Welcome aboard! We’d be happy to help you get started off on the right foot in your quest for more information on the care and keeping of seahorses, so just relax and take all the time you need to build up a solid foundation of knowledge about these amazing aquatic equines so that your confidence level is high when you finally take the plunge.
As for the proper aquarium for your seahorse setup, it’s generally best to start out with the largest tank you can reasonably afford and maintain, the taller the better, in order to provide yourself with a comfortable margin for error if these will be our first seahorses, Stephanie. Most any tank that’s 50 gallons or above should have sufficient height for seahorses, but if you’re looking for something a little smaller, I would suggest the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24“L x 12“W x 24“H). Any local fish store can order one for you and it’s an economical tank with excellent height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an ordinary off-the-shelf strip reflector with a daylight florescent bulb, and that can form the basis of an inexpensive yet solid seahorse setup.
The type of filtration you add to the aquarium will depend to some extent on the size of the aquarium you ultimately decide on and your own personal preferences. Many seahorse keepers preferred well-cured, "debugged" live rock to provide all or most of the biofiltration for their aquariums. Wet/dry trickle filters are also very beneficial for seahorses, but as an inexperienced aquarist you might prefer to stick to a simple external hang-on-the-back filter or an efficient canister filter instead that is rated for an aquarium of the size you have chosen. Whatever filter you decide is best suited for your needs, I would also recommend getting a good protein skimmer for your aquarium to further supplement the filtration. Some seahorse keepers prefer the CPR Bak-Pak series of filters because those filters combine a protein skimmer along with efficient biological filtration.
If you don’t have them already, you will also need some saltwater test kits to cycle your tank, monitor conditions in your aquarium, and keep track of the water quality. The basic test kits you’ll need to keep track of the aquarium parameters are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH plus a hydrometer to check specific gravity and an aquarium thermometer (if you don’t have one already). You’ll need to get separate test kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and I recommend fasTest or Salifert kits for saltwater, which are fairly economical. I also like the SeaTest hydrometers–convenient, easy to read, and reliable. Here’s a list of what you’ll need for starters:
fasTest Ammonia test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
fasTest Nitrite test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
fasTest Nitrate test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
fasTesT pH test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Systems);
or the Salifert Nitrogen Cycle Package of test kits (Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, & pH)
Click here: Salifert Test Kits:
Safe or Prime declorinators by Sea Chem for detoxifying tap water;
SeaTest Hydrometer (by Aquarium Systems) for checking salinity;
Instant Ocean artificial salt mix
Fine-grained oolitic live sand
Package of Frozen Mysis to feed the seahorses (e.g., Piscine Energetics, Hikari and Gamma are all good brands to choose from)
Natural or Artificial Hitching Posts
The price for these items varies considerably from source to source, so I suggest you print out a list like this and then price it at different local fish stores in your area as well as different online outlets to give you a better idea of what these accessories will cost.
There have been a few other threads on the Ocean Rider Club discussion board at seahorse.com from hobbyists who were just starting out with seahorses that you should also find to be of interest, Stephanie. They discuss setting up an ideal system for seahorses, filtration, feeding, lighting, circulation and so on in much greater detail than the brief overview above. I’ve provided links to those discussions for you below, so please check them out when you get a chance. They will provide a good place for you to start with your ongoing research and I think they will answer many of your questions about keeping seahorses:
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Re:ok stocking density…
Re:Hello, newbie here! – O http://www.seahorse.com/option,com_simpleboard/Itemid,144/func,view/id,1004/catid,2/
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Re:Setting up a 100gal for
Re: Guidance on Keeping Seahorses:
Re: New to seahorses and I have lots of questions!
Re: Tank set-up advice
Re:New with lots of questions 🙂
Please let us know if you have any other questions that haven’t been covered in those previous discussions, Stephanie!
In addition, 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 in the Aquarium (TFH Publications, unpublished) 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.
As far as starfish go, it’s best to avoid a large predatory species such as chocolate chip starfish and African starfish (Protoreaster spp.). I would describe predatory sea stars such as these as "opportunistic omnivores," meaning that they are likely to eat any sessile or slow-moving animals that they can catch or overpower. For instance, I would not trust them with snails, clams, tunicates, soft corals and the like. Most fishes are far too fast and agile to be threatened by sea stars, but seahorses are sometimes an exception due to their sedentary lifestyle and habit of perching in one place for extended periods of time. What occasionally happens, in the confines of the aquarium, is that a predatory starfish may pin down the tail of a seahorse that was perched to the piece of coral or rock the starfish was climbing on, evert it’s stomach, and begin to digest that portion of the seahorse’s tail that is pinned beneath its body. That’s a real risk with large predatory species such as the beautiful Protoreaster starfish, which are surprisingly voracious and aggressive for an echinoderm.
But there are a number of colorful starfish that do well with seahorses. Any of the brightly colored Fromia or Linkia species would make good tankmates for seahorses. However, bear in mind that, like all echinoderms, seahorses are very sensitive to water quality and generally will not do well in a newly established aquarium. Wait until your seahorse tank is well-established and has had a chance to mature and stabilize before you try any starfish.
Best of luck fulfilling your seahorse dreams, Stephanie!