Pete Giwojna

Dear hobbyist:

Providing your water quality is good and the seahorses are eating well, the relative inactivity you noticed from one of the seahorses is probably normal for that particular specimen. As ambush predators that lie in wait until their prey comes to them, 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. It is normal for seahorses to spend most of the day perched on a convenient hitching post rather than actively swimming.

Of course, they do swim about from time to time exploring their surroundings, but most often these are just short hops from one hitching post to the other rather than extended periods of swimming in open water. Expect your seahorses to get more active at feeding time and during courtship and breeding. They have an active courtship featuring lots of synchronized swimming, vigorous pouch displays, color changes, "handholding" with entwined tails, etc., and males will compete actively and aggressively for females at times via tail wrestling and snapping. But they typically remain in ambush mode, hitched to their favorite perch, throughout much of the day.

Karen is correct — in general, females tend to be more active than males (particularly when the males are pregnant and carrying a brood of young). For example, in the wild, pair-bonded seahorses spawn repeatedly and exclusively with one another (Vincent and Sadler, 1995), remaining in the same location so they can stay together. Pair-bonded males take up residence at a small home base, perhaps a square meter or so in size, within their chosen mates’ much larger territory and seldom stray from that spot thereafter (Vincent and Sadler, 1995). Researchers thus speak of these males as being "site-specific," meaning that day after day they can be found at the same tiny patch of the vast seagrass beds (Vincent and Sadler, 1995). The female, meanwhile, roams and hunts over an area perhaps a hundred times larger, which is centered around the male’s home base (Vincent and Sadler, 1995). Most of the time, both males and females anchored to hitching posts, relying on their camouflage ability to escape notice from predators.

So it pays to devote special attention to the hitching posts you select. 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 will often 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.

Let us know of immediately if the inactive specimen shows any additional symptoms, such as increased respirations, positive buoyancy, loss of appetite or areas of depigmentation. But barring any additional indicators of a problem, the difference you have noticed in the activity level the seahorses probably just reflects their different personalities or genders.

Best of luck with your new seahorses!

Pete Giwojna

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