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Compared to their wild-caught counterparts, virtually all captive-bred seahorses are very hardy, disease-resistant animals that are relatively easy to keep, but there are three types that are perhaps best-suited for beginners – Pixies, Zulu-lulus, and Mustangs. Which one is best for you depends largely on whether you like miniature, medium, or giant seahorses, whether you are primarily interested in breeding and raising the babies or just keeping them healthy and happy, and whether you mind hatching lots of brine shrimp every day or would rather keep seahorses that are trained to eat frozen foods as their everyday diet.
Pixies (Hippocampus zosterae) are the smallest of all seahorses available to hobbyists – exquisite, elfin creatures no bigger than your thumbnail–that are also the easiest seahorses to breed and raise. They are inexpensive, hardy, breed like crazy, and a whole herd of them will live happily in a simple 5-10 gallon setup. But they have one big drawback–they are too small to eat frozen foods and must eat copious amounts of newly hatched brine shrimp daily. Decapsulating brine shrimp cysts and hatching live food every day can a lot of extra work for a beginner, so I think Zulu-lulus or Mustangs would be an even better choice.
Mustangs are large, robust tropical seahorses whose only drawback is that their offspring are much more difficult to raise than Pixie or Zulu-lulu babies. But all seahorse fry are relatively challenging to raise, even for expert hobbyists, so I’m thinking that’s a daunting task you may not be interested in tackling until you’ve gained more experience anyway, and that for now your primary concern is just keeping your seahorses happy and healthy.
Ordinarily, I would unhesitatingly recommend Mustangs for your first seahorses. They have been captive bred and raised for more generations than any other line, making them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The first pair of captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my ‘stangs quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder, whereupon they would often meet me at their feeding station and interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors and parading around in all their finery. My original pair are still going strong years later.
But Mustangs get big, fully twice the size of full-grown Zulus, and sooner or later the ‘stangs would tend to outgrow a 10-gallon tank. So in your case, I would say the ‘lulus are the perfect seahorse for you to start with.
Zulu-lulus (Hippocampus capensis) are pudgy little ponies, but adorable, all the same. Short and stout, with that portly profile, stubby snouts, big bulging eyes, and perfectly smooth bodies, these thick-bodied little are the perfect size for the home aquarium. They reach a total length of just over 4 inches, and are shipped to you at the modest size of 2-3 inches. That makes them around three times the size of Pixies–small enough to feel right at home in the average aquarium, yet large enough to make fine display specimens and to eat small frozen mysid shrimp as their staple diet. They have proven to be very hardy and easy to breed, and when you’re ready for the challenge of rearing, you’ll find little ‘lulus are relatively easy to raise, much like Pixie babies
Zulu-lulus are smallish-to-medium seahorses, but they have BIG appetites and will eat most anything and everything the giant breeds do. Of course, they love frozen PE mysis and are accustomed to eating that as their staple diet, but these chow hounds are not at all picky when they put on the ol’ feed bag. These galloping gourmets also eat rotifers, brine shrimp, amphipods, copepods, OR red shrimp and all the usual live foods. Caprellids, Gammarus, Red Iron Horse Feed, Green Iron Horse Feed, Regular Iron Horse Feed–all are taken with relish! Feeding these fat little fellas is the last thing the hobbyist has to worry about! They are natural born gluttons, which normally feed on nonmotile food in the wild, so they thrive on frozen food in the aquarium.
Like most of OR’s captive-raised seahorses, Zulu-lulus are very social, highly gregarious animals that very much enjoy the company of others of their kind. They court constantly and breed like bunnies. They will form pair bonds, but they may not be permanent. Any time male and female Zulus are kept together under good conditions, you are going to see courtship and mating.
These are VERY adaptable animals, a necessary trait for estuarine seahorses that customarily inhabit the mouths of rivers and lagoons, where winter gales or the influx of freshwater from flooding and torrential rains can change conditions drastically overnight. Zulu-lulus are rugged little rascals — adaptable fishes that can survive wide variations in salinity ranging from water that is barely brackish to water twice as salty as normal seawater. But, as always, they will do best under stable conditions, and prefer a specific gravity in the low-normal range for a marine aquarium (e.g., 1.020-1.022).
Considering the conditions they are accustomed to in the wild, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that farm-raised Zulus can adapt to considerable temperature variations as well. Maintain stable temperatures between a range of 72F-77F and they will do just fine.
Zulu-lulus in the wild have the smallest range and most limited distribution of all the seahorses. Found only in a few small bays and estuaries at the southernmost tip of South Africa, these extraordinary animals are unprecedented in the hobby–they have never appeared on the market before. In the wild, their numbers are now down to just a few hundred animals, and these remarkable rarities are considered the most endangered seahorses in the world.
So all things considered, I think Zulu-lulus are the perfect choice for a beginner who is started out with a 10-gallon tank. They are ideal for seahorse keepers with a serious interest in breeding and rearing, or for anyone who is looking for truly exotic specimens that have never been available to hobbyists before.