Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › Dwarfs › Re:Dwarfs
Dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) are a great choice for hobbyists with limited space to devote to their hobby!
I agree with Shorty — the setup you are planning should make a wonderful system for keeping dwarf seahorses and it has plenty of height for these miniature marvels. The usual rule of thumb is that your seahorses should have vertical swimming space equal to at least 2-3 times their total length in order to allow them to mate comfortably. Since dwarf seahorses never exceeds 2 inches in length, and most adults are considerably smaller than that figure, your six-gallon bowfront will provide them with over five times their total length in vertical swimming place, which is more than enough.
If you are planning on using live rock in your dwarf seahorse setup, then it is a very good idea to prep it first using a hypersaline dip followed by a bath in fenbendazole. The hypersaline dip will drive out most mobile pests such as mantis shrimp or crabs, while the fenbendazole will eradicate stinging animals such as hydroids, Aiptasia rock anemones, and bristleworms, all of which can be harmful to dwarf seahorses. The fenbendazole will soak into the poorest live rock, and provide long-lasting protection against hydroids and Aiptasia as a gradually leaches out of the rock again. Let me know if you need any instructions on the proper procedure for "debugging" your live rock with fenbendazole before you introduce into your dwarf tank.
A 20-gallon dual-chamber sump would be a wonderful addition to your dwarf seahorse setup if you can plumb the system so that the return from the sump does not create too much turbulence in the six-gallon bowfront and you shield or protect the overflow or outflow from the minibow to the sump so that none of the dwarfs will be sucked up against it. a sump would enable you to provide your dwarf seahorses which much better filtration than would otherwise be possible, which would allow you to use less live rock. I would keep one side of the dual-chamber sump heavily planted with macroalgae that was illuminated either 24 hours a day or on a reverse photoperiod to the main tank.
Dwarf seahorses feel right at home in a well-planted aquarium that simulates their natural seagrass habitat well. For example, a lush bed of assorted Caulerpa dominates the rear third of my current dwarf tank, completely concealing the filters. The Caulerpa consists of various long-bladed and plumed or feathery varieties such as Caulerpa sertularioides, Caulerpa mexicana, Caulerpa ashmedii, Caulerpa serrulata and Caulerpa prolifera. The center of the tank is aquascaped with more macros — mostly red and gold species of Gracilaria (Hawaiian Ogo), plus a seahorse tree centerpiece and yet more Caulerpa. Other decorative macros are arranged in the foreground of the aquarium where the light is brightest: a cluster of Merman’s Shaving Brushes (Penicillus capitatus) and a stand of Halimeda sea cactus, interspersed with Udotea palmate fans. The result is a colorful macroalgae garden with a very nice contrast of colors (reds, yellows, greens, and brown) and interesting shapes. A tank heavily planted with macros such as these is a lovely sight and mimics the dwarf seahorse’s natural seagrass habitat very well.
As an added benefit, the macroalgae act as an excellent form of natural filtration, supplementing the sponge filters, and reducing the available levels of phosphates and nitrites/nitrates. When we prune and trim back the fast-growing Caulerpa regularly and remove the clippings, we’re actually exporting phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the tank, thereby helping to maintain good water quality.
Although their small size limits the suitable tankmates that can be kept with dwarf seahorses, I have found small pipefish do well with H. zosterae. I have a pair of small Gulf Pipefish (Syngnathus sp.) from Florida in my dwarf tank, which add a lot of interest to the aquarium because their behavior is so different from the dwarves (Giwojna, 2005). For example, when they’re just trying to blend into their surroundings, the pipes orient themselves vertically, heads up and tails down, and sidle up alongside a fake gorgonian or a tall clump of sea cactus, imitating one of the branches. It’s not a bad bit of camouflage, and once in a while one of the seahorses perches on a pipefish by mistake and gets taken for a wild ride, like a bareback bronco rider at a rodeo.
But when they’re hunting, the pipes slip into the beds of Caulerpa horizontally, and launch themselves like torpedoes at passing prey (Giwojna, 2005). Unlike the seahorses, which prefer to wait for their prey to come to them, the pipes dart out from hiding and snatch up brine shrimp right and left. It’s amazing how much faster and more agile they are than the pigmy ponies. At feeding time, the pipes go blasting around the tank like little guided missiles. Fortunately, with just two pipefish in the tank, they can’t make a serious dent in the swarms of Artemia.
Like the seahorses, these pipefish are livebearers and give birth to independent babies that are miniature replicas of themselves, except that the newborn pipes are totally transparent (Giwojna, 2005). They look like glass splinters or tiny transparent threads. Although I never made a serious attempt to raise them, a number of them survived for several weeks when left to their own resources in the dwarf tank. They were very good at concealing themselves amid the macroalgae, and especially liked to take refuge amongst the "bristles" of my Merman’s Shaving Brushes. The dwarf seahorses have no interest in them whatsoever, but I strongly suspect the parent pipes are cannibals. All in all, Gulf pipefish are inexpensive and entertaining additions to my dwarf seahorse setup.
For a nice splash of added color and natural beauty, I also like to add an assortment of Feather Dusters (Sabellastatre magnifica and Sabella sp.) amidst my beds of macroalgae. They are the brightly colored flowers blooming among all the greenery of this underwater garden. Feather Dusters are exotic, very showy, entirely harmless, relatively inexpensive, and completely compatible with dwarf seahorses (Giwojna, 2005). They are filter feeders and seem to eat the same newly hatched brine shrimp as dwarf seahorses, but they do best when fed phytoplankton (or commercial food preparations designed for filter-feeding invertebrates) with a baster from time to time.
The Lettuce Nudibranch (Elysia crispata, formerly known as Tridachia crispata, and still usually sold under that name) is another showy, totally innocuous invertebrate that’s a perfect choice for a dwarf seahorse companion. It is green with lavender spots and is covered with extravagant frills and ruffles that look like flower petals on an exotic orchid, but in fact they are the ruffled flaps of tissue (parapodia) that outline each side of the back of this two inch sea slug that lives in the waters of the Caribbean and Florida Keys (Giwojna, 2005). It’s an algae eater that dineson macroalgae such as Caulerpa sertularioides and is one of the few nudibranchs that do well in the aquarium, particularly a dwarf tank with a lush bed of Caulerpa (Giwojna, 2005).
I also have a handful of Volcano shrimp or Hawaiian red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) in the tank, not as food for the dwarf seahorses but rather as their tankmates. These colorful little saltwater shrimp resemble miniature peppermint shrimp, and usually do well with dwarves because of their size. They are too big to be eaten by the seahorses and too small to be any threat to them, and as an added bonus, they will produce larval shrimp that are perfect treats for the ponies. They are omnivores that do a fair job of scavenging and complement the regular clean-up crew nicely (Giwojna, 2005).
Along with the Volcano shrimp, Nassarius snails and Scarlet Reef hermit crabs (Paguristes cadenati) can serve as the cornerstones of the clean-up crew for dwarf seahorse tanks. The Scarlet Reef micro-hermits are colorful and interesting in their own right, and these harmless herbivores are the only hermit crabs I trust with my dwarf seahorses. A few of the colorful Scarlet Reef crabs make nice additions for a dwarf seahorse tank, as do the Nassarius snails, which are very active, efficient scavengers that handle the meatier leftovers.
Also worth considering are the tiny brittle starfish commonly known as Micro-Stars and often marketed as aquarium scavengers or sanitation engineers under that name. They start small and stay small, with a leg span that never exceeds the diameter of a 25-cent piece even when they are fully grown (most of these miniature brittle stars cannot span a 5-cent piece). Their legs are often attractively banded and they are very active and agile scavengers, moving more like miniature octopus that slowpoke sea stars. The micro-stars are fascinating in their own right, but it’s best to limit yourself to one or two of them, since they reproduce very quickly when conditions are to their liking.
Those are a few possible tankmates you can consider for your dwarf seahorse setup, Bill. Be sure to pick up a copy of Alisa Abbott’s guidebook (Complete Guide to Dwarf Seahorses in the Aquarium, 2003, 144 pages). That’s one book every Pixie owner and dwarf seahorse keeper should have on hand.
Best of luck with your dwarf seahorse setup, Bill!