Re:New Here and so excited!!!

#3926
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Charlotte:

Howdy! Welcome to the Club!

You’re right, Charlotte — keeping a marine aquarium can be quite educational as well as entertaining.

Don’t worry about feeding live foods — nowadays domesticated seahorses are trained to eat frozen Mysis from a very early age, and you will find that Ocean Rider seahorses thrive on this superb food as their staple, everyday diet. The only time you will be feeding live brine shrimp is if your seahorses have babies, since the newborn seahorses typically require newly hatched brine shrimp as their first food. And the newborn seahorses are so precious in every sense of the word that I promise you won’t have any qualms about providing them with loads of baby brine shrimp to keep them healthy and growing.

You mentioned that you were considering adding some live coral, perhaps a couple of clownfish, and possibly a starfish to your seahorse tank as the aquarium matures, and there are some things that you need to be aware of before you proceed with those plans, Charlotte.

First of all, if you want to keep clownfish with seahorses it’s important to choose the right type of clowns and to target feed the seahorses, as discussed below.

With two exceptions, clownfish are generally not good tankmates for seahorses. Most species, such as Tomato Clowns (Amphiprion frenatus), Maroon Clowns (Premnas biaculeatus), and Skunk Clownfish are surprisingly aggressive and territorial, and should be shunned on that basis. Others do best when keep with anemones, which are a threat to seahorses. All clownfish are prone to Brooklynella and Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium), and should be considered Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) magnets as well (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). The only species I would recommend as companions for seahorses are captive-bred-and-raised Percula Clowns (Amphiprion percula) and False Percula Clownfish (A. ocellaris).

The clownfish that Ocean Rider offers are Amphiprion occelaris that are born and raised at their High-Health aquaculture facility and they do indeed make fine tankmates for seahorses. (Think "Saving Nemo" — those are the clowns that do well with seahorses, providing you are willing to target feed the seahorses, as explained below:

Feeding Seahorses

When keeping seahorses in an appropriately elaborate environment, it is imperative that you feed them properly! Domesticated seahorses thrive on enriched frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet. But the worst thing you can do when feeding the seahorses in a intricate reef or live rock environment is to scatter a handful of frozen Mysis throughout the tank to be dispersed by the currents and hope that the hungry horses can track it all down. Inevitably some of the frozen food will be swept away and lodge in isolated nooks and crannies where the seahorses cannot get it (Giwojna, 2005). There it will begin to decompose and degrade the water quality, which is why ammonia spikes are common after a heavy feeding. Or it may be wafted out into the open again later on and eaten after it has begun to spoil. Either outcome can have dire consequences (Giwojna, 2005).

The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed your seahorses or set up a feeding station for them. See my online article in Conscientious Aquarist for a detailed discussion explaining exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use it:

Click here: Seahorse Feeders
<http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_2/cav2i5/seahorse_feeders/seahorse_feeders.htm&gt;

Personally, I prefer to target feed my seahorses instead. The individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits. Some are aggressive feeders 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 before they accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds. So how does the seahorse keeper make sure all his charges are getting enough to eat at mealtime? How does the hobbyist keep the aggressive eaters from gobbling up all the mouth-watering Mysis before the slower feeders get their fair share? And how can you keep active fishes and inverts with seahorses without the faster fishes gobbling up all the goodies before the slowpoke seahorses can grab a mouthful?

Target feeding is the answer. Target feeding just means offering a single piece of Mysis to one particular seahorse, and then watching to see whether or not the ‘horse you targeted actually eats the shrimp. Feeding each of your seahorses in turn that way makes it easy to keep track of exactly how much each of your specimens is eating.

There are many different ways to target feed seahorses. Most methods involve using a long utensil of some sort to wave the Mysis temptingly in front of the chosen seahorse; once you’re sure this has attracted his interest, the Mysis is released so it drifts down enticingly right before the seahorse’s snout. Most of the time, the seahorse will snatch it up as it drifts by or snap it up as soon as it hits the bottom.

A great number of utensils work well for target feeding. I’ve seen hobbyists use everything from chopsticks to extra long tweezers and hemostats or forceps to homemade pipettes fashioned from a length of rigid plastic tubing. As for myself, I prefer handfeeding when I target feed a particular seahorse.

But no doubt the all-time favorite implement for target feeding seahorses is the old-fashioned turkey baster. The old-fashioned ones with the glass barrels work best because the seahorses can see the Mysis inside the baster all the way as it moves down the barrel and out the tip. By exerting just the right amount of pressure on the bulb, great precision is possible when target feeding with a turkey baster. By squeezing and releasing the bulb ever so slightly, a skillful target feeder can keep a piece of Mysis dancing at the very tip of the baster indefinitely, and hold the tempting morsel right in front of the seahorse’s mouth as long as necessary. Or if the seahorse rejects the Mysis the first time it drifts by, a baster makes it easy to deftly suck up the shrimp from the bottom so it can be offered to the target again. In the same way, the baster makes it a simple matter to clean any remaining leftovers after a feeding session. (You’ll quickly discover the feeding tube is also indispensable for tapping away pesky fish and invertebrates that threaten to steal the tempting tidbit before an indecisive seahorse can snatch it up.)

In short, target feeding allows the hobbyist to assure that each of his seahorses gets enough to eat without overfeeding or underfeeding the tank. And it makes it possible to keep seahorses in a community tank with more active fishes that would ordinarily out-compete them for food, since the aquarist can personally deliver each mouthful to the seahorses while keeping more aggressive specimens at bay.

The key to keeping active specimens like firefish and occelaris clownfish or cleaner shrimp successfully with seahorses is to feed the other fish and inverts with standard, off-the-shelf aquarium foods first, and once they’ve had their fill, then target feed the seahorses.

As far as starfish go, it’s best to avoid a large predatory species such as chocolate chip starfish and the beautiful knobby red African starfish (Protoreaster spp.). I would describe predatory sea stars such as these as "opportunistic omnivores," meaning that they are likely to eat any sessile or slow-moving animals that they can catch or overpower. For instance, I would not trust them with snails, clams, tunicates, soft corals and the like. Most fishes are far too fast and agile to be threatened by sea stars, but seahorses are sometimes an exception due to their sedentary lifestyle and habit of perching in one place for extended periods of time. What occasionally happens, in the confines of the aquarium, is that a predatory starfish may pin down the tail of a seahorse that was perched to the piece of coral or rock the starfish was climbing on, evert it’s stomach, and begin to digest that portion of the seahorse’s tail that is pinned beneath its body. That’s a real risk with large predatory species such as the beautiful Protoreaster starfish, which are surprisingly voracious and aggressive for an echinoderm.

But there are a number of colorful starfish that do well with seahorses, Charlotte. Any of the brightly colored Fromia or Linkia species would make good tankmates for seahorses. However, bear in mind that, like all echinoderms, sea stars are very sensitive to water quality and generally will not do well in a newly established aquarium. Wait until your seahorse tank is well-established and has had a chance to mature and stabilize before you try any starfish.

Two attractive species I can recommend are the Fromia Sea Star or Marbled Sea Star (Fromia monilis) and the Red Bali Starfish (Fromia milliporella), which are safe to keep seahorses. They are not nearly as delicate as the Linkia species and should do well in the tank such as you’re planning that has lots of live rock and optimum water quality, and are nonaggressive starfish that feed primarily on detritus and meiofauna on live rock and sandy substrates.

When considering adding live corals to your aquarium, Charlotte, bear me in mind that not all corals are safe to keep with seahorses. Here are some precautions to observe when selecting corals for a seahorse tank:

1) Avoid any stinging animals with powerful nematocysts. This means fire corals (Millepora spp.) and anemones should be excluded from the seahorse reef, and any corals with polyps that feel sticky to the touch should be used with discretion and only after careful planning. When a seahorse brushes up against them or attempts to perch on them, the nematocysts or stinging cells of these animals can penetrate the seahorse’s skin and damage its integument. Needless to say, this causes pain and discomfort and can leave the seahorse vulnerable to secondary bacterial and fungal infections, which may take hold at the site of injury. Short polyped stony (SPS) corals are generally fine, but large polyped stony (LPS) corals should be regarded with caution, as discussed in more detail below.

2) Water movement and circulation must be managed as previously described. Corals that require powerful surge or overly strong water currents could overtax the limited swimming ability of Hippocampus unless slack water areas the seahorses can retreat to when needed are also provided.

3) The corals must be able to withstand being used as hitching posts by the seahorses from time to time; that is, they cannot be so delicate that having a seahorse’s grasping tail anchored around them could cause them any harm. For instance, soft corals may retract their polyps when a seahorse perches on them. This can be harmful to their health if it becomes a chronic problem, because many corals rely on their polyps to absorb light and convert it to energy via photosynthesis. Be sure to watch any soft corals and hermatypic corals to make sure they are not closed up for extended periods. Normally, they adjust to the seahorses’ presence and unwelcome attention after a while, and remain contracted only briefly after each contact. After repeated exposures to grasping tails, each such incident elicits a weaker response, so they tend to extend their polyps sooner and sooner after being disturbed (Delbeek, Oct. 2001).

4) Avoid Tridacna clams and similar bivalve mollusks. Sooner or later a seahorse will perch on them with its tail between the valves and the clam’s powerful adductor muscle will clamp down on it like a vise. At best this will be a very stressful experience for the unfortunate seahorse, since it can be the devil’s own business trying to persuade the stubborn mollusk to release its struggling victim! At worst, it can result in serious injury or permanent damage to the seahorses tail (Giwojna, unpublished text).

5) Beware of unwanted hitchhikers that may have come in on your live rock unbeknownst to you and which can harm seahorses, such as fireworms, mantis shrimp, or Aptasia rock anemones. When setting up a reef system for seahorses, it’s a wise precaution to pre-treat your live rock with a hypersaline bath to drive out such pests beforehand because they can be very difficult to remove or eradicate once they make themselves at home in your aquarium (Giwojna, unpublished text).

As long as the specimens you are considering for your seahorse reef satisfy these requirements, anything goes! Some of the good and bad candidates for such a reef system are discussed below:

Seahorse-Safe Corals

Soft corals have very little stinging ability and generally make good choices for a modified mini reef that will include seahorses (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). This includes most mushroom anemones (corallimorpharians). However, as Charles Delbeek cautions, "One notable exception is the elephant ear mushroom anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer). This animal is an active feeder on small fish and will envelope them whole with its mantle then slowly digest them by extruding its digestive filaments into the space created. No small fish are safe with these animals in the tank (Delbeek, Oct. 2001).".

Hippocampus also does very well with zooanthids and colonial polyps in general. But the hobbyist must be sure to observe a couple of precautions when handling the zoanthids and placing them in your aquarium.

First and foremost, many of the commonly available Zooanthus (button polyps) and Palythoa (sea mats) species contain a very toxic substance in their mucous coat known as palytoxin, which is one of the most poisonous marine toxins ever discovered (Fatherree, 2004). Palytoxin can affect the heart, muscles, and nerves, resulting in paralysis or possibly even death, and many hobbyists have reported numbness, nausea and/or hallucinations after merely touching these corals (Fatherree, 2004). When you handle zoanthids and palythoans, you cannot help picking up some of their protective slime on your fingers, and so much as rubbing your eye, picking your nose, or a small cut on your finger can be enough to land you in the hospital. When handling Zooanthus are Palythoa species, it’s very important to wear disposable latex gloves, avoid touching your mouth or eyes, and carefully dispose of the gloves immediately afterwards (Fatherree, 2004).

Secondly, zoanthids and other soft corals such as mushrooms may wage border battles if you place them in close proximity to each other (and the zoanthids almost always lose out to the mushrooms in these skirmishes). So be sure to allow adequate space between the colonies. Some rapidly growing Zooanthus colonies can be aggressive to soft and stony corals alike as they rapidly spread over the rockwork, but in general they are quite peaceful, and you can always slow down their rate of growth by reducing the nutrient loading in the aquarium.

Other low light corals that should be suitable for a seahorse reef include genera such as Cynarina, Scolymia and Trachyphyllia, as well as non-photosynthetic gorgonians such as Subergorgia and Didogorgia, and perhaps wire corals such as Cirripathes spp. (Delbeek, Nov. 2001).. However, supplemental feedings of zooplankton may be required to maintain these corals in good health.

The hard or stony corals fall into two categories depending on the size of their polyps. The small polyped stony (SPS) corals have tiny polyps that extend out of minute openings in the stony skeleton, and generally have weak stings that should not pose a threat to seahorses. Depending on conditions in the tank, SPS corals such as Acropora, Montipora, Pocillipora, Porities, Seriatopora and Stylophora can be tried freely at your discretion (Delbeek, Oct. 2001).

The large polyped stony (LPS) corals, however, are generally best avoided altogether. These include genera such as Catalaphyllia, Cynarina, Euphyllia and Trachyphyllia that have large fleshy polyps which often have tentacles equipped with powerful stinging cells. The Euphyllia and Catalaphyllia have the most powerful nematocysts among the LPS corals, and can deliver stings that are stronger than most anemones (Delbeek, Oct. 2001).

Some of the soft corals and stony corals that generally do well with seahorses in a modified reef tank are listed below. (By no means is this intended to be a comprehensive list, but rather just a few examples of suitable corals to serve as general guidelines when stocking a reef tank that will house seahorses):

Finger Leather Coral (Lobophyton sp.)

Flower Tree Coral – Red / Orange, (Scleronephthya spp.)

aka: Scleronephthya Strawberry Coral, or Pink or Orange Cauliflower Coral

Christmas Tree Coral (Sphaerella spp.)

aka: the Medusa Coral, Snake Locks Coral, or French Tickler

Cauliflower Colt Coral (Cladiella sp.)

aka: Colt Coral, Soft Finger Leather Coral, Seaman’s Hands or Blushing Coral.

Toadstool Mushroom Leather Coral (Sarcophyton sp.)

aka: Sarcophyton Coral, Mushroom, Leather, or Trough Corals.

Bullseye Mushroom Coral (Rhodactis inchoata)

aka: Tonga Blue Mushroom, Small Elephant Ear Mushroom (rarely)

Clove Polyps (Clavularia sp.)

Stick Polyp (Parazoanthus swiftii)

Green Daisy Polyps (Clavularia sp.), Indonesia

Orange & Green Colony Button Polyps (Zooanthus sp.), Fiji

Pulsing Corals (Xenia spp.)

Red Ricordea (Ricordea sp.), Indonesia, occasionally Solomon Islands

Lavender Hairy Mushroom (Actinodiscus sp.), Tonga

Pimpled Mushroom (Discosoma sp.), Indonesia

Purple Gorgonians

Aside from corals, other good inverts for seahorses include decorative cleaner shrimp like those listed below:

Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)

Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)

Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius)

Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocerus elegans and H. picta) – predatory on sea stars;

Assorted Feather Dusters (Sabellastatre magnifica, Sabella sp.) whose colorful crowns resemble gaily-colored parasols.

After the tank has been up and running for several months, you can add a few large Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) and/or Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) to complete your cleanup crew and add a touch of color and activity to the tank.

Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are a favorite with seahorse keepers because they eat Aiptasia rock anemones, and both the peppermints and Scarlet cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) will perform another useful service by grooming the seahorses and cleaning them of ectoparasites. As an added bonus, they reproduce regularly in the aquarium, producing swarms of larval nauplii that the seahorses love to eat.

Now, when it comes to the current residents of the aquarium, Mortimer (the snail) and Reeves (the scooter blenny) should do well with seahorses, but I am a little concerned about Sebastian (the green crab). Crabs and crustaceans in general are opportunistic predators that are likely to attack anything they can overpower.
They may be entirely peaceful and inoffensive when they are small, but even a small crab can cause a lot of trouble as it grows. They may double in size following a molt (i.e., ecdysis) so they grow surprisingly fast, and even a tiny crab that’s completely docile at first can grow large enough to turn predatory almost literally overnight if it’s a species that reaches a respectable size. One day it’s a miniature crab that’s cute and entertaining in its own bumbling sort of way, and the next day following a successful molt, it can become a dangerous bully that regards its tankmates with a culinary eye.

If the green crab is an emerald Mithrax (Mithrax sculptors), then it may be all right, since the emerald Mithrax are primarily herbivorous in nature. But even they can become problematic if they are not getting enough vegetable matter in their diet, in which case they will become opportunistic omnivores and are no longer adverse to adding a little meat to their diet once they get hungry enough. So keep a very close eye on Sebastian, particularly as he grows, and be prepared to relocate him at the first hint of aggression.

Remember there are always exceptions to every rule, and large crustaceans are never completely trustworthy. Even the most harmless and seemingly inoffensive crabs can cause trouble under certain circumstances. For example, not long ago I heard from a hobbyist that had been keeping a decorator crab in his seahorse tank. All went well at first and there were no problems of any kind for months until, for no apparent reason, the crab suddenly began to quite deliberately amputate portions of the seahorses’ tails. It was not attacking the seahorses as prey or attempting to eat its mutilated victims, it was merely methodically harvesting portions of their anatomy with which to adorn itself! It was simply doing what all decorator crabs do — snipping off and gathering bits and pieces of its immediate environment to attach to itself as a form of natural camouflage. It just goes to show, with crabs you can never be sure how things are going to work out…

The same thing is true with regard to scooter blennies as well, Charlotte. When discussing compatible tankmates for seahorses, it’s important to remember that one can only speak in generalities. There are no unbreakable rules, no sure things, no absolute guarantees. For instance, most hobbyists will tell you that small scooter blennies make great tankmates for seahorses and 9 times out of 10 they’re right. But every once in a while, you will hear horror stories from hobbyists about how their scooter blenny coexisted peacefully with their seahorses for several months and then suddenly went "rouge" overnight for no apparent reason and turned on the seahorses, inflicting serious damage before it could be captured and removed.

Does that mean that we should cross scooter blennies off our list of compatible tankmates for seahorses? Nope — it just means that we must be aware that individuals within a species sometimes vary in their behavior and respond differently than you would expect, so there are exceptions to every rule. It’s fair to say that scooter blennies generally make wonderful companions for seahorses, but there’s always a small chance you might get Satan reincarnated in the form of a scooter blenny. There’s no guarantee that adorable scooter you picked out at your LFS because of his amusing antics and puppy-dog personality won’t turn out to be the blenny from hell once you release him in your seahorse setup.

In other words, Charlotte, Reeves is very likely going to be a perfect gentleman and make a great tankmate for your seahorses, but observe him closely for the first several days after you add your seahorses to make certain that the scooter blenny doesn’t object to their presence. After all, he will be the established resident in the aquarium, and the seahorses will be newcomers that are invading his turf.

Mortimer the snail was an excellent choice and should make a great addition to the sanitation engineers in your seahorse tank, Charlotte. In fact, I would suggest that you add a variety of other snails to your cleanup crew for best results. The snail assortment may include bumble bee snails, trocha snails, margaritas, Astrea and Cerith snails, red foot Moon snails, etc., but especially Nassarius snails.

Nassarius snails are terrific detritivores and amazingly active for snails. They’ll bury themselves until they detect the scent of something edible, and then erupt from the sand and charge out to clean it up.

A varied assortment of snails is very desirable because different types of snails have different habits, seek out various microhabitats within the aquarium, and prefer to eat different things. Some are herbivores that feed on microalgae, and some of the herbivorous snails prefer to graze on it from the substrate, others like to to clean it from the rocks, and still others love to scrape algae off the aquarium glass. Furthermore, the different herbivorous snails tend to specialize on different types of microalgae and have definite preferences as to the types of algae they will eat, so it’s important to have a nice variety of snails that cover all the bases in that regard. It’s equally important to include some omnivorous snails in your assortment, which will go after meaty leftovers, along with the vegetarians. And you’ll want to have plenty of detritivores, too, which will feed on detritus and decaying organic matter in the aquarium

For best results, Astrea sp. snails should go in the tank as soon as the ammonia and nitrite levels are down to zero in order to keep nuisance algae from gaining a foothold in your tank. Introduced as soon as possible to a new aquarium, that has reached this cycling phase, Astrea snails effectively limit the development of all microalgae. In other words, they are good at eating diatoms, but will consume red slime and green algae as well.

But you must avoid predatory snails such as tulip snails, horse conchs, crown snails (Melanogena corona), and the venomous cone snails (Conus spp.), which can kill a human with a single sting from their harpoon like radula. Tulip snails, horse conchs, and crown conchs will hunt down and eat the other snails in your cleanup crew, whereas cone snails prey on small fishes in addition to presenting a deadly hazard to the aquarist.

All things considered, it sounds like you’re off to a good start with your seahorse tank, Charlotte. Please let us know if you have any additional questions in that regard. The whole purpose of the group is to help hobbyists create an ideal environment for their seahorses so that they will thrive for years to come.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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