Dear CJ:

Pete Giwojna

Dear CJ:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your shy stallion that has been hiding much of the time now that you have transferred the ponies to their new tank, sir. The behavior of your male sounds quite normal, since stallions are often more shy and retiring, and rather reclusive in general, when compared to the more outgoing females, as explained below in greater detail.

As ambush predators, seahorses have a relatively sedentary lifestyle compared to more active marine fishes such as tangs, wrasse, and butterflyfish that spend their time swimming back-and-forth tirelessly all day long. Our pampered ponies tend to spend significant portions of their day perched on a convenient hitching post waiting for a suitable prey item to blunder within easy striking distance.

Seahorses are therefore most active when they are busy feeding, courting or conducting their daily greeting ritual, competing for mates, or otherwise engaging in various social interactions, or when actively swimming from one hitching post to another. When they get hungry, they may abandon their preferred stealth hunting technique of the ambush and go exploring their tank in search of copepods or amphipods. But they do spend large blocks of time anchored to their favorite hitching posts.

However, there is quite a bit of variation in the daily habits of seahorses depending on gender and individual personalities. All seahorses have distinct personalities. Females generally tend to be more active and outgoing than the males. They will often swim around more and explore the aquarium to a greater extent than the males, which tend to pick out a favorite perch or home base and hang around in the same general area most of the time (think of your Dad hunkered down in his favorite easy chair in the den). As a result, mature males are often naturally more shy and retiring than females, which can be quite brazen at times.

Researchers studying seahorses in the field therefore refer to males as “site-specific” because they can be found at the same tiny patch of reef or seagrass day after day, rarely straying from their chosen spot. I suspect this is due to their parental duties — during the breeding season, pair-bonded males are ordinarily ALWAYS pregnant, and they can’t risk exposing their precious cargo to any more risk than absolutely necessary.) And, of course, a greatly distended brood pouch full of developing young both limits their mobility and makes them more conspicuous to predators, so it behooves gravid males to lay low while they are gestating So normally the unfettered females tend to be far more footloose and fancy free, a little more on the frisky side, and in the wild they typically roam over a home territory of up to 100 square meters centered around their mate’s tiny home base, while the males are often much more reclusive.

Much of the time, both males and females anchor to hitching posts, relying on their camouflage ability to escape notice from predators. In the home aquarium, they quickly learn to associate their keeper with good things such as gourmet Mysis and will then often interact with you whenever you approach the aquarium.

One other thing to keep in mind is that seahorses need high levels of dissolved oxygen and low levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in the aquarium, and they will be lethargic and sedentary if the levels of dissolved oxygen are low. So make sure that you have good surface agitation and aeration in your aquarium to promote better oxygenation and to facilitate better gas exchange at the air/water interface, CJ.

If you want to encourage your seahorses to be more active, it’s a good idea to build up a thriving population of Gammarus amphipods in the aquarium. The Gammarus are fast and agile, and very difficult to catch, but seahorses love to slurp them up and they can amuse themselves for hours searching for ‘pods amid the rockwork, macroalgae, and gravel bed in the aquarium, hoping to scare up an unsuspecting amphipod. That’s a good way to provide them with some behavioral enrichment to liven up their day and to give them an opportunity to graze on live treats between meals. As an added bonus, it helps to diversify the diet of the seahorses and watching your seahorses hunting Gammarus can be a lot of fun.

Best of luck with your new seahorse setup, CJ.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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