Howdy, Mike! Welcome to the Club!
You are actually making two important upgrades, sir — moving up from the self-contained 12-gallon nano tank to the larger, taller 30-gallon aquarium, which is much better suited for seahorses, is one important improvement. But stepping up from the delicate wild seahorses you have had in the past to hardy, highly domesticated seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts, which have been born and bred for aquarium life for dozens and dozens of generations, is an even bigger upgrade that should help assure you of better success. You’ll find the captive-bred-and-raised seahorses much easier to feed and keep than their finicky wild-caught counterparts. I’m sure we can help you come up with the solid aquarium system for seahorses that’s fit for a Princess!
I’m not sure what to advise you about the 3-in-1 filter you mentioned, Mike. That doesn’t ring any bells offhand. I have heard of the Blagdon Universal 3 in 1 filter, which is normally used outdoors for filtering fish ponds of up to 1600 L (a little over 440 gallons), but using that particular filter indoors on a small closed-system aquarium is an application that I’m not familiar with. I don’t believe that’s the filter you referred to, sir, so I hope you can straighten me out in that regard.
You’ll want to have external filter that can provide mechanical, chemical and biological filtration on your 30-gallon seahorse setup, but I’m not sure if the 3 in 1 filter you have is the right unit for the job. Can you tell me a little more about this particular filter, sir? Who is the manufacturer? What size of aquarium is rated for? Do you know the flow rate in liters per hour or gallons per hour for this particular filter? If you can give me a little more information about the filter, I can give you a better idea if it’s going to be a good unit for your seahorse tank or if perhaps you should be looking at something else. If so, I’ll make some recommendations so you can settle on a good filtration system for your 30-gallon aquarium.
What kind of "build" and aquascaping that’s appropriate for your needs is going to depend somewhat on the type of seahorses that you want to keep in the new aquarium. But, assuming that you’ll be keeping one of the large breeds of tropical seahorses, such as Hippocampus erectus or H. reidi, this is what I normally recommend for hobbyists in that regard:
You’ll want some well cured, "debugged" live rock to provide stability and denitrification ability, plenty of hitching posts for the seahorses, and a substrate of live sand (I prefer Nature’s Ocean reef sand, especially their black sand). I find that Instant Ocean artificial salt mix is more than adequate for seahorses. In general, seahorses do best with moderate water currents and relatively low light levels.
When it comes to lighting, seahorses do not have any special requirements other than the fact that most species prefer low to moderate light levels rather than excessively bright light. They have a corrugated retina especially rich in rods, which gives them excellent visual acuity under twilight conditions and low light levels in general. Some species are even believed to be nocturnal (e.g., Hippocampus comes and H. ingens) and have no trouble seeing and feeding at night. Seahorses will do just fine under ambient room light with no aquarium light fixture whatsoever, although hobbyists prefer to keep their tanks illuminated for aesthetic purposes and so they can view them better.
So either an ordinary incandescent bulb or standard fluorescent tube is great. Between the two, I would strongly favor a fluorescent light fixture because they give off less heat (overheating and heat stress can become problems for seahorses during summertime heat waves) and because the fluorescents are more economical to operate. Easier on the old electric bill.
Paul Groves, curator at Underwater World in Perth, recommends combining a triphosphor (6500k) fluorescent tube with a Phillips TL Blue fluorescent tube to produce the best overall lighting for a seahorse exhibit. After much experimentation, he found the above combination of lights really encouraged the coloration of the seahorses as well as being aesthetically pleasing to the eye. He reports that the diversity in colors displayed by Hippocampus subelongatus was much less under any other lighting.
But for all intents and purposes, you really can’t go wrong no matter what lighting system you chose as long as you provide both shaded areas where your seahorses can escape from light altogether and well-lit areas where they can bathe in the light as they please. You will find your seahorses will move into and out of the light often, seeking the comfort level that suits them at the moment.
For best results for seahorses, the home hobbyist should strive to maintain stable water conditions within the following aquarium parameters at all times:
Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026; optimum 1.0245
pH = range 8.0 – 8.4; optimum ~8.2
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = range 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm
That’s a quick rundown on the basic aquarium requirements for large seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus), Mike. If you contact me off list ([email protected]), I would be happy to send you a lot of more detailed information explaining how to create an ideal environment for seahorses in your aquarium (the files are too big for this forum). And don’t forget that you can search this forum for more specific information as well.
As for your final question — how long before you will be able to add a pair of Mustangs to your new 30 gallon aquarium safely — I’m afraid that Princess is going to have to be patient a while longer. The water and live sand from your 12-gallon aquarium will seed the new aquarium with the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that carry out the nitrogen cycle and perform the biological filtration, and floating the biowheel from your old aquarium in the new tank will help a bit in that regard, as well. But the biowheel is not nearly as efficient when it’s floating in the aquarium water as it is while it is rotating in the air, as it normally functions, and right now there is nothing in your new 30-gallon aquarium to feed the nitrifying bacteria, so they are beginning to starve and die off.
To prevent this from happening, Mike, you’ll want to provide a source of ammonia for your new 30-gallon aquarium to keep the population of beneficial bacteria growing and thriving so that it can safely support a pair of seahorses, aquarium janitors, and the other specimens you will eventually be keeping in the new tank. In short sir, what you need to do now is to feed the beneficial bacteria that will be providing the biological filtration for your aquarium.
You could use hardy, expendable fish, such as damsels or mollies to feed the bacteria with their waste products, but I would recommend the fishless cycling method instead, which involves adding a piece or two of uncooked cocktail shrimp or similar biomass (1/2" to 1 inch square) to the aquarium, which will produce abundant ammonia as it decomposes.
There is a detailed discussion of this method for cycling a new aquarium in the discussion thread on the next page of this forum titled "New Tank — Please Help," and if you read through that material, it will explain how to cycle your tank step-by-step using this technique. You can look up the discussion online at the following URL:
It usually takes about 3-6 weeks to cycle a new aquarium and build up an adequate population of the beneficial Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria that carry out biological filtration. So it’s going to take a while before your 30-gallon aquarium is ready to stock, Mike, particularly since I’m not even sure if you have connected the primary biofilter to the aquarium yet. That’s something we need to correct as soon as possible, so please get back to me right away with the additional information I requested regarding the 3 and 1 filter so we can make sure the new tank is equipped with a good filter. If Princess gets impatient while the new aquarium is cycling, there are a few things you can do to accelerate the cycling process, and I would be happy to discuss those with you once we get the filtration going on the new aquarium.
In the meantime, this is what I normally advise hobbyists regarding aquascaping a seahorse tank and suitable hitching posts to include in the aquarium decor:
Decorating a Seahorse Tank
When aquascaping a seahorse tank, the idea is to create a complex, natural environment for the seahorses with lots of shelter, well-shaded retreats, and convenient hitching posts. Seahorses prefer a fairly elaborate setup with lots of microhabitats that offers them plenty of cover and sight barriers so that they don’t feel vulnerable and exposed.
The plants and decorations can be real or synthetic, or a mixture of both. You can combine live plants with synthetic plants and live corals with artificial corals as you please in order to provide colorful, natural surroundings for your seahorses and create an aesthetically pleasing aquascape that will make your seahorses feel right at home.
A certain amount of complexity is desirable in a seahorse setup. For example, a tank with too few attachment sites and hitching posts is a stressful environment for seahorses, as is a sparsely decorated aquarium that leaves these secretive animals feeling vulnerable and exposed. Such sterile environments are commonplace when seahorses are being maintained under laboratory conditions. A Spartan setup facilitates feeding, water changes and maintenance, in general, but it can adversely affect the behavior of the inhabitants and may even prevent captive seahorses from breeding.
Hippocampus relies on camouflage and remaining hidden for its very survival. Seahorses can thus become distressed and agitated if their tank is too barren to provide adequate cover. This is particularly true during courtship and mating when the increased activity level and heightened coloration make them highly conspicuous and vulnerable, and breeding may be severely inhibited under these conditions.
A recent research project that studied the behavior of captive Cape seahorses (Hippocampus capensis) recently confirmed the need for a certain level of complexity in any setup for seahorses (Topps, 1999). The study found that seahorses display more "natural" behavior when they are provided with an elaborate, structured environment that includes a number of different microhabitats (Topps, 1999). These findings are another indication that a sparse setup with inadequate shelter can inhibit the behavior of captive seahorses.
As we’ve been discussing, your seahorse setup should therefore include plenty of hiding places and sight barriers such as live rock, real or artificial branching corals, and marine plants. It should be well planted and have lots of convenient hitching posts, Joel. This is what I usually advise hobbyists with regard to hitching posts, sir:
When it comes to hitching posts and decorations, seahorses in general tend to prefer perches that are bigger in diameter over skinnier ones that are a bit more difficult to get a good grip on with their tails, but other than that, it’s very difficult to predict what they’ll go for. I have noticed that tree sponges and tube sponges — both the real thing (which are difficult to keep healthy) and the lifelike artificial versions — almost always seem to be particular favorites. Very often such sponges are bright red or yellow or brilliant orange in coloration, but I think it is the structure and texture of the sponges that attracts the seahorses more than the color.
Seahorses often tend to gravitate towards gorgonians, and the big purple gorgonians that are large in diameter are also usually very popular with seahorses. Otherwise, they seem to like genuine corals and synthetic corals about equally well, and the brightly colored formations (orange, red, or vivid yellow) usually produce better results than plain white corals.
Hitching posts for your seahorses can thus be either live or artificial marine sea grasses, algae and corals. If you decide to try an assortment of colorful artificial corals, seahorses often prefer red or orange pieces. Many hobbyists report good results using artificial finger sponges, staghorn coral, octopus coral and pillar coral in the appropriate colors to keep their seahorses looking their brightest. They look entirely natural and lifelike, with lots of branching projections that make great hitching posts for seahorses. Oh, and the cup coral often makes a great ready-made feeding station! Living Color and the Signature Coral Corporation are the best sources for artificial corals, in my opinion.
Sea Garden synthetic aquarium plants also make good hitching posts for seahorses. The Sea Garden saltwater series of "Fancy Plants" are very realistic, completely safe for saltwater, and very easy to maintain. Just rinse them under warm running water before installation and periodically thereafter for cleaning. There’s a very nice selection of them available and seahorses can’t seem to tell the difference between them and the real thing.
For background decorations and a tall tank like yours, Joel, I especially like the SeaGarden synthetic Sargassum plants because Hippocampus erectus is often associated with Sargassum in the wild and is famous for its rafting ability on mats of these plants. So it’s a natural biotype for erectus, and of course the Sargassum grows nice and tall, which is what we want for aquascaping extra-tall tanks like yours. I suggest ordering one or more Large, Tall, and Extra Large examples of both the Sargassum fluitans (reddish brown in color) and the Sargassum platycarpum (green in coloration). They range in size from 12 to 24 inches in height, so I think if you group the tallest of the plants together, they should effectively conceal the filtration system and enhance the beauty of the aquarium, creating a colorful natural background with shades of green, brown, and red.. They sway in the current just like the real plants and are very easy to clean and maintain. Just rinse them well under warm water when they need cleaning.
Before you put them in your aquarium, however, I recommend rinsing the Fancy Plants thoroughly under warm water and then soaking them in a bucket of clean tap water for several days, changing the water every day throughout this period to keep it clean and fresh. After the artificial plants have soaked for several days in this manner, you can give them another good rinse under warm water and then arrange them in your aquarium.
The SeaGarden Fancy Plants I mentioned above are available online from Drs. Foster and Smith at the following URL:
Macroalgae — Living Hitching Posts
For live hitching posts, I prefer decorative marine plants or macroalgae in a variety of shapes and colors and color — reds, golds, and yellows in addition to green varieties, some tall and feather, some short and bushy — to provide them with natural hitching posts and shelter. I like to start with a mixture of red and gold Gracilaria (Ogo) and artfully arrange them around a lush bed of assorted bright green Caulerpa. Any of the plumed (feathery) or long-bladed Caulerpa would be ideal for this, such as Caulerpa sertularioides, C. mexicana, C. ashmedii, C. serrulata or C. prolifera. But they may not be the best choice for a tall tank such as yours, Joel, since none of these species will grow more than about 4-6 inches in height at the most.
Be sure to thin out the fast-growing Caulerpa regularly; when you remove the excess fronds, you’re exporting phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the tank, thereby helping to maintain good water quality, and thinning out the runners helps keep it from going sexual.
When "pruning" or thinning out macroalgae, take care not to actually cut it. Remember, you’re not pruning hedges or trimming trees — the idea is to carefully pull up and remove continuous, unbroken fronds. Simply thin out the colony of excess strands, gently plucking up convenient fronds that can be readily removed intact. A little breakage is fine, but cutting or breaking too many strands will result in leaching undesirable substances into the aquarium water as the Caulerpa’s lifeblood drains away. Too much cutting or breaking can thus sap the colony’s strength and cause die offs or trigger the dreaded vegetative events that judiciously thinning out the colony otherwise prevents.
If you cannot obtain Caulerpa (it’s illegal in some coastal areas) or you’re simply concerned about your ability to maintain and control of Caulerpa properly, just use a different forms of macroalgae that grows less rapidly instead and you can get the same sort of benefits at relatively little risk. In that case, some of the other macroalge you may wish to consider are Gracilaria, Ulva, Chaetomorpha, and Chlorodesmis. Hawaiian Ogo (Gracilaria sp.) are bushy red-to-brown macros that do well under low light levels. Sea Lettuce (Ulva sp.) are deep green sheets of algae that do best under a little stronger lighting. Maiden’s Hair (Chlorodesmis sp.) are bright green tufts or clumps of very fine-bladed algal mats to grow attached to small rocks. All of these types of macroalgae are much less prolific and slower growing than Caulerpa. However, like all macroalgae, they should still be harvested periodically in order to export the excess nutrients they have consumed.
Aside from red and brown Gracilaria and the bright green Ulva and Maiden’s Hair, some seahorse keepers also like the Chaetomorpha turf algae or spaghetti algae, as it is also known. It can best be described as looking like the clumps of the colorful plastic grass we use to fill Easter baskets. Good on seven It is popular because it is slow growing and doesn’t require the kind of pruning that Caulerpa needs, and because it comes loaded with microfauna: miniature feather dusters, copepods and amphipods, tiny snails and micro stars. In short, Chaetomorpha is another interesting marine plant that can add some extra variety to a lush bed of macroalgae.
Pay special attention to the hitching posts you select when decorating your seahorse tank. Strive for bright reds, oranges, and yellows in anything your seahorses may adopt as a holdfast. These aquatic equines — especially the stallions — will often choose one particular hitching post as their home base and spend much of there time perched right there (think of your Dad hunkered down in his favorite easy chair in the den). Once they adopt a favorite base of operations like this, they will often proceed to change coloration to match their preferred resting spot. So you want to encourage them to adopt one of the more vivid pieces as a favorite holdfast.
Seahorses also like live rock, particularly colorful pieces that are heavily overgrown with pinkish or purplish coralline algae. Aside from looking pretty, live rock also provides additional biological filtration (both nitrification and denitrification) for the aquarium and provides shelter and sight barriers that make the seahorses feel secure.
In short, special attention to the hitching posts you select when decorating your seahorse tank, Mike. Strive for bright reds, oranges, and yellows in anything your seahorses may adopt as a holdfast. These aquatic equines — especially the stallions — will often choose one particular hitching post as their home base and spend much of there time perched right there (think of your Dad hunkered down in his favorite easy chair in the den). Once they adopt a favorite base of operations like this, they will often proceed to change coloration to match their preferred resting spot. So you want to encourage them to adopt one of the more vivid pieces as a favorite holdfast.
Best wishes with all your fishes, Mike! I will be waiting for you to contact me personally so I can provide you with better information regarding the particular seahorses you’ll be keeping.