Re:I don’t know my Seahorses gender.

#4018
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Charlie:

Okay, that sounds pretty promising — if your juvenile has no dark spots and is beginning to develop a nascent pouch, you can be pretty confident that you have a young male.

It’s certainly is encouraging that he’s eating so well and showing steady growth. If he is eating 100 adult brine shrimp daily, he certainly has a robust appetite. It’s excellent that you are enriching the brine shrimp — that’s the only way to provide good nutritional value with Artemia. By all means, do keep fortifying the brine shrimp for your H. kuda (Vibrance 1 is ideal for this, by the way) and be sure to disinfect it as well.

Brine shrimp are no doubt the most widely used live foods for sea horses. They are convenient, always available, easy to hatch and raise, and adults can be bought by the pint or quart at many fish stores (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).

However, commercially raised brine shrimp have one big drawback. By the time they are purchased and released in the aquarium, they usually have not eaten for several days, and starved brine shrimp are nutritionally barren. It is therefore imperative that brine shrimp be fortified before they are fed to your sea horses. (As discussed earlier, unfortified adult brine shrimp are useful for feeding to captive-bred seahorses on a staple diet of enriched frozen Mysis on their fasting days precisely because the brine shrimp have nonexistent nutritional value.)

Fortunately, brine shrimp are filter feeders and will take in whatever is suspended in the water with them that has a manageable particle size. This can be yeast cells; unicellular algae; rotifers; micronized rice bran, whey, wheat flour, or egg yolk; dried Spirulina algae; water-soluble vitamin and mineral formulations designed for marine fish; or whatever else the aquarist cares to add to their culture water (Daleco Aquarists Supply Manual, 1995).

I recommend using one of the concentrated food additives or enrichment products that have recently been developed specifically for mariculturists. The best additives are rich in lipids, especially highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA), and vitamins such as stabilized Vitamin C and cyanocobalmin (B-12) (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Adding such enrichment products to a 6-ounce portion of brine shrimp, and then allowing at least 12 hours for the shrimp to ingest it can fortify store-bought adult Artemia (Giwojna, Oct. 1996)

Liquid vitamin formulations can also be added, and the ability to enrich their lipid and vitamin content this way allows us to treat brine shrimp as animated vitamin pills for seahorses (Lawrence, 1998). The savvy seahorse keeper should regard enriched Artemia as bio-encapsulated food for his charges and take full advantage of every opportunity to fortify the shrimp (Lawrence, 1998).

However, Charlie, if you’ll be supplementing your seahorse’s diet with adult brine shrimp regularly, there are a few precautions you must be careful to observe. First and foremost, you must be careful to disinfect live food beforehand to assure you won’t be introducing any pathogens or parasites along with the prey items, as discussed below.

There is one potentially serious drawback to feeding your seahorses living prey on a regular basis. There is always the chance that you can introduce disease into your aquarium along the with the live food. Live Artemia (brine shrimp), for example, are known disease vectors for a long laundry list of fish pathogens, and should be treated with caution in that regard – especially if obtained from your local fish store (LFS). The aquarist who relies on live foods for his seahorses MUST take special precautions to eliminate this potential danger!

Fortunately, there are a couple of simple measures that can minimize such risks. Decapsulating Artemia cysts, for instance, removes all known parasites and pathogens, effectively sterilizing brine shrimp eggs. Large public aquaria routinely go a step further, disinfecting live foods by administering a 10-minute freshwater bath and then rinsing it thoroughly through a 100-micron strainer before offering it to their seahorses (Bull and Mitchell 2002). Home hobbyists should do the same (a brine shrimp net will suffice for the strainer). Brine shrimp — the chief offender as a disease vector — tolerate this disinfection process extremely well. In addition, adult brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) are now available from High-Health facilities, which greatly minimizes the risk of disease contamination, and if possible, Sandy, you should take full advantage of these safe vendors when purchasing live foods.

Finally, Charlie, you need to be aware that adult brine shrimp are not suitable as the staple, everyday diet for your seahorses over the long term. It’s fine to provide your seahorses with live adult brine shrimp as an occasional treat, or to use it as a supplement to frozen Mysis several times a week. You can even feed it to your seahorses daily, giving them with one meal a day of live brine shrimp, as long as you also offer them a second feeding with Mysis. But seahorses that are fed a strict diet of adult brine shrimp will eventually developed a debilitating condition known as soft plate disease over time:

Soft Plate Disease:

Seahorses and pipefish that receive a diet deficient in calcium are prone to "soft plate" syndrome, which is a progressive disease characterized by decalcification of the bony plates that fuse together to form the exoskeleton (Greco, 2004). In the olden days, this was often a problem with seahorses that were fed a diet consisting solely of Artemia (Greco, 2004). We now know that brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) contains inadequate levels of calcium and an imbalanced ratio of calcium to phosphorus, making it unsuitable as a staple diet even when enriched (Greco, 2004).

Seahorses afflicted with soft plate syndrome exhibit shortened lifespans, decalcification of their exoskeleton, and poor survival rates amongst their fry (Greco, 2004). Pregnant males face the greatest risk of soft plate. Seahorse fry are known to incorporate calcium provided by their father into their skeletons during their embryonic development, so when a gravid male is deficient in calcium, his rapidly growing offspring typically suffer high mortalities due to a condition akin to rickets in human children.

Fortunately, this debilitating condition is easily prevented by providing seahorses with adequate levels of bioavailable calcium either in their diet or in the aquarium water itself (minerals can be obtained by fish directly from the water; Greco, 2004). I have never heard of a case of soft plate in a seahorse kept in a reef tank that received Kalkwasser (calcium hydroxide) via an automatic doser or regular supplementation of bioavailable calcium. Nor have I even seen this condition in seahorses that received a stable diet of enriched frozen Mysis relicta.

In short, Charlie, don’t hesitate to supplement your seahorse’s diet freely with liberal feedings of adult brine shrimp as long as you enrich the Artemia religiously, disinfect it beforehand, and diversify their diet with hard bodied crustaceans or another good source of bioavailable calcium.

Best of luck with your Hippocampus kuda, sir!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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