Re:New Mustang NOT eating

Pete Giwojna

Dear Shaymus:

I would be patient with your new Mustang that is not yet eating the frozen Mysis, sir. In all likelihood, your Mustangs simply needs a little longer to get adjusted to its new home.

Right now, the Mustang is still too new to be comfortable with handfeeding. It will take him a while to recognize you as his feeder — the giver of gourmet delights — before he will be ready for handfeeding. Likewise, you will need to condition him to come to a new feeding station. At this point, the Mustang won’t realize where you are placing the frozen Mysis; he will need to be gradually trained to recognize the new feeding station and come to it at mealtime.

So for now, Shay, I would concentrate on target feeding your new Mustang, rather than attempting to hand feed him or simply depositing the frozen Mysis in a feeding station that he is unfamiliar with.

Your 29-gallon Biocube is a well-established aquarium that has been up and running for some time, and if the Biocube has an abundant population of copepods and amphipods, Shay, it’s very likely that your new Mustang is grazing on live prey in the aquarium, and that this accounts for his modest appetite for frozen Mysis, especially if you have seen him actively hunting and searching for pods. The diligent aquarist is always concerned about a change in the eating habits of his seahorses or a decrease in their appetite, but there is a fairly easy way to determine if your new Mustang is still getting enough to eat despite the fact that he has not resumed feeding on frozen Mysis yet:

Just make sure all your seahorses have full bellies at the end of the day, as indicated by their well-rounded abdomens. After a good feeding, the seahorses belly rings should be flush or even slightly convex in cross section when viewed from head on. (We never want to see sunken, severely pinched-in abdomens on our seahorses! Concave belly rings are a sure sign of an underfed seahorse, with the sole exception of a female that has just transferred her eggs.)

So if you want to check whether your new Mustang is getting enough to eat or not, Shay, examine him head-on and check out his gut. His abdomen or belly plates should bulge out slightly or at least be flush with his flanks, not pinched in or sunken. In other words, when viewed from the back or from head-on, the cross-section of his abdomen should appear concave "( )" or flush "l l" rather than concave ") (" or pinched in.

Another good way you can doublecheck to see if he is getting enough to eat on a daily basis is to examine your Mustang’s fecal pellets, Shay. If the fecal pellets he is producing have not changed in quantity or appearance, you can be assured he is getting plenty to eat. As long as he is eliminating well-formed feces, that’s a pretty good indication that the seahorse is getting plenty to eat, so if he hasn’t been scarfing up the frozen Mysis very heartily lately, it’s safe to assume that he may have been dining on the pod population in the aquarium. But beware if he starts producing white, stringy feces rather than their usual well-formed feces — those pale, stringy feces are often a sign of a seahorse that is underfed and not getting enough nourishment.

If your new Mustang is actively searching the macroalgae for pods and live prey, you can use that to your advantage to help get him eating the frozen Mysis again regularly as well, Shay. Seahorses love to perch on clumps of macroalgae and are naturally attracted to it as a convenient hitching post. Just release a baster full of frozen Mysis over the clumps of macroalgae, and you will find that the Mysis becomes trapped amongst the tightly packed branches of the algae, clinging to the cluster of fronds wherever it happens to settle. The hungry seahorses will then carefully scour the branches of the macroalgae for the Mysis just as if they were hunting live shrimp and pods amid the beds of seagrass in the wild. Macroalgae is ideal for use as a natural feeding station in this way because the seahorse’s tubular snout is adapted for suctorial feeding, perfectly designed for plucking small invertebrates from amongst dense foliage.

This is normally what I advise hobbyists regarding feeding new arrivals, Shay:

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Feeding New Arrivals

When it comes to feeding, give new arrivals time to recover and settle into their new surroundings before you force the issue.

It is always shamanic for seahorses to be uprooted from their familiar surroundings and abruptly introduced to a strange, new environment, and it sometimes take new arrivals a good week or two to settle in, make themselves at home, and start feeding normally afterwards. For that reason, I suggest the hobbyist have a supply of live food on hand whenever acclimating new additions to his herd. The tiny red feeder shrimp from Hawaii (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this, but live Gammarus, ghost shrimp, or even adult brine shrimp will do. The live shrimp help them adjust during the initial acclimation period when you first introduce your seahorses to your tank. The live foods will give the new arrivals a head start, help them recover from shipping stress quickly, and get them through the difficult period of adjustment in tiptop condition.

Don’t worry about feeding your seahorses immediately after they arrive. Give them a good 24 hours to adjust and settle down first. After the adjustment period, go ahead and offer some carefully thawed Mysis to your seahorses each day. Many seahorses handle shipping and acclimation with ease and never miss a beat, gobbling up frozen Mysis from Day One. Others will need more time before they feel at home in their new surroundings, and may not feel comfortable enough to accept frozen Mysis from their keeper until a week or two has passed. So keep offering Mysis each day, but feed it sparingly at first and remove any uneaten Mysis after an hour or so. Once the seahorses that start eating the Mysis first have had their fill, add some live feeder shrimp for the others that are lagging behind.

Many times all the seahorses resume feeding on the frozen Mysis right away and the live red feeder shrimp aren’t needed; in that case, simply keep them on hand for use as occasional treats. They last indefinitely in a clean, aerated plastic bucket at room temperature with a pinch of flake food sprinkled in sparingly a few times a week.

Be patient with the ones that seem more reluctant to resume feeding on frozen Mysis. Don’t isolate them from the others, don’t pester them by persistently trying to target feed them at this point, and don’t keep dropping frozen shrimp on their heads! That can spook a high-strung seahorse and stress him out all the more, setting him back further. Just give them time and they will soon join the others, scarfing down frozen Mysis greedily again. This can sometimes take a couple of weeks. (Mature males often lag behind at first; for some reason, they seem to be more shy and retiring than females, which can be quite brazen at times. I suspect this is due to their parental duties — during the breeding season, pair-bonded males are ordinarily ALWAYS pregnant, and they can’t risk exposing their precious cargo to any more risk than absolutely necessary.) Make a note of the reluctant eaters; the ones that are slow to take frozen Mysis now may require target feeding later on.

Be aware of secretive feeders and give them plenty of room at first.

It’s quite common for new arrivals to display shy, secretive behavior. I have found that some of my seahorses, especially newly acquired specimens, are reluctant to eat while they know they are being observed. That doesn’t mean they are starving themselves, however, just that they tend to feed in secret. Rather than feeding from your hand or gobbling up the Mysis when you first offer it, they will prey upon the natural fauna in the tank, slurping up copepods and amphipods from hiding, or snatch up leftover frozen Mysis when they think no one is looking. Some of the seahorses that don’t appear to be eating at first may actually be feeding on the sly.

When that’s the case, it’s best to back off a bit and leave the tank alone as much as possible for the time being. It’s okay to observe the tank discretely but try to avoid flat-nose syndrome, and keep feeding your other specimens as usual, of course, but don’t try to force the issue with the shy ones. Just leave them be, give the seahorses plenty of peace and quiet, and let the secretive feeders adjust to their new environment and get used to the daily routine at their own speed. Before too long, they’ll begin sneaking leftover Mysis when they think you’re not watching and feel safe. Once they feel at home, the shy specimens will start exploring their tank freely and displaying themselves openly. Before you know it, they’ll come to recognize you as their feeder and begin interacting with you at dinnertime. And from there, it’s just one short step until you have them literally eating from your fingers.
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In short, Shaymus, I would just be patient with your new Mustang for now and give him more time to get adjusted. It may be that he is not going hungry but rather is filling up on copepods and some of the natural fodder in the aquarium, which is quite normal for newcomers, in particular. Or he may be feeding secretively.

In the meantime, be sure to maintain optimum water quality at all times, and you might also consider trying a different brand of frozen Mysis that is larger. Mustangs and Sunbursts are trained to eat Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta, which is quite a bit larger than the Hikari frozen Mysis you have been using.

I have noticed that seahorses can sometimes be very selective when it comes to the size of the prey they prefer. For instance, the jumbo PE Mysis relicta are of course quite large, and it’s certainly possible that young seahorses may balk at the jumbos simply because of their size. Some seahorses are very particular in that regard, and tend to reject food items that are significantly larger or smaller than their preferred range of prey. For example, I’ve seen some seahorses that rejected the smaller Hikari Mysis with great disdain, yet which greedily gulped down the jumbo Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta. On the other hand, I’ve had small seahorses turn up their snouts at the jumbo PE frozen Mysis because it’s too large for their liking, and attack the small Hikari frozen Mysis with great gusto.

In your case, I suspect the Hikari frozen Mysis may be too small for your Mustang’s liking, and he may do better if you can locate PE frozen Mysis relicta or another brand of frozen Mysis that is larger in size than the Hikari Mysis.

This is what I recommend for the time being, Shay:

(1) Try to obtain Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta or another larger brand of frozen Mysis than the Hikari brand of Mysis you have been using.

(2) Be patient with your new Mustang and concentrate on casually target feeding him, rather than hand feeding him or simply depositing the frozen Mysis in your feeding tray.

(3) Be sure to maintain optimum water quality at all times and beware of transitory ammonia or nitrite spikes.

(4) Keep an eye on your new Mustang’s fecal production and examine his cross-section to determine if he is getting enough to eat or losing weight. If his abdomen begins to appear sunken in, or he is not producing normal fecal pellets or otherwise appears to be losing ground, perform an immediate water change and obtain some choice live foods to keep him eating and get some nourishment into him while he is making the adjustment to his strange, new surroundings.

Hawaiian red feeder shrimp or volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) and live Mysis 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, Tigger pods, you name it — is worth a try.

Keep me updated on your new Mustang’s progress, Shay. If he does not come around and resume feeding normally after you have taken the steps I suggested above, let me know and there are a few other things we can try to stimulate his appetite which often produce good results.

To refresh your memory, sir, here are my usual tips for target feeding seahorses:

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Target Feeding

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 and stare it down forever 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 scarfing 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. And it’s great for tapping on the cover to ringing the dinner bell and summon the diners for their gourmet feast!)

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 or compatible 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.
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Best of luck with your new Mustang, Shaymus! Here’s hoping he is soon eating like a horse again, pigging out on your gourmet frozen Mysis.

Pete Giwojna

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