Re:New. Looking for now.

Pete Giwojna

Dear addicted:

I too share your addiction to seahorses and they are certainly one of the most fascinating fishes you could hope to keep in a home aquarium. Highly domesticated seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts are really not any more difficult to keep than your average marine angelfish, for example. You just need to maintain optimum water quality, provide them with a highly nutritious diet, and maintain a stress-free environment in order for them to thrive.

I think your plan of setting up a 55-gallon aquarium with live rock and live sand for Sunbursts is a good choice, since an aquarium of that size will have the increased height that is so important for seahorses and has a adequate water volume to provide stability and a better margin for error for a first-time seahorse keeper. By all means, take your time and assemble the components for your aquarium system little by little as you can afford them and learn more about the needs and requirements of the seahorses.

An aquarium heater is usually necessary to keep the aquarium temperature from falling below 70°F when keeping tropical seahorses. I suggest using a good, fully submersible aquarium heater that can be pre-set to hold at a specific temperature. But rather than getting one large heater whose wattage is sufficient to heat the entire aquarium, I recommend obtaining two smaller heaters whose combined wattage will do the job nicely. That way, if one of the heaters fails, the second one will still be able to keep the tank sufficiently warm to prevent the fish from being chilled. On the other hand, if one of the smaller heaters sticks in the "on" position, it will not be able to heat up the entire volume of the water in the aquarium to dangerous levels.

When selecting a heater, a good rule of thumb is to multiply your tank gallon size by 5 to determine how many watts you need to adequately heat your aquarium. So, for example, a 55-gallon aquarium would require around a 275-watt heater or — even better — two 140-watt heaters. When it comes to heaters,, I prefer either the Ebo-jager or the Visi-Therm deluxe (MarineLand) line of heaters, but there are lot of good heaters available nowadays.

In addition, if at all possible, the heater(s) should be placed in a sump/refugium or external filter, rather than in the main tank. If that’s not possible, be sure to use a heater guard. Over the years, I have seen several reports indicating that seahorses may have suffered burns when they perched on an unprotected heater overnight during the winter.

I think it’s an excellent idea to add a refugium to your seahorse tank as well. As you know, a refugium is simply a self-contained protected area, isolated from the main tank but sharing the same water supply, which provides many of the same benefits as a sump. A refugium can help newly added fish or invertebrates easily acclimate to a new tank. It can provide a safe haven for injured fish or corals to regenerate damaged tissue without the need for a separate quarantine tank. But perhaps its main benefit for the seahorse keeper is provide a protected area where macroalgae can be grown and small live prey items (copepods, amphipods, Caprellids, etc.) that will eventually become a food source for the inhabitants of the main portion of the tank can be cultured safely, allowing their population to build up undisturbed.

For instance, Charles Delbeek likes to use glass shrimp and cleaner shrimp that are too large to be eaten in the refugium for his seahorse tank, where the regular reproduction of these hermaphroditic crustaceans will provide a continuous supply of nutritious nauplii for his ponies: "There is a method that can be used to offer an occasional supply of live food for your sea horses. By setting up a separate system housing several species of shrimp such as the common cleaner shrimp, Lysmata amboinensis, or Rhynchocinetes uritai or R. durbanensis, you can get a fairly regular supply of live shrimp larvae. These species are best to use since they can live in large groups and spawn on a regular basis. Such a system is commonly called a refugium. A refugium is a small (10-20 gallon) aquarium that contains live sand, live rock and/or macroalgae such as Caulerpa. It is plumbed such that water from your main system is pumped to the refugium and then returns via an overflow to the main tank. For this type of arrangement to work, the refugium must be slightly higher than the main tank. Shrimp are added to the refugium and within a few months they should start spawning and hatching eggs every few weeks. The larvae are then carried back to the main tank by the overflow, where they become a food source for your sea horses. Of course other life will also thrive in the refugium and it is not unusual for copepods, mysis and crab larvae to also be produced on a regular basis. The key to the refugium is to keep predators out of the system so that the smaller micro-crustacean population can thrive. You would need a fairly large and productive refugium to produce enough food to maintain even a pair of sea horses, so at best, a typical refugium can provide a nice source of supplemental live food; the basic daily diet still needs to be provided by you in the form of the frozen foods mentioned above." (Delbeek, November 2001, "Horse Forum," FAMA magazine)

Aside from the one Delbeek favors, refugia are available in a number of different designs. For example, there are easy-to-install external hang-on refugia and in-tank refugia as well as sump-style refugia that are mounted beneath the main. In the case of the latter, the refugium is installed exactly like any other sump. Here are a couple of online sites where you can look up more information on refugia, including articles explaining how to set up and install a refugium of your own:

Click here: Refugium Setups Information – From About Saltwater Aquariums

Click here: Refugiums

As far as starfish go, it’s best to avoid a large predatory species such as chocolate chip starfish and 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. Any of the brightly colored Fromia or Linkia species would make good tankmates for seahorses. However, bear in mind that, like all echinoderms, seahorses 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.

Let me know when your new aquarium is ready for the plants, and I will be happy to recommend some colorful, easy-to keep macroalgae that would work well in a seahorse tank, as well as a line of very realistic synthetic plants you could mix it in with the real ones.

Check back with us in a month or two regarding the filter for your seahorse tank, addicted. I have been instrumental in the design of the new filtration system created specifically for seahorses, and these new units may be available for the general public in another month or two. When they are ready, these new filters will be ideal for seahorse keepers.

Best of luck with your ongoing research into the needs and requirements of seahorses! Keep reading — I like your methodical approach to preparing for your first seahorses very much.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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