Re:Kuda scratching/curling???

#2188
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Andrea:

Yup, I know about shipping stress and ammonia poisoning; that’s always a concern with long-distance shipping and the guys at seahorse.org were quite correct to point that out. For example, here’s what I normally advise hobbyists about acclimating their new arrivals:

Acclimating New Arrivals

Acclimating newly arrived seahorses properly after their transoceanic, cross-country journey is absolutely vital. It’s not like acclimating the new specimens you bring home after a quick trip back from your local fish store. The long distances and prolonged transit times involved make proper care of the new arrivals once they finally reach you a far more urgent matter. The reason for this is that all the while the seahorses are en route, they are excreting wastes and respiring in the dark shipping box — consuming oxygen (O2) and giving off carbon dioxide (CO2). That means two things: deadly ammonia is steadily building up in the shipping bag and the pH is steadily dropping, making the water more acidic.

This downward pH shift is actually helpful in that ammonia is less toxic at low pH and becomes much more toxic at higher pH. This is because ammonia exists in water in an equilibrium between two different forms — a nontoxic ionized form usually referred to as ammonium (NH4+) and an un-ionized form (NH3), which is highly toxic. Ammonium (NH4+) is completely harmless to fishes since the ionized ammonia molecule cannot cross the cell membrane and enter their cells. Note that only difference between harmless NH4+ and deadly NH3 is the addition of a hydrogen ion (H+), which converts toxic ammonia to nontoxic ammonium. At low pH, the extra hydrogen ions (H+) of acidic water are readily available to attach to the ammonia molecule, converting most of the ammonia to ammonium: NH3 + H+ —> NH4+. But at high pH, under alkaline conditions, exactly the opposite occurs. At high pH, the abundance of hydroxide ions (OH-) in alkaline water strips the extra hydrogen ion (H+) away from ammonium, rapidly converting most of it to deadly ammonia: OH- + NH4+ —> NH3 + H20. In other words, the higher (more alkaline) the pH, the more ammonia is present in the dangerous un-ionized form (NH3), which easily crosses cell membranes and enters the body.

This should make it easier to understand exactly what is happening in the shipping bag. As the seahorses breathe, consuming O2 and giving of CO2, the pH of the water drops and more of the ammonia (NH3) they produce is assimilated into harmless ammonium (NH4+). So the decrease in pH that occurs during long-distance shipping is actually protecting the new arrivals somewhat — until we open the shipping bag! Once the shipping bag is opened, CO2 begins offgassing from the bag water and fresh O2 begins entering the water, and as the pH begins to rise in response and return to normal, the ammonia in the water becomes increasingly poisonous. And when we begin to add alkaline water with a pH of 8.0-8.4 from the main tank to the shipping bag, we are accelerating the pH shift and converting ever more of the ammonium (NH4+) to deadly ammonia (NH3). The suddenly high concentration of ammonia in the water quickly diffuses into the seahorse’s cells, and acclimating the new arrivals becomes a race against ammonia poisoning just that quickly.

Acclimating farm-raised seahorses properly is therefore the art of achieving the proper balance between two conflicting needs: the need to get them out of the toxic shipping water as quickly as possible and the need to allow them to adjust to tank conditions as gradually as is practical. Here’s how to proceed:

1) Open the shipping box away from any bright lights. Remember that seahorses don’t have eyelids — removing them from total darkness and suddenly plunging them in bright light can be very stressful! Darken the room lights and turn off the aquarium lights before you remove the shipping bags from the box.

2) Float the shipping bag in your tank, or better yet in a clean container filled 2/3 of the way with water from the aquarium, for about 10 minutes to equalize temperatures. (Those shipping bags can be dirty and germ laden!)

3) Once the temperature has been equalized, partially open the shipping bag and check the parameters of the shipping water (temperature, salinity or specific gravity, and especially the pH). Compare those readings to the conditions in the destination tank. That will tell how you quickly you can proceed with the acclimation process. The specific gravity is not that critical. Seahorses tolerate a wide range of salinities and are very adaptable in that regard. If the water in the shipping bag and the water in the destination tank are equal in temperature, fairly close in specific gravity, and within 0.1 of each other in pH, you may introduce the seahorses to the tank right away without the need for any further acclimation. If the temp or pH are slightly off, you can acclimate the seahorses to tank conditions in one or two steps. And if the temp, pH, or specific gravity is off considerably, you will need to adjust the seahorses to tank conditions carefully in three or more steps.

4) The first of these steps is to add 1 cup of tank water to the shipping bag. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust to any differences in tank water you just added.

5) Do NOT aerate the shipping bag while you are waiting. I know it seems a helpful thing to do, and your first inclination will be to add an airstone or airline to the shipping bag, but that can have disastrous consequences! Aerating the shipping water will accelerate the upward shift in pH and hasten the conversion of harmless ammonium (NH4+) to toxic ammonia (NH3). Aerating the shipping bag during acclimation will thus put the new arrivals at grave risk from ammonia poisoning! Don’t do it.

6) After 10 minutes have elapsed, remove 1 cup of water from the shipping bag and add another cup of water from the tank. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust, and if they remain undistressed, repeat this procedure again. Judging from how great the initial discrepancy was in water quality parameters, this procedure can be repeated as often as necessary to adjust the seahorses to the tank conditions gradually, but try to complete the acclimation process within 30 minutes after the shipping bag was opened, if at all possible.

7) Observe the new arrivals closely for any signs of ammonia poisoning throughout the acclimation process. The symptoms to look are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom. Don’t panic at the first sign of rapid breathing, but if you detect any of the more serious symptoms of ammonia toxicity, stop acclimating and get the seahorses into the destination tank immediately! Don’t hesitate! Your seahorses will tolerate an emergency transfer far better than they can withstand prolonged exposure to high levels of deadly ammonia in the shipping bag.

8) If all goes well, you can release the seahorses into the destination tank at your leisure following a 2- or 3-step acclimation process. I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Take care to get as little of the noxious water from the shipping bags as possible into the aquarium when you transfer the seahorses. Discard the impure shipping water when you are finished.

9) Leave the aquarium light off and let the seahorses settle down and adjust to their strange new surroundings at their own speed. Don’t attempt to feed them for the first day. Just give them plenty of room and allow them to settle in and investigate their new home in peace and quiet. Admire them from afar. The next morning you can turn on the aquarium light at the usual time and offer them their first meal.

So if your seahorses were in transit for 55 hours, Andrea, it’s very likely that they were exposed to high levels of ammonia while they were en route and while you were acclimating them, so it’s certainly possible that you are merely observing the lingering aftereffects of that shipping stress. However, the symptoms you describe — shaking their heads and curling up their tails to scratch their heads — are not typically associated with ammonia poisoning but are very typical of fish infested with Cryptocaryon.

Here’s what to look for (and how to treat it) if you think your new kuda may be suffering from exposure to toxic levels of ammonia, Andrea:

Ammonia Poisoning

The most obvious symptoms of ammonia poisoning are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom.

With proper treatment, ammonia exposure and nitrite poisoning is completely reversible providing the seahorses weren’t exposed to toxic levels for too long. Affected seahorses should be treated 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
http://www.novalek.com/kpd28.htm

Aside from methylene blue, the best first aid you can provide for ammonia poisoning is to immediately transfer the seahorses into clean, well-aerated saltwater with zero ammonia and zero nitrite. It sounds like you already accomplished that when you introduced them to their new aquarium, Andrea, so if your seahorses were suffering from exposure to high levels of ammonia, they should improve rapidly now that they’re in your main tank with clean water.

From your description of events, that does not appear to be happening. Rather, you’re new seahorses appear to becoming more irritated the longer they remain in your new aquarium. You mentioned that the males seemed perfectly fine at first, but the female was shaking her head and scratching. Hours later, the male who have been unaffected also began to shake his head and scratch. Again, that’s not what I’d expect to see with ammonia poisoning but it is consistent with what might happen if the seahorses were introduced into an aquarium with Cryptocaryon irritans parasites seeking new hosts. As soon as they detect the presence of a nearby fish, the infectious tomites immediately begin to burrow into the gills and skin of their new host, which is every bit as irritating as it sounds.

That’s what makes me think you’re new kuda may have picked up the Cryptocaryon you’ve been battling in your tanks, Andrea, rather than that they are suffering from shipping stress of ammonia poisoning. However, if they were exposed to levels of ammonia that were high enough to cause ammonia burns, it’s possible that could have irritated their gills and caused the sort of symptoms you reported. If that’s the case, it would certainly affect their respiration, so keep a close watch on them for any signs of huffing, respiratory distress, or rapid breathing. If that’s the case, they should improve now that they’re in your new aquarium was zero ammonia and zero nitrite.

If Cryptocaryon is the cause of their scratching and headshaking, they will get worse and scratch all the more the longer they go untreated, so keep a close eye on your new arrivals and their behavior should tell you how to proceed. Hopefully, their unusual behavior is simply due to the lingering effects of shipping stress and they’ll be fine without needing any treatment that all. But be prepared to act if the scratching purchase.

Best of luck with your new kudas, Andrea!

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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