There are several fairly recent books about seahorses available that would be helpful for a beginner. I would say the most useful of these is "How to care for your Seahorses in the Marine Aquarium A Stable Environment For your Seahorse Stable" by Tracy Warland. Either of Neil Garrick-Maidment’s two latest books, Seahorses: Conservation & Care or the Practical Fish-Keeper’s Guide to Seahorses would also be good choices. And "Seahorses: Complete Pet Owner’s Manual" by Frank Indiviglio is another worthwhile book for someone new to seahorses. You can order all of these books online from Jim Forshey at the Aquatic Bookshop (http://www.seahorses.com/index.shtm) or from Amazon.com and the other major booksellers.
Keep an eye out for my new book as well. It is called the Complete Guide to the Greater Seahorses and should be coming out sometime later this year. It is far more detailed and comprehensive than the other books mentioned above, and is considerably longer than all four of them put together.
Yup, if you’re new to seahorses, Barbara, you are indeed better off keeping them by themselves until you’ve gained a little seahorse savvy and experience. Once you’ve learned the ropes and gained some confidence, there are quite a number of seahorse-safe companions you can consider. Here’s an idea of what you can look forward to in that regard when the time comes:
Compatible Tankmates for the Greater Seahorses.
There are a wide variety of compatible fishes and invertebrates that make suitable tankmates for seahorses. However, when discussing compatible tankmates for seahorses, it’s important to remember that one can only speak in generalities. There are no unbreakable rules, no sure things, no absolute guarantees. For instance, most hobbyists will tell you that small scooter blennies make great tankmates for seahorses and 9 times out of 10 they’re right. But every once in a while, you will hear horror stories from hobbyists about how their scooter blenny coexisted peacefully with their seahorses for several months and then suddenly went "rouge" overnight for no apparent reason and turned on the seahorses, inflicting serious damage before it could be captured and removed.
Does that mean that we should cross scooter blennies off our list of compatible tankmates for seahorses? Nope — it just means that we must be aware that individuals within a species sometimes vary in their behavior and respond differently that you would expect, so there are exceptions to every rule. It’s fair to say that scooter blennies generally make wonderful companions for seahorses, but there’s always a small chance you might get Satan reincarnated in the form of a scooter blenny. There’s no guarantee that adorable scooter you picked out at your LFS because of his amusing antics and puppy-dog personality won’t turn out to be the blenny from hell once you release him in your seahorse setup.
Likewise, micro-hermit crabs are generally entertaining additions to an aquarium that do a great job as scavengers and get along great with seahorses, but over the years, I’ve had a few seahorses that were confirmed crab killers. These particular ponies were persistent hermit crab predators that specialized in plucking the hermits out of their shells and attacking their soft, unprotected abdomens, and they honed their skullduggery to a fine art. They were experts at extricating the crabs and would eat only their fleshy abdomens and discard the rest. Mind you, that was only a few individuals out of a great many Hippocampines, but I could never keep hermit crabs in the same tank with those specific seahorses.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s the micro-hermits that are the troublemakers. Most of the time, they coexist perfectly well with their fellow janitors in the cleanup crew. But I’ve had more than a few tiny hermits with a taste for escargot that persecuted snails mercilessly. These cold-blooded little assassins would kill the snails in order to appropriate their shells. Once they had dined on the former occupant, they would take up residence in their victim’s cleaned-out shell! It soon became clear that these killer crabs were driven not by hunger, but by the need for a new domicile. Once I realized they were house-hunting, I found I could curb their depredations but providing an assortment of small, empty seashells for the hermits to use. Colorful Nerite shells are ideal for this.
Other times, the exceptions are pleasant surprises. For example, as a rule, I would not suggest keeping seahorses with angelfish due to their pugnacious attitude, aggressive feeding habits, and territorial nature. But hobbyists occasionally find that a dwarf angel does well with their seahorses. And although triggerfish can certainly be the terror of any tank, I once had a small Humu Trigger that befriended a Brazilian seahorse and became its constant companion. It would seek it out during the day and make the seahorse the center of its daily activities; at lights out, the Humu would find the seahorse’s resting spot and wedge itself against the base of its hitching post or lock itself into a nearby hole in the live rock.
I have prepared a list of suitable fishes and invertebrates that generally make compatible tankmates for tropical seahorses below. Avoid fin nippers and aggressive, territorial fish that would be inclined to bully or physically abuse the seahorses, such as damsels, most clownfish, triggerfish, angels, puffers, cowfish and the like, as well as any predatory fishes that are large enough to swallow a seahorses, such as lionfish, anglers, sargassumfish, rays, large groupers and morays. For best results, other fishes that would not persecute the seahorses in any way should also generally be excluded because they are active, aggressive feeders that would out-compete the seahorses for food. This includes most butterflyfish, tangs, and wrasse. Stinging animals like anemones and jellyfish are unsuitable, as are other predatory invertebrates such as lobsters, mantis shrimp, certain starfish and most crabs.
Clownfish meet many of the criteria for suitable tankmates, but should generally be regarded with caution (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). Most species, such as Tomato Clowns (Amphiprion frenatus), Maroon Clowns (Premnas biaculeatus), and Skunk Clownfish are surprisingly aggressive and territorial, and should be shunned on that basis. Others do best when keep with anemones, which are a threat to seahorses. All clownfish are prone to Brooklynella and Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium), and should be considered Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) magnets as well (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). The only species I would recommend as companions for seahorses are Percula Clowns (Amphiprion percula) and False Percula Clownfish (A. ocellaris), and then only after a rigorous quarantine period (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). Captive-bred specimens are best.
In short, fishes that are suitable as companions for seahorses must be docile, nonaggressive specimens, which are fairly deliberate feeders that won’t out-compete them for food. Some good candidates include:
Anthias (assorted Mirolabrichthys, Pseudanthias, and Anthias sp.)
Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris magnifica)
Purple Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris decora)
Gobies (assorted small species)
Neon Goby (Gobiosoma oceanops)
Assessors (Assessor spp.)
Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas)
High Hats (Equetus acuminatus)
Marine Betta (Calloplesiops altivelis)
Banggai or Banner cardinals (Pterapogon kauderni)
Flame cardinals (Apogon pseudomaculatus)
Pajama cardinals (Apogon nematoptera)
Pipefishes (assorted small species)
Percula clownfish (Amphiprion percula)
False percula clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
Royal Grammas (Gramma loreto)
Blackcap Basslets (Gramma melacara)
Green Chromis (Chromis viridis)
Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus)
Six Line Wrasse (Psuedocheilinus hexataenia)
Flasher Wrasse (Paracheilinus sp.)
Fairy Wrasse (Cirrhilabrus spp.)
Scooter Blennies (Synchiropus spp.)
Green Mandarin Goby or Dragonet (Pterosynchiropus splendidus)
Psychedelic Mandarin Goby or Dragonet (Pterosynchiropus picturatus)
Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani) – avoid other Pseudochromis species!
Good inverts for seahorses include decorative cleaner shrimp like those listed below:
Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius)
large ornamental snails (living sea shells) such as the following:
Tiger Cowry (Cypraea tigris)
Deer Cowry (Cypraea cervus)
Assorted Feather Dusters (Sabellastatre magnifica, Sabella sp.) whose colorful crowns resemble gaily-colored parasols.
There are also quite a number of compatible corals that do well under low-to-moderate light levels with low-to-moderate currents that are compatible with seahorses, but setting up modified reef tank for seahorses is another subject altogether and not a suitable project for beginners.
By no means is this intended to be a comprehensive compilation. It is intended merely to give the hobbyist an idea of the types of fishes and inverts that generally make suitable tankmates for seahorses. But there are many more seahorse-safe fish and invertebrates that could have been added to the list, and no doubt many aquarists would disagree about some of the species that have been included.
Be that as it may, there are two precautions that should always be observed when contemplating keeping seahorses with other fishes:
(1) All fishes that are intended as tankmates for seahorses MUST be quarantined first without exception. For the same reasons we discussed earlier with regard to wild-caught seahorses, any fish you bring home from your LFS is a potential disease vector for all manner of nasty pathogens and parasites, and you need to take every possible precaution to prevent these from being introduced to your display tank.
(2) If you are new to seahorses, you will be much better off sticking to a species tank rather than attempting to keep them in a mixed community. Beginners are well advised to keep things as simple as possible while they learn the ropes, and introducing other fishes and invertebrates tankmates complicates feeding and carries new risks that inexperienced seahorse keepers are ill-equipped to cope with. Get some firsthand experience with seahorses before you consider adding any tankmates other than a cleanup crew.
Will Wooten is also compiled a good compatibility guide for seahorses. You can access Will’s list online at the following URL:
Best of luck with your ongoing research, Barbara!