Re:lethargic seahorse

Pete Giwojna

Dear Mike:

Okay, if the less active seahorse is a male, he may indeed simply be doing his homebody routine or he may have mated and be gestating young. You mentioned that the area below his stomach (presumably his brood pouch) has turned quite dark and that could be consistent with a broody male. As his pregnancy progresses, a male’s pouch typically darkens due to the proliferation of epithelial and connective tissue and the placenta-like changes taking place in the wall of the marsupium.

As Kris mentioned, the pouch displays performed by courting males are quite dramatic and eye catching. Amorous males may perform two distinctive types of pouch displays — Ballooning or Pumping — as described below:

Ballooning is a simple display in which courting males inflate their brood pouches with water to the fullest possible extent and parade around in front of the female in all their glory as though trying to impress her with the sheer dimensions of their pouches. The pumped up paramours perform proudly, putting on quite a show for the flirtatious fillies.

Often all the males in the vicinity will compete for the attention of the same female, chasing after her with their pouches fully inflated this way. When all the boys are in full-blown pursuit of a female ripe with eggs, they look like a flotilla of hot air balloons racing to the finish line.

Hippocampus abdominalis, H. breviceps, and H. tuberculatus, in particular, have developed enormous pouches that are all out of proportion to their bodies when fully expanded. Their oversized pouches look like over-inflated balloons ready to burst when these stallions come a courting. Take the tiny Hippocampus breviceps, for example. With its brood pouch expanded to the maximum, a courting male looks like a fuzzy 3-inch pipe cleaner that swallowed a golf ball! Courtship in temperate/subtemperate species generally centers around pouch displays more than color changes, dancing or prancing.

Ballooning is much more common in temperate seahorses than tropical species, however, Mike. If your male is a Mustang or Sunburst (Hippocampus erectus), for example, he is much more likely to engage in a different type of pouch display known as "Pumping" instead.

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. The male’s marsupium also becomes grossly distended during displays of Pumping, but in that case, it is obvious the male is courting because it looks like he’s doing abdominal crunches as the vigorously pumps water in and out of his brood pouch.

So when a courting male is performing these vigorous pouch does place, it’s pretty hard to miss. But courtship is primarily conducted in the early morning hours, so if you are at work all day long and get your best chance to observe your seahorses in the evening, it’s possible you may have missed the show. For example, the morning greeting ritual performed by pair-bonded seahorses typically take place at first light for a period of perhaps 5-15 minutes shortly after dawn.

Yes, sir, it’s not unusual for a seahorse to prefer feeding on live Mysis after it settles to the bottom. The individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits. Some are aggressive eaters that will boldly snatch food from your fingers, while some are shy and secretive, feeding only when they think they’re not being observed. Some like to slurp up Mysis while it’s swirling through the water column, and some will only take Mysis off the bottom of the tank. Some are voracious pigs that greedily scarf up everything in sight, and some are slow, deliberate feeders that painstakingly examine every morsel of Mysis and stare it down forever before they finally decide to accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds.

If your pH is holding consistently around 8.0 and doesn’t want to budge, you might want to try a different type of buffer. In many systems, a two-part buffer consisting of both an alkalinity component and a calcium component does a better job of maintaining the pH, since it stabilizes the carbonate hardness of the aquarium rather than merely boosting the pH temporarily. What kind of buffer are you using right now, Mike?

Best of luck with your new seahorses, sir! Please keep us informed if the lethargic seahorse shows any other symptoms out of the ordinary.

Pete Giwojna

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