Re:Micro Mini Star on Seahorse!

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tammy:

Whether or not you should pick the micro star off of your seahorse depends on which type it happens to be. If it is one of the miniature little brittle stars, which are commonly marketed by IndoPacific Seafarms as micro-stars or ministars , those little guys are harmless and are really cool little critters! They are tiny brittle starfish with an armspan no bigger than a five-cent piece. Unlike other starfish, these little guys are very active and extremely good climbers. They pull themselves along vigorously arm over her arm much more like an octopus than an ordinary slowpoke ceased or. They are very interesting and surprisingly fast moving. They are harmless to anything that is too large to be stuffed into their oral cavity in tact in a single piece.

But if it is one of those tiny white, typical star-shaped sea stars, then it is very likely an Asterina species. They are excellent detritivores and have a negligible impact on the bioload in the tank unless their numbers get out of hand, which can sometimes happen. There is quite a controversy in the reef community regarding whether or not the Asterina starfish are reef-safe animals are not. Some hobbyists feel they may prey on polyps and zoanthids, whereas Bob Fenner and many other reefers believe they only scavenge on dead or dying zoos and polyps, and are therefore beneficial inhabitants of the minireef. I’m inclined to believe that they are harmless and perform a beneficial service as detritivores.

Personally, I feel the little Asterinas only become problematic when their population explodes — they are very prolific and reproduce remarkably fast in the aquarium under favorable circumstances. So as long as your seahorse tank doesn’t get overrun with them, I see no reason to remove the tiny starfish from your aquarium, Tammy. Just keep a close eye on him for any sign of predatory behavior in case the starfish is not actually an Asterina species but some other type of starfish.

Although I think you can safely leave the micro-starfish in your seahorse tank even if it is an Asterina, in that case I would pick it off the pony just to be on the safe side. It might be side to everted stomach and digest some of the mucosa or protective slime coat on your seahorse, in which case it could possibly damage the integument.

And in the meantime, you might also want to check out Bob Fenner’s FAQs on Asterina sea stars:

Click here: AsterinaFAQs

I think the male that eats very well but is still a little on the thin side is probably just fine. But when a seahorse with a hearty appetite loses condition nonetheless, that can sometimes be an indication that he is carrying a heavy load of intestinal parasites. If so, that’s an easy problem to treat and correct, Tammy. I would be happy to explain the treatment options in such a case, but I wouldn’t recommend any form of treatment unless you can confirm that there is a problem. A good way to do this would be to monitor the stallion’s fecal pellets. If he is producing normal fecal pellets like your other seahorses, then all is well and you can just offer him a little more at each feeding to help fatten him up a bit. But if he is producing white stringy feces instead of the normal fecal pellets, that’s a strong indication of intestinal flagellates, and you can consider treating him with a round of metronidazole or praziquantel to eliminate the problem.

Don’t worry about your new male and his dubious choice and dance partners, Tammy. He’s just warming up and practicing his dance moves with the other stallion, biting his time. When he get serious about mating, it will be the female that attracts his attention and pheromones that will seal the deal.

The genetic imperative to reproduce is very strong in Hippocampus, to say the least. For example, solitary males often go through the motions of courtship when there are no other seahorses present in their aquarium (Abbott, 2003). They may court their own reflection and sometimes even direct their courtship displays toward their keepers (Abbott, 2003). If no females are present, over-stimulated stallions will sometimes soothe themselves by basking in the air stream from an airstone, content with the tactile stimulation provided by the gentle barrage of bubbles. They may even flirt with inanimate objects. If all else fails, a hitching post may actually suffice as a suitable surrogate when no better alternative is available (Abbott, 2003)!

Same-sex courting displays (both male and female) are also common, especially when no member of the opposite sex is present. Under such circumstances, these passionate ponies are not picky about their partners — males will dance with other stallions and frustrated females will sometimes flirt with other fillies (Abbott, 2003)!

Captive-bred seahorses are far more social and gregarious than their wild conspecifics, so it’s not surprising that cultured seahorses are particularly irrepressible in that regard. They seem to court constantly and the urge to procreate dominates their lives. If given a choice, they are apt to change partners often, and courtship, flirting and dancing are the activities that consume their days. Long before they are sexually mature, juvenile males will spend hours dancing with one another, just horsing around, practicing their moves and perfecting their technique for the real thing to come. Likewise, mature males often compete actively and aggressively with one another through harmless pouch displays and tail-wrestling tug-o-wars whether or not there is a female nearby to appreciate their efforts.

As Carol Cozzi-Schmarr of Ocean Rider, the premier aquaculture facility in Hawaii, puts it, "As far as mating is concerned, it is important to understand that because these sea horses are farm raised and therefore "domesticated" they will be breaking a lot of the rules previously established for wild caughts. They will require less horizontal as well as vertical space and they no longer tend to be shy or picky! In other words they will show off to and mate with whomever they can, even if it means leaving behind the sea horse they mated with last time! It does not matter if their selected partner appears too short or too tall or of a different color or even of the same sex!! They want to dance and court more than anything else (Cozzi-Schmarr, May 2002)!!"

Rest assured that sooner or later the seahorses will get it right, Tammy. When she is finally in the mood, your fickle filly will pick one of the available stallions, who are trying so hard to get themselves pregnant, and the pair will start producing broods of babies for you.

Best of luck with your seahorses, Tammy! Here’s hoping they pair off and get down to business very soon.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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