It's a familiar story: when it comes to getting our attention, bigger, more charismatic species have an undeniable advantage. And it's no different among squid kind. Every time the stupendously sized giant squid (genus Architeuthis) pokes so much as a tentacle from its deep-sea haunts, the headlines soon follow. Archie's much tinier cephalopod kin, meanwhile, have a much harder time getting their 15 minutes of internet fame. And that's unfortunate, say researchers Jan Strugnell and Mandy Reid, because these overlooked animals play an important role in marine ecosystems.

The research duo recently helped to add a new name to the roster of Australia's small-time squid. Meet the Hallam's pygmy squid, officially known as Idiosepius hallami.

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Idiosepius hallami attached to a seagrass blade in Cudgen Creek, northern New South Wales. Image: M. Reid

"We know a lot more about the larger (and often edible) squid species, but these tiny ones are often overlooked," said Strugnell, an associate professor at James Cook University in Queensland, in a press release.

Like many species discoveries, this one got its start somewhere you might not expect: in a museum. Strugnell and Reid first stumbled across their squid subject in the preserved specimen collection of the Australian Museum in Sydney, and the find sent them on a mission to collect additional specimens, so these could be specially preserved for molecular sequencing.

On one such field trip, the collected squid surprised the researchers by putting on a mating display right there in their petri dish: 

Video: Mark McGrouther, Australian Museum Research Institute

"People are often surprised to know that so many marine animals are still undiscovered and unnamed. Many are sitting in museum collections waiting to be studied," said Reid, a collections manager at the Australian Museum Research Institute.

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Image: M. Reid

This particular find is significant, say the researchers, because of the many unanswered questions we still have about small squid: scientists don't know how many species exist out there, for example, or where they are distributed – both in Australian waters and beyond.

"This discovery led to a broader examination of all the species known from this family of tiny squids and also resulted in a revised classification and better understanding of the group as a whole," explained Strugnell. 

The Hallam's pygmy squid can be found in the waters of eastern Australia, from Queensland's Shoalwater Bay to Narooma in southern New South Wales. The animals may be tiny, Reid notes, but studying them has broader implications for conservation. 

"They live among mangroves and seagrass, which are under threat and are among the planet's most effective carbon absorbers. So, an increased understanding of these habitats and what lives in them is of great importance."