Islands) in the north to Tawhiti Rahi and Aorangi (Poor Knights Islands) in the south.

The full scientific name of the new species is Cylix tupareomanaia and the authors of the new species name are listed as Short, Trnski and Ngātiwai. This combination of authors will be permanently linked to the species name as required under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature – the rule book for naming new species. The new species was named and described on Monday 20 September in the international journal Ichthyology and Herpetology.


A new lineage of pygmy pipehorse

Graham Short from the California Academy of Sciences says, “Cylix tupareomanaia represents a new lineage of pygmy pipehorse not seen in nearby Australia and underscores the hidden biodiversity of New Zealand.”

Cylix is a new genus name and is derived from the Greek and Latin word for a cup or chalice; it refers to the cup-like crest on the top of the head of the new species, a character not observed in other species of pygmy pipehorses from Australia and the Indo-Pacific.


The new species Cylix tupareomanaia with the common name of tu pare o manaia or manaia pygmy pipehorse.

© Irene Middleton, seacologynz.com


The second part of the species name tupareomanaia refers to “the garland of the manaia” – “manaia” is the Māori name for a seahorse and is also a tupuna (ancestor), a guardian that appears represented as a stylised figure in wood carvings. It also references the location of the type specimen (the unique individual that holds the name for the new species), Tu Pare o Huia (Home Point), near Whangaruru, which translates as “the plume of the huia”, a sacred and now-extinct bird in Aotearoa.

The common name for Cylix tupareomanaia is manaia pygmy pipehorse, and Ngātiwai have given it the name “tu pare o manaia”.


The significance of indigenous naming 

“The naming of this taonga is significant to Ngātiwai as we know there are stories from our tupuna about this species, but the original name has been lost as a result of the negative impacts of colonisation,” Ngātiwai kaumātua Hori Parata says.

“We are pleased to have gifted this species a new name that asserts the mana of Ngātiwai and would like to thank the kaumātua for their involvement in this very special piece of work.”

Ngātiwai are kaitiaki (guardians) of the biodiversity within their rohe, and they regard the marine species as nationally significant taonga (treasures).


The new species Cylix tupareomanaia with the common name of tu pare o manaia or manaia pygmy pipehorse.

© Irene Middleton, seacologynz.com


Dr Thomas Trnski of Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum says, “I feel privileged that we have been able to incorporate mātauranga Māori in the naming of Cylix tupareomanaia and collaborate with Ngātiwai for this taonga of the ocean.”

“As far as we know, this is the first animal in the world to have the naming Authority include a tribal name. It is overdue recognition of traditional knowledge that can contribute to the discovery of new species,” continues Dr Trnski.


About the manaia pygmy pipehorse

The manaia pygmy pipehorse is small, with a maximum size of only 6 cm long. They live in fine, turfing seaweed up to 17 m deep. Their cryptic colours and small size make them very difficult to see as they blend in perfectly to their habitat.

Cylix tupareomanaia had been observed by divers at the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve in 2011, when it was initially thought to be the rare seahorse species Hippocampus jugumus. However, it has eluded discovery on the mainland until a photo was posted on Facebook in 2017. Graham Short recognised it as possibly new, and Thomas Trnski joined him in locating a specimen to help with genetic analysis and to study its morphology to confirm that it is a new species. It was linked to some specimens held at Te Papa, which were assumed to be a species from Australia until the analysis by Short and Trnski correctly identified it.

Pygmy pipehorses are related to seahorses and pipefishes, both of which occur in New Zealand waters. This is the first pygmy pipehorse discovered in Aotearoa New Zealand. This group of fishes are unusual in that the males brood eggs in a pouch in their bellies.


Read more about this word-first partnership in Stuff and The Guardian.


Images: The images within this article were kindly supplied by Irene Middleton (@seacologyNZ).