Re:Keeping Different Species Together??

Pete Giwojna

Dear Claire:

Sure, the tape was yours is you’ll be keeping will determine the type of aquarium that is most suitable for them to a large degree.

For instance, dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) generally do best in small aquaria of 2-10 gallons, which makes it easier to maintain an adequate feeding density of the newly hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) that serve as their stable, everyday diet.

The larger breeds of seahorses (i.e., greater seahorses) require larger aquariums that are at least 20 inches tall in order to do well, as discussed below:

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The size and the location of the tank are the first things you must consider when preparing an aquarium for seahorses. Unless you will be keeping one of the miniature breeds of farm-raised seahorses, such as Hippocampus zosterae, H. breviceps, or H. tuberculatus, it’s best to start with the largest aquarium you can reasonably afford and maintain (the taller, the better). In general, a tank of at least 40 gallons (150 L) is preferable if you’re an inexperienced aquarist since that’s the size when one begins to see significant benefits in terms of the greater stability a larger volume of water can provide. An aquarium of 40-gallons or more will be more resistant to overcrowding and to rapid fluctuations in temperature, pH, and salinity than smaller setups. The larger the aquarium the larger the margin for error it offers the aquarist and the greater the benefits it provides in terms of stability.

It is equally desirable to select an aquarium at least 20-inches high when keeping the greater seahorses. They need the vertical swimming space to perform their complex mating ritual and successfully complete the egg transfer, which is accomplished while the pair is rising through the water column or drifting slowly downwards from the apex of their rise. If the aquarium is too shallow, eggs will be spilled during the transfer from the female to the male’s brood pouch, and mating becomes increasingly difficult or impossible below a certain minimum depth. A tall aquarium can also help protect the seahorses from depth-related health problems such as bloated pouch and certain forms of Gas Bubble Disease.
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The next thing you must consider when choosing an aquarium for your seahorses is their temperature requirements. Temperate or cold water seahorses, such as Brumbries or pot-belly seahorses (Hippocampus abdominal) or Zulu-lulus (H. capensis) need cool water temperatures of 68°F or below in order to thrive, which means that seahorse tanks for these species must be equipped with an aquarium chiller.

On the other hand, tropical seahorse species generally do best at stable water temperatures of 72°F-75°F, and seahorse tanks for tropical ponies should be equipped with an aquarium heater to keep the water temperature from dropping below 72°F at night time or during the winter.

So not all different kinds of seahorses are compatible with each other, Claire. For example, you cannot mix temperate (cool water) seahorses with tropical (warm water) seahorses for obvious reasons. It is never a good idea to attempt to keep warm-water and cool-water species together. That unfortunate experiment has been tried many a time and has always proven to be disastrous for one or the other in the long run. Ideally it is always best to have separate tanks for tropical, subtropical, and temperate species. So you can’t consider keeping temperate seahorses like Ocean Rider Brumbry seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis), often known as big belly seahorses or potbelly seahorses or simply Pots for short, with tropical seahorses such as H. reidi, H. barbouri, or H. kuda.

Nor is it a good idea to keep miniature species, such as Pixies or dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) together with larger seahorses, such as Mustangs or Sunbursts (H. erectus), due to their incompatible feeding requirements.

However, there are a number of large, tropical seahorses that have very similar aquarium requirements and which therefore make good tankmates for one another. For instance, H. erectus, H. reidi, H. barbouri, H. comes, or H. kuda seahorses can all be kept together in an aquarium with a stable water temperature of 75°F. But, for best results, when you are considering keeping seahorses of different species together in the aquarium, it’s best to limit yourself to specimens provided by the same breeder or aquaculture facility.

Among the Ocean Rider seahorses, this means you could safely keep Mustangs, Sunbursts, Pintos, Fire Reds, Barbs, and Brazileros together in a tropical aquarium with the temperature of 75°, providing the aquarium is large enough to safely accommodate all of the seahorses you are interested in, Claire. The suggested stocking density for such seahorses is typically one pair per 10 gallons of aquarium water, meaning that a 50 gallon aquarium, for example, could hold up to five pairs or 10 individuals when it was fully stocked.

Mustangs (Hippocampus erectus) are great seahorses for beginners, Claire. Commonly known as Lined Seahorse or either the Northern Giant or Florida Giant, Hippocampus erectus was the first seahorse to be commercially raised for the aquarium hobby. This species has been captive-bred and raised for more generations than any other seahorse, and have now achieved a level of domestication that makes them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses (Giwojna, unpublished text).

These are impressive animals. They are large, robust, deep-chested seahorses that will approach 10 inches in length when fully grown.

The first captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my original pair are still going strong after all these years. They quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder and were soon literally eating right out of my hands. (I know, I know — sensible aquarists should always strive to keep their mitts out the aquarium as much as possible, but handfeeding is a thrill I find difficult to resist, and hey — nobody ever said I was sensible!) Nowadays they head for the feeding station as soon as I approach the tank, a series of color changes betraying their excitement, and queue up at the dinner table looking their best and brightest. Of course, they both try to snap up the first morsel — even pair-bonded ponies are not big on sharing or waiting turns — so I no longer offer them one mysid at a time. I offer them a handful of individually thawed Mysis in my upturned palm instead. They know the drill and happily perch on my fingers while snicking up the shrimp as fast as they can. They genuinely appear to enjoy interacting with me and like to linger on my hand long after all the food is gone. They would allow me to lift them out of the water when I withdraw my hand if I didn’t gently shoo them away first. There’s a lot of puppy dog in your average seahorse and H. erectus is no exception. One almost expects to see them wagging their tails as they beg for handouts

Mustangs and Sunbursts are different color morphs of the same species (Hippocampus erectus). As such, they have identical aquarium requirements, interbreed freely, and are equally hardy. Sunbursts are a bit smaller than Mustangs on average, topping out at around 5-6 inches, whereas the ‘stangs can reach well in excess of 6 inches in length.

But they differ primarily in their coloration: Mustangs tend to be darker colored, displaying the dominant dark brown to black coloration lots of white diamonds and saddles that is so typical of wild erectus, whereas the Sunbursts tend to be more brightly colored, and typically display the much less common yellow to orange color pattern. But ‘stangs also have bright pigment cells and they can brighten up when the occasion calls for it, such as during courtship or when competing for mates.

Although yellow and orange pigments tend to predominate in Sunbursts, they are equipped with a full range of chromatophores and can display a wide range of colors. As their name suggests, Sunbursts are famous for their sunset colors (yellow, gold, peach and orange) when conditions are to their liking.

Pintos are an unusual color morph in which the base coloration of the seahorse consists of two different contrasting colors. The result is a beautiful piebald pony. Well-marked specimens sport the same sort of bold painted pattern as the Apache Indian’s famous pinto ponies from the wild West, and are referred to as such for that very reason.

The most striking aspect about the Pinto color pattern is the brilliant contrast between the light and dark areas. That eye-catching mottled pattern is completely random, so much so that no two specimens are exactly alike (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). The light areas and the darker portions of the piebald pattern can vary in coloration, from black through various shades of brown, or more rarely, to white, yellow, orange or any of the other colors commonly seen in captive-bred erectus (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

The extent of the mottling varies greatly from individual to individual, and that, together with the differences in their coloration, makes each of these specimens truly unique (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Many of the piebald specimens are black-and-white or brown-and-white, and others are pitch black mottled with beige or ash gray (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). A few are even more colorful, including striking orange-and-black and brown-and-yellow specimens. When these colors are at their brightest, and the orange or yellow mottling is well developed, such specimens rival the gaudy patterns of orioles (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). One of the most beautifully marked seahorses I’ve ever seen was a saffron yellow erectus adorned to great effect with snow-white saddles (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). As you can imagine, these piebald ponies are in great demand by hobbyists.

The ever-popular Brazileros (Hippocampus reidi) are sleek, graceful animals, perfectly proportioned with slender bodies, long tails, and long snouts (Abbott 2003). Their lithe appearance gives rise to their other common names, the Slender Seahorse or the Longsnout Seahorse (Abbott 2003). Whereas the robust H. erectus is a solidly built seahorse like a Mac truck, H. reidi shares the graceful curves of a Corvette Stingray (Abbott 2003). The result is an elegant warm-water seahorse that is everyone’s all-time favorite:

Long renowned for their brilliant colors, rapid color changes, prolific breeding habits, and huge broods of difficult-to-raise fry, all serious seahorse keepers are familiar with these breathtaking beauties (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Often proclaimed the most attractive of seahorses, H. reidi is the crown jewel in many aquarists’ collections. These rather majestic steeds are long-lived, and with good care, they will be your companions for the next 8 to 10 years and may eventually reach a length of 7 inches (Abbott 2003; Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

This species regularly produces some of the most brilliant color morphs I have ever seen. Going from most to least common, these sports include bright yellow, orange, and red individuals, which are much sought after by aquarists. The yellow, orange, and red morphs of H. reidi have all been established by aquaculturists and are now readily available.

Prickly seahorses (Hippocampus barbouri), commonly known as Barbs for short, would make another colorful addition to or heard of large tropical seahorses. All seahorse keepers are familiar with these thorny beauties. They are the pretty, prickly, tropical seahorses we all used to know and love as Hippocampus histrix until the histrix complex was revised and taxonomists officially changed their name to H. barbouri (Abbott, 2003). They are readily identified by their sharp, very well developed spines, their prominent five-pointed crown, and their boldly striped snouts (Abbott, 2003). The latter is one of their most attractive features and is responsible for one of their common names — the zebra-snout seahorse. Cultured specimens range from pale yellow to a brilliant red-orange, often further adorned with reddish brown spots and lines.

So I think an assortment of Mustangs, Sunbursts, Pintos, zebra-snouted Barbs, and yellow or red Brazileros would make an interesting combination of seahorses with bold color patterns for a large aquarium.

However, remember that it’s not a good idea to add several pairs of seahorses to your new aquarium at one time. That would increase the bioload too much too fast for your biofiltration to handle, resulting in ammonia spikes and water quality problems that could be harmful for the seahorses. I would suggest adding a pair of Mustangs and a pair of Sunbursts, which can be purchased together as a special package for a substantial savings, to get your herd started. Give your filtration a few weeks to adjust to the increased bioload, and then you can consider adding another pair or two of different seahorse.

In other words, Claire, build up your seahorse herd gradually and allow your biofilter a few weeks to adjust between each batch of new additions.

Best of luck on finding the perfect seahorses and aquarium for your needs and interests, Claire!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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