As long as you will only be out of town for 2-3 days on rare occasion, and not regularly, week after week, the best approach is often simply to fast the seahorses for the entire 2-3 days. Well-fed seahorses in good condition can fast for 2-3 days with no ill effects whatsoever, and if the aquarium is well established, it often houses copepods and amphipods that the seahorses can graze on to supplement their diet, which they will happily do when the regular feedings of Mysis are not forthcoming.
So fasting the ponies is often the best option for short trips such as you are planning, Jamie. It’s preferable to teaching a “fish sitter” to feed the ponies with frozen Mysis, since they always have a pronounced tendency to overfeed, and overfeeding will result in wastage and spoilage that can degrade the water quality, pollute the aquarium, or cause transient ammonia spikes, all of which will be much more harmful for the seahorses than a two or three day fast…
In short, I would simply be inclined to fast the seahorses for 2-3 days under your circumstances, Jamie. This is what I normally advise the home hobbyist regarding feeding their seahorses when they will be away for short jaunts or for longer trips:
Unfortunately, there aren’t too many really good options for those times when you’re going to be out of town for an extended period. Automatic feeders just aren’t feasible for the frozen foods or live prey seahorses require, but traveling for a week or two is certainly not an insurmountable problem and I would be happy to suggest a couple of possible solutions for any seahorse keepers facing such a dilemma.
First of all, whenever you’re going away, underfeeding is vastly preferable to overfeeding. Your seahorses (and aquarium fish, in general) can fast for a long weekend with no problem at all. So just adjust the seahorses’ feeding schedule so their normal fast day falls on the weekend, give them a generous feeding before you leave, and they will be just fine over the weekend. In short, getting away for a weekend is usually not a problem at all for the seahorse keeper. But of course that’s not an option when you’re going to be gone for a week or two.
In that event, I would recommend ordering some hardy live feeder shrimp, some of which can safely be added to the tank every couple days, knowing they will survive in the aquarium until eaten. Ocean Rider’s red feeder shrimp (Red Iron Horse Feed, Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this as are the live Mysis (Mysidopsis bahia) From Sachs Systems Aquaculture. They are what I’d like to call a “feed-and-forget” food. They are tough, rugged little shrimp that you can toss in your tank with no acclimation whatsoever. They are agile and elusive enough that your filters won’t eat them and the seahorses won’t be able to capture them all right away. Some will hide and evade well enough that your seahorses will still be hunting down the stragglers for the next day or two. Best of all, you can toss a nice batch of them in your aquarium, secure in the knowledge that they won’t perish and pollute it, but thrive and survive as real, live, “catch-me-if-you-can” prey items that seahorses cannot resist. Nothing stimulates a seahorse’s feeding instinct like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of natural, living prey.
So if you are planning on being away for an extended period of time, I would suggest ordering a generous supply of the Red Iron Horse Feed From Ocean Rider or a 200-400 count of live Mysis from Sachs in advance, and setting them up in a small tank of their own with a small algae-covered live rock before you leave. That way, when your “fish sitter” checks in on your aquarium every so often, he or she can just add another netful of red feeder shrimp to the tank and that should take care of your seahorses’ feeding requirements until he or she stops by again.
Aside from adding the live shrimp, your fish sitter’s duties will be extremely simple, mainly just checking to see that everything is operating properly. Power outages, equipment failures, or the untimely death of a specimen can wipe out your tank if they happen while you’re away. Consider recruiting a friend, neighbor or coworker to look in on your tank at least a few times while you’re gone. They needn’t be aquarium savvy at all, since you will be assigning them only the simplest of tasks: (1) check to see if the equipment is on and operating properly; (2) add freshwater to replace water lost via evaporation; and (3) toss in a netful of live feeder shrimp. And that’s all. In fact, it’s a good idea to forbid them to touch anything or do anything other than those 3 very basic duties. And, of course, you will be familiarizing them with your setup beforehand, leaving them a plastic gallon jug of dechlorinated tapwater or RO/DI water with which to top off the tank, and providing a supply of live feeder shrimp and a net so all they have to do is scoop up some of the shrimp and dump them in the tank. (Stick with the live food if you recruit a fish sitter, Jamie. That way they won’t have to deal with preparing frozen Mysis and there’s no danger they’ll overfeed it. I have learned the hard way that inexperienced seahorse keepers ALWAYS have a tendency to grossly overfeed, but that’s not a concern with live feeder shrimp.)
Ocean Rider’s red feeder shrimp are easy to keep on hand. They are extremely hardy and very easy to care for. They can be kept indefinitely in a spare 2-10 gallon tank, or even a clean, plastic bucket, that has be filled with clean saltwater and equipped with an airstone for aeration. Neither a heater nor a fancy filtration system is required. They thrive at room temp and tolerate a very wide range of salinity and all they require is an airstone (or a simple air-operated foam filter at most) to keep the water oxygenated, with perhaps a little coral rubble as substrate and a clump or two of macroalgae (sea lettuce, Ogo, Gracilaria) to shelter in and dine upon. However, the red feeder shrimp (a.k.a. Hawaiian volcano shrimp or “red iron horse feed”) are costly because the shipping from Hawaii is expensive, and they are becoming harder to obtain it quantity.
For these reasons, the live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture are often a better choice for seahorse keepers on the mainland while they are traveling or on vacation. You can obtain 200 live Mysidopsis bahia for around $35 (priority shipping included) from Sachs and your seahorses will love them. They are a natural food source for seahorses in the wild and fairly easy to maintain in a suitable holding tank for short periods:
Another option would be to hire a local aquarium maintenance business to service your seahorse setup a few times while you’re gone. Having professionals service your tank can be expensive, Jamie, but it shouldn’t be too costly as long as it’s just for a few service calls on those rare occasions when you’ll be away for an extended period, and it’s mighty reassuring to know your fish are in good hands. Might be worth it to have that peace of mind.
So that’s the story for looking after the seahorses when one is away from home traveling, Jamie. Although not ideal, there are a few options that usually work well under those circumstances, as outlined above, but the simplest approach for a quick weekend trip would certainly be to give the ponies a good feeding before you leave and then allow them to fast for the 2-3 days while you are away. You can give them another good meal first thing when you return home, and they should be just fine in the interim.
Let me know if you decide to go ahead with your seahorse project, Jamie, and I will be happy to send you a free copy of the Ocean Rider seahorse training manual, which explains everything you need to know in order to keep seahorses successfully in a home aquarium. It’s quite comprehensive, consisting of several hundred pages of text with over 250 full color illustrations, and will help assure that you get started off on the right foot.
Best wishes with all your fishes, Jamie!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support