Re:H. Reidis are sick, H. Erectus are fine

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tom:

As we have been discussing, ozone must be used properly in order to avoid possibly harming the aquarium inhabitants (or the aquarist himself). In a nutshell, high levels of ammonia exposure can kill the aquarium fish and invertebrates, as well as destroying the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that carry out biological filtration. Death from ozone exposure is typically the result of asphyxiation, since the oxidative ability of the ozone damages red blood cells in several ways. Ozone exposure induces hemolysis of red blood cells, formation of methemoglobin (rendering the erythrocytes unable to transport oxygen), and red blood cell membrane lipid peroxidation.

Respiratory distress is therefore the early symptom of ozone exposure at low levels. Labored breathing, huffing, rapid respirations, and pallor are some early indications of ozone exposure. At higher levels, the gill tissue itself can be oxidized or "burned" by exposure to ozone, and critical damage to the gills hastens death. So I am thinking that if you’re having any problems with residual ozone, Tom, it is at quite low levels and should be quite treatable, if necessary.

This is what I usually advise home hobbyists with regard to ozone, Tom:

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Ozone (O3) is the highly unstable triatomic form of oxygen. The instability of the ozone molecule makes it highly reactive, and it oxidizes or "burns up" organic compounds and microbes on contact. As a result, ozone is widely used for water purification and sterilization, particularly in Europe (Fenner, 2003a). When used in conjunction with a protein skimmer and properly administered, it provides many benefits to the aquarium and is a very useful option seahorse keepers should strongly consider employing.

Ozone chemically degrades large organic molecules, thereby helping to raise pH, increase dissolved oxygen levels and Redox potential, and improve water quality in general while greatly increasing the efficiency of your protein skimmer (Fenner, 2003a). Its ability to destroy microbes on contact also makes it a very useful disease control measure. Virtually all the large public aquaria employ ozone in their systems for these reasons.

For best results, an ozonizer or ozone generator is used to introduce ozone into the bubble column of a protein skimmer or a special reaction chamber. The outflow from the skimmer should then be discharged into a filter or sump for degassing and chemical filtration (e.g., passing it through a dense bed of activated carbon) before being returned to the main aquarium (Fenner, 2003a). In the best systems, ozone is used in conjunction with an ORP controller in order to optimize and stabilize Redox (reduction-oxidation potential).

Ozone is not necessary for keeping seahorses successfully. Protein skimmers can certainly be operated effectively without it and captive-bred seahorses will thrive in a well-maintained system without the use of ozone. But in my opinion, the benefits ozone provides far outweigh the costs and it can be a very useful addition to a SHOWLR tank. Ozone is by no means a necessity, but it can be a very worthwhile investment in the long-term health of your seahorses, if you follow all of the necessary precautions.
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If residual ozone is a problem in your case, Tom, it would seem to be at very low levels since only the Hippocampus reidi and juvenile Hippocampus ingens have been adversely affected. If that’s the situation, then the residual ozone is most likely causing the respiratory distress by converting the normal hemoglobin in the seahorse’s blood into methhemoglobin, which renders the red blood cells unable to transport oxygen, and it’s possible that treating the affected fish with methylene blue could reverse this problem and provide the affected seahorses with some relief, as explained below:

Aside from residual ozone, exposure to moderate levels of ammonia and nitrite (or excessively high levels of nitrates) can change the normal hemoglobin in the seahorse’s blood stream to a form (i.e., methhemoglobin) that is no longer able to transport oxygen. If this becomes severe enough, it will leave the affected seahorse starved for oxygen, which makes it very weak and fatigued. As a result, the affected seahorses may detach themselves from their hitching posts periodically and rest on the bottom, unable to exert themselves in their weakened condition. As you can imagine, being deprived of oxygen really wipes them out in terms of loss of energy and stamina. At lower levels, it also results in respiratory distress, and rapid, labored breathing as they try to oxygenate themselves and compensate for the lack of normal hemoglobin.

One of the properties of methylene blue is that it can reverse this process and convert the methhemoglobin in the red blood cells back into normal hemoglobin, which can then pick up and transport oxygen again as usual. That’s why it is so helpful in relieving shipping stress and treating ammonia exposure and nitrite poisoning. For this reason, you may want to pick up some methylene blue at your local fish store and keep it on hand in case it is ever needed (the Kordon brand of methylene blue is best, in my opinion).

The usual criteria for determining whether or not methylene blue is needed to help seahorses recover from exposure to high levels of ammonia is their respiration. If the seahorse has labored breathing — huffing or rapid respiration — then methylene blue is called for. Likewise, if the seahorse is experiencing convulsions or it’s behavior otherwise indicates it is suffering from more than temporary disorientation and loss of equilibrium, such as lying prostrate on the bottom, unable to right itself again at all after two or three hours have passed, it may benefit from methylene blue to assist its recovery.

When that’s the case, hobbyists may want to consider a quick dip in methylene blue. Commonly known as "meth blue" or simply "blue," this is a wonderful medication for reversing the toxic effects of ammonia and nitrite poisoning. Methylene blue transports oxygen and aids breathing. It facilitates oxygen transport, helping fish breathe more easily by converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin — the normal oxygen carrying component of fish blood, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried through the bloodstream. This makes it very useful for treating gill infections, low oxygen levels, or anytime your seahorses are breathing rapidly and experiencing respiratory distress. It is the drug of choice for treating hypoxic emergencies of any kind with your fish. However, methylene blue will destroy nitrifying bacteria so it should be used in a hospital tank or as a brief bath or dip only (if used in an established aquarium, it will impair the biological filtration and the tank may need to be cycled all over again).

Here is some more information that may be helpful if you ever need to treat with methylene blue, for any reason:

If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), there are instructions for administering it as a very brief, concentrated dip are as follows:

For use as a dip for treatment of fungus or external parasitic protozoans and cyanide poisoning:
(a) Prepare a nonmetallic container of sufficient size to contain the fish to be treated by adding water similar to the original aquarium.
(b) Add 5 teaspoons (24.65 ml) per 3 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 50 ppm. It is not recommended that the concentration be increased beyond 50 ppm.
(c) Place fishes to be treated in this solution for no longer than 10 seconds.
(d) Return fish to original aquarium.

When you administer such a dip, hold the seahorse in your hand throughout the procedure and time it closely so that the dip does not exceed 10 seconds.

And here are Kordon’s instructions for administering the methylene blue in a hospital tank if longer-term treatment seems appropriate to reverse more severe cases of nitrite poisoning and ammonia toxicity:

As an aid in reversal of nitrite (NO2-) or cyanide (CN-) poisoning of marine and freshwater aquarium fishes:
(a) Remove carbon filter and continue to operate with mechanical filter media throughout the treatment period.
(b) Add 1 teaspoon of 2.303% Methylene Blue per 10 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 3 ppm. Continue the treatment for 3 to 5 days.
(c) Make a water change as noted and replace the filter carbon at the conclusion of the treatment.

See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:

Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue

If you obtained a brand of methylene blue other than Kordon, just follow the instructions the medication comes with.

One other tip, hold your horses: if you ever need to handle seahorses to administer first aid measures or treat them in a hospital tank, it’s best not to net them when you are manipulating the seahorse:

Handling Seahorses

I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

Okay, that’s the quick rundown on using methylene blue to reverse the formation of methemoglobin in the red blood cells and to relieve the resulting respiratory distress, Tom.

Best wishes with all your fishes, sir.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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