Re:Help with the H. reidi!

Pete Giwojna

Dear seahorse lover:

Yes, if you wish you can always start out with just a female seahorse. The ol’ mirror trick is indeed effective in most cases, especially if you can position the mirror where it can be seen clearly from the seahorse’s favorite hitching post:

If you are concerned about your solo seahorse becoming lonely by itself, try taping a mirror up against the aquarium glass where your pony can get a good look at herself. Seahorses will often interact with their own reflections in the aquarium glass, so having a mirror-image seahorse that moves in response to her own actions can be very reassuring for a single seahorse and perk up the isolated individual dramatically. It’s an effective technique for a situation like yours and can fool the lonely seahorse into thinking he or she is still in the presence of other seahorses.

Hippocampus reidi seahorses have a well-deserved reputation as finicky eaters, and wild specimens can be very difficult to wean onto frozen foods. If you get a wild H. reidi, you need to be able to provide them with nutritious live foods on a regular basis.

However, captive-bred-and-raised H. reidi are trained to eat frozen Mysis and that’s what you should provide for your female H. reidi if she is captive bred, as I strongly recommend. Frozen Mysis is available in several different brands from many different sources. Gamma brand frozen Mysis is good, Hikari frozen Mysis is quite acceptable as is San Francisco Bay brand frozen Mysis, the Mini Mysis by H2O Life is great for small seahorses, and Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis is no doubt the best in terms of nutritional content and quality control. Your local fish stores should carry one or more of these brands.

If your H. reidi female is young and relatively small, then Hikari frozen Mysis or Mini Mysis from H2O Life would probably be your best choice. But if she is fully grown, then Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta is the best quality Mysis that you can buy and should serve you well.

If you want to start out with a low budget set up for keeping a single Hippocampus reidi, perhaps the most basic aquarium system I could suggest would be to obtain a 20 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (20"L x 10"W x 24"H), equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an off-the-shelf strip reflector with a florescent bulb, and then fit it with a full set of undergravel filters that completely cover the bottom of the aquarium, as described below.

The filtration system for the tank could thus be as basic as a set of well-maintained undergravels (preferably the new reverse flow designs) that covers the bottom of the tank completely. I know undergravel filters are considered old-fashioned technology nowadays, but they are inexpensive, utterly reliable and foolproof (no moving parts), easy to install, require no modification whatsoever, and work extremely well for seahorses within their limitations. An inexpensive diaphragm air pump will operate the filter and provide all the aeration you need, or you can upgrade to powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement.

For the substrate with your undergravel filters, use a coarse bed of good calcareous aquarium gravel such as dolomite, aragonite, or crushed oyster shell 2-3 inches deep, since the buffering ability of such substrates will help maintain good pH.

It is a good idea to supplement the undergravels with an inexpensive hang-on-back filter or canister to provide better circulation and accommodate chemical filtration media. This is a very simple, inexpensive aquarium that’s extremely easy and economical to set up and operate, yet it can be very successful if used within its limitations. For instance, undergravel filters are notorious nitrate factories and the hobbyist must take measures to compensate for this fact. This simple system relies totally on water changes to control nitrates. There is no live rock or live sand bed to provide denitrification, no algal filter or denitrator in a sump, and no protein skimmer to remove organics before they enter the nitrogen cycle. This limits the carrying capacity of the tank and makes an accelerated maintenance schedule and more frequent water changes an absolute necessity. For this reason, reverse flow undergravels often work best with seahorses; they help prevent detritus from accumulating in the gravel bed.

I recommend biweekly water changes of 10%-15% (preferable) or weekly water changes of a least 25% for such a system. Use a gravel washer to clean a different portion of the gravel bed (no more than 25%) each week and keep the tank under stocked, just as you are planning. If you are diligent about aquarium maintenance, perform water changes religiously, and limit yourself to fewer seahorses that you feed carefully, you will find that a simple system featuring undergravel filters can be very successful. But if you are negligent with regard to maintenance, skimp on water changes, or tend to overcrowd or overfeed your tanks, this system will be very unforgiving.

If you’re new to seahorses, 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. The 20-gallon Extra-High All Glass Aquarium we have already discussed is the smallest tank I would consider using for it a large breed such as H. reidi, but if you can afford to spend just a little more than I would suggest the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H), which won’t cost much more but which will provide you with a bigger margin for error. Any local fish store can order one for you from the All-Glass Aquarium company and it’s an economical tank with excellent height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it the same as the 20-gallon tank, using 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 very solid seahorse setup.

If you can afford to upgrade the filtration system a notch above undergravels, many seahorse keepers prefer well-cured, "debugged" live rock to provide all or most of the biofiltration for their aquariums. 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 could then be added on to provide water circulation, surface agitation for good oxygenation, and the means for providing mechanical and chemical filtration.

Here is a list of items that you will need in order to get a new seahorse tank up and running, seahorse lover:

1) A suitable aquarium of at least 20-30 gallons (the taller, the better).
2) Glass Cover or hood for the aquarium.
3) Strip reflector or light fixture to fit the new aquarium.
4) Florescent bulb(s) for the strip reflector or light fixture.
5) External filter to provide water movement and supplemental filtration.
6) Titanium grounding probe to protect against stray voltage.
7) A quality protein skimmer (optional but highly recommended).
8) Ultraviolet Sterilizer (necessary for wild-caught seahorses but not needed for Ocean Riders).
9) Substrate (calcareous gravel for undergravel filters) or a shallow bed of live sand for sponge filters.
10) An aquarium heater.
11) Hydrometer for checking specific gravity or salinity.
12) Saltwater test kits for measuring the following aquarium parameters:
dissolved oxygen (optional but highly recommended)
13) Aquarium thermometer.
14) Instant Ocean artificial salt mix
15) Natural or Artificial Hitching Posts
16) Package of Frozen Mysis to feed the seahorses (e.g., Piscine Energetics, Hikari and Gamma are all good brands to choose from).

For best results with seahorses, when you set up the aquarium strive to maintain stable water conditions within the following aquarium parameters at all times, which are ideal for Hippocampus reidi seahorses as well as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus):

Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026; optimum 1.0245
pH = range 8.0 – 8.4; optimum ~8.2
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = range 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm

Okay, seahorse lover, those are the quick answers to your questions, but if you are serious about setting up an aquarium for a female H. reidi, I suggest that you complete the Ocean Rider training program for new seahorse keepers before you make any more plans. It will go over all of the information above in considerable detail, and include links indicating where certain items can be obtained, whenever possible.

This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge. Ocean Rider provides the free training as a service to their customers and any other hobbyists who are interested in learning more about the care and keeping of seahorses. It’s a crash course on seahorse keeping consisting of 10 separate lessons covering the following subjects, and is conducted entirely via e-mail. There is no homework or examinations or anything of that nature — just a lot of good, solid information on seahorses for you to read through and absorb as best you can, at your own speed:

Aquarium care and requirements of seahorses;
Selecting a suitable aquarium for seahorses;
size (tank height and water volume)
aquarium test kits
Optimizing your aquarium for seahorses;
water movement and circulation
hitching posts (real and artificial)
Cycling a new marine aquarium;
The cleanup crew (aquarium janitors & sanitation engineers);
Water Chemistry
optimal parameters
water quality & water changes
aquarium maintenance schedule
Feeding seahorses;
Compatible tank mates for seahorses;
Courtship and breeding;
Rearing the young;
Disease prevention and control;
Hippocampus erectus
natural history
professional rearing protocols
Acclimating Ocean Rider seahorses.

It’s a correspondence course that’s conducted entirely via e-mail, seahorse lover, and if you are interested I will be providing you with detailed information on these subjects and answering any questions you may have about the material I present. I will also be recommending seahorse-related articles for you to read and absorb online. .

In short, the training course will teach you everything you need to know to keep your seahorses happy and healthy, and it will arm you with the information you need in order to tackle your first ponies with confidence.

If you would like to give the training program and try, just send me a quick e-mail off list ([email protected]) with your first and last name, and I will get you started on the first lesson right away. I will then be working with you personally until your seahorse tank is up and running and you are ready to get your female H. reidi.

Best wishes with all your fishes, seahorse lover!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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