Re:help i am new to this

Pete Giwojna

Dear Stephanie:

Yes, of course, I know many hobbyists who keep starfish with their seahorses. As I said, you must avoid the predatory species such as the beautiful Protoreaster sea stars, but any of the Linkia species (e.g., the blue, or the purple, or the red Linkia) or colorful Fromia sea stars will do well with seahorses. You can consider your seahorse tank sufficiently well-established for starfish after it has been cycled completely and up and running for several months. You need to give the aquarium that long to adjust to the heavier bioload after you add the seahorses and to stabilize so that you can be confident that there will be no ammonia/nitrite spikes and that your nitrate levels are under control and you can maintain good water quality.

But starfish are not the best scavengers for a seahorse setup, Stephanie, and you’ll need to add a good cleanup crew of snails and micro-hermit crabs that can go on your aquarium right away as soon as it has been cycled. The discussions I referred you to in my previous post will explain the types of sanitation engineers that work well for seahorses.

Yes, indeed, artificial plants and corals that are designed specifically for use in marine aquaria will make excellent hitching posts for your seahorses. They are perfectly safe and a wide assortment of them is available nowadays that are very lifelike and realistic. It’s getting difficult to tell the live corals and plants from the good faux decorations these days.

As for feeding stations, Stephanie, I wrote an article in Conscientious Aquarist explaining exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use it in some detail. It should cover everything you need to know in that regard. It’s available online at the following URL:

Click here: Seahorse Feeders

When you had a chance to read the article, you will see that quite a number of ordinary items and natural objects such as seashells and certain corals will all make perfectly suitable feeding trays or feeding troughs for your seahorses. You probably have a number of items in your kitchen right now that would make a fine feeding station.

When a new aquarium has cycled completely and is ready to be stocked, I like to begin by adding my aquarium janitors or clean up crew first, since many of them are herbivorous and can help prevent nuisance algae from ever getting a toehold in the tank. (New aquariums are always susceptible to algae and diatom blooms.) Give the biofiltration a week or so to adjust after you add your sanitation engineers and then you can gradually introduce your seahorses, a pair or two at a time. After the aquarium has been up and running successfully for several months, you can add delicate invertebrates that are sensitive to water quality such as starfish and decorative shrimp.

Yes, you certainly may request seahorses of a particular color when you place your order. Just use the "Comments" section on the online order form, which is for any special instructions you may have regarding your order. That is where you can request the particular traits you want in your seahorses. That’s the place where you can specify if you want seahorses of a certain gender or color, or perhaps a pregnant male… When Ocean Rider subsequently fills your order, they will look over the current crop of seahorses and do their very best to select specimens that meet your specifications from their available livestock.

You can always get either males or females, and if you’re willing to pay a little extra, you can obtain a pregnant male. You can also request a seahorse of a particular color. They will then try their hardest to pick out the seahorses that are the closest possible match for your preferences, although there may not always be specimens available of the particular color you are looking for when your order is filled. It’s the next best thing to handpicking the seahorses yourself.

In actual practice, Stephanie, 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 30-gallon aquarium, for example, is a total of about three pairs or six individuals. An experienced seahorse keeper with a relatively sophisticated filtration system could comfortably keep around eight H. erectus in such a tank with no problems, but a beginner with a basic filtration system should keep no more than four erectus in a tank that size, at least until he or she games a little more valuable firsthand experience keeping seahorses. Such a set up could also accommodate one or two small starfish and a complete cleanup crew.

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.

When stocking your aquarium, consider these golden rules to be your commandments. Obey them, and your system should flourish. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow thee all of thy days. Break them, and you will soon find yourself teetering on the brink of disaster. Abandon all hope ye whom embark down that dark road to ruin.

Best of luck with your ongoing research on the care and keeping of seahorses, Stephanie!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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