Okay, that’s good to hear! I am pleased to hear that your new seahorse setup is well-established and already has a thriving pod population as well as numerous rotifers, Mike. That’s going to make your new Ocean Rider seahorses feel right at home and they will take full advantage of the opportunity to graze on live Gammarus amphipods, suitably sized copepods, and perhaps even rotifers between meals.
Given your experience with the red female seahorse that is dependent on live foods, I can understand why you might be concerned that your Ocean Rider seahorses might get spoiled on the abundant amphipods and copepods in their tank and lose interest in the frozen Mysis altogether, sir, but I can assure you that that simply will not happen. All Ocean Rider seahorses are born and raised at the aquaculture facility in Hawaii, and are weaned onto a staple diet of frozen Mysis at a very young age, Mike. They are trained to accept Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta as their staple, everyday diet from the time they are only weeks old, and that’s what they will rely on as their primary diet in your home aquarium as well.
Ocean Rider Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus), for instance, have been captive bred and raised at the seahorse farm in Kona Hawaii for well over 20 generations now, and they are now very highly domesticated and extremely well adapted to life under aquarium conditions. This includes eating frozen Mysis greedily on a daily basis, and there is no danger whatsoever that your Ocean Riders will eschew frozen Mysis once they’ve gotten a taste of live amphipods and copepods, sir.
In fact, Ocean Rider encourages home hobbyists to provide their ponies with live treats from time to time because it provides the seahorses with some badly needed behavioral enrichment.
For example, this is what I normally advise home aquarists who order Ocean Rider seahorses regarding live foods, Mike:
Although all Ocean Rider seahorses are accustomed to eating frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet from an early age, and live foods are no longer necessary in order to keep seahorses successfully, there are some benefits to providing your seahorses with occasional live treats.
For one thing, it’s an excellent way to diversify their diet and help assure that they are receiving the best possible nutrition. Periodically offering your seahorses of variety of live foods ranging from live Mysis to red feeder shrimp or Hawaiian volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra), Gammarus amphipods, and live feeder shrimp or post-larval shrimp will help to keep your seahorses in tiptop condition. That’s especially important for adult seahorses that are actively breeding, since they need the best possible nutrition in order to produce large, healthy, well-developed young on a regular basis.
Secondly, and equally important, it is good behavioral enrichment for the seahorses. Seahorses are intelligent enough to become bored in captivity, and providing them with occasional treats of live foods really livens up their day by giving them the opportunity to hunt, stock, and chase down living prey just as they would in the wild. So offering your ponies live treats once in a while is a good way to help keep them healthy and happy. There is also anecdotal evidence that suggests that providing your seahorses with regular access to live foods can link than their lifespan in captivity, probably as a result of both diversifying their diet and providing excellent behavioral enrichment to keep them well content and satisfied with their surroundings.
Finally, it can be utterly fascinating to watch the seahorses while they are chasing and eating live shrimp and small crustaceans, so it also adds a new dimension for the seahorse keeper. I know many seahorse keepers who like to keep some live foods on hand so that they can feed their seahorses live shrimp when they have guests who are admiring their aquariums. The seahorses become very active and excited in the presence of the live foods, often putting on a very good show while looking their best and brightest.
Live adult brine shrimp and live saltwater shrimp of suitable size would be excellent choices for occasional live treats, Mike. I would also add the red feeder shrimp or red Hawaiian volcano shrimp from Ocean Rider (i.e., Halocaridina rubra), live Mysis, Gammarus amphipods, and post-larval shrimp to the list of the most desirable live foods you can possibly provide for your ponies.
Those are all tough, rugged little shrimp that you can toss in your tank with no acclimation whatsoever. They are agile and elusive enough that your filters won’t eat them and the seahorses won’t be able to capture them all right away. Some will hide and evade well enough that your seahorses will still be hunting down the stragglers for the next day or two. Best of all, you can toss a nice batch of them in your aquarium, secure in the knowledge that they won’t perish and pollute it, but thrive and survive as real, live, "catch-me-if-you-can" prey items that seahorses cannot resist. Nothing stimulates a seahorse’s feeding instinct like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of natural, living prey.
The Ocean Rider Aquaculture Facility in Hawaii (http://seahorse.com/) is a good source for the following live foods but the shipping costs from Hawaii can be considerable:
Green Iron Horse Feed (Gammarus amphipods)
Red Iron Horse Feed or Volcano Shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)
You can also get Gammarus amphipods from Drs. Foster and Smith, sir, and they are sold on the same webpage as their live Mysis and live feeder shrimp, at the URL indicated below:
Finally, Sachs Systems Aquaculture is another excellent supplier for live Mysis and post-larval shrimp. They are natural food sources for seahorses in the wild and fairly easy to maintain in a suitable holding tank for short periods:
All of the sources listed above are high-health aquaculture facilities that provide disease free live foods. You can buy the feeder shrimp or live foods in quantity and set up a small holding tank for them so that you can dole them out as live treats for your seahorses whenever it’s convenient.
How often you want to provide live foods for your seahorses is a matter of personal preference. One of my associates across the pond to Great Britain, Neil Garrick-Maidment, much prefers to provide his seahorses with live Mysis freshly collected from the ocean as their staple diet, whenever possible (they tend to appear seasonally in his waters). This works very well for him and he is a successful seahorse breeder, but his methods are impractical for the average home hobbyist. So feel free to offer the live foods to your seahorses as often as your budget allows, Mike.
But if you want to provide them with live treats on a regular basis, your best bet may be to set up a small tank and culture one or more types of live foods at home so that you will have a continuous supply and don’t need to keep purchasing more of the live shrimp. I mention this not so much so that you can provide your Ocean Rider seahorses with occasional live treats, Mike, but rather so that you can make it less onerous to keep your finicky red female well fed well you are weaning her onto frozen Mysis in lieu of live foods.
There are indeed quite a number of other live foods which you can offer your seahorses from time to time in order to provide them with the more varied diet, and which you can collect yourself or culture at home so that they do not have to be purchased. Here’s an excerpt from my new book (Complete Guide to the Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, unpublished) that discusses that very topic:
Live foods are not nearly as important for the 21st-Century seahorse keeper as they were in bygone days when wild specimens were the only game in town. Nowadays they are primarily useful for easing the adjustment of new arrivals after acclimating them to the aquarium, providing monthly treats for our pampered pets, for introducing a little variety into their staple diet of frozen Mysis, and perhaps for populating refugia.
They can also be invaluable for those rare occasions when seahorses are ailing. Many medications have the unfortunate side effect of suppressing appetite, so when treating sickly seahorses, it’s a good idea to tempt them with choice live foods in order to keep them eating and help build up their strength while recuperating.
In addition, a number of important drugs are only effective in saltwater if administered orally, and gut-loading live shrimp with these meds is a great way to get seahorses to ingest them. Gut-loading live food with antibiotics and then feeding the medicated shrimp to your seahorses can also be a useful way to treat them in your main tank without impairing your biofiltration or subjecting the patients to the added stress of isolation. Separating an ailing seahorse from its mate and herdmates and transferring it to a strange new environment for treatment can be a traumatic experience, especially since the Spartan surroundings in the sterile environment of a sparsely furnished hospital tank can leave a seahorses feeling vulnerable and exposed.
Most hobbyists are quite content to feed captive-bred seahorses their standard diet of enriched frozen mysids. It’s a highly nutritious diet that satisfies their long-term needs, the seahorses are accustomed to eating it, and the convenience of such a feeding regimen is unsurpassed. But if convenience is not your overriding concern, feel free to consider live foods for your seahorses. Providing you can afford the added expense, and you can spare the time and effort to culture live foods and/or collect them from the seashore, then there’s really no compelling reason not to use them.
And there are few advantages to offering your seahorse a diet of live foods. It can be a wonderfully varied diet since there are so many different live foods are available to aquarists nowadays: live Mysis shrimp, Gammarus amphipods, red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra), Caprellids, Ghost shrimp and Grass shrimp, post-larval shrimp (PLS), various copepods, and so on. Variety is the spice of life, and there’s no denying that seahorses naturally prefer to hunt living prey rather than foraging for nonliving prey.
On rare occasions, even farm-raised seahorses sometimes lose interest in a steady diet of frozen fare over time and begin to eat it half-heartedly. This is quite uncommon with captive-bred seahorses that eat frozen Mysis relicta, which is loaded with natural odor attractants that stimulate the seahorse’s feeding instincts, but it still happens from time to time, especially when genuine Mysis relicta is not available.
Live foods are the answer to this problem. When sea horses tire of the same old, boring frozen food and refuse to eat their "veggies," living prey is what they crave: Mysids, ghost shrimp, Gammarus or adult Artemia — the type of food isn’t really as important as the fact that it’s alive and kicking (Giwojna, Nov. 1996). Nothing stimulates a sea horse’s feeding instincts like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of real, live, "catch-me-if-you-can" prey items (Giwojna, Nov. 1996). Live foods are guaranteed to perk up an ailing appetite and excite the interest of the most jaded "galloping gourmets." When it comes to a hunger strike, living prey is the only sure cure for the "Bird’s Eye blues." (Giwojna, Nov. 1996)
Hunger strikes are a very rare occurrence with highly domesticated Ocean Rider seahorses, and something you won’t have to deal with providing you provide your ponies with good water quality, Mike, so I am speaking here primarily for the benefit of your beautiful red female, who is a finicky eater, since hunger strikes are often a fact of life for delicate wild-caught seahorses.
One of the reasons I prefer to liven up my seahorses’ monotonous existence by providing them with unenriched adult Artemia on fast days, is that I find it flat out fascinating to watch them hunting live prey. Whenever I see a hungry seahorse patiently stalking its prey, I am always reminded of a Japanese sniper in a WWII John Wayne movie (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). With a lush growth of leaves and foliage draped over his helmet and extra shrubbery strapped to his back, the cunning jungle fighter literally melts into the shadowy undergrowth. From his strategically selected vantage point, the sharp-eyed sentry waits for his unsuspecting victims to come to him, picking off hapless GIs one by one as they pass his secret hideout (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).
That’s a pretty fair description of a hungry Hippocampine on the lookout for its supper. Masters of camouflage, seahorses are the snipers of the grassblade jungle into which they blend so well, and their preferred hunting technique is the ambush (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Concealed absolutely motionless amidst a clump of Caulerpa or a patch of gorgonians, only a flicker of its busy, watchful eyes ever betrays its presence. Patiently lying in wait for its next meal, one of its independent eyes scans upward while the other scrolls downward so as not to miss any potential prey passing nearby (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).
When some unwary victim does blunder within range of one of these seagrass snipers, the seahorse tracks it intently, stalking its prey in ultra-slow motion (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). With its tail securely anchored in place, it stretches its body in the direction of its chosen quarry ever so s-l-o-w-l-y, making itself seem like a harmless frond of algae or a natural extension of the coral (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). But when this painstaking pursuit finally brings it within striking distance, it’s all over in a hurry! Drawing a bead on its ”dinner” exactly as if its snout were the barrel of a high-powered rifle, the seahorse gives a sudden jerk of its head, accompanied by a distinctly audible ”click,” and its hapless victim disappears as if by magic, sucked up faster than the eye can follow (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).
Anyone who has ever collected fishes with a slurp gun knows exactly how a feeding seahorse accomplishes this vanishing act. The toothless jaws at the end of its snout operate with a rapid springlike action, and the spasmodic jerk of the seahorse’s head as it snatches its prey represents the cocking and firing of this muscular “spring-loaded” mechanism (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Thus, when a seahorses points the barrel of its snout at its intended victim, lining up the target in its sights, and pulls the trigger, well-developed muscles depress the hyoid bone, enlarging its mouth (buccal) cavity and expanding its gills (opercular cavities) sharply, creating a strong inrush like an expanding bellows, and the powerful suction pulls in its prey irresistibly along with a little water. The seahorse’s mousetrap jaws spring open and snap shut again, and it literally inhales its victim in the blink of the eye (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). One moment the prey is there, and the next it’s gone. (For more detailed information regarding the seahorses’ remarkable feeding mechanism, including the exact bones and muscles involved in the operation of the buccal and opercular suction pumps, refer to the discussion of “weak snick” in the disease chapter.)
Feeding seahorses are entertaining to watch, and the attentive aquarist can learn a lot about his pets from watching them eat. For instance, if they’re really hungry, seahorses will take off in hot pursuit when some mouth-watering morsel wanders by just beyond reach (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). No longer content to wait for their supper to come to them, they’ll launch themselves on a ”high-speed” chase at a blistering pace that’s just about capable of overtaking a lumbering brine shrimp or weary water flea (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Once they’ve closed to within about one-quarter inch of their target — often prodded along by their tails to gain a final burst of added propulsion — that distinctive ”snick!” will announce the sudden demise of their quarry (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).
And when no prey is evident, seahorses will sometimes set off on hunting expeditions in a effort to scare up a meal on their own (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). A seahorse on safari will patrol the perimeter of its aquarium, carefully searching every nook and cranny as it skims along just above the bottom (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). (This behavior is often displayed when seahorses are hunting Gammarus, since the side-swimmers hug the bottom and seek shelter under every scrap of cover they can find. These amphipods are a favorite food of seahorses, which will often resort to amazing acrobatics in an attempt to winnow them out of their hiding places.) Suffice it to say, when you see your seahorses conducting these search-and-destroy missions, it’s time to feed them (Giwojna, Oct. 1996)!
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 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. Many of the preferred live foods, such as Red Feeder Shrimp from Hawaii (Halocaridina rubra), Post Larval Shrimp (PLS), brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) and live Mysis are now available from High-Health facilities, which greatly minimizes the risk of disease contamination, and seahorse keepers should take full advantage of these safe vendors when purchasing live foods.
For best results, live foods should be fortified before the seahorses are fed, and there is one final precaution the hobbyist can take during the enrichment process. The lipid-rich Vibrance 1 formulation from Ocean Rider is ideal for this purpose. Soaking live foods in DC-DHA SELCO, which is said to have antimicrobial properties, is another good option that can help disinfect the food as well as enriching it (Bull and Mitchell 2002).
Therefore, although they play a much-diminished role when keeping captive-bred seahorses, it is still important for the aquarist to understand the benefits and limitations various live foods have to offer.
Best of luck with your new Ocean Rider seahorses when the time comes, Mike!
As you know, I received your e-mail, and you are now officially enrolled in the Ocean Rider Seahorse Training Program. In fact, you should already have received the comprehensive training manual with over 400 pages of text and more than 250 full color illustrations.
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support