Dear Moon Valley:
I’m sorry to hear that your new Brazilian seahorses (Hippocampus reidi) has stopped eating. It’s very difficult to say what may be bothering the seahorse, but H. reidi are notoriously finicky eaters and it’s not unusual for them to refuse frozen foods initially.
The first things to consider that can often make a great deal of difference when a seahorse goes off its feed is to perform a series of water changes and try tempting the seahorse with live foods, as discussed in greater detail below:
For starters, I have listed some of the factors that are commonly known to contribute to a loss of appetite in seahorses:
(1) deteriorating water quality.
(2) low oxygen and/or high CO2 levels.
(3) a deficiency of trace elements and minerals.
(4) various disease processes — in particular, internal parasites.
Regardless of how your water chemistry appears right now, a good place to start addressing this problem would be to perform a 25%-35% water change immediately to safeguard the water quality and replenish depleted trace elements and minerals. (At first glance your aquarium parameters may look great, but there are some water quality issues that are difficult to detect with standard tests, such as a decrease in dissolved 02, transitory ammonia/nitrite spikes following a heavy feeding, pH drift, a deficiency and trace elements/minerals, or the gradual accumulation of detritus. A water change and cleanup is a simple preventative measure that can help defuse those kinds of hidden factors before they become a problem and stress out your seahorses. These simple measures may restore your water quality as well as your seahorses’ appetite.)
Be sure to check your dissolved oxygen (O2) level in addition to the usual pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrite readings.. A significant drop in O2 levels (6 – 7 ppm is optimal) or rise in CO2 levels is very stressful yet easily corrected by increasing surface agitation and circulation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange. Add a shallow airstone just beneath the surface if necessary and increase the circulation throughout your tank it possible.
Whether the beneficial effects are due to improving water quality or replenishing depleted trace elements or something else altogether, performing a major water change as described above often sets things right when seahorses are off their feed for no apparent reason.
In the meantime, while you are working on your water quality, by all means get some live foods to keep your finicky seahorse and see if you can fatten it up a bit. When a seahorse stops eating, the most important thing is to get some food into him one way or another. You’ve got to keep his strength up and give him a chance to recover before you can worry about weaning him back onto frozen foods again. Hawaiian red feeder shrimp or volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this — seahorses find them utterly irresistible! But anything that’s readily available — enriched adult brine shrimp, live ghost shrimp that are small enough to be swallowed, newborn guppies or mollies, Gammarus amphipods, copepods, you name it — is worth a try. Just get some good meals into your H. reidi ASAP to build up its strength and help it regain its conditioning.
I could simply be a hunger strike — Hippocampus reidi seahorses can be particularly picky eaters, and your new pony may merely have grown a bit tired of eating the same old thing day after day. Vibrance-enriched frozen Mysis is a wonderfully nutritious diet, and Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta has natural order attractants that normally trigger a strong feeding response in seahorses. But that may be a lot like eating sirloin steak for every meal day after day, week after week, and month after month. No matter how nutritious the meal may be or how much you may love sirloin steak, there comes a point when you would welcome something else just for a change of pace.
When seahorses tire of the same old, boring frozen food and refuse to eat their "veggies," living prey is what they crave: Mysids, feeder shrimp, Gammarus or adult Artemia — the type of food isn’t really as important as the fact that it’s alive and kicking. 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, 1996).
That’s why I like to use occasional treats of live food as behavioral enrichment for my seahorses. They get the thrill of hunting after and chasing down live prey, which livens things up for them in more of ways than one and is a nice change of pace from their daily routine in captivity. 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, 1996)
I also find live foods to be especially useful for those rare occasions when seahorses are ailing and must be treated. Many medications (e.g., Diamox) 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. 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. Live foods can counteract these negative affects to a certain degree, and offer a little excitement that distracts the isolated seahorse temporarily at least from its melancholy.
Adult brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) can certainly be used as occasional treats or dietary supplements, or to help break a hunger strike, providing you enrich it to fortified nutritional content. Here are the instructions for enriching brine shrimp, in case you that’s the most convenient live food for you to provide, Moon Valley. The original Vibrance formula that is rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids and other lipids (i.e., Vibrance I) works best for fortified brine shrimp:
Enriching Artemia with Vibrance I
For enriching or "gut packing" live Artemia (brine shrimp), or other live shrimp or live food of all sizes. Blend 1 teaspoon of Vibrance into 1 cup of water for 3 minutes. Add this to the live food vessel for 30 minutes, or until you see the gut of the animal turn red. Rinse the animals with clean salt water and feed immediately to your seahorses or other fish.
Some of the choice live foods that sea horses find irresistible are Ocean Rider’s red feeder shrimp (Red Iron Horse Feed, Halocaridina rubra), the post-larval white shrimp (i.e., "snicking shrimp") from Seawater Express, and the live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture. These live shrimp are what I’d like to call a "feed-and-forget" food. They are 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.
So in your case, Moon Valley, I would suggest ordering perhaps 100-200 of the Red Iron Horse Feed from Ocean Rider or a similar amount of the Snicking Shrimp from Seawater Express or live Mysis from Sachs Aquaculture for starters, and setting them up in a small tank of their own with a few small algae-covered live rock as for them to feed on and use for shelter. That would tempt the new red reidi to eat and give you a chance to enjoy your seahorses while they are stalking and hunting live prey, which is fascinating to watch, while you work on making the water changes to assure optimal water quality for your seahorses.
The Ocean Rider Aquaculture Facility in Hawaii (http://seahorse.com/) is a good source for the following live foods:
Green Iron Horse Feed (Gammarus amphipods)
Red Iron Horse Feed or Volcano Shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)
Seawater Express is an excellent source for post-larval white shrimp. They provide bite-sized white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) in batches of anywhere from 50 to 1000 each. They are hardy, easy-to-keep and disease free. I recommend getting the smallest of the "Snicking Shrimp" they offer:
Seawater Express Inc.
Organic Shrimp Farm / Hatchery
Or the live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture would also be a good choice for this. You can obtain 200 live Mysidopsis bahia for $35 from Sachs and your seahorses will love them:
All of the sources listed above are high-health aquaculture facilities that provide disease free live foods.
Some hobbyists have good success coaxing a finicky seahorse to feed by transferring the seahorse to a critter keeper or breeder net or similar enclosure that can hang within the main tank itself, and then adding a generous portion of live feeder shrimp to the container. Within the enclosure, the affected seahorse does not have to compete with its tankmates for the live food, and it is easy to maintain an adequate feeding density within the confined space so that there is always a bite-size feeder shrimp passing within striking distance of the hungry seahorse. If you’re new H. reidi is still interested in feeding at all, I think that releasing it in an in-tank enclosure like this where it will be surrounded by plenty of tempting live feeder shrimp and can feed at his leisure may help him to keep his strength up and recover more quickly. Add one or two hitching posts within the critter keeper or breeder net so that your Brazilian red can anchor in place and wait for a tasty shrimp to pass within easy reach, and give him an hour or two within the enclosure to eat his fill of the feeder shrimp. You can monitor his progress from a nonthreatening distance away from the tank to see how he is doing. In most cases, the seahorse quickly becomes familiar with the routine of being transferred to the special enclosure at feeding time and associates it with tasty live foods and a full belly — positive reinforcements that make it a very nonthreatening, stress-free procedure for the affected seahorse — and, as a result, it may actually come to look forward to it after a few feedings. You can repeat this feeding process two or three times daily in order to fatten him up again, if your schedule allows.
If your seahorse’s loss of appetite is associated with a change in its fecal pellets, that could indicate a problem with internal parasites. For example, a change from fecal pellets of normal color and consistency to white, stringy mucoid feces accompanied by hunger strike is often an indication of intestinal flagellates (Kaptur, 2004). If you think that this could be a factor in your case, Seaboy, then treatment with metronidazole or praziquantel is usually an effective remedy (Kaptur, 2004). Let me know if your seahorses to not respond to the water change and increased aeration and surface agitation, and I will be happy to run through the suggested treatment measures for internal parasites, Moon Valley.
If all else fails, you can always try tube feeding the seahorses. Force feeding can save a seahorse’s life in an emergency, but it’s best reserved as a last resort. It is appropriate when a seahorse has gone without eating for a prolonged period and has exhausted its energy reserves. This can happen when a seahorse is beset with internal parasites and stops eating, or perhaps when a seahorse is undergoing extended treatment with a medication that suppresses the appetite. And, of course, it is very common — perhaps even the rule — in wild-caught seahorses that have run the gauntlet from collector to wholesaler to retailer before finally reaching the hobbyist (Lidster, 1999). In such cases, tube feeding can help strengthen the seahorse and keep it going until it has a chance to recover and resume feeding on its own. Let me know if nothing else works and you feel tube feeding is appropriate in your case, and I’ll send you details instructions explaining several different techniques for force feeding seahorses safely, but it’s way too early to consider force feeding at this point.
In short, Moon Valley, in the absence of any other symptoms other than a loss of appetite, I would perform a series of partial water changes and concentrate on tempting they are starving seahorse to eat with some of its favorite live foods.