Re:buying seahorses

#3255
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Mike:

It sounds like you did a good job of cycling your Aquapod and I would be happy to help you figure out the appropriate number of seahorses you should start out with in such a tank. The short answer to your question is that the 24-gallon Aquapod can probably support a pair of Sunbursts and a pair of Mustangs, but because you are new to seahorses, it would probably be better for you to start out with a single pair of seahorses while you gain some viable experience working with these amazing animals, and then gradually build up your herd from their, as explained in more detail below:

This is what I usually tell hobbyists with regards to the stocking density of a particular aquarium, Mike:

Stocking the Seahorse Tank

In actual practice, determining how many seahorses can comfortably live in an aquarium of a certain size is not as simple as it seems at first glance. The proper stocking density for any given setup depends on a great many complex factors. I have listed a few of the most important of these below:

· The size of the aquarium.
· The filtration system it uses.
· Is it a species tank or a mixed community?
· The number and type of non-seahorse tankmates it houses.
· The type of seahorses you will be keeping and the maximum size they reach.
· The experience level of the seahorse keeper.
· Are the seahorses you will be keeping wild specimens or farm-raised livestock?

Many of the considerations you must keep in mind when stocking your aquarium are self-explanatory. For example, common sense dictates that the bigger the tank the more seahorses it can safely house, or that an aquarium of given size can support more small to medium sized seahorses than it can if stocked with one of the giant breeds. And you don’t need to be Jacques Cousteau to realize that if you are keeping your ponies in a mixed community with other reef fishes, you will have to settle for fewer Hippocampines than if you kept them in a species tank dedicated to seahorses only (Giwojna, Jan. 2002).

Likewise, the experience level of the hobbyist certainly has a bearing on how many seahorses he should attempt to keep in a given volume of water. If you’re a rank beginner, you will be better off keeping your stable under stocked in order to provide a margin of error while you learn the ropes with these amazing aquatic equines. Savvy seahorse pros who’ve seen it all before and know all the tricks and trouble spots, on the other hand, can afford to push the envelope a bit and keep their herds near capacity (Giwojna, Jan. 2002).

In addition, the filtration system obviously affects the number of specimens a certain aquarium can support, yet it is often overlooked when stocking densities are discussed. Consider two identical 29-gallon (tall) tanks: one relies on undergravels and/or foam filters, perhaps supplemented by a small external, hang-on-the-back filter packed with media such as activated carbon; the other features plenty of live rock and perhaps even a live sand bed, supplemented with a good protein skimmer and a power filter for added circulation and water movement. The first simple setup has an adequate biofilter but is something of a nitrate factory, whereas the more sophisticated setup has significant dentrification ability in addition to plenty of biofiltration (Giwojna, Jan. 2002). Both systems have the right dimensions and sufficient water volume to support several large seahorses, but you don’t need to be a marine biologist to understand that the live rock setup with the skimmer can handle a greater bioload and safely house more specimens than the more basic system (Giwojna, Jan. 2002).

Perhaps the most common mistake seahorse keepers make when considering the appropriate stocking density for their systems is failing to distinguish between wild-caught and captive-bred seahorses. Enough field work and research has now been done to conclude that, in terms of their behavior and need for elbow room, seahorses in the wild are very different animals from captive-bred and raised seahorses (Giwojna, Jan. 2002). For example, field studies show that pair-bonded seahorses typically enjoy a large territory in the wild (100 square meters in the case of female Hippocampus whitei, a fairly small Australian species that has been studied closely), and with their patchy distribution pattern, these seahorses only infrequently come in contact with others of their kind (Vincent & Sadler, 1995). Traumatic capture techniques, mishandling, and lack of feeding opportunities often plague wild-caught seahorses during transport and holding, and by the time they finally arrive at your local dealer’s, chances are great that wild ponies have already endured quite an ordeal (Bull and Mitchell, 2002). Malnutrition and stress at a time of high metabolic demand are likely to have weakened them (Lidster, 2003). When confined in an aquarium, therefore, wild-caught horses do not tolerate crowding well, and given their low disease resistance compared to their captive-bred brethren, it is NEVER a good idea to crowd wild-caught seahorses. They often have a more difficult time acclimating to life in captivity and will therefore be stressed, at least initially (Giwojna, Jan. 2002).

Farm-raised seahorses, on the other hand, are raised at far greater population densities than any seahorse experiences in the wild. Born and bred for aquarium life, they are far more social than wild caughts and are used to living in close proximity to each other (Giwojna, Jan. 2002). For them, that’s their normal condition and the aquarium is their natural environment. They reach the hobbyist well fed, in peak condition, and already accustomed to aquarium life and frozen foods. As a result, farm-raised seahorses are simply hardier, more disease resistant, and tolerate crowding and life in captivity far better than their wild-caught counterparts (Giwojna, Jan. 2002). Suffice it to say that more captive-bred seahorses can be maintained in an aquarium of a given size than wild-caught ‘horses.

Quantifying all of this, and specifying a certain number of seahorses per so many gallons of water, is a very tricky proposition because so many factors like those described above must be weighed. Consequently, my recommendations for stocking density always include a range for each size of aquarium in order to accommodate variables such as differing filtration systems, whether the seahorses are wild or captive bred, and varying levels of expertise. If you’re new to seahorses or have a basic setup that relies on regular partial water changes to control nitrates, you will need to stick to the lower end of the recommended range when stocking your stable (Giwojna, Jan. 2002). However, if you’re an experienced reefer or an old hand at seahorse wrangling, with a relatively sophisticated system at your disposal, feel free to explore the upper limits of the suggested stocking densities (Giwojna, Jan. 2002). Likewise, if you’re keeping wild-caught seahorses, I suggest you cut the recommended stocking densities for captive-bred seahorses at least in half (Giwojna, Jan. 2002).

Assuming that your aquarium will be a dedicated seahorse tank and not a community tank, and that you’ll be keeping captive-bred seahorses such as Mustangs or Sunbursts of average size, the suggested stocking density for Hippocampus erectus under those circumstances is about one pair per 10 gallons of water volume. So a reasonable number of average size Mustangs (or Sunbursts) to keep in a 24-gallon Aquapod is a total of about two pairs pairs or perhaps five individuals. An experienced seahorse keeper with a relatively sophisticated filtration system could comfortably keep around six H. erectus in such a tank with no problems, but a beginner with a basic filtration system should keep no more than two or three erectus in a tank that size, at least until he or she gains a little more valuable firsthand experience keeping seahorses.

That’s what I would suggest in your case, Mike. I recommend that you start out with a single pair of Mustangs (Hippocampus erectus) while you learn the ropes and get some practice feeding and keeping seahorses. Then if all goes well, you could confidently add a pair of Sunbursts after you’ve gotten that invaluable firsthand experience working with seahorses. The Sunbursts are of course completely compatible with the Mustangs, have identical aquarium requirements, and will even interbreed with them freely. That would allow you a bigger margin for error, help assure that things go smoothly, and increase your chances for success accordingly.

And, as always, be sure to remember the three golden rules that should always guide your actions when stocking any seahorse setup:

I. Under stocking is ALWAYS better than over stocking. Always! That is the one immutable law that governs the seahorse-keeping universe, and if you violate it, the aquarium gods will exact swift and terrible retribution!

II. When in doubt, under stock. Don’t push your luck! If you have any doubt whatsoever as to whether or not your system is running at capacity, it probably is. In such a situation, you MUST err on the side of caution.

III. Don’t mess with success! If your seahorse setup has been running smoothly and trouble-free for a prolonged period at it’s present level of occupancy, try to resist the temptation to increase your herd. Why risk upsetting the balance in a system that has settled into a state of happy equilibrium? Rather than risk overcrowding an established tank, consider starting up a new aquarium when the urge to acquire some new specimens becomes overwhelming.

Yes, sir, Vibrance is a powder designed specifically for enriching frozen Mysis and live foods for seahorses. At first glance, determining whether vibrance I or vibrance II is best suited for your needs can be a little confusing, but the two different Vibrance formulations are intended for entirely different purposes. The lipid-rich formulation (Vibrance I) was designed for enriching live foods that are low in lipids or fat content, such as brine shrimp (Artemia spp.), whereas the low-fat formulation (Vibrance II) was designed to enrich frozen Mysis which are naturally rich in HUFAs, thereby protecting adult seahorses from hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

There are a number of commercially made food supplements for marine fish that will work well for enriching frozen Mysis, but in my opinion, Vibrance is the best of these since it was developed specifically to provide a long-term balanced diet for seahorses. It includes additional highly unsaturated fatty acids (especially the DHA Omega 6 DHA series), along with Vitamin C and essential minerals, in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress management, and proper reproduction. Vibrance is a bright red-orange powder that gets its characteristic color due to its high content of carotenoids, which are an abundant source of Vitamin A and act as natural color enhancers for yellow and red pigmentation.

Vibrance is the supplement that produces the best results for me. It was designed by a research team of nutritionists and fish biologists for use with frozen mysid shrimp in order to meet the dietary requirements of these unique fishes, and it comes in two different formulations — Vibrance I (the original Vibrance) and Vibrance II — which are tailored for seahorses with different needs.

Among other things, Vibrance II includes beta-glucan, pure Astaxanthin, carotenoids, water-soluble vitamin C, and various other vitamins and minerals in the proper proportions. It is a no-fat formulation intended for enriching frozen Mysis. As such, it’s perfect for fortifying frozen Mysis, further enhancing their nutritional value while safeguarding against hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

The original Vibrance (i.e., Vibrance I) is a lipid-rich formula including beta-glucan, the proper balance of long chain fatty acids (DHA and EPA) derived from natural schizochytrium algae, and color-enhancing carotenoids, all combined with just the right amount of vitamins, minerals and water-soluble stabilized vitamin C. It is perfect for enriching live foods with poor nutritional value that are naturally low in lipids, such as adult Artemia.

Personally, aside from enriching live foods, I prefer the high-fat formula (Vibrance I) for young seahorses that are still growing, and for adult seahorses that are actively breeding, churning out brood after brood, since they need all the calories and energy they can get. On the other hand, I like the low-fat formula (Vibrance II) for mature seahorses that are no longer breeding. This includes younger adults that are taking a break from breeding during the off-season, unpaired adults that have no mates at the moment, and older individuals that have been retired and put out to pasture. No longer growing and no longer producing clutch after clutch of eggs (or nourishing a pouch full of babies, in the case of males), these older specimens don’t need as much fat in their diets. Switching them to a low-fat formulation can help protect them from age-related conditions such as fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).

Vibrance I, the high-fat formulation, is ideal for enriching newly-hatched brine shrimp that will be fed seahorse fry, so it’s especially useful for hobbyists that are into breeding and rearing their seahorses.

But for me, what really sets Vibrance apart from other enrichment products is that it is the only one that includes beta-glucan as a primary ingredient. Beta-glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fishes. Thanks to Vibrance, we can now boost our seahorse’s immune systems and help them fight disease as part of their daily feeding regimen. Enriching our galloping gourmets’ frozen Mysis with Vibrance will give them a daily dose of Beta Glucan to stimulate phagocytosis of certain white cells (macrophages). If the research on Beta Glucan is accurate, this could be a great way to help prevent infections from bacteria, fungus, and viral elements rather than attempting to treat disease outbreaks after the fact.

Not only should Vibrance + Beta Glucan help keep healthy seahorses healthy, it should also help ailing seahorses recover faster. Research indicates that it helps prevent infections and helps wounds heal more quickly (Bartelme, 2001). It is safe to use in conjunction with other treatments and has been proven to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics (Bartelme, 2001). It will be great for new arrivals recovering from the rigors of shipping because Beta Glucan is known to alleviate the effects of stress and to help fish recover from exposure to toxins in the water (Bartelme, 2001) . Good stuff!

For more information on the potential benefits of Beta Glucan for aquarium fish, please see the following article:

Click here: Advanced Aquarist Feature Article
http://www.advancedaquarist.com/issues/sept2003/feature.htm

Adminstering Beta Glucan orally via Vibrance-enriched frozen Mysis, which are so naturally rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA), is the perfect way to boost the immune response of our seahorses since vitamins and HUFA enhance the capacity of immune system cells that are stimulated by the use of beta glucan (Bartelme, 2001).

The following information will explain how to use the Vibrance to enrich your frozen Mysis and feed your seahorses properly, Mike:

Feeding Ocean Rider Seahorses

Here are our usual feeding tips, including suggestions regarding the best way to enriched frozen Mysis with Vibrance:

(1) Tips for thawing and enriching frozen Mysis.
In order to prevent wastage and obtain the maximum benefit from this superb food, it must be thawed properly. This is especially important because once the Mysis are fully thawed, they are not refreezable (Adib, 2004). Most hobbyists tend to simply thaw their mysids in aquarium water, which has the virtue of thawing it quickly but is not the best approach. The faster the frozen shrimp is thawed, the more likely it is to be damaged in the process. We want the mysids to remain intact and lifelike; we don’t want the tissue of the Mysis to begin to breakdown in the process of freezing/thawing. The goal is to preserve the Mysis and retain all those precious shrimp juices when we thaw it, not to release their fluids into the aquarium water where it will only degrade the water quality and do your seahorses no good!
So don’t thaw frozen Mysis in 75-80 F aquarium water. Don’t nuke it in the microwave to defrost it! And don’t simply toss a chunk of frozen Mysis in your tank and let it float around until it thaws and releases individual mysids!
Nor should you thaw it in tap water, distilled water, or any other source of freshwater. You want to thaw the shrimp in water that is about as salty as their own bodily fluids so there is little or no difference in osmotic pressure. Freshwater will tend to move into the mysids as they thaw and can break down their integument and rupture cell walls as they swell; excessively salty water will tend to draw water out of the Mysis as they thaw, desiccating them in the process. Normal strength seawater is just right for thawing.
So the recommended method for thawing frozen Mysis is to use refrigerated saltwater from your aquarium. Keep a small jug of your artificial saltwater in your refrigerator and reserve this for thawing your mysids (Adib, 2004). Place a couple of ounces of the chilled saltwater in a small cup or similar receptacle and use that to thaw the shrimp. Break off a small chunk from the mass of frozen Mysis — just enough for one feeding or a day’s worth at most (with experience, you will soon learn exactly how much to use) — place it in the cup of saltwater and allow the Mysis to slowly thaw in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes (Adib, 2004). Then take the cup out of the refrigerator and allow the thawed Mysis to warm up at room temperate for another 15 minutes (Adib, 2004). This method leaves the mysids perfectly intact and lifelike, and produces immaculate shrimp that need no further rinsing. (If you use another method for thawing the Mysis, it’s generally advisable to rinse the thawed shrimp in a brine shrimp net to prevent clouding of the water.) You are now ready to fortify the Mysis with the enrichment formula of your choice.
Carefully remove the individual thawed mysids from the thawing container using a plastic fork or a toothpick and gently deposit them in the bowl of a plastic spoon. The idea is to handle the shrimp as little as possible during the thawing and enriching process, since rough handling can cause the mysids to break apart. If your enrichment product is in powder form (which I recommend), take a pinch of the formula, sprinkle it on the Mysis, and mix it in very gently (a plastic knife or similar instrument works well for this step). The orange power will adhere to the moist Mysis, and when you’re done, the head region (cephalothorax) of the mysids should be stained reddish. (If your preferred supplement is a liquid formula, just add a few drops to the Mysis and let it soak in.)
With a little practice, most hobbyists quickly work out their own technique for preparing enriched Mysis. The method outlined above works well for me and many other aquarists, but there are many other ways of defrosting and enriching the Mysis that work equally well. For instance, other hobbyists prefer to add a dusting of enrichment powder (or a few drops of a liquid supplement) to a chunk of frozen Mysis and gently mix it in (or allow it to soak in) as it thaws. One nifty way to do this is to break off my little chunk of frozen shrimp and place it on a square of wax paper, allow it a while to defrost, and then add a pinch of enrichment formula and roll the Mysis and power in the wax paper as though making a cigarette. This technique is trickier and takes a little experience before you can pull it off properly. The thawing and rolling/mixing process must be done very, very carefully or you may crush some of the Mysis and lose a lot of shrimp juice while preparing it. As always, if you’re doing it right, the heads of the individual Mysis shrimp should end up stained red, which is a feeding "trigger" captive-bred chowhounds find hard to resist. With a little practice, you will soon refine your own method for preparing frozen Mysis that works the best for your schedule and the needs of your herd.
But however you prepare it, it’s important to keep the enriched Mysis refrigerated until it’s used, and to use all the Mysis you thawed and enriched within 24 hours. For best results, the enriched Mysis should be used immediately after it’s prepared. Whether it’s been refrigerated or not, avoid using thawed and prepared Mysis that is 2 or 3 days old. We don’t want to offer our seahorses food that might have become laden with bacteria.

(2) When it comes to feeding, give new arrivals time to recover and settle into their new surroundings before you force the issue.
That’s a long haul from Hawaii, and it sometimes take new arrivals a good week or two to settle in, make themselves at home, and start feeding normally afterwards. For that reason, I suggest the hobbyist have a supply of live food on hand whenever acclimating new additions to his herd. The tiny red feeder shrimp from Hawaii (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this, but live Gammarus, ghost shrimp, or even adult brine shrimp will do. The live shrimp help them adjust during the initial acclimation period when you first introduce your seahorses to your tank. The live foods will give the new arrivals a head start, help them recover from shipping stress quickly, and get them through the difficult period of adjustment in tiptop condition.
Don’t worry about feeding your seahorses immediately after they arrive. Give them a good 24 hours to adjust and settle down first. After the adjustment period, go ahead and offer some carefully thawed Mysis to your seahorses each day. Many seahorses handle shipping and acclimation with ease and never miss a beat, gobbling up frozen Mysis from Day One. Others will need more time before they feel at home in their new surroundings, and may not feel comfortable enough to accept frozen Mysis from their keeper until a week or two has passed. So keep offering Mysis each day, but feed it sparingly at first and remove any uneaten Mysis after an hour or so. Once the seahorses that start eating the Mysis first have had their fill, add some live feeder shrimp for the others that are lagging behind.
Many times all the seahorses resume feeding on the frozen Mysis right away and the live red feeder shrimp aren’t needed; in that case, simply keep them on hand for use as occasional treats. They last indefinitely in a clean, aerated plastic bucket at room temperature with a pinch of flake food sprinkled in sparingly a few times a week.
Be patient with the ones that seem more reluctant to resume feeding on frozen Mysis. Don’t isolate them from the others, don’t pester them by persistently trying to target feed them at this point, and don’t keep dropping frozen shrimp on their heads! That can spook a high-strung seahorse and stress him out all the more, setting him back further. Just give them time and they will soon join the others, scarfing down frozen Mysis greedily again. This can sometimes take a couple of weeks. (Mature males often lag behind at first; for some reason, they seem to be more shy and retiring than females, which can be quite brazen at times. I suspect this is due to their parental duties — during the breeding season, pair-bonded males are ordinarily ALWAYS pregnant, and they can’t risk exposing their precious cargo to any more risk than absolutely necessary.) Make a note of the reluctant eaters; the ones that are slow to take frozen Mysis now may require target feeding later on.

(3) Be aware of secretive feeders and give them plenty of room at first.
It’s quite common for new arrivals to display shy, secretive behavior. I have found that some of my seahorses, especially newly acquired specimens, are reluctant to eat while they know they are being observed. That doesn’t mean they are starving themselves, however, just that they tend to feed in secret. Rather than feeding from your hand or gobbling up the Mysis when you first offer it, they will prey upon the natural fauna in the tank, slurping up copepods and amphipods from hiding, or snatch up leftover frozen Mysis when they think no one is looking. Some of the seahorses that don’t appear to be eating at first may actually be feeding on the sly.
When that’s the case, it’s best to back off a bit and leave the tank alone as much as possible for the time being. It’s okay to observe the tank discretely but try to avoid flat-nose syndrome, and keep feeding your other specimens as usual, of course, but don’t try to force the issue with the shy ones. Just leave them be, give the seahorses plenty of peace and quiet, and let the secretive feeders adjust to their new environment and get used to the daily routine at their own speed. Before too long, they’ll begin sneaking leftover Mysis when they think you’re not watching and feel safe. Once they feel at home, the shy specimens will start exploring their tank freely and displaying themselves openly. Before you know it, they’ll come to recognize you as their feeder and begin interacting with you at dinnertime. And from there, it’s just one short step until you have them literally eating from your fingers.

(4) Morning feedings are best.
The recommended feeding regimen is to provide each of your seahorses with 4-14 frozen Mysis shrimp daily, enriched with a good food supplement, and then to fast your seahorses entirely once a week. Some hobbyist prefer to give their seahorses two feedings a day, while others prefer to give them their quota of frozen Mysis in one big meal. As long as they get their fill, there is really no right or wrong way to go about this — just do whatever works bests for your seahorses and your schedule.
However, many hobbyists find that their seahorses feed best during the morning, so if you can only feed your seahorses once a day, try to make it a morning meal. Whether it’s their biological clocks, something built into their natural circadian rhythm, or whether they’re simply hungriest shortly after waking up, seahorses do seem to feed more aggressively in the morning, and hobbyists should try to accommodate them, if possible. Breakfast, it seems, is the most important meal of the day for our aquatic equines as well as ourselves.
If you can only manage one feeding a day, DO NOT make it an evening meal. The worst thing you can do is to feed your seahorses late in the day when there will likely still be leftovers remaining at lights out. The uneaten Mysis will begin decaying overnight and put your water quality at risk. Worse still, the next morning, when they are hungriest, your seahorses may discover the bacteria-laden Mysis and snap them up off the bottom. This is an excellent way to spread disease and make your seahorses sick. Feeding your seahorses early in the day, so they have plenty of time to clean up leftovers, is a good way to prevent this. An efficient clean-up crew of scavengers also helps.

(5) Use a feeding station.
Seahorses respond very well when they are fed at the same time and place each day. They quickly learn the routine and will come to recognize their keeper as the one who feeds them — the giver of gourmet delights! Once that happens, they will often beat you to the spot, gathering around their feeding station as soon as they see you approach.
In fact, the aquarist can easily condition his seahorses to come a running at feeding time. Before you open the aquarium cover, make a point of lightly tapping it a few times or rapping on it gently. The seahorses will quickly learn to associate the tapping with the mouthwatering morsels that follow, and before you know it, they will respond by gathering at the feeding station as if you were ringing the dinner bell.
To facilitate this process and make feeding them easier, choose a feeding station that’s convenient for you in a relatively uncluttered part of the aquarium, and give your seahorses their meal right there every day. The feeding station should have some convenient hitching posts situated nearby as well. Avoid using an area where currents might whisk the food away from the seahorses before they can eat it.
I know one hobbyist who uses a toadstool leather coral as his feeding station. He places the Mysis on the bowl-shaped top of the toadstool, which contains them nicely while his seahorses perch around the edges and scarf up the shrimp as if dining at a lunch counter.
Not everyone has a toadstool coral to serve as a natural feeding station, of course, but it’s easy to make your own lunch counter that will work just as well. Get a small Pyrex bowl or a similar shallow container made of clear glass or plastic (a large petri dish works great for this) and fill it about halfway with your tank substrate (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). Then sink the bowl into your sand bed until the substrate you placed in the bowl is level with the substrate in the tank (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). Leave the rim sticking up above the sand bed about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or so (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). The clear glass rim of the bowl is transparent and virtually unnoticeable, so don’t worry that it will detract from the appearance of your display tank. Artfully position a few natural hitching posts around the bowl to provide your seahorses with a handy perch from which to snick up their dinner.
At feeding time, place the frozen Mysis on the sand or gravel inside the bowl. A long tube of clear plastic 1/2′ to 1′ in diameter facilitates this. The bottom of the tube is placed in the middle of the bowl and the enriched Mysis are then placed in the top of the tube, which guides them exactly where you want them as they sink. The rim sticking above the sand bed will then keep the food in place while your seahorses dine at their leisure. Afterwards, any leftovers are neatly contained, making cleanup a breeze!
Or you can always purchase a seahorse feeding station off the shelf, ready to go, as is. Artificial cup coral makes an attractive elevated "lunch counter" that does the job nicely. Elevated on a pedestal, the seahorses can perch around the edge of the cup, which contains the frozen shrimp nicely until eaten. The coral cups are very lifelike and make nifty ready-made feeding stations if positioned at a convenient (for you and your galloping gourmets) spot in your tank where currents won’t whisk the Mysis away.
Another handy item that makes a great ready-made feeding station for seahorses are the conical worm feeders designed for offering bloodworms and tubifex worms to fish. They may require a little modifying since many of them are designed to float. Depending on the type of feeder, you may have to perforate air filled chambers around the collar, weigh it down to submerge it, or cut the conical worm trap free from the rest of the feeder. Worm feeders come with a suction cup, so once you’ve overcome the buoyancy problem, they can be secured anywhere in the aquarium you want, and they work just as well with frozen Mysis as with worms. If you position the conical feeder where a slight current hits it, gently jostling and agitating the frozen Mysis inside, it is even more effective. The flow of water imparts a bit of movement to the frozen Mysis, causing it to twitch or swirl about just a bit periodically inside the feeder. This makes the thawed Mysis look all the more lifelike and quickly attracts the interest of the seahorses. They will gather around the feeder and snick up Mysis through the open top. The conical shape of these feeders contains the frozen Mysis even better than most other feeding stations.
Some hobbyists prefer a more natural looking, aesthetically pleasing feeding station, which they fashion themselves to suit their own tastes. They start with a piece of well-cured live rock that’s approximately the right size and shape, and painstakingly hollow out the center to form a shallow concave depression. This shallow bowl is fashioned by grinding it out, using an electrical moto-tool (available at any craft store or hardware store) with a carbide burr or sometimes even a shop grinder. Once the bowl has been hollowed out, a series of holes are then drilled around the circumference of this depression. Red, brown or purple Gracilaria, green Caulerpa and/or gorgonian branches are planted in these holes to create natural hitching posts. As the macroalgae takes hold and fills out, this produces an attractive feeding station that looks completely natural. It’s a great do-it-yourself project for the handy hobbyist.
An upturned clamshell also makes a nifty natural feeding station that fits in perfectly in your seahorses’ setup. Choose a colorful natural seashell for this, such as one valve of a Tridacna clam or perhaps a Lion’s Paw Scallop shell, and you have an attractive feeding station that’s perfectly appropriate for your tank. The concave interior of the bivalve shell acts as a shallow bowl to contain the frozen Mysis until it’s eaten, and unlike some feeding stations that look out of place and detract from the appearance of your tank, a seashell looks as natural as can be in a marine aquarium. My favorite for this type of feeding station is a medium-sized Abalone shell. The iridescent, opalescent colors of the upturned interior, with its magnificent polished surface of mother-of-pearl, are spectacular! An upturned abalone shell requires no further modification whatsoever, making it the ideal feeding station for the unhandy hobbyist who’s all thumbs.
Other aquarists reserve a small, transparent glass bowl or clear plastic receptacle for feeding their seahorses. They merely place the bowl or plastic container on the bottom of the tank at feeding time, add the enriched Mysis, and let their seahorses gather round and dine at their leisure as though eating from a feeding trough. A few hours later, the feeding container is removed, along with any leftovers. Quick and easy!

For more information, see my article in Conscientious Aquarist which explains exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use a in greater detail.. It’s available online at the following URL: Click here: Seahorse Feeders
<http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_2/cav2i5/seahorse_feeders/seahorse_feeders.htm&gt;

(6) Target feed your seahorses and remove uneaten leftovers promptly.
The individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits. Some are aggressive feeders that will boldly snatch food from your fingers, while some are shy and secretive, 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 before they accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds. So how does the seahorse keeper make sure all his charges are getting enough to eat at mealtime? How does the hobbyist keep the aggressive eaters from scarfing up all the mouth-watering Mysis before the slower feeders get their fair share? And how can you keep active fishes and inverts with seahorses without the faster fishes gobbling up all the goodies before the slowpoke seahorses can grab a mouthful?
Target feeding is the answer. Target feeding just means offering a single piece of Mysis to one particular seahorse, and then watching to see whether or not the ‘horse you targeted actually eats the shrimp. Feeding each of your seahorses in turn that way makes it easy to keep track of exactly how much each of your specimens is eating.
There are many different ways to target feed seahorses. Most methods involve using a long utensil of some sort to wave the Mysis temptingly in front of the chosen seahorse; once you’re sure this has attracted his interest, the Mysis is released so it drifts down enticingly right before the seahorse’s snout. Most of the time, the seahorse will snatch it up as it drifts by or snap it up as soon as it hits the bottom.
A great number of utensils work well for target feeding. I’ve seen hobbyists use everything from chopsticks to extra long tweezers and hemostats or forceps to homemade pipettes fashioned from a length of rigid plastic tubing. As for myself, I prefer handfeeding when I target feed a particular seahorse.
But no doubt the all-time favorite implement for target feeding seahorses is the old-fashioned turkey baster. 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. Or if the seahorse rejects the Mysis the first time it drifts by, a baster makes it easy to deftly suck up the shrimp from the bottom so it can be offered to the target again. In the same way, the baster makes it a simple matter to clean any remaining leftovers after a feeding session. (You’ll quickly discover the feeding tube is also indispensable for tapping away pesky fish and invertebrates that threaten to steal the tempting tidbit before an indecisive seahorse can snatch it up. And it’s great for tapping on the cover to ringing the dinner bell and summon the diners for their gourmet feast!)
In short, target feeding allows the hobbyist to assure that each of his seahorses gets enough to eat without overfeeding or underfeeding the tank. And it makes it possible to keep seahorses in a community tank with more active fishes that would ordinarily out-compete them for food, since the aquarist can personally deliver each mouthful to the seahorses while keeping more aggressive specimens at bay.
The key to keeping active specimens like firefish or cleaner shrimp successfully with seahorses is to feed the other fish and inverts with standard, off-the-shelf aquarium foods first, and once they’ve had their fill, then target feed the seahorses.

(7) Stick with frozen Mysis relicta from Canada.
Although there are several types of frozen Mysis on the market, the deep, cold water habitat and the unique way its captured and prepared makes Mysis relicta far superior to the others for feeding seahorses due to a variety of reasons (nutritional value, each individual shrimp is frozen whole and intact, the most lifelike in appearance, natural odor attractants, etc.). The fatty acid profiles of Mysis relicta are higher than that of enriched brine shrimp and it has more than three times the fatty acid content of ocean krill (Piscine Energetics. 2003). These high levels of fatty acids not only provide seahorses with essential nutrition, but also stimulate a positive feeding response (Piscine Energetics. 2003). Mysis relicta are high in protein and high in animal fat, yet are sodium free. The lack of salt intake is desirable for marine fishes, which are constantly working to expel salt from their bodies (Piscine Energetics. 2003). Suffice it to say that almost all farm-raised seahorses are pretrained to eat frozen Mysis relicta, and that’s the species they will eat the best in the hobbyist’s home aquarium as well.
One big reason for this is Mysis relicta’s highly diversified eating habits. The food chain in the deep, cold waters that this species prefers gives it extremely high levels of EPA and DHA (fatty acids), which are not only important for the nutrition they provide, but also act as natural appetite stimulants, triggering a positive feeding response in seahorses (Piscine Energetics. 2003).
Another reason Mysis relicta is eaten so greedily by seahorses is that it is virtually identical in appearance to the mysids that are a favorite food of all Syngnathids in the wild. Equally important, the Mysis relicta are flash-frozen after harvesting while they are still alive and kicking (Piscine Energetics. 2003). Their lifelike appearance is thus perfectly preserved, and they reach the consumer as whole intact shrimp. This is very important because seahorses accept frozen shrimp much more readily when the eyes and head are intact. I have observed on many occasions that when frozen Mysis are broken and fragmented, as is common with some brands, the seahorses will often eat the anterior portion with the eyes and antennae still present, and totally ignore the rest of the parts. Needless to say, that’s not only wasteful but also bad for your water quality. Mysis relicta thaws as whole, intact, individual shrimp, preventing such problems.

(8) Observe fast days and don’t overfeed.
One of the most common mistakes hobbyists make is to overfeed their seahorses. Any excess Mysis that’s not eaten within an hour or two of a feeding can become a threat to your seahorses. Either it will find its way into some inaccessible nook of the aquarium and begin to decay, degrading your water quality, or it may be noticed by a hungry seahorses hours later or perhaps even the next day, and eaten after bacteria have gone to work on it. The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed and remove leftovers promptly, as soon as you’re sure all the seahorses have had their fill. If you can only feed once a day, make it a morning meal before you leave for work, so the seahorses have the rest of the day to glean their leftovers. A good cleanup crew can also help by taking care of any uneaten morsels that slip past the aquarist.
It’s equally important to observe the once-a-week fast day. Fasting helps prevent any potential problems with hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) and keeps your seahorses feeding aggressively rather than losing interest in frozen foods. The problem is that although fasting is very healthy for seahorses on a staple diet of enriched Mysis, it can be very hard on the hobbyist. Here’s how I described this dilemma in a recent aquarium magazine article (Giwojna, Jun. 2002):
"The only thing I don’t like about this extremely nutritious diet is the obligatory fast day. The problem with fasting is that my 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." (Giwojna, Jun. 2002)

There you have it, Mike — everything you need to know about feeding Mustangs and Sunbursts. If you follow these feeding tips, it should help keep your seahorses eating their best and you will soon find that keeping them well fed is fun and easy. Feeding time for my seahorses is always a high point in my day. They do appear amazingly like fire-breathing Dragons when they eat frozen Mysis — it looks for all the world like smoke is shooting out of their "ears" when they eat enriched Mysis, due to the pulverized particles they expel from their gills after slurping it up (Gilchrist, 2002).

So 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 wrong. 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.

Before we move on, I would also like to emphasize one more point regarding feeding frozen foods. Whether it is a SHOWLR tank, a modified minireef, a seagrass system or a mangrove biotype, a well-designed seahorse setup is an elaborate environment. A certain level of complexity is necessary in order to assure that our seahorses behave naturally (Topps, 1999) and to provide our ponies with plenty of hitching posts and shelter, and enough sight barriers to assure them a little privacy when they feel the need to be alone. Their homemade habitat may thus take the form of a labyrinth of live rock, an intricate arrangement of corals and gorgonians, a well-planted bed of seagrass or macroalgae, or a full-fledged reef face. When feeding seahorses in such intricate surroundings, the worst thing you can do is to scatter a handful of frozen Mysis throughout the tank to be dispersed by the currents and hope that the hungry horses can track it all down. Inevitably some of the frozen food will be swept away and lodge in isolated nooks and crannies where the seahorses cannot get it. There it will begin to decompose and impair your water quality, which is why ammonia spikes are common after a heavy feeding. Or it may be wafted out into the open again later on and eaten after it has gone bad. Either outcome can lead to dire problems. Target feeding your seahorses or teaching them to eat from a feeding station will minimize such problems.

Best of luck stocking your new seahorse tank, Mike! Let me know when you’re ready to place your order and I will send you some detailed instructions on acclimating your seahorses to help assure that everything goes smoothly with your new arrivals. You can reach me at the following email address any time: [email protected]

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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