Dear Marti:

Pete Giwojna

Dear Marti:

One thing I have learned after being around seahorses for more than 25 years is that they definitely do have distinct personalities, Marti. Females generally tend to be more active and outgoing than the males, which makes your shy female all the more remarkable. Females 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.

Just like people, some seahorses are shy and retiring (introverted, I guess you could say) while others are real busybodies, that insist on being right in the thick of things and helping you out whenever you are working in the tank or performing aquarium maintenance. These extroverts will often perch on your hand or whatever aquarium utensil you may be using and watch intently as you finish your chores, apparently enjoying the ride and the company. Others will gladly interact with you at feeding time, but prefer to keep their distance otherwise.

And, of course, the individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits, Marti. Some are aggressive feeders that will boldly snatch food from your fingers, while some are shy and secretive at mealtime, feeding only when they think they’re not being observed. Some like to slurp up Mysis while it’s swirling through the water column, and some will only take Mysis off the bottom of the tank. Some are voracious pigs that greedily scarf up everything in sight, and some are slow, deliberate feeders that painstakingly examine every morsel of Mysis and stare it down forever before they accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds.

Seahorses are one fish that can become a true pet, and I’m convinced this is because they are more intelligent than most fishes. The highly domesticated Mustangs and Sunbursts are real personality fish and many of them actually enjoy being handled. Unlike most other fish that back off when you approach the aquarium and flee in terror if you place your hand in the tank, seahorses soon learn to recognize their keeper and will come out to meet you. They quickly learn to take food from your fingers, and as you will discover, having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. When one of these shy, enchanting creatures — whose very survival in the wild depends on concealing itself from predators at all times — comes trustingly up to the surface to eat right out of your palm, it’s a thrill you won’t soon forget. The training sessions and daily feedings required for this tend to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets. Many times they will even include you in their daily greeting, flashing their recognition colors and parading back and forth and at the front of the tank, performing their dancelike displays for your benefit.

But occasionally the dominant seahorse in a herd will develop a bad habit like monopolizing the feeding station, and driving one or more of the subordinate seahorses away until it has had its fill. In the aquarium, seahorses do often work out a dominance hierarchy of sorts within the herd, and the lower ranging seahorses will typically politely wait their turn until the top dogs have had their fill. I suspect that is what is going on with your female, Marti – I think she may be holding back at feeding time until the male has filled up on frozen Mysis, thereby avoiding any sort of confrontation with the stallion, who has already asserted its dominance.

Over time, you can expect to see less and less aggression between the two until they are acting like the best of friends again (except at feeding time, when even the mated pairs will squabble over the gourmet Mysis).

In the meantime, Marti, there are a few things you could try to ease the tension at feeding time. For instance, you might try setting up a larger feeding tray, and then depositing the frozen Mysis in two piles or clusters, one at each end of the feeding dish. That way, the more aggressive male will not be able to dominate both stockpiles of frozen Mysis, and your shy female can feed at one end of the feeding dish while the dominant male feeds at the other end. Sometimes this works very well in a situation like yours.

Or you can take things a step further and try setting up a second feeding station on the opposite side of the aquarium, well away from the first feeding dish, and then putting about half of the usual portion of frozen Mysis in each station. That way, if the aggressive male still insists on monopolizing one feeding station, the subordinate seahorses can gravitate to the other feeding station and still get their fill.

You might also consider target feeding the seahorses for the time being to assure that each of them gets enough to eat at mealtime. That’s a little more work, of course, but it can be a lot of fun and quite rewarding for both you and the seahorses.
So if you ever have a problem with an aggressive or “Alpha” seahorse dominating the feeding station, Marti, a good solution is often to use a larger feeding dish or even to set up two feeding stations in different areas of the aquarium. One dominant seahorse cannot monopolize both of the feeding troughs at the same time, so the less aggressive eaters and still get their fill from the second feeding tray.
If the feeding station is large enough, many seahorses will be able to feed from it simultaneously without getting in each other’s way, even if one of them is domineering and claims all of the Mysis within his immediate vicinity for himself or herself. If you want to go with one big feeding station, make it a feeding bowl or trough that is attractive in the aquarium and never needs to be removed, such as a large abalone shell or perhaps the Velvet Stone Coral (Montipora sp.) from Living Color.

In the meantime, I will go ahead and attach a document to this email that is devoted to the subject of “Target Feeding Seahorses with Frozen Mysis” so that you can download the document, save it on your computer, and then read through the information at your convenience.

Best wishes with all your fishes.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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