Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › “Cattle Call” › Dear Kris:
The sort of feeding problems you describe used to be commonplace years ago before captive-bred-and-raised seahorses became widely available, back when wild-caught ponies were the only option for home hobbyists.
Training the wild-caught seahorses to accept frozen foods was quite a challenge in those days, and often very difficult to accomplish, but with time and patience it can almost always be done. This usually takes a couple of steps, Kris, the first of which is to break the newcomers from their dependency on live foods.
The best way to do this is by obtaining high-quality frozen Mysis and thawing it out carefully so that the cube of frozen food releases whole individual Mysis, lifelike and completely intact, as it thaws out. The lifelike freshly thawed Mysis are then target fed to the seahorses using a Turkey baster or feeding to to release the Mysis a short distance above the seahorses so that the tempting morsels drift down slowly right in front of their snouts.
Many times the seahorses will snap up the lifelike frozen Mysis instinctively – almost reflexively – as it drifts past their snouts while sinking through the water column, since it appears to be very much alive when it is presented to them properly.
Once the seahorses are accustomed to eating frozen Mysis delivered to them in this manner, it’s then usually an easy matter to use a feeding guide or baster to lead the seahorses to a feeding station for their daily meals instead. (They learn fast and, typically, once one of the ponies gets the hang of it, the others quickly learn from him and follow his example.)
In short, Kris, I suggest you work with the new pair of ponies that are apparently wild caught by carefully target feeding them, as described above until they are readily accepting frozen Mysis.
I would be happy to share some tips for you explaining how to make the best use of a simple feeding tube or feeding guide, and how to use it to train seahorses to take their frozen Mysis from a convenient feeding station instead, Kris.
As you know, a feeding tube or guide is simply a length of rigid plastic tubing (clear or transparent) that has been cut to the right length so that the will reach from the top of the aquarium to where the seahorses are accustomed to feeding, and a good feeding tube can have a diameter of anywhere from 1/2 inch to 2 inches. The rigid plastic tubing is available in three-foot lengths from many pet stores and fish stores, or can also be found at the local hardware store, and is quite inexpensive.
To use the feeding tube, you simply thaw and prepare the frozen Mysis as usual, submerge the feeding tube in the upright position so that the uppermost end is just beneath the surface, and place a few of the lifelike prepared Mysis in the open end of the tube. They will drift slowly down the feeding tube via gravity and you can place the other end of the feeding tube a couple of inches above the seahorse(s) heads and a short distance in front of them, where they can see it easily. The seahorses will be able to track the frozen Mysis as it moves all the way from the top of the feeding tube down to the opposite end you have strategically positioned near the seahorses heads. They will be able to see the Mysis coming as it progresses down the transparent feeding guide, and should be ready to strike at it as it emerges from the end of the feeding tube an inch or two above their heads and drifts down right past their snouts the rest of the way. You can then repeat the process with the rest of the Mysis, introducing a few pieces at a time into the feeding tube and guiding them directly to the seahorses as the Mysis slowly drift down the transparent tube, until the seahorses have eaten their fill.
For best results, it’s a good idea to choose an area of the aquarium with relatively low flow or even slack water for these feeding lessons, so that the frozen Mysis won’t be whisked away by water currents once it emerges from the end of the feeding tube.
This method of target feeding usually works quite well for teaching newcomers, Kris, and, as an added benefit, the seahorses will quickly come to recognize you as their feeder, and the appearance of yourself with the feeding tube will be quickly associated with good things — their gourmet goodies — after which feeding time should go much more smoothly.
One of the added benefits of target feeding the seahorses with a feeding guide is that it makes it easier to train the ponies to use a feeding station, once they have become accustomed to eating the Mysis as it drifts out of the end of the feeding tube. Here are some additional tips for setting up a feeding station and training the seahorses to come to a new feeder, Kris:
There are a few factors to bear in mind when choosing the location for your feeding station.
First of all, it must be in a location that’s convenient for you to reach and observe, since you will be depositing the enriched Mysis in the feeding tray, watching closely to make sure that all your seahorses show up for chow and are feeding normally, with healthy appetites, and then removing any uneaten leftovers when the seahorses have eaten their fill.
Secondly, the feeding station should be located in an area with relatively low flow so that the seahorses can approach it easily, and more importantly, so that brisk currents don’t whisk the frozen Mysis out of the feeding tray or make it too difficult to guide the enriched Mysis into the feeding dish in the first place.
Finally, if the aquarium has a heavy population of bristleworms, Nassarius snails, micro-hermit crabs, or miniature brittle stars (micro stars), all of which have a liking — perhaps even an addiction — to that gourmet frozen Mysis we provide our seahorses, and they tend to converge on the feeding station at mealtime and steal the Mysis or just generally get in the way, many hobbyists find it useful to elevate their feeding tray in order to keep it out of the reach of such bottom scavengers.
Setting up your feeding station is simply a matter of selecting the type of feeding dish you prefer and setting it in place in the desired location, which should meet all the criteria discussed above. All that remains is to train your seahorses to come to the feeding station and eat, which normally is a very simple process that they often take care of on their own.
For example, most hobbyists use a feeding tube of some sort to deliver the enriched frozen Mysis to their feeding station. The feeding tube is simply a length of rigid, clear-plastic tubing, perhaps 1-2 inches in diameter, that’s long enough to reach all the way from the surface down to the feeding station. When the food is ready, they place the thawed enriched frozen Mysis in the top of the feeding tube, and it sinks slowly down the length of the tubing to be deposited in the feeding bowl or tray below. Often the seahorses will track the Mysis all the way down the tube to the end and be ready to snap it up as soon as it emerges over the feeding station, which is an added benefit of this method since it eliminates the need to train the seahorses to come to the feeding dish. The hungry horses will just naturally follow the sinking Mysis to its destination.
When you set up a feeding station, most seahorse pick up on it right away and respond to the new feeding method very well, as described above. However, sometimes there is a slow learner that needs to be trained to come to the new feeder. There are a couple of fairly simple ways to accomplish that, which usually work pretty well.
One way to get your seahorses up to speed on a new feeding station is to target feed them with a turkey baster, and once they are eating from the baster well, use it to lead them to the new feeding station. The old-fashioned ones with the glass barrels work best because the seahorses can see the Mysis inside the baster all the way as it moves down the barrel and out the tip. By exerting just the right amount of pressure on the bulb, great precision is possible when target feeding with a turkey baster. By squeezing and releasing the bulb ever so slightly, a skillful target feeder can keep a piece of Mysis dancing at the very tip of the baster indefinitely, and hold the tempting morsel right in front of the seahorse’s mouth as long as necessary.
If you can do that, it is an easy matter to hold a morsel of Mysis at the end of the baster, and use this tantalizing tidbit to lure the seahorse toward the new feeders by holding it just out of reach and leading the hungry seahorse in the direction you want him to go before you allow him to take the bait. This may have to be done in several steps, and it may take a while for you to get the seahorses accustomed to taking food from the baster before you start making much progress, but eventually you’ll have the pupil perched close enough to the new feeder for you to drop the dangling Mysis inside the feeding station before you allow them to slurp it up. This method takes time and patience, but it allows you to make sure the seahorses are getting plenty to eat while they make the transition to the new feeders. And it’s a gradual conditioning process that will eventually work with even the slowest learners.
Net training is a similar technique to baster feeding that also works well and may be even easier to execute because it doesn’t require any skill with the baster or syringe. It involves first training the seahorses to eat the frozen Mysis from a small fish net (a fine-meshed brine shrimp net works best for this), which they usually learn to do rather readily. Once that is accomplished, the net serves as a portable feeding trough, which the seahorses will come to and follow anywhere in order to eat, so you simply use it to lead them to the new feeders. Your next step is to rest the net inside a conveniently placed feeding station while they eat from it. After a few days of feeding them like that, you simply dump the Mysis from the net into the new feeder, and they will happily dine from there from then on. The net or feeding tray contains the frozen food neatly and keeps it from getting strewn around the tank.
For example, here’s how Patti (one of our Club members) describes her net training process: “I use a small brine shrimp net — it is white. When I first got my seahorses I would target feed from this net — they lean in and take the shrimp. Once I got them to recognize that this net meant food, I started to sit the net down inside the bowl and let them eat from it there. After a few days I simply started to drop the shrimp from the net into the bowl. Now, they see the net and either jump on the net or go directly to the bowl. When they are hungry and I have not fed yet, they go to the bowl as if to say “Hey where is our breakfast?” It seems to work very well for us, it is also a good way to make sure they have food while I am at work. The tricky part was getting them to eat from the net at first but once they realized that it held the food they overcame any fear they had. It just takes about a week of patience….”
Believe me, training the seahorses to eat from a feeding station sounds a great deal more difficult than it normally is in actual practice, Kris. In most all cases, all you have to do is get one of the seahorses to snick up that first piece of shrimp from the feeding tray and your mission is accomplished. That first bold individual will happily continue to eat from the feeding station thereafter, and more importantly, very often the rest of the herd plays follow-the-leader and quickly learns from his example. Seahorses are real seagoing gluttons, ruled to a very large extent by their stomachs, and once the rest the seahorses see that first fast learner pigging out on gourmet shrimp, they usually can’t wait to get their share of the goodies too.
Once you have both of your new seahorses eating frozen Mysis from an elevated feeding station near their favorite hangout, Chris, any potential problems with wastage and uneaten Mysis will be a thing of the past. You can simply deposit the frozen Mysis in the feeding station, allow the seahorses to eat their fill, and then remove any of the leftover Mysis from the feeding cup or tray half an hour or so later.
As for the tube for guiding the frozen Mysis into the feeding dish or trough, Kris, most hobbyists simply obtain a length of rigid plastic tubing from their LFS that’s anywhere from 1/2-inch to 2-inch in diameter. The rigid plastic tubing is transparent and usually comes in three-foot lengths, which can easily be cut to the proper length to reach from the surface to your feeding station. The rigid plastic tubing is very inexpensive and if your LFS does not carry it, you should be able to obtain it from the nearest hardware store instead. Just make sure that you get a length of rigid plastic tubing that is transparent — when the seahorses observe the frozen Mysis slowly drifting down the water through the tube, it attracts their attention and that is often all that’s needed to bring them to the feeding station so that they will start eating the frozen Mysis from your feeding trough or tray.
I wrote an article in Conscientious Aquarist explaining exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use it in some detail that may be helpful in that regard. It’s available online at the following URL:
Click here: Seahorse Feeders
if you have difficulty training the newcomers to accept the frozen Mysis despite your best efforts, Kris, or if the target feedings and net training sound like they would be impractical for you, or take up more time than you can afford to spend on your daily feedings, then there is another technique using a different type of feeding station that often produces good results in a case like yours.
This method simply involves modifying a powerhead to serve as a feeding station for their ponies, Kris, which they accomplished by placing a fairly large block of coarse foam (i.e., with large pores and fibers structure) against the intake for the powerhead. This allows a gentle suction to pull water through the form block, and the suction is strong enough to hold pieces of frozen Mysis against the foam. In fact, the frozen Mysis can be released into the water several inches away, and the section will pull them up against the foam block, where they will be held in place until the seahorses come up, pluck them often swallow them. If the foam is black, the frozen Mysis show up against the especially well, and it is an easy matter to position some convenient hitching posts nearby. This eliminates stray, uneaten Mysis and helps prevent wastage and spoilage, and the seahorses immediately learn to eat the frozen Mysis being held against the block of foam, with no training necessary. The flow of water through the foam block jostles the frozen Mysis that stick to it, imparting slight movement to them, which seems to make them irresistible to the seahorses.
Often times, the powerhead is turned off between meals, and the foam block may also be removed for cleaning.
For example, this is out Joe Lieberman explains the benefits of the foam block/powerhead feeding station versus more conventional feeding stations, Kris:
A) glass dish on bottom of aquarium. This works well for some of my horses, but others seem very adverse to pecking off the very bottom of the tank. Also, the mysis shrimp often get stirred up and float up out of the dish and end up under liverock. Furthermore as you pointed out, there are some horses that are confused by the glass barrier and helplessly stare at the food inside and never figure out to swim up over the lip of the dish. Interestingly, the ones who are mostly feeding out of the dish seem to be the smallest and most frail of my lot. The 4 biggest, beefiest one almost seem to view the dish with disdain and wont reduce themselves to eating off the floor.
B) As an experiment, I placed alongside of the glass dish, a large powerhead (aquaclear 901) hooked on one side to a long flexible spraybar tubing that simply is there to distribute the flow without blowing everything around. On the inlet side of this powerhead, I placed a large block of very loosely woven foam (Ie with large pores and fibers that tend to cling to the mysis shrimp in a manner similar to how I intend to use the grape kelp.) This foam is black and the mysis shrimp stand out in great contrast. This tempts the seahorses who won’t go to the bottom to feed, to land on this sponge block and peck up all the mysis contained in the fibers. The sponge has very gentle suction and thus tends to catch any of the mysis that get kicked up out of the food dish by the squirming horses. Between the dish and the sponge/powerhead combo, all of the mysis shrimp wind up getting consumed with less than 5% loss to shrimp drifting away. Also, the gentle
suction of the sponge allows me to release the shrimp almost half a foot above it without fear of them drifting away. The seahorses are attracted to this sponge by the movement to a much greater extent than they are by watching the shrimp drift down inside a clear tube (presumably because the smell is dispersed more freely. Anyway, I think your idea about the grape kelp is the way to go and I have ordered some just today. However, for someone who has tried the other methods, this might be another option for them to try after the usual methods are exhausted.
Okay, those are some suggestions that might be helpful in a situation like yours, Kris. I would discontinue feeding the live Gammarus amphipods for the time being, which will allow the population of pods in your culture tank to build up and grow, undisturbed, for a while, while you concentrate on weaning the newcomers onto frozen Mysis instead.
You can discontinue the use of the garlic for now, since it doesn’t seem to be helping, if that will simplify things during your feedings. It doesn’t sound like it is helping to stimulate the seahorses to eat the frozen food, and it sounds like the appetite of your seahorses doesn’t need much stimulating in any case…
I would work on weaning your seahorses onto a staple diet of frozen Mysis via target feeding as discussed above, Kris, and then teach them to eat the frozen Mysis from an appropriate feeding station. One of the techniques explained above should work well for this, providing they are feasible for you under your circumstances.
Best of luck getting your newcomers to eat more easily provided foods, Kris.
If the methods we discussed above don’t work for you or prove to be impractical for you to carry out, just let me know and there are a couple of other things we can try to get all their seahorses back to thriving on frozen Mysis as their staple diet with occasional treats of live foods from time to time.
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support