Re:Help — something wrong

Pete Giwojna

Dear Barbara:

Judging from your description, it is very difficult to say what may be wrong with your seahorse. Male seahorses perform a vigorous display known as "Pumping" in which they been their heads towards their chest and curl their tails up towards their chest, repeatedly jackknifing their body and almost folding themselves in two before straightening up again and repeating the process. This has the effect of forcing water in and out of their pouches, and they perform these displays very energetically, with tremendous vigor. It looks almost like they are doing abdominal crunches, and if you have never seen these displays before, they can be easily mistaken for seizures or spasms or convulsions. Since you didn’t report any other symptoms besides the odd somersault ing in behavior, with the seahorse’s tail curled and head bowed, I am wondering if your male is might be actively engaged in such displays, which can appear quite alarming the first time you see them…

Here is an excerpt from my new book (Complete Guide to Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, TFH Publications, unpublished) that describes these pouch displays in greater detail:

[open quote]
Pumping and Ballooning.

Pumping and Ballooning are pouch display performed to some extent by all male seahorses regardless of species. The energetic display known as "Pumping" is a vital part of the courtship ritual in all seahorse species that have been studied to date. Temperate and tropical seahorses alike, from the smallest pygmy ponies to the largest of the "giant" species, it appears that all male seahorses perform such pouch displays.

Pumping requires a series of coordinated movements. Bending vigorously, the aroused male jackknifes his tail to meet his trunk, thereby compressing his inflated brood pouch in the middle. The male then straightens up again, suddenly snapping back to "attention" so as to relieve the pressure on his severely compressed midsection. This rapid pumping motion has the effect of forcing water in and out of the brood pouch in a manner that is virtually identical to the way the young are expelled at birth (Vincent, 1990).

The strenuous pumping action is the stallion’s way of demonstrating his pouch is empty of eggs and that he is a strong, healthy, vigorous specimen capable of carrying countless eggs (Vincent, 1990). By so doing, he assures the female that he is ready, willing, and able to mate, and that he can successfully carry and deliver her entire brood.

Pumping is an impressive display to say the least. Perhaps a bit too impressive at times. For example, I often receive emergency emails, urgent instant messages, and frantic phone calls from novice seahorse keepers who have just observed their stallions performing for the first time and are convinced something is horribly wrong. To their untrained eyes, the poor creatures appear to be in the midst of an acute attack of appendicitis or an epileptic fit, if not their death throes. The alarmed hobbyists are certain their poor pets are having violent convulsions and proceed to describe in lurid detail how the pitiful ponies are doubling over in obvious agony again and again, in the grip of seizures so severe they are all but being torn in two.

It is my great pleasure to reassure them that all is well, and that their ailing male is actually happy and healthy and very much at home in their tank to the point that he is displaying a hearty interest in mating. Indeed, the courtship display they are witnessing is an unmistakable indication that they are doing things right and that their male is quite content with the conditions they have created in the aquarium. One might only wish that all seahorse crises were so easily dismissed, so quickly resolved, and with such a happy outcome. [Close quote]

If he’s not just displaying, Barbara — if he is turning somersaults head over tail and blindly bumping into things and careening off obstacles — then there’s obviously something very seriously wrong with him and there’s probably not much you can do about it at this point. On rare occasions, I have seen seahorses exhibit neurological symptoms something akin to that in cases of accidental poisoning (usually with heavy metals). If you think that’s a possibility, it would be a good idea to perform a major water change and use fresh activated carbon and/or it Poly-Filter pad in your filter.

How are your water quality parameters (ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, pH and specific gravity)? How about your dissolved oxygen levels? Is the seahorse breathing normally? Any sign of huffing, rapid breathing or respiratory distress?

If your male is showing any signs of labored breathing or respiratory distress, you may want to treat him with methylene blue in a hospital tank. 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 only be used in a hospital tank (if used in an established aquarium, it will impair the biological filtration and the tank may need to be cycled all over again).

If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), their suggested treatment protocol for nitrite poisoning is as follows:

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

Hopefully, your male is just performing pouch displays and putting on a good show to impress the females in your tank, Barbara. If so, he’s showing a healthy interest in courtship and mating, and everything is fine.

Pete Giwojna

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