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Horse Forum - May 2004
by Alisa Abbott and Carol Cozzi-Schmarr
I was wondering if you have ever heard of a seahorse changing colors, or is that common. She used to be jet black, and now she is almost completely an off white with small black spots. I've had her for about 7 months now, she has done great, eats mysis (frozen) and live guppies. She likes to come to the glass every time some one looks in. She is very funny. I am using a white sand substrate with plenty of live rock and caulerpa.
Thanks, Bobby Smith
One of the many unique attributes of seahorses is their ability to change color. This is greatly influenced by their environment and also their diet. From the pictures I have seen of your seahorse, she appears to look very healthy. In my experience working with the giant species of seahorses, I have observed color changing patterns that may sound a tad odd to many people. In a tank set-up while using the “typical” whitish sand substrate, I have noticed that my generally brightly colored seahorses often turned a drab dark color. I had plenty of live rock and a few coral that had no real significant colors and a lavish “field” of assorted macro algae’s. I fed my seahorses with high quality frozen mysis and diligently kept my tank healthy and clean with regular water changes, good mechanical filtration and a skimmer. Needless to say I was a bit mystified. My seahorses appeared healthy and happy otherwise and every morning after I turned on my lights, my tank turned into an energetic display of sea-equine courtship. So why this drab color change?
In their natural environment, the brightest colorations of seahorses were often observed by divers and researchers in the darker deeper waters of reefs. Seahorses are slow swimmers and rely greatly on their camouflage to conceal themselves against prey and to blend into their environment so they are not easily observed by their next meal. In fact, they merge so well into their environment that the casual observer rarely sees them. Their range of colors is also species influenced, which is associated to their global territories. Seahorses that are found in the reefs are often more colorful to those that are found in the grassy sea beds.
During courtship, seahorses will become quite conspicuous, turning their drab coloration for their enticing bright courtship colors. The male and female are at their most brilliant at the climax of courtship when they rise for the actual copulation. Coloration changing is not sex specific, both sexes have the ability to change colors equally. These changes in colorations however do not come without some potential difficulties. A courting seahorse is at their most vulnerable at this time because of their natural blending abilities have been compromised allowing them to be easy targets for potential predators.
As hobbyists we can attribute to the seahorses abilities to change colors by manipulating their environment. In my experience substrate, backgrounds and colorful inhabitants play a very active role in the determination of coloration. Generally black sand and a background that is a base black with bright color patterns with oranges and yellows and even pink bring out the brightest colors in seahorses. Bright colored inhabitants and hitching posts also greatly influence brighter colors. While white colored sands often darkens seahorses as do brighter lights. Healthy eating will also encourage their best coloration and from the appearance of your gal, she is eating well.
Although you are using white sand, it is not unheard of that a seahorse will turn brighter and that is a good thing because it generally means that they are happy.
So long as your seahorse is eating well and that her white color is well blended and not unhealthy looking patches, there is no cause for concern. She is probably just a happy gal enjoying her home.
Best of fishes,
I currently have a 35-gallon seahorse tank that has 4 females and one male. The other day I noticed that 2 of the females seemed to be fighting over the male. Later on, I saw a clutch of orange colored, what appeared to be eggs on the ground. Did one of the females possibly loose her eggs? There seemed to be a lot of them. Is this a problem and should I add more males to further prevent this? Would this be too many?
Thanks in advance,
Although seahorses are considered a non-aggressive fish and relatively sedate, preferring to remain hitched in one area waiting for a morsel of food to pass under their snouts, they may become rivals if subjected into a confined area. Having a tank full of odd numbered sexes may cause turmoil within your “herd”.
With a tank that has more males than females, two things may occur. The need for reproduction is so strong that males often attempt to mate with the same sex. This can be quite nerve wracking and confusing for the courting team, as all their efforts finally come to a non-productive, frustrating end. If that is not hard enough to endure, a copulating male and female pair may come to disruptive end by another rival male. This occurs when the rival male aggressively knocks his contender out of the way, often causing the female to loose her entire clutch of eggs. I had observed in one of my tanks awhile back two males fighting over one female. The rival male was so insistent that he would actually wrap his tale around his opponent’s neck and physically remove him away from the female. The guys were serious in an all-about knock down, drag-out fight. The males were snicking and chasing each other all around the tank, using their tales and even at times appearing to court each other, talk about confusion, sheesh. Needless to say the ending resulted in a fruitless mass of frustration, confusion and a heavy clutch off eggs on the substrate.
A tank that houses more females than males can be just as disastrous. A crafty courtesan may trick another female into copulation by positioning herself as a male would causing her to potentially loose her entire clutch of eggs. With all the excitement of the courting couple, the cunning harlot may intentionally take advantage of this and add a twist of confusion imposing herself as the receptive male. The overly excited courted female unknowingly in the heat of the moment may try to deposit her clutch into the rivaling trollops “pouch” thus rendering her nothing to offer her mate.
There are many different ways for unequalled couples to encounter fruitless copulation’s. In their natural environment seahorses are fortunate enough to have their own territories and there is no need for such competition. They each have their own home “post”. However, in contained systems unequalled partners are often forced to live in close proximity and often left with the “come-what-may” and “may the strong win” lifestyles.
Susan, your observation sounds correct about your female loosing her clutch of eggs. Your suggestion about adding more males is an excellent choice. Keep into consideration though that farm raised seahorses are better adapted to tighter living quarters than their wild counter parts. If you are now keeping farm raised seahorses you can easily add the additional males to even out the pairs, but if you are keeping wild caught seahorses you may want to consider upgrading your tank size or possibly splitting your herd into two different tanks, if you are able.
Best of fishes,
My sunbursts just arrived and they’re beautiful! Everything appears to have arrived safely, not even any casualties among the shrimp. I acclimated them per instructions and one of them, that I have tentatively identified as the female, is swimming around very actively. I even saw her snick up one of the red shrimp I’d put in the tank “just in case”. The other, slightly larger possibly the male, is hanging around at the bottom of the tank, but is vertical and although he is reacting to his surroundings well, he is having more difficulty breathing and is staying at the bottom of the tank only. He occasionally hitches at the base of the fake coral, but most often is unhitched and stretched out. Any suggestions?? Should I be worried about him??
I am happy to hear that your new seahorses have arrived safely and are doing so well. You must have done a very good job acclimating your new arrivals!! This is often the secret as to why the seahorses thrive or not when they arrive at their new home. If they are not acclimated correctly it can be very hard to get them to eat and feel comfortable in their new surroundings. They also seem to loose their color when not acclimated correctly.
It is always a good idea to treat your new arrivals to a few of the live red volcanic shrimp that accompany the Sunbursts before feeding them their first feeding of frozen mysis. They really enjoy the chase and I think it helps them to “forget” so to speak that they are in a new environment with possibly new tank mated hiding in the tank somewhere. It makes them feel “right at home”!!
The female is usually the more gregarious and more active of the pair. The female usually explores every coral head and rock crevice right away! And she usually will not waste any time snickering down those live red shrimp!! On the other hand the males tend to be a bit more shy. It may take them a few days or even a week before he begins to actively explore his new home. It may take him a few days before he begins to eat as well. This is why it is important to save some of those red shrimp for him!! If you put them all in the tank right away she will eat them all up before he even has a chance! It is always a good idea to have a second vessel set up for holding the red shrimp so that you can feed him a few of the red shrimp whenever he is ready. I also like to see both animals get fed some of the shrimp once o twice a month not only as a life food behavioral enrichment but also because these volcanic shrimp have a very unique nutritional profile that no other life foods have.
I would suggest that you monitor the male to make sure he does slowly become less shy and that he does eat………but try not to let him know it!!! Another words keep the lights low and don’t try and feed him with any objects such as a turkey baster (unless you have a lot of aggressive tank mates) for at least for a week or so. Even then I do not recommend the turkey baster unless it is something you really like to do or have a “special needs” crew in your aquarium! Also don’t bombard him with a ton of different types of feeds in hope that he will take one of them. This will only confuse him and stress him out even more making him more shy and less likely to eat anything at all.
When you do decide to feed him the frozen mysis use the vibrance to enhance the mysis since this is what they are used to. Make sure though that you siphon out any left overs after 15 minutes. A good cleanup crew will help you with that job but do not count on them completely. Look and see for yourself that there are not left overs. There may be nothing worse than rotten mysis on your tank substrate or maybe I should say nothing better to cause a severe ammonia spike followed by a toxic nitrite spike followed by a loss of oxygen and then death!
Remember too that he may be taking bits of pieces late at night. Although most seahorses are not nocturnal and like to sleep at night since the red shrimp are nocturnal your seahorse may decide to take advantage of that and snicker a few down at night when no one is looking.
If after a few days he does not seem to be behaving normally you may want to ask your self these questions:
Is my water quality good enough?? Is it with in acceptable ranges??
Should I adjust my lighting…..is it too bright for him or not bright enough??
Does he or she have comfortable hitching posts that are vertical and at the bottom of the tank??
Does my tank have a clear area where the seahorses can swim freely?
Is the current too strong??
Do I have a tank mate that is not compatible with my seahorses that is stressing them out?
Can they see the red shrimp when I put it in the tank? Can they get to it quick enough??
Is the mysis fresh and of the right size for the age and size of the seahorse??
Is my tank tall enough??
Is my tank big enough??
These are just a few suggestions Mark. It is also a good idea to check with the farm that produced the seahorse or with an expert seahorse chat room and get some additional advice so that you can ensure that you are dong all that you can for your new exotic pets!!