Re:current question

Pete Giwojna

Dear Sandy:

Congratulations on your new seahorses! I’m happy to hear that they arrived in good shape and are eating well. I have a few suggestions that may help you overcome the problem the swirling currents are causing with the frozen Mysis.

When feeding seahorses in 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. As you have discovered, Sandy, 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 degrade the 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 begun to spoil. Either outcome can lead to dire problems.

You were on the right track, Sandy, when you quickly realized that scatter feeding or broadcast feeding was not going to work under the circumstances, and decided to try to confining the frozen Mysis in a small cup to act as a feeding trough or feeding station instead. That was a very good idea. Seahorses will learn to eat from a feeding station quite quickly, Sandy, and the only thing that thwarted your plan was that the swirling currents wafted the frozen shrimp right out of the cup.

It’s very desirable to avoid dead spots and stagnant areas in the aquarium, so it’s a good thing that your seahorse setup is so well circulated. I often find that Nano cubes in particular tends to be under circulated, with poor oxygenation and aeration, so it’s refreshing to see that your setup does not have that all-too-common problem, Sandy.

However, if the water flow is still swirling the frozen Mysis right up out of your feeding cup, then you definitely going to need to tone things down a bit at feeding time. It was a good idea to remove the nozzle from the discharge of your water pump or filter, but it appears that you need to further diffuse the outflow to produce the desired results. A spray bar return, such as is found on many canister filters, is an excellent way to accomplish this. You can turn over the entire volume of your aquarium 10-20 times every hour with a spray bar return and still not generate too much turbulence or current for a seahorse setup, so that’s one option you might consider for your Nano cube. However, converting your output or discharge tube to a spray bar return may not be feasible depending on the type of filter or water pump you are currently using on your 24-gallon tank.

If that’s the case, Sandy, then it may be necessary to turn off the filter at feeding time while the seahorses eat. I know you’ve already tried this and your seahorses didn’t seem to be interested in the frozen food while it wasn’t moving and being swirled around. You can overcome that problem very easily by target feeding your seahorses with a baster, as described below. The baster can be used to impart movement to the frozen Mysis by dangling them from the tip of the baster enticingly, and then releasing them right in front of the seahorses snouts. If the seahorses don’t snap them up while they are drifting down through the water right in front of their noses, then you can use the baster to gently blow or swirl the frozen Mysis around a bit after it has settled on the bottom to attract their interest. This usually works like a charm. Here is some additional information on target feeding seahorses with a baster that should give you a better idea of how to proceed, Sandy:

Target Feeding

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 and 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.)
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.

I have no doubt that target feeding your seahorses with a baster would work well in your Nano cube, Sandy. The main problem with this approach will be that is so easy to get distracted and forget to turn your filter back on again after each feeding, and that simple oversight is a disaster just waiting to happen. To prevent that from happening, you might consider using a simple timer to automatically turn the filter back on after 15-20 minutes.

Another option is to try using macroalgae as a natural feeding station instead of the small cup you experimented with previously. The right type of macroalgae will trap the frozen Mysis neatly within its branches and prevent it from being whisked away by swirling currents.

For example, a good cluster of red grape Caulerpa works great for this (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.)! Seahorses love to perch on the red grape Caulerpa and are naturally attracted to it as a convenient hitching post. Release a baster full of frozen Mysis immediately above the grape Caulerpa, and you will find that the Mysis becomes trapped and entangled amongst the tightly packed branches of the algae, clinging to the cluster of fronds wherever it happens to settle (Leddo, pers. comm.). The hungry seahorses will then carefully scour the branches of the Caulerpa for the Mysis just as if they were hunting live shrimp amid the beds of seagrass in the wild. Grape Caulerpa is ideal for this because the seahorse’s tubular snout is adapted for suctorial feeding, perfectly designed for plucking small invertebrates from amongst dense foliage.

For further information on setting up a natural feeding station for your seahorses, see the following online article I wrote for Conscientious Aquarist:

Click here: Seahorse Feeders

Hopefully, one of these options will work out well for you, Sandy. I suspect that once your seahorses have had a little more time to adjust to their new surroundings, they will begin to unhesitatingly scarf up the frozen Mysis right from the bottom whether or not it happens to be moving, and your feeding problems will be over.

Best of luck with your new seahorses, Sandy! Here’s hoping they are soon pigging out on the frozen Mysis with no further difficulties.

Pete Giwojna

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