Re:New need help

#4459
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Sunnyday:

Welcome to the group! I will do my best to answer your questions one-by-one below:

1. Is it better to have a pair or just one seahorse?

Yes, it is better to keep seahorses in pairs rather than maintaining a single seahorse by itself. The mated pair is the normal social unit for most seahorse species, and I believe they are healthier and happier when they have the opportunity to breed. The seahorses certainly enjoy a richer, more natural life when they have the opportunity to interact, court one another, pair up and reproduce. And the hobbyist has a chance to observe social interactions and behaviors he would otherwise never see, such as competition for mates and daily greetings and birthing, including one of the grandest spectacles in all of nature — the colorful courtship and mating ritual of the seahorse!

Over a period of days, the partners perform a series of ritualized maneuvers and distinct displays — brightening, reciprocal quivering, pumping, pointing, and several delightful dancelike displays (the carousel dance, Maypole dance, and the parallel promenade) — all culminating in the copulatory rise and exchange of eggs. Once a pair has bonded, these maneuvers are repeated regularly in a daily greeting ritual that strengthens and reinforces the pair bond. In my opinion, the seahorses have a better quality of life when they are allowed to engage in these activities in the aquarium.

Captive-bred-and-raised seahorses such as Ocean Riders are very social, highly gregarious animals that very much enjoy the company of others of their kind, and I would recommend that you obtain a mated pair, for best results.

2. If I have to have a pair I don’t want babies can I have 2 females or tow males?

Yes, it’s possible to maintain a same-sex tank if you’re not interested in rearing the seahorse babies, and that’s preferable to maintaining a single seahorse all by itself. If you decide you want to keep two seahorses of the same sexes together so that they can keep each other company but will not produce any young, then getting two females is the way to go.

The reason for this is that female seahorses generally have fewer health problems than the males, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the physiologically dynamic brood pouch of the males, with its heavy vascularization and increased blood supply, makes them much more prone to the various forms of Gas Bubble Syndrome (GBS) than females.

Secondly, females obviously never have problems with prolapsed pouches. A prolapse or a partial prolapse of the pouch occurs when part of the lining of the marsupium becomes everted and protrudes through the mouth of the pouch. Prolapses can occur during or shortly after parturition as a result of the birth spasms during a strenuous delivery, or when courting males are performing their vigorous pouch displays and pumping water in and out of the pouch, or as a complication of recurring pouch emphysema.

Thirdly, males must occasionally deal with other complications of pregnancy, such as stillborn young that cannot be expelled, difficult deliveries that can sometimes extend over three or four days, and the inability to cleanse their pouch completely and flush out all the placental tissue fragments after delivering their brood.

Finally, on rare occasions aggressive males may injure one another when sparring for the right to a female. In the aquarium, both males and females compete for mates, but there is a big difference in the way they go about it. Females compete with one another passively, each trying to outdo the other and be the first to attract a mate simply by increasing the intensity of their courtship activities and displays. Their competitive behavior is therefore directed at the eligible males rather than any rival females. Males, on the other hand, compete much more actively and much more antagonistically. Their behavior is often aimed directly at their rival(s) and includes aggressive behaviors such as tail wrestling and snapping or sparring, which are never seen in the fairer sex. In other words, females respond to the presence of rivals by getting more flirtatious, whereas males often react to rivals by getting surly and carrying a testosterone-induced chip on their shoulders.

Snapping is an aggressive maneuver in which the attacker stretches out his head and flicks his snout against his rival with a violent snap, thus delivering a nasty blow to the foe. The snap is often aimed either at the opponent’s eye or gills — the only vulnerable spots on an armor-plated adversary — and the force of a well-directed snap can momentarily stun the unfortunate recipient. On very rare occasions, when these blows are directed at the head, eye injuries can result (mostly in the form of unilateral exophthalmia or Popeye), and persistent bullying can be stressful to the other seahorses.

So if you want to segregate the sexes to prevent breeding, I would choose two females rather than two males.

However, Sunnyday, you should be aware that there is a slightly increased risk of egg binding when females are maintained in the same-sex environment, and you should bear in mind that there are other alternatives besides segregating the sexes if you are not prepared for the challenge of breeding.

There is some evidence that suggests enforced abstinence can be undesirable for seahorses. For example, Heather Hall reports that the London Zoo was so successful in breeding and raising the prolific Cape Seahorse (Hippocampus capensis) that, at one point, they were forced to separate the males and females in order to bring a halt to the population explosion that resulted (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). The Zoo was eventually forced to abandon this approach to birth control because segregating the sexes proved stressful to the seahorses in the long run. There was more twitching and scratching in the isolated seahorses, males displayed increased aggression toward one another, and the females faced an increased risk of egg binding when deprived of the opportunity to breed in a same-sex environment (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). The lack of breeding seemed to increase tension levels among the seahorses in general, resulting in increased pacing and rapid respiration. There was a higher incidence of bacterial infections among the isolated males, which was apparently stress-related.

So although it isn’t necessary to keep seahorses in pairs, I do feel that seahorses are happier and healthier if they have a chance to court and breed, which I think is just as true for us seahorse keepers as it is for our charges. Maintaining seahorses in pairs doesn’t necessarily mean that you must be prepared for the challenge of raising the young. Many times seahorses don’t immediately set up housekeeping and begin breeding in a home hobby tank. It may be many months or years before you are pairs produce their first brood, and when they do begin breeding regularly, there are other options for the newborns rather than raising them yourself, as discussed below.

Many hobbyists share your concerns about breeding, Sunnyday. It’s such a common quandary for seahorse keepers that I devoted a section of my new book to that very topic:

<open quote>
To Breed or Not to Breed? That is the question…

Many seahorse keepers are unable to provide the time and effort rearing requires, particularly since a breeding pair often produces a new brood of babies (hundreds of fry) every month. When they find themselves in that situation, some hobbyists choose to prevent their seahorses from breeding by segregating the sexes and keeping males and females in separate tanks, or by ordering seahorses that are all the same gender.

Others allow their seahorses to breed, which gives the aquarist a chance to observe their amazing courtship displays and mating rituals, as well the miraculous spectacle of the male seahorse giving birth, but sacrifice the newborn fry by allowing hungry tankmates (compatible fishes and inverts, such as cleaner shrimp or scooter blennies, not the other seahorses) to make a meal of them. It sounds heartless and cruel, I know, but that’s precisely the fate most seahorse fry suffer in the ocean. At very best, only one or two seahorses from each brood survive to maturity in the wild; the rest are lost to predators.

Most people feel the parents are much happier in the aquarium if allowed to pair off and mate, so when aquarists are too busy or inexperienced for rearing fry, most hobbyists simply let nature take its course and eliminate the newborns as forage for bigger fish.

In my opinion, the deciding factor is that we now have considerable evidence that segregating the sexes can actually be harmful to the health of Hippocampus. The Cape seahorse (Hippocampus capensis) is a prolific breeder that produces well-developed benthic fry that are fairly easy to raise. So much so, in fact, that experienced breeders sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by a population explosion of capensis. When this happened at the London Zoo, the curators decided to resort to enforced abstinence as a means of population control (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). They achieved this goal by isolating their adult capensis in same-sex groups. However, they soon began to notice serious stress-related problems with this arrangement (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). There was an increase in disease outbreaks and heightened aggression among their groups of males (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). The isolated females developed swollen abdomens and experienced difficulty with egg binding (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). Respiration rates increased and there was notic as as eably more twitching among the segregated seahorses (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). As a result, the Zoo soon stopped separating their males and females. They are now allowed to court and breed freely and the resulting offspring are simply left in the main tank with their parents and allowed to fend for themselves (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30). Some of the exceptionally hardy capensis fry manage to make it on their own and reach adulthood without any special care at all (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p 30).

In many cases, I feel that’s the best solution for the home aquarist as well, both for the seahorses and their keepers, for the very reasons outlined above.

Some hobbyists have a friend or neighbor or know a fish guy from the local pet shop who are interested in rearing, and allow them to take home their seahorse fry and raise them. Some hobbyists even ship the fry to breeders elsewhere who are set up for rearing. Those are other possibilities the overburdened home hobbyist can explore.

Allowing the seahorses to breed freely leaves the door open for aquarist to try his hand at rearing someday when he’s better prepared and equal to the task. Once the hobbyist gains a little more experience and confidence keeping seahorses, there will likely come a time when the aquarist feels he’s ready for the challenge of rearing. Sooner or later, most seahorse keepers decide to try their hand at rearing. This way, when that day arrives, a breeding pair of ponies will already be at hand, ready to give their owner plenty of fry to raise. <Close quote>

So I would be inclined to order pairs, and if they promptly produce young that you are not prepared to raise, feel free to disperse the newborns to other aquarists who may be interested up until the fry are a month old. Otherwise, you can always keep a group of decorative shrimp (fire shrimp, peppermint shrimp, Scarlet cleaner shrimp, etc.) with your seahorses and allow them to intervene the natural way. As heartless as that seems, it is a natural process and a very common occurrence in both freshwater and marine aquaria. For instance, it’s not really any different than when a guppy or black mollie gives birth in a community tank, and the angelfish or adult mollies and swordtails scarf up the newborns as fast as they are delivered. For that matter, it’s not much different than when the hermaphroditic peppermint shrimp or cleaner shrimp release their larvae and the seahorses happily feast on the larval shrimp. And I firmly believe it is healthier to keep the seahorses in pairs and allow them to mate and breed rather than segregating the sexes, so you certainly have nothing to feel guilty about, sir.

On the other hand, no one here is going to fault you at all if you want to set up your new aquarium with nothing but female (or male) seahorses.

3. Can i house 2 seahorses in a 10 gallon aquarium?

That depends on the type of seahorses. For example, a 10 gallon aquarium is large enough to support an entire colony of dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae) and all of their offspring, and that is certainly the species that is best suited for such a small tank. But a 10-gallon tank is way too cramped for any of the large seahorses, such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (H. erectus). They would be unable to mate successfully in such a shallow aquarium and the lack of water depth would leave them vulnerable to problems with gas bubble syndrome.

Aside from the dwarfs, which are ideally suited for small aquaria, you’re only other option would be to consider a single pair of the smaller Shetland pony class of seahorses instead. The "Shetland pony" category include Zulu-lulus or Cape Seahorses (Hippocampus capensis), which are temperate seahorses that require an aquarium chiller to maintain suitable temperatures, or the Black Seapony (H. fuscus), which is a tropical species that would do well at standard aquarium temperatures.

Both these species are small enough to try in 10-gallon aquarium, and like the dwarf seahorses, they are both considered among the easiest of all seahorses to breed and raise. Please contact me off list ([email protected]) and let me know if you would be interested in keeping either of these species, and I will be happy to send you a species summary that explains everything you need to know about them in considerable detail. Or you could search for more information regarding the dwarfs, the Zulu-lulus, or the H. fuscus on this forum and find a great deal of additional information about them right here.

Also, Sunnyday, since you are new to seahorse keeping and marine aquariums, there are a couple of books that I recommend for all inexperienced marine aquarists that you should study as soon as possible. An excellent place to start would be to read the book "The New Marine Aquarium" by Michael Paletta. Next I would suggest you follow that up by perusing "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist: A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists" by Bob Fenner. Those are both outstanding books for a beginner that will give you an excellent grasp of the basic things you need to know to maintain a marine aquarium.

After you’ve had a chance to digest The New Marine Aquarium and The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, and have a better understanding of the basic principles involved in keeping a saltwater aquarium, you should next study a good guide book devoted for seahorses. I would say the most useful of these for your needs is "How to Care for your Seahorses in the Marine Aquarium — A Stable Environment For your Seahorse Stable" by Tracy Warland. All of the books I have mentioned should be available from your local library or can be purchased from any of the major booksellers.

Best of luck finding the perfect ponies for your 10-gallon seahorse setup, Sunnyday!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2008/09/18 02:58


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