Re:Brazilian sea horses

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tami:

Brazilian seahorses (Hippocampus reidi) are large tropical seahorses that can sometimes be found in bright color phases. Because of these rare color morphs, the Brazilians are best known for two things, Tami – brilliant colors and making babies.

The Brazilian breeding machine is the most prolific of all the seahorses. They have a well-deserved reputation for churning out brood after brood every two weeks with relentless regularity during the breeding season, and hold the world record for delivering ~1600 young in a single brood (anecdotal reports of broods up to 2000 fry are not uncommon)! Not bad for a livebearer!

The other thing Brazilian seahorses are prized for is their intense coloration. Although most wild Hippocampus reidi are blackish or brown in coloration with darker spots, this species is also famous for its beautiful color morphs. Ranked from the most common to the least often seen, vivid yellow, orange, and red specimens of H reidi are sometimes available, and are in great demand by hobbyists. Many aquarists consider the colorful morphs of H. reidi to be the most beautiful of all seahorses. These bright base colors are usually decorated with many small, dark spots, giving reidi one of its common nicknames — the Spotted Seahorse.

Brazilians are sleek, graceful seahorses, perfectly proportioned with slender bodies, long tails, and long snouts. Their lithe appearance gives rise to their other common names, the Slender Seahorse or the Longsnout Seahorse. As Alisa Abbott so aptly describes them, while the robust H. erectus is a solidly built seahorse like a Mac truck, H. reidi shares the graceful curves of a Corvette Stingray (Abbott 2003). The result is an elegant seahorse that is everyone’s all-time favorite.

Long renowned for their brilliant colors, rapid color changes, prolific breeding habits, and huge broods of difficult-to-raise fry, all serious seahorse keepers are familiar with these breathtaking beauties. Often proclaimed the most beautiful of seahorses, a brightly colored H. reidi is the crown jewel in many aquarists’ collections. These rather majestic steeds are long-lived, and with good care, they will be your companions for the next five to seven years and may eventually reach a length of 7 inches (Abbott 2003; Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

Unfortunately, the colorful specimens of Hippocampus reidi are difficult to come by and often command high prices, Tami. This is because Brazilian seahorses are also widely considered to be the most difficult species to raise because of the small size of the newborns and the lengthy pelagic phase of development they must undergo. Hippocampus reidi is not a good choice for anyone who is primarily interested in breeding and raising his or her seahorses, rather than merely keeping them as pets.

If you contact me by e-mail, Tami, I will be happy to send you a detailed species summary for Hippocampus reidi, that includes complete information about their natural history, breeding habits, and aquarium requirements, including successful breeding protocols developed by professional aquaculturists specifically for this challenging species. I can be reached at the following e-mail address anytime:

[email protected]

There are some decent seahorse guidebooks out there, Tami, but I have found them to be rather superficial and not that helpful overall. I would suggest that you try looking them up at your local library before you invest in any of them, since you are likely to be disappointed with the quantity and quality of the information they contain. I will discuss some the possibilities for you below:

First of all, if this will be your first saltwater aquarium, there are a couple of books that I recommend for all inexperienced marine aquarists. An excellent place to start would be to read the book The New Marine Aquarium by Michael Paletta (144 pages). Next I would suggest you follow that up by perusing The Conscientious Marine Aquarist: A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists by Bob Fenner (456 pages). Those are both outstanding books for a beginner that will give you an excellent grasp of the basic things you need to know to maintain a marine aquarium.

After you’ve had a chance to digest The New Marine Aquarium and The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, and have a better understanding of the basic principles involved in keeping a saltwater aquarium, you should next study a good guidebook devoted for seahorses. I would say the most useful of these for your needs is Seahorses: How to Care for your Seahorses in the Marine Aquarium by Tracy Warland (95 pages). But either of Neil Garrick-Maidment’s two latest books, Seahorses: Conservation and Care (48 pages) or the Seahorses: Practical Fish-Keeper’s Guide (64 pages) would also be good choices. And Seahorses: Complete Pet Owner’s Manual by Frank Indiviglio (96 pages) is another worthwhile book for someone new to seahorses.

Both of the marine aquarium guides I have mentioned and many of the seahorse guides listed should be available from your local library or can be purchased from Jim Forshey at the Aquatic Bookshop <;, or any of the other major booksellers, but Tracy Warland’s seahorse guidebook is only available from sources in Australia, who will be happy to ship it to the USA when you order. Otherwise, here in the United States, your best bet is to borrow a copy of her book from the library.

If you have difficulty locating an Australian outlet that carries Tracy’s seahorse guidebook, you can always obtain a copy from the Natural History Book Society in the UK, at the following URL:

More experienced seahorse keepers should forego the basic guidebooks mentioned previously and check out the following more advanced books about seahorses instead:

TITLE: Seahorses: An Identification Guide to the World’s Species and their Conservation
AUTHOR: Sara A. Lourie, Amanda C.J. Vincent, and Heather J. Hall
PUBLISHER: Project Seahorse (1999)
ISBN: 0-9534693-0-1
REASON FOR IMPORTANCE: The first comprehensive guide to seahorse species worldwide. The heart of the book presents descriptions of each species supported by full illustrations, photographs, distribution maps and a pictorial key. Excellent identification key and introduction to meristic counts, morphometrics, taxonomy and classification. Unfortunately, there is no information at all on aquarium requirements, maintenance, feeding, breeding, rearing or aquaculture, which limits the usefulness of this book for hobbyists.
HARDCOVER/SOFTCOVER AVAILABILITY: Soft Cover (spiral bound) only, 214 pages

TITLE: Seahorses, Pipefishes and Their Relatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Syngnathiformes
AUTHOR: Rudie H. Kuiter
PUBLISHER: TMC Publishing (2000)
ISBN: 0-9539097-0-0
REASON FOR IMPORTANCE: Detailed information on over 350 different species, including Seahorses, Pipefishes, Seadragons, Shrimpfishes, Trumpetfishes and Seamoths as well as a list of all known species of Sygnathids. With more than 1000 spectacular photographs, most taken in the fishes’ natural habitats, the book contains a wealth of information about habitats and behavior, including details of ideal aquarium set ups for each species. However, it is primarily a picture book, with very little information devoted to the aquarium care of the various seahorses. It does do a very nice job of discussing the natural history of many of the specimens and certainly contains the best illustrations of seahorses to date, including courtship, breeding, birth and predation. The detailed coverage of pipefishes is unprecedented. The pictures are breathtaking and it is well worth owning for that reason alone.

Both the seahorse identification guide and Rudie Kuiter’s photo book are outstanding in their own right, but they are both fairly expensive, so I would suggest checking them out at your local library before you decide if you want to invest in them and add them to your collection.

But the best advice I can give you if you are thinking of starting up a seahorse tank and would like some guidance to make sure you get things right, Tami, would be to participate in the Ocean Rider seahorse training program, rather than reading through any of the cursory guidebooks that are available.

There is no charge for the seahorse training course and it is extremely detailed, covering every aspect of setting up a new aquarium dedicated to seahorses, and it will explain everything you need to know in order to keep seahorses successfully in a home aquarium.

Please allow me to introduce myself, Tami. My name is Pete Giwojna and I provide tech-support for Ocean Rider ( Part of my duties in that regard include providing a quick training course for new Ocean Rider customers and first-time buyers to get them up to speed on the aquarium care and requirements of seahorses.

The purpose of this training is twofold: (1) to assure that the hobbyist has a suitable aquarium, completely cycled and with the biofiltration fully established, ready and waiting when his seahorses arrive, and (2) to assure that the hobbyist has a good understanding of the aquarium care and requirements of Ocean Rider seahorses by the time he or she has completed the training and been certified. All of which will help to ensure that things go smoothly and that the home aquarist’s first experience with Ocean Rider seahorses is rewarding and enjoyable.

This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge, yet very comprehensive, Tami. Ocean Rider provides the free training as a service to their customers and any other hobbyists who are interested in learning more about the care and keeping of seahorses. It’s a crash course on seahorse keeping consisting of 10 separate lessons covering the following subjects, and is conducted entirely via e-mail. There is no homework and there are no examinations or classes to attend or anything of that nature — just a lot of good, solid information on seahorses for you to read through and absorb as best you can, at your own speed, working from your computer in the comfort of your own home. The training course consists of a total of over 210 pages of text with more than 230 full color illustrations, broken down into 10 lessons covering the following subjects:

Lesson 1: Selecting a Suitable Aquarium & Optimizing It for Seahorses.
Tank dimensions and specifications (why height is important);
Tank location and aquarium stressors;
Setting up a SHOWLR tank to create ideal conditions for seahorses;
filtration options
protein skimmers
UV sterilizers
titanium grounding probe
water circulation
Test kits for monitoring water quality;
Aquascaping the seahorse tank;
artificial hitching posts
Basic aquarium setups for seahorses;
undergravel filters
sponge filters

Lesson 2: Cycling a New Aquarium & Installing the Cleanup Crew.
The nitrogen cycle;
nitrification and denitrification
Step-by-step instructions for cycling a new marine aquarium;
Seahorse-safe sanitation engineers and aquarium janitors;
microhermit crabs
cleaner shrimp
Starter seahorses (hardy, highly domesticated, high-health ponies)

Lesson 3: Reading Assignments (books, articles, and columns devoted to seahorses).

Lesson 4: Water Chemistry, Aquarium Maintenance, & Maintaining Optimum Water Quality.
Basic water quality parameters (acceptable range and optimum levels);
specific gravity
dissolved oxygen
Advanced water chemistry for reef keepers;
Performing partial water changes to maintain good water quality;
Aquarium maintenance schedule;

Lesson 5: Feeding Seahorses.
Frozen Mysis serves as their staple, everyday diet;
brands of frozen Mysis
thawing and preparing frozen Mysis
enriching with Vibrance
Recommended feeding regimen;
how to tell if your seahorse is getting enough to eat
Feeding tips for seahorses;
preparing and serving the frozen Mysis
feeding new arrivals
secretive feeders
morning feedings
setting up a feeding station
training the seahorses to use a feeding tray
artificial feeding stations
natural feeding stations
purchasing a ready-made feeding station
elevating the feeding station
fasting seahorses
target feeding
Mysis relicta from Piscine Energetics
Broadcast feeding or scatter feeding — just say no!

Lesson 6: Compatible Tankmates for Seahorses.
Safe and unsafe companions — no guarantees;
Tropical tankmates;
fish to avoid
seahorse-safe fish
seahorse-safe invertebrates
Feeding seahorses in a community tank;
Seahorse-proofing a reef tank
safe corals
unsafe corals
lighting the seahorse reef
managing water circulation for a seahorse reef

Lesson 7: Courtship & Breeding.
Courtship displays in Hippocampus (fully illustrated)
tilting and reciprocal quivering
pouch displays (pumping and ballooning)
copulatory rise and the egg transfer
Pair formation
Morning greetings
Male brooding — a true pregnancy
Giving birth — dawn deliveries

Lesson 8: Raising the Young.
Seahorse fry
Determining ease of rearing
Setting up a basic nursery for benthic babies
Advanced nursery tank options for pelagic fry
the shaded nursery
kriesel and pseudokreisel nurseries
the divided nursery
in-tank nurseries (illustrated)
the greenwater "starter" nursery
hyposalinity for pelagic fry
Delivery day
Culling the fry (if necessary)
Feeding the fry
hatching and enriching brine shrimp (Artemia)
decapsulated brine shrimp eggs
culturing rotifers and copepods
Fry feeding schedule

Lesson 9: Disease Prevention and Control.
Captive bred vs. wild-caught seahorses
Importance of High-Health seahorses
Seahorse anatomy illustrations
external anatomy
internal anatomy
Screening seahorses from your LFS
Quarantine tank
Quarantine protocol for pet-shop ponies and wild seahorses
Beta glucan boosts immunity to disease
Early detection of health problems
aquarium stressors
disease symptoms in seahorses
What to do at the first sign of a health problem
The seahorse-keepers medicine chest
first aid kit for seahorses
must-have medications to keep on hand
properties of the main medications
Life expectancy
Hepatic lipidosis (prevalence of fatty liver disease)
Seahorse disease book

Lesson 10: Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) & Acclimating New Arrivals.
Nature of Mustangs and Sunbursts
multi-generational approach to rearing
hybrid vigor
genetic diversity
selective breeding
Hippocampus erectus species summary
scientific name and common names
meristic counts and morphometric measurements (illustrated)
climate and distribution
color and pattern
breeding habits
breeding season
gestation period
brood size
pelagic/benthic fry
onset of sexual maturity
ease of rearing
natural habitats and natural history
preferred parameters and aquarium requirements
suggested stocking density
successful rearing protocols
feeding the fry
nursery tank designs
rearing and grow out tanks
diet and nutrition
color variations
temperature requirements
wide ranging species with different races
recommended reading
Acclimating new arrivals (step-by-step instructions)
Keeping and culturing red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)

The seahorse training program is a correspondence course that is conducted entirely via e-mail, Tami, and if you would like to give it a try, I will be providing you with detailed information on all of the subjects above and answering any questions you may have about the material I present so that everything is perfectly clear to you. I will also be recommending seahorse-related articles for you to read and absorb online.

In short, Tami, the training course will teach you everything you need to know to keep your seahorses happy and healthy, and it will arm you with the information you need in order to tackle your first ponies with confidence. It will explain how to set up a new aquarium and optimize it to create ideal conditions for your seahorses.

How long this training will take to complete depends on your experience level as an aquarist to a large extent. For example, if you have never kept seahorses before and you do not already have a suitable saltwater aquarium up and running, it will take at least eight weeks for your training and preparations to be completed before you can be certified. It will take that long to learn the basics of seahorse keeping, set up a suitable aquarium, cycle the tank from scratch to establish the biological filtration, and optimize the tank to create an ideal environment for seahorses. Only then can you be certified ready to receive your first seahorses.

On the other hand, experienced marine aquarists and hobbyists that have had seahorses before and already have a suitable saltwater aquarium up and running can be certified much more quickly. I will run through the same basic information with them, but most of the information I provide will be familiar material for such hobbyists and they should be able to review it and get up to speed quickly, plus they should have well-established aquariums ready, fully matured that they can fairly quickly adapt in order to make them more ideal for seahorses. In a case like that, certification can be completed as soon as they have absorbed the material I provide and are confident they have a good grasp of the specialized requirements and aquarium care of the seahorses.

So in order to get started, Tami, the first thing I need to know is how experienced you are with saltwater aquariums. Have you ever kept a marine aquarium before? If so, how long have you been involved with the saltwater aquarium hobby? Do you have one or more marine aquariums up and running at this time? If so, how long have the tanks been in operation?

Do you have an aquarium up and running at this time that you intend to use as a seahorse tank? If so, can you please describe the aquarium system you will be using for your seahorse tank? How large is the aquarium (length, width, and height)? What kind of filtration equipment is installed and running on the aquarium? What type of lighting system does the tank you? How long has the proposed seahorse tank been up and running? Please list all of the current inhabitants of the aquarium you will be using as your seahorse tank, if any.

If not, if you don’t have an aquarium for your seahorses as of yet, Tami, that’s just fine. I will be providing you with lots of recommendations and options in that regard so that you can pick out a tank that is just right for your needs and interests. And, of course, once we begin the lessons, I will be working with you personally every step of the way through our ongoing correspondence until your new aquarium is ready for seahorses and you are well prepared to give them the best of care, regardless of how long that may take.

All we ask in return is that you stick with the highly domesticated Ocean Rider Mustangs or Sunbursts when you are finally ready to stock your tank, Tami. As you know, Mustangs and Sunbursts are the perfect ponies for beginners. They are hardy, highly adaptable, easy to feed, and perfectly adapted for aquarium life — the world’s only High-Health seahorses, guaranteed to be free of specific pathogens and parasites.

If you would like to give the seahorse training program a try, Tami, just send me a brief e-mail with the information requested above as well as your full name and I will get you started out with the first lesson right away. If you’re not interested in the training course, then just send me a quick e-mail message with "Brazilian seahorses" in the subject line, and I will send you the species summary on Hippocampus reidi I mentioned, and you can continue your research on your own from there.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Tami!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Training Program Advisor

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