Re:a few questions… im new :)

#3422
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Tay:

Yikes, I’m terribly sorry to hear about the fire that destroyed your house and aquariums! A traumatic event like that is always a personal disaster and the loss of the little things like photographs and clothing and personal mementos and pets is just as devastating as the destruction and loss of the structure itself. The possessions can be replaced but so many of the personal items are irreplaceable. A house fire is a life changing experience — here’s hoping you and your family are able to rebuild and recover quickly.

One small step in that process would be to get a new aquarium up and running again, and I would certainly be happy to help you in any way I can in that regard. I’ll do my best to answer your questions one by one below, but first let me address your main concern, which seems to be whether Mustangs or Zulu-lulus would be the best choice for your needs and interests.

Zulu-lulus (Hippocampus capensis) require somewhat cooler temperatures and are more sensitive to heat stress and temperature spikes than Mustangs (H. erectus), but aside from that, they are both very hardy, highly adaptable seahorses that are well suited for beginners. You can expect both species to exhibit a number of color changes from month to month or even day to day, and I have seen some very beautiful and brightly colored specimens of both types, so I don’t think either one has an advantage in that department. Likewise, both Mustangs and Zulus are aggressive eaters that are easy to feed and have loads of personality.

Also known as the Knysna Seahorse or the Cape Seahorse, Zulu-lulus (Hippocampus capensis) are well suited for beginners. For one thing, these ponies are just the right size for the average home aquarium and are natural born gluttons — about the easiest of all seahorses to feed. They are smallish-to-medium seahorses, but they have BIG appetites and will eat most anything and everything the giant breeds do. They are aggressive feeders and, in an impressive display of voracity, even small specimens will unhesitatingly tackle large frozen Mysis that may take them two or three snicks to successfully swallow. A hungry Cape seahorse will often have more than half of a large mysid protruding from its snout, making it look like a sword swallower in mid-performance as it gradually works its gargantuan meal down with a series of mighty snicks! It is an amazing sight to watch an undersized capensis choke down several oversized frozen Mysis in quick succession and come hurrying back for more like it was starving with the tail of the last shrimp still sticking out of its mouth! They are capable of remarkable feats of sheer piggery, and everyone marvels at how rotund they are when they get their first good look at well-fed, captive-bred capensis.

Of course, they love frozen Mysis relicta 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, adult brine shrimp, amphipods, copepods, red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra), Caprellids — you name it and they’ll eat it. All the usual seahorse foods are taken with relish and these seagoing gluttons don’t seem to mind a bit whether they are live, freshly killed or frozen. They normally feed on nonmotile food in the wild (Garrick-Maidment, pers. comm.), so they thrive on frozen food in the aquarium. In short, feeding these fat little fellas is the last thing the hobbyist has to worry about!

Hippocampus capensis are fat, pudgy little ponies with a very distinctive appearance. Short and stout, with a portly profile, stubby snouts, big bulging eyes, and perfectly smooth bodies — I can’t decide whether these captivating characters and chubby little charmers are more cute or more comical looking! They are very unusual for seahorses in that they have no semblance of a crest or coronet whatsoever.

These thick-bodied little seahorses 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 dwarf seahorses — small enough to feel right at home in the average aquarium, yet large enough to make fine display specimens and to eat 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 newborn H. capensis are relatively easy to raise, much like dwarf seahorse fry.

Like most captive-raised seahorses, H. capensis are very social, highly gregarious animals that very much enjoy the company of others of their kind.

However, they are temperate seahorses that prefer cooler temperatures than tropical seahorses. The do best at stable temperatures between a range of 68°F-75°F (20°C-24°C) and don’t tolerate temperature spikes above 75°F well at all. Consequently, you may require an aquarium chiller to keep your 15-20 gallon tank within the comfort zone for Zulus (H. capensis) at all times, Tay.

Fortunately, there are some very affordable mini aquarium chillers that could easily be mounted on a small aquarium. For example, the CoolWorks Ice Probe and Microchiller units are ideal for small tanks (10-15 gallons) and will drop the water temperature up to 6-8°F below the ambient room temperature:

Click here: CoolWorks Ice Probe with Power Supply – Marine Depot – Marine and Reef Aquarium Super Store
<http://www.marinedepot.com/md_viewItem.asp?idProduct=CW1111&gt;

Click here: CoolWorks Microchiller – Marine Depot – Marine and Reef Aquarium Super Store
<http://www.marinedepot.com/md_viewItem.asp?idproduct=CW1131&gt;

If you equipped your 15 gallon aquarium with such a chiller so it can maintain temperatures in the 68°F-75°F range at all times, and heavily planted it with macroalgae, it would be a great setup for a pair of Zulu-lulus, Tay. If you do a quick search of this forum for "Zulus" or "Zulu-lulus," you find a lot of additional information on the care and keeping of these chubby little chowhounds, along with lots of suggestions for setting up an aquarium tailor-made to meet their needs and requirements.

Mustangs (Hippocampus erectus) are also great personality fish that would be a good choice for your first seahorses. Commonly known as the Lined Seahorse or Northern Giants, Mustangs were the first seahorses to be commercially raised for the aquarium hobby. They have been captive-bred and raised for more generations than any other seahorse, and have now achieved a level of domestication that makes them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The Ocean Rider aquaculture facility in Hawaii that raises H. erectus selects them for traits such as adaptability, vigor, disease resistance, fast growth and aggressive feeding habits — traits that increase the fitness of each line over time (Abbott 2003). After numerous generations of strengthening and improvement, the current breeds of farm-raised erectus are tough as nails. Very hardy and very impressive, yet affordable, CB Mustangs are a great choice for a novice seahorse keeper who is still learning the ropes (Abbott 2003). They are very adaptable and have led the on-going trend toward keeping captive-bred seahorses only (Abbott 2003).

Mustangs are impressive animals. They are large, robust, deep-chested seahorses that can reach well in excess of 7 inches in length when fully grown. They tend to be cryptically colored, and often show earth tones such as beige, russet, charcoal black, gray, brown, ochre or olive over an underlying pattern of fine parallel lines that run down their necks and across their chest (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). White blazes, blotches, saddles, triangles, and diamonds are common markings for captive-bred erectus (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

The lighter specimens that show their stripes boldly can be very striking, and they are apt to express a wide range of color phases as time passes, including everything from yellow to yellow-green, green, lavender, purple, maroon, magenta, pink, red, and orange from time to time (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Like all seahorses, the coloration expressed by Lined seahorses can vary with their mood, environment, and social activities.

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 interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors. My original pair are still going strong several years later, and I have watched them go through a number of color phases from month to month. One has settled on gray-green as its base coloration for the moment, and the other ranges between rust, burnt umber, and orange, but always with contrasting beige bands (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Last season, the male adopted a rich ochre yellow as his everyday attire (still with the same beige bands, though), while the female displayed a dark purplish ensemble with definite greenish highlights. When courting, they consistently brighten to a pearly white and a creamy yellow respectively (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). They make a handsome couple, and I find my erectus to be very attractive specimens in all their guises.

I set up my pair of these spirited steeds in a brand-new 30 gallon (tall) aquarium all their own, and that tank has been my most entertaining, trouble-free exhibit ever since. With a simple setup like theirs, I prefer to target feed my seahorses. That allows me to observe them closely on a daily basis, monitor their health, keep track of exactly how much each specimen is eating, and remove any leftovers immediately.

Led by the female-by far the bolder and most outgoing of the two-the Mustangs were soon literally eating right out of my hands. (I know, I know-sensible aquarists should always strive to keep their mitts out the aquarium as much as possible, but handfeeding is a thrill I find difficult to resist, and hey — nobody ever said I was sensible!) Of course, I’m very well aware of the risks involved and extremely diligent about taking all the necessary precautions beforehand. And besides, there are major advantages to handfeeding that more than offset any minor risks.

For one thing, the seahorses seem to enjoy the experience every bit as much as I do. They head for the feeding station as soon as I approach the tank, a series of color changes betraying their excitement, and queue up at the dinner table looking their best and brightest. Of course, they both try to snap up the first morsel – even pair-bonded ponies are not big on sharing or waiting turns – so I no longer offer them one mysid at a time. I offer them a handful of individually thawed Mysis in my upturned palm instead. They know the drill and happily perch on my fingers while snicking up the shrimp as fast as they can.

Secondly, feeding your seahorses by hand permits the aquarist to conduct a close-up, daily inspection of every specimen in his tank, and I like to use the opportunity to give ’em a good once over. These detailed examinations make it difficult not to notice any subtle changes in my seahorse’s appearance or behavior that might signal impending problems with disease or the water chemistry. That’s a big advantage, since the sooner such potential problems are detected, the easier they are to cure or prevent, and I recommend other hobbyists do the same.

Take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they’re all eating well, and use this opportunity to look them over closely for wounds, injuries, or signs of disease. Seahorses are natural-born gluttons. Ordinarily, these galloping gourmets are ALWAYS hungry, so when a seahorse is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s amiss in the aquarium.. Early detection of a potential problem can be the key to curing it, so it’s a good idea for the alert aquarist to observe his prize ponies while they put on the ol’ feed bag. Make sure they all show up for mess call, are acting normally, and have a well-rounded abdomen when they’re done eating. Handfeeding makes it hard to miss when one these chow hounds is off its feed, tipping off the alert aquarist to a potential problem.

Best of all, handfeeding is pure, sure-fire, 100% unadulterated fish-keeping fun! Feeding time for my seahorses is always a high point in my day. Having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. These daily feedings tends to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets.

As much as feeding time brightens up my day, I have no doubt it livens things up for my seahorses even more. They genuinely appear to enjoy interacting with me, and I believe in enriching their captive environment as much as possible. No doubt it’s the food they’re looking forward to, not the food giver, but our daily encounters are always eagerly awaited and they like to linger on my hand long after all the food is gone. They would allow me to lift them out of the water when I withdraw my hand if I didn’t gently shoo them away first.

After I’d had them a week or so, my Mustangs were beating me to their feeding station whenever I approached their tank, betraying their eagerness and excitement by flashing through a series of bright color changes as soon as I opened the aquarium cover. Needless to say, I was delighted to find my Mustangs were such aggressive feeders. They have never had a health problem, and I’ve been equally pleased with the results of Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis enriched with Vibrance as a long-term diet.

The only thing I don’t like about this extremely nutritious diet is the obligatory fast day. The problem with fasting is that the Mustangs don’t seem to realize it’s good for them-that it’s absolutely in their own best interests, essential for their long-term health. Whenever I make an appearance on fast day, they insist on parading back and forth in front of the glass in their greeting colors, begging for a handout. Before my butt hits the upholstery, both of them will be dancing at the feeding station, impatiently awaiting their gourmet shrimp dinner. When it doesn’t materialize, they forlornly abandon their post at the lunch counter, and come up to stare at me through the front glass. When I still don’t take the hint, the female paces back and forth at the front, looking her brightest and most conspicuous, as though trying to attract my attention, while the male reverts to his drab everyday attire and dejectedly resumes his futile vigil at the feeding station. If not for their well-rounded cross-sections, one would think they were dying of hunger, making it difficult to resist their puppy-dog antics. Just sitting there ignoring them makes me feel like a first-class heel. Sheesh–talk about your guilt trips Dang! I hate fast days.

However, Mustangs are large, robust seahorses — much bigger than the Zulu-lulus — so the smallest aquarium I would consider for a single pair of Mustangs is a 20-gallon Extra-High All Glass Aquarium, as discussed below. So if you decide to set up an aquarium of only 15-gallons, then your choice becomes obvious — go with a pair of the smaller Zulu-lulus, providing you can keep the aquarium cool and comfortable for them.

1. How does a seahorse tank compare with a typical saltwater tank in price and the work involved in the upkeep?

The cost of a basic seahorse setup and a conventional fish-only marine aquarium of comparable size are virtually identical, as are the maintenance and upkeep. Both types of tanks employ the same sort of filtration, lighting, test kits, and equipment.

If you want to start out with a low budget set up for keeping a single pair of Zulu-lulus or Mustangs, perhaps the most basic aquarium system I could suggest would be to obtain a 20 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (20"L x 10"W x 24"H), equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an off-the-shelf strip reflector with a florescent bulb, and then fit it with a full set of undergravel filters that completely cover the bottom of the aquarium, as described below.

The filtration system for the tank could thus be as basic as a set of well-maintained undergravels (preferably the new reerse flow designs) that covers the bottom of the tank completely. I know undergravel filters are considered old-fashioned technology nowadays, but they are inexpensive, utterly reliable and foolproof (no moving parts), easy to install, require no modification whatsoever, and work extremely well for seahorses within their limitations. An inexpensive diaphragm air pump will operate the filter and provide all the aeration you need, or you can upgrade to powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement.

For the substrate with your undergravel filters, use a coarse bed of good calcareous aquarium gravel such as dolomite, aragonite, or crushed oyster shell 2-3 inches deep, since the buffering ability of such substrates will help maintain good pH.

It is a good idea to supplement the undergravels with an inexpensive hang-on-back filter or canister to provide better circulation and accommodate chemical filtration media. This is a very simple, inexpensive aquarium that’s extremely easy and economical to set up and operate, yet it can be very successful if used within its limitations. For instance, undergravel filters are notorious nitrate factories and the hobbyist must take measures to compensate for this fact. This simple system relies totally on water changes to control nitrates. There is no live rock or live sand bed to provide denitrification, no algal filter or denitrator in a sump, and no protein skimmer to remove organics before they enter the nitrogen cycle. This limits the carrying capacity of the tank and makes an accelerated maintenance schedule and more frequent water changes an absolute necessity. For this reason, reverse flow undergravels often work best with seahorses; they help prevent detritus from accumulating in the gravel bed.

I recommend weekly water changes of a least 25% for such a system. Use a gravel washer to clean a different portion of the gravel bed (no more than 25%) each week and keep the tank under stocked. If you are diligent about aquarium maintenance, perform water changes religiously, and limit yourself to fewer seahorses that you feed carefully, you will find that a simple system featuring undergravel filters can be very successful. But if you are negligent with regard to maintenance, skimp on water changes, or tend to overcrowd or overfeed your tanks, this system will be very unforgiving.

It’s generally best to start out with the largest tank you can reasonably afford and maintain, the taller the better, in order to provide yourself with a comfortable margin for error if these will be our first seahorses, especially if you’re new to seahorses. The 20-gallon Extra-High All Glass Aquarium we have already discussed is the smallest tank I would consider using for it pair of Mustangs, but if you can afford to spend just a little more than I would suggest the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H), which won’t cost much more but which will provide you with a bigger margin for error. Any local fish store can order one for you and it’s an economical tank with excellent height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it the same as the 20-gallon tank, using a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an ordinary off-the-shelf strip reflector with a daylight florescent bulb, and that can form the basis of an inexpensive yet solid seahorse setup.

If you can afford to upgrade the filtration system a notch above undergravels, many seahorse keepers prefer well-cured, "debugged" live rock to provide all or most of the biofiltration for their aquariums. A simple external hang-on-the-back filter or an efficient canister filter instead that is rated for an aquarium of the size you have chosen could then be added on to provide water circulation, surface agitation for good oxygenation, and the means for providing mechanical and chemical filtration.

Of course, if you don’t have them already, you will also need some saltwater test kits to cycle your tank, monitor conditions in your aquarium, and keep track of the water quality. The basic test kits you’ll need to keep track of the aquarium parameters are ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, plus a hydrometer to check specific gravity and an aquarium thermometer (if you don’t have one already). You’ll need to get separate test kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and I recommend fasTest or Salifert kits for saltwater, which are fairly economical. I also like the SeaTest hydrometers–convenient, easy to read, and reliable. Here’s a list of what you’ll need for starters:

fasTest Ammonia test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
fasTest Nitrite test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
fasTest Nitrate test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
fasTesT pH test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
or the Salifert Nitrogen Cycle Package of test kits (Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, & pH)
Click here: Salifert Test Kits:
http://www.marinedepot.com/a_tk_sf.asp?CartId=
Safe or Prime declorinators by Sea Chem for detoxifying tap water;
SeaTest Hydrometer (by Aquarium Systems) for checking salinity;
Aquarium thermometer.
20- 30 gallon package of Instant Ocean artificial salt mix
Calcareous Aquarium Gravel suitable for marine aquarium
Package of Frozen Mysis to feed the seahorses (e.g., Piscine Energetics, Hikari and Gamma are all good brands to choose from)
Natural or Artificial Hitching Posts

The price for these items varies considerably from source to source, so I suggest you print out a list like this and then price it at different local fish stores in your area as well as different online outlets to give you a better idea of what these accessories will cost.

And then, of course, there is the cost of the seahorses themselves, which you may be able to get via the First Time Buyer’s Special.

2. Do seahorses prefer a certain shape of tank? (i.e. more round vs. rectangular)

No, sir — seahorses don’t prefer cylindrical tanks or hex tanks as opposed to a standard rectangular aquarium. They appreciate bottom space and room to roam, but the most important dimension of a seahorse tank is the height. It is very desirable to select an aquarium at least 20-inches high when keeping the greater seahorses. They need the vertical swimming space to perform their complex mating ritual and successfully complete the egg transfer, which is accomplished while the pair is rising through the water column or drifting slowly downwards from the apex of their rise. If the aquarium is too shallow, eggs will be spilled during the transfer from the female to the male’s brood pouch, and mating becomes increasingly difficult or impossible below a certain minimum depth. A tall aquarium can also help protect the seahorses from depth-related health problems such as bloated pouch and certain forms of Gas Bubble Disease.

In your case, Tay, the smallest aquarium I would suggest for keeping a single pair of Mustangs is the 20-gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (20"L x 10"W x 24"H). Any local fish store can order one for you and it’s an economical tank with excellent height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an ordinary off-the-shelf strip reflector with a daylight florescent bulb, and that can form the basis of an inexpensive yet solid seahorse setup. But you would really be better off starting out with a larger aquarium in the 30-50 gallon range to provide yourself with a more stable system and a bigger margin for error, since this will be your first marine aquarium, especially if you decide on Mustangs rather than Zulu-lulus.

3. I am not interested in breeding/rearing. Could I buy two females?

Yes, sir, that’s certainly an option. If you have no interest in breeding and rearing, you can certainly set up a same-sex tank to preclude mating. And if you are going to restart yourself to only one gender, then a pair of fillies is probably the best choice for you since female seahorses generally have fewer health problems than the males. There are a few different reasons for this.

First of all, the physiologically dynamic brood pouch of the males, with its heavy vascularization and increased blood supply, makes them much more prone to the various forms of Gas Bubble Syndrome (GBS) than females.

Secondly, females obviously never have problems with prolapsed pouches. A prolapse or a partial prolapse of the pouch occurs when part of the lining of the marsupium becomes everted and protrudes through the mouth of the pouch. Prolapses are rare but can occur during or shortly after parturition as a result of the birth spasms during a strenuous delivery, or when courting males are performing their vigorous pouch displays and pumping water in and out of the pouch, or as a complication of recurring pouch emphysema.

Thirdly, males must occasionally deal with other complications of pregnancy, such as stillborn young that cannot be expelled, difficult deliveries that can sometimes extend over three or four days, and the inability to cleanse their pouch completely and flush out all the placental tissue fragments after delivering their brood.

Finally, aggressive males very occasionally injure one another when sparring for the right to a female. In the aquarium, both males and females compete for mates, but there is a big difference in the way they go about it. Females compete with one another passively, each trying to outdo the other and be the first to attract a mate simply by increasing the intensity of their courtship activities and displays. Their competitive behavior is therefore directed at the eligible males rather than any rival females. Males, on the other hand, compete much more actively and much more antagonistically. Their behavior is often aimed directly at their rival(s) and includes aggressive behaviors such as tail wrestling and snapping or sparring, which are never seen in the fairer sex. In other words, females respond to the presence of rivals by getting more flirtatious, whereas males often react to rivals by getting surly and carrying a testosterone-induced chip on their shoulders.

Snapping is an aggressive maneuver in which the attacker stretches out his head and flicks his snout against his rival with a violent snap, thus delivering a nasty blow to the foe. The snap is often aimed either at the opponent’s eye or gills — the only vulnerable spots on an armor-plated adversary — and the force of a well-directed snap can momentarily stun the unfortunate recipient. On very rare occasions, when these blows are directed at the head, eye injuries can result (mostly in the form of unilateral exophthalmia or Popeye), and persistent bullying can be stressful to the other seahorses.

So if you’re going to keep only seahorses of one sex, females are the best choice. They have fewer health complications and won’t show any aggression towards one another. When you place your order, be sure to specify that you want two females in the "Comments" section of the online order form.

4. What are some favorite corals for hitching posts? Are there any that should be avoided at all costs?

If you’re talking about live corals, then soft orals in general are more suitable for a seahorse tank then the hard or stony corals, and you should avoid LPS corals in particular. Of the soft corals, seahorses seem to favor cabbage corals, leather corals, and gorgonians as natural hitching posts.

When it comes to aquascaping a seahorse tank, you want to provide a fairly complex environment with various microhabitats and plenty of sight barriers and suitable hitching posts, as discussed below:

Hitching Posts

When it comes to hitching posts and decorations, seahorses in general tend to prefer perches that are bigger in diameter over skinnier ones that are a bit more difficult to get a good grip on with their tails, but other than that, it’s very difficult to predict what they’ll go for. I have noticed that tree sponges and tube sponges — both the real thing (which are difficult to keep healthy) and the lifelike artificial versions — almost always seem to be particular favorites. Very often such sponges are bright red or yellow or brilliant orange in coloration, but I think it is the structure and texture of the sponges that attracts the seahorses more than the color. (In a tank like yours,Tay, I would avoid live sponges and stick to the artificial aquarium sponges instead.)

Seahorses often tend to gravitate towards gorgonians, and the big purple gorgonians that are large in diameter are also usually very popular with seahorses. Otherwise, they seem to like genuine corals and synthetic corals about equally well, and the brightly colored formations (orange, red, or vivid yellow) usually produce better results than plain white corals.

Hitching posts for your seahorses can thus be either live or artificial marine sea grasses, algae and corals. If you decide to try an assortment of colorful artificial corals, seahorses often prefer red or orange pieces. Many hobbyists report good results using artificial finger sponges, staghorn coral, octopus coral and pillar coral in the appropriate colors to keep their seahorses looking their brightest (SigNature Coral Corporation). They look entirely natural and lifelike, with lots of branching projections that make great hitching posts for seahorses. Oh, and their cup coral makes a great ready-made feeding station! They can be obtained from the following website:

Click here: SigNature artificial Coral Corporation
http://www.signaturecoral.com/

Sea Garden synthetic aquarium plants also make good hitching posts for seahorses. The Sea Garden saltwater series of "Fancy Plants" are very realistic, completely safe for saltwater, and very easy to maintain. Just rinse them under warm running water before installation and periodically thereafter for cleaning. There’s a very nice selection of them available and seahorses can’t seem to tell the difference between them and the real thing.

Macroalgae — Living Hitching Posts

For live hitching posts, I prefer decorative marine plants or macroalgae in a variety of shapes and colors and color–reds, golds, and yellows in addition to green varieties, some tall and feather, some short and bushy–to provide them with natural hitching posts and shelter. I like to start with a mixture of red and gold Gracilaria (Ogo) and artfully arrange them around a lush bed of assorted bright green Caulerpa. Any of the plumed (feathery) or long-bladed Caulerpa would be ideal for this, such as Caulerpa sertularioides, C. mexicana, C. ashmedii, C. serrulata or C. prolifera.

Be sure to prune and trim back the fast-growing Caulerpa regularly; when you remove the clippings, you’re exporting phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the tank, thereby helping to maintain good water quality, and pruning the runners helps keep it from going sexual.

When pruning or trimming back macroalgae, take care not to actually cut it. Remember, you’re not pruning hedges or trimming trees — the idea is to carefully pull up and remove continuous, unbroken fronds. Simply thin out the colony of excess strands, gently plucking up convenient fronds that can be readily removed intact. A little breakage is fine, but cutting or breaking too many strands will result in leaching undesirable substances into the aquarium water as the Caulerpa’s lifeblood drains away. Too much cutting or breaking can thus sap the colony’s strength and cause die offs or trigger the dreaded vegetative events that judicious pruning otherwise prevents.

If you’re concerned about your ability to maintain and control of Caulerpa properly, just use a different forms of macroalgae that grows less rapidly instead and you can get the same sort of benefits at relatively little risk. In that case, some of the other macroalge you may wish to consider are Gracilaria, Ulva, Chaetomorpha, and Chlorodesmis. Hawaiian Ogo (Gracilaria sp.) are bushy red-to-brown macros that do well under low light levels. Sea Lettuce (Ulva sp.) are deep green sheets of algae that do best under a little stronger lighting. Maiden’s Hair (Chlorodesmis sp.) are bright green tufts or clumps of very fine-bladed algal mats to grow attached to small rocks. All of these types of macroalgae are much less prolific and slower growing than Caulerpa. However, like all macroalgae, they should still be harvested periodically in order to export the excess nutrients they have consumed.

Aside from red and brown Gracilaria and the bright green Ulva and Maiden’s Hair, some seahorse keepers also like the Chaetomorpha turf algae or spaghetti algae, as it is also known. It can best be described as looking like the clumps of the colorful plastic grass we use to fill Easter baskets. It is popular because it is slow growing and doesn’t require the kind of pruning that Caulerpa needs, and because it it comes loaded with microfauna: miniature feather dusters, copepods and amphipods, tiny snails and micro stars. In short, Chaetomorpha is another interesting marine plant that can add some extra variety to a lush bed of macroalgae.

Seahorses also like live rock, particularly colorful pieces that are heavily overgrown with pinkish or purplish coralline algae. Aside from looking pretty, live rock also provides additional biological filtration (of nitrification and denitrification) for the aquarium and provides shelter and sight barriers that make the seahorses feel secure.

5. If I do get any fish, I would only want 1-2 small ones. Does anyone have any personal favorites?

When it comes to compatible tankmates for seahorses, I am partial to Firefish. They are small, colorful, very docile, deliberate feeders, and they display themselves openly of the water column. Either the Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris magnifica) or better yet the Purple Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris decora), which is even more colorful, would be a great addition to a seahorse tank.

I also like Grammas as tankmates for seahorses. I have found that the royal gramma (Gramma loretto) does great with seahorses. Royal grammas are highly territorial and very quarrelsome amongst themselves, but for all practical intents and purposes, it’s been my experience that they utterly ignore seahorses (and vice versa). They have brilliant colors, a docile disposition towards seahorses, and are deliberate feeders that won’t outcompete the ponies at mealtime. As long as you are willing to limit yourself to just one Royal Gramma and quarantine it before you introduce it to the main tank, I’m quite confident it will make a wonderful addition to your seahorse tank. Or the closely related Blackcap Basslet (Gramma melacara), which shares the same attributes, would be another good option.

Just remember, all fishes that are intended as tankmates for seahorses MUST be quarantined first without exception. Any fish you bring home from your LFS is a potential disease vector for all manner of nasty pathogens and parasites, and you need to take every possible precaution to prevent these from being introduced to your display tank.

6. Are there certain color hitching posts that bring out certain colors in the horses?

In general, it’s a good idea to strive for bright reds, oranges, and yellows in anything your seahorses may adopt as a holdfast. These aquatic equines — especially the stallions — will often choose one particular hitching post as their home base and spend much of there time perched right there (think of your Dad hunkered down in his favorite easy chair in the den). Once they adopt a favorite base of operations like this, they may sometimes proceed to change coloration to match their preferred resting spot. So you want to encourage them to adopt one of the more vivid pieces as a favorite holdfast.

7. I’ve heard the seahorses do better in groups, so should I get more than two right away? or would you recommend getting a feel for two, then adding more? Would the horses fight with new additions to the herd? And, as I said before, I’m thinking of just getting females (if that’s ok). Could i get an odd number or do they do better in pairs regardless of gender?

Ocean Rider seahorses are highly gregarious, very social animals that very much appreciate the company of others of their kind. Fighting or ritualized aggression shouldn’t be a problem at all, particularly if you are keeping all females. Far from being territorial and antagonistic towards new additions to the herd, quite the opposite normally occurs — the seahorses are typically very excited and very interested in the newcomers, and generally very much welcome new arrivals. Adding new seahorses almost always triggers a flurry of renewed activity and greetings as the seahorses reassess their shifting social dynamics and check out their prospective new partners. If that are males and females present, adding new of seahorses will often result in new pairs forming and a spike in breeding activity.

In your case, if you wanted to add a trio of female Zulus rather than just the pair, that’s fine. But two females is really all you need in order to keep each other company. And if you opt for the larger Mustangs, then I would certainly stick with a single pair. A 20-gallon aquarium is really not large enough to accommodate any more than two Mustangs, particularly if you want to keep one or two other small fish as tankmates for them.

8. And finally, what’s the best filtration system for seahorse tanks?

Well, sir, there really isn’t any right or wrong filtration system for keeping large seahorses like Mustangs or Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus), but I would be happy to share my thoughts on the matter with you and discuss my preferences. In general, anything from undergravels, to a Berlin-type system that relies primarily on live rock for biofiltration, to wet/dry trickle filters, to canister filters and bio-wheels can be used successfully for filtering a seahorse tank providing you maintain the filtration system properly.

The setup for greater seahorses I prefer, and which most hobbyists favor at this time, is know as a "Sea-Horses-Only-With-Live-Rock" system, or a SHOWLR tank for short. It is simplicity itself, extremely effective for seahorses, and endlessly adaptable. It is suitable for tanks from 5 gallons to 500 gallons, and can be adapted successfully to suit the simplest setups or the most complex, high-tech systems. The primary components of the SHOWLR tank include:

(1) a thin layer of live sand (3/4" to 1" deep) for the substrate;
(2) 1-2 pounds of well-cured live rock per gallon of water;
(3) a quality protein skimmer;
(4) and an external power filter to provide water movement and supplemental chemical/mechanical filtration, as desired; power heads can be added as needed to increase circulation and eliminate dead spots.

Live Rock.

The one indispensable part of a SHOWLR system is the foundation of live rock. The live rock is the living, breathing, heart and soul of the system, which provides the bulk of the biological filtration as well as some denitrification ability and shelter and habitat for countless critters and microfauna. The porous interior of the rock supports large populations of the beneficial oxygen-loving Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria that breakdown deadly ammonia and nitrite into less toxic substances (primarily nitrate). Deeper inside the live rock, where oxygen levels are nil, anaerobic denitrifying bacteria take hold and complete the nitrogen cycle, breaking down nitrate into harmless nitrogen. This helps keep the nitrate levels in the seahorse tank low. As a result, live rock is superior to most other forms of biofiltration, which lack this final anaerobic step and cannot carry out denitrification. This makes live rock doubly good at maintaining optimum water quality.

Equally important, the rockwork provides cover for the seahorses. By this, I mean the rock allows the seahorses to hide and conceal themselves completely whenever they feel the need. Seahorses are shy, secretive creatures that rely on camouflage as their primary means of protection, and if they feel too exposed and vulnerable, it can be stressful for them.

Despite its beauty, natural appearance and the many benefits it provides, some hobbyists avoid live rock like the plague for fear that they may introduce harmful pests to their aquarium along with the live rock. This is a valid concern since potentially harmful hitchhikers like mantis shrimp, fireworms, aggressive crabs, hydroids and Aiptasia rock anemones are very often unseen and unwanted tenants of live rock. They insinuate themselves throughout the live rock in nooks and crannies, and multitudes of these squatters may have taken up housekeeping in a good-sized piece of rock unbeknownst to the unsuspecting aquarist. They conceal themselves within the labyrinth of rock and often escape even the closest scrutiny undetected.

But with a little care this is one time when aquarists can have their cake and eat it too. There are a number of ways to take advantage of all the benefits live rock provides without risking unleashing an epidemic of tenacious rock anemones or turning Jack-the-Ripper loose in your tank reincarnated in the form of a thumb-splitting Stomatopod.

By and large, bristleworms are beneficial scavengers and sand sifters unless their numbers get out of hand, so a better option for many seahorse keepers is to keep the Aiptasia and bristleworm population in check using some means of biological control. Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) love to dine on Aiptasia rock anemones and several of these attractive shrimp will do a fine job of eradicating them from the aquarium. Certain nudibranchs (Berghia sp.) also feed on Aiptasia. Likewise, small Arrow Crabs (Stenorhynchus sp.) will keep the bristleworm population at a manageable number. Any mantis shrimp or aggressive crabs that happen to slip by are generally fairly easy to trap and remove, and commercially made traps are available for that very purpose.

Treating the live rock with a hypersaline dip is an effective technique for ridding it of unwanted pests. This method doesn’t kill the critters outright but merely drives them out of the rockwork so you can selectively cull through them. Another advantage of this method is that leaves all the desirable life on the rocks intact and unharmed.

To use this technique, simply place your newly arrived live rock in an inert container filled with saltwater at a specific gravity of at least 1.040 for several minutes before you cure it (or afterwards if you obtained pre-cured rock). (The saltier the water, the shorter the length of time you need to soak the live rock, and the more effective the hypersaline bath will be in driving out unwanted hitchhikers.) Invertebrates cannot tolerate rapid changes in salinity, so all the mobile inverts in the rock will quickly abandon there hidey-holes and bale out of the rock like rats deserting a sinking ship. After a several minutes in this extra-salty bath, the evacuation will be complete, and you can remove the now pest-free live rock and sort your catch. Cull the invertebrates left behind in dipping container, discarding the pests you don’t want while retrieving any of the refugees you might like to add to your system. Several minutes in the hypersalinity is generally enough to drive out all the active invertebrates such as mantis shrimp (Stomatopods), crabs, and assorted worms of every description, yet this brief period of immersion will not harm encrusting organisms or sessile life.

External Filter

A simple external power filter is a valuable addition to a SHOWLR setup for several reasons. It will provide added water movement and circulation for your aquarium, as well as accommodating any mechanical or chemical filtration you may desire. Nothing fancy is needed here, since it’s primary purpose is to provide adjustable water move and current that can be switched during feedings if needed.

The type or brand of supplemental filter you choose for your SHOWLR tank is therefore not critical, but there are certain desirable features you want to look for in any filter that will be used for seahorses. For example, it should provide good surface agitation and water movement with adjustable flow to promote gas exchange at the air/water interface. The intake tubes should reach all the way to the substrate (add extenders if they do not) and be screened off or otherwise shielded so they cannot "eat" a curious seahorse. The filter must provide efficient oxygenation and gas exchange and be able to accommodate mechanical and chemical filtration media such as activated carbon and polyfilter pads. A prefilter is very desirable, as is a "waterfall" or spray bar return.

As I said, many hobbyists dislike live rock for their seahorse system for various reasons, and if you share their concerns and would rather not include live rock in your seahorse tank, Tay, then might clear-cut second choice would be a wet/dry trickle filter. As far as biofiltration goes, wet/dry trickle filters are probably the most desirable units for the seahorse keeper after live rock filtration. They are top-of-the-line units that feature a thin film of water trickling over filter media with an ultra-large surface area, thereby allowing maximum air-water contact. This provides excellent oxygenation with efficient offgassing, which is very important for seahorses. It helps keep dissolved oxygen levels high, CO2 low, and effectively prevents gas supersaturation, which can sometimes contribute to serious problems (gas bubble disease) for our aquatic equines. As an added benefit, wet/dry trickle filters can also support a tremendous population of aerobic nitrifying bacteria that provide remarkable biological filtration, which gives these systems excellent carrying capacity and a decent margin for error for beginners. And biowheel filters accomplish much the same thing as well.

But a wet/dry trickle filter or biowheel certainly isn’t mandatory by any means. Some seahorse keepers like the CPR Bak-Pak filters which combine an efficient protein skimmer along with biological filtration. And a quality canister filter with biological filtration ability, or a set of ordinary undergravel filters, can also work well in the right system. So when you’re choosing of filtration system for your seahorse tank, just go with whatever suits your preferences, needs, and budget.

Finally, I would just like to point out that you can search the discussion forum for any information in which you have an interest. There is a rectangular window in the upper right-hand corner (just above the page numbers) on the forum with the words "search forum" in it. Just type the word or phrase you are looking for into that window and press "Enter" on your keyboard, and the results of your search will pop up in just a few moments. For example, if you type in "newbie" or "new to seahorses" or "tank set-up advice," you’ll find some detailed discussions explaining how to create an optimum environment for seahorses in your aquarium.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Tay!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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