Re:New Seahorse Aquarium

#5087
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Zach:

Well, sir, you have certainly come to the right place for more information about starting your first seahorse tank! I will do my best to answer your questions one by one below, Zach, and then I will refer you to the Ocean Rider training program for new seahorse keepers at the end of this post so you can get up to speed on the care and keeping of your ponies as soon as possible.

I1. What are the best types of seahorses to buy? I want a medium sized. Not too big, not too smal.

In my opinion, there are two types of of tropical seahorses that are ideal for beginners and that could do well in a tall 20-gallon aquarium, Zach — the black Seapony (Hippocampus fuscus) and the Mustang (H. erectus). The black Seapony (H. fuscus) averages about 3-5 inches in length when fully grown, while Mustangs (H. erectus) are a bit bigger and often reach 6 inches or more when fully grown. Both species are very hardy in the aquarium, adaptable, and considered relatively easy to breed and raise. Both types eat frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet and will do well at standard aquarium temperatures.

Hippocampus fuscus seahorses can often be difficult to obtain here in the United States, but the Mustangs (H. erectus) are always available from Ocean Rider (seahorse.com). Also commonly known as the Lined Seahorse or the Northern Giant or Florida Giant, Hippocampus erectus was the first seahorse to be commercially raised for the aquarium hobby. Mustangs have been captive-bred and raised for more generations than any other seahorse, and have now achieved a level of domestication that makes them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The Ocean Rider aquaculture facility in Hawaii that raises H. erectus selects them for traits such as adaptability, vigor, disease resistance, fast growth and aggressive feeding habits — traits that increase the fitness of each line over time. After numerous generations of strengthening and improvement, the current breeds of farm-raised erectus are tough as nails. Very hardy and very impressive, yet affordable, Mustangs are great choices for a novice seahorse keeper who is still learning the ropes. They are very adaptable and have led the on-going trend toward keeping captive-bred seahorses only. Simply put, more hobbyists keep CB erectus than any of the other greater seahorses, and rightly so.

Mustangs are impressive animals. They are large, robust, deep-chested seahorses that can reach well in excess of six inches in length when fully grown. They tend to be cryptically colored, and often show earth tones such as beige, russet, charcoal black, gray, brown, ochre or olive over an underlying pattern of fine parallel lines that run down their necks and across their chest (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). White blazes, blotches, saddles, triangles, and diamonds are common markings for captive-bred erectus (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

Seahorses are one fish that can become a true pet, and I’m convinced this is because they are more intelligent than most fishes. The highly domesticated Mustangs are real personality fish and many of them actually enjoy being handled. Unlike most other fish that back off when you approach the aquarium and flee in terror if you place your hand in the tank, seahorses soon learn to recognize their keeper and will come out to meet you. They quickly learn to take food from your fingers, and as you will discover, having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. When one of these shy, enchanting creatures — whose very survival in the wild depends on concealing itself from predators at all times — comes trustingly up to the surface to eat right out of your palm, it’s a thrill you won’t soon forget. The training sessions and daily feedings required for this tend to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets. Many times they will even include you in their daily greeting, flashing their recognition colors and parading back and forth and at the front of the tank, performing their dancelike displays for your benefit.

The first pair of captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my ‘stangs quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder, whereupon they would often interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors. My original pair are still going strong several years later, and I have watched them go through a number of color phases from month to month. One has settled on gray-green as its base coloration for the moment, and the other ranges between rust, burnt umber, and orange, but always with contrasting beige bands (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Last season, the male adopted a rich ochre yellow as his everyday attire (still with the same beige bands, though), while the female displayed a dark purplish ensemble with definite greenish highlights. When courting, they consistently brighten to a pearly white and a creamy yellow respectively (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). They make a handsome couple, and I find my erectus to be very attractive specimens in all their guises.

I set up my pair of these spirited steeds in a brand-new 30 gallon (tall) aquarium all their own, and that tank has been my most entertaining, trouble-free exhibit ever since. With a simple setup like theirs, I prefer to target feed my seahorses. That allows me to observe them closely on a daily basis, monitor their health, keep track of exactly how much each specimen is eating, and remove any leftovers immediately.

Led by the female — by far the bolder and most outgoing of the two — the Mustangs were soon literally eating right out of my hands. (I know, I know — sensible aquarists should always strive to keep their mitts out the aquarium as much as possible, but handfeeding is a thrill I find difficult to resist, and hey — nobody ever said I was sensible!) Of course, I’m very well aware of the risks involved and extremely diligent about taking all the necessary precautions beforehand. And besides, there are major advantages to handfeeding that more than offset any minor risks.

For one thing, the seahorses seem to enjoy the experience every bit as much as I do. They head for the feeding station as soon as I approach the tank, a series of color changes betraying their excitement, and queue up at the dinner table looking their best and brightest. Of course, they both try to snap up the first morsel — even pair-bonded ponies are not big on sharing or waiting turns — so I no longer offer them one mysid at a time. I offer them a handful of individually thawed Mysis in my upturned palm instead. They know the drill and happily perch on my fingers while snicking up the shrimp as fast as they can.

Secondly, feeding your seahorses by hand permits the aquarist to conduct a close-up, daily inspection of every specimen in his tank, and I like to use the opportunity to give ’em a good once over. These detailed examinations make it difficult not to notice any subtle changes in my seahorse’s appearance or behavior that might signal impending problems with disease or the water chemistry. That’s a big advantage, since the sooner such potential problems are detected, the easier they are to cure or prevent, and I recommend other hobbyists do
the same.

Take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they’re all eating well, and use this opportunity to look them over closely for wounds, injuries, or signs of disease. Seahorses are natural-born gluttons. Ordinarily, these galloping gourmets are ALWAYS hungry, so when a seahorse is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s amiss in the aquarium. Early detection of a potential problem can be the key to curing it, so it’s a good idea for the alert aquarist to observe his prize ponies while they put on the ol’ feed bag. Make sure they all show up for mess call, are acting normally, and have a well-rounded abdomen when they’re done eating. Handfeeding makes it hard to miss when one these chow hounds is off its feed, tipping off the alert aquarist to a potential problem.

Best of all, handfeeding is pure, sure-fire, 100% unadulterated fish-keeping fun! Feeding time for my seahorses is always a high point in my day. Having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. These daily feedings tends to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets.

As much as feeding time brightens up my day, I have no doubt it livens things up for my seahorses even more. They genuinely appear to enjoy interacting with me, and I believe in enriching their captive environment as much as possible. No doubt it’s the food they’re looking forward to, not the food giver, but our daily encounters are always eagerly awaited and they like to linger on my hand long after all the food is gone. They would allow me to lift them out of the water when I withdraw my hand if I didn’t gently shoo them away first.

The only thing I don’t like about handfeeding frozen Mysis to my seahorses is the obligatory fast day. The problem with fasting is that the Mustangs don’t seem to realize it’s good for them — that it’s absolutely in their own best interests, essential for their long-term health. Whenever I make an appearance on fast day, they insist on parading back and forth in front of the glass in their greeting colors, begging for a handout. Before my butt hits the upholstery, both of them will be dancing at the feeding station, impatiently awaiting their gourmet shrimp dinner. When it doesn’t materialize, they forlornly abandon their post at the lunch counter, and come up to stare at me through the front glass. When I still don’t take the hint, the female paces back and forth at the front, looking her brightest and most conspicuous, as though trying to attract my attention, while the male reverts to his drab everyday attire and dejectedly resumes his futile vigil at the feeding station. If not for their well-rounded cross-sections, one would think they were dying of hunger, making it difficult to resist their puppy-dog antics. Just sitting there ignoring them makes me feel like a first-class heel. Sheesh — talk about your guilt trips Dang! I hate fast days.

I feel Hippocampus is intelligent enough to become bored or jaded in captivity at times, and for this reason I try to provide a little behavioral enrichment for my seahorses whenever possible. The handfeeding sessions I’ve already described are an example of this, and I also try to provide my seahorses with live foods regularly so they have an opportunity to experience the thrill of the hunt and the chase once in a while as they do in the wild.

In short, Zach, I’m sure you would enjoy a pair of Mustangs as much as I enjoy mine. After you’ve gained a little experience with the Mustangs, I suggest adding a pair of Sunbursts to your herd next. Sunbursts are very similar to Mustangs in most respects, including their hardiness, and will even interbreed with them freely; the main difference is that the Sunbursts tend to be even more brightly colored, as their name implies. They are predisposed to display sunset colors (shades of yellow, gold, peach and orange) when conditions are to their liking.

2. What are the best types of hitch posts? I was looking at macroalgae and fake plants. What type of macroalgae should I buy and what types of fake plants should I get? Should I watch out for certain types of fake plants(that might hurt their tails)?

Suitable hitching posts for your seahorses can consist of lifelike artificial corals and realistic synthetic plants designed for use in saltwater aquariums, or colorful living macroalgae and seahorse-safe soft corals, or any combination thereof. If you read the pinned topic on artificial corals and hitching posts at the top of this forum, it covers many of the most popular synthetic decorations for seahorses, complete with photographs. If you decide to try an assortment of colorful artificial corals, seahorses often prefer red or orange pieces, and bright yellow, pink and purple corals are also popular. Many hobbyists report good results using artificial tree sponges, gorgonians and sea rods, staghorn coral, artificial Acropora corals, octopus coral and pillar coral in the appropriate colors to keep their seahorses looking their brightest. They look entirely natural and lifelike, with lots of branching projections that make great hitching posts for seahorses. Oh, and the cup coral often makes a great ready-made feeding station! Nature’s Image, Living Color, and Rock and Waterscape are the three best sources for artificial corals, in my opinion, with the Signature Coral Corporation also producing some useful pieces.

When it comes to colorful macroalgae, this is what I usually advise home hobbyists, Zach:

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Macroalgae — Living Hitching Posts

For live hitching posts, I prefer decorative marine plants or macroalgae in a variety of shapes and colors and color — reds, golds, and yellows in addition to green varieties, some tall and feather, some short and bushy — to provide them with natural hitching posts and shelter. I like to start with a mixture of red and gold Gracilaria (Ogo), which grow well attached to rocks, and artfully arrange them around a lush bed of assorted bright green Caulerpa, which thrives in a sandy substrate. Any of the plumed (feathery) or long-bladed Caulerpa would be ideal for this, such as Caulerpa sertularioides, C. mexicana, C. ashmedii, C. serrulata or C. prolifera. But they may not be the best choice for tall tanks since none of these species will grow more than about 4-6 inches in height at the most.

Be sure to thin out the fast-growing Caulerpa regularly; when you remove the excess strands and fronds, you’re exporting phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the tank, thereby helping to maintain good water quality, and thinning out the runners helps keep it from going sexual.

When thinning out Caulerpa and other macroalgae, take care not to actually cut it. Remember, you’re not pruning hedges or trimming trees — the idea is to carefully pull up and remove continuous, unbroken fronds or entire runners with numerous old fronds. Simply thin out the colony of excess strands, gently plucking up convenient fronds that can be readily removed intact.

Typically, the Caulerpa colony will put out horizontal runners or strands (i.e., the stolon of the plant) and a number of vertical leafy structures or "fronds" will sprout upwards from these runners. When I am thinning out a bed of Caulerpa, I try to weed out the older growth and pluck out whole runners complete with several feathery fronds so that I minimize any breakage when I remove the older plant material from the colony. In other words, rather than plucking off individual fronds at the attachment where they sprout from the runners, I prefer to extract an entire runner or strand together with all of its fronds, which allows me to remove more plant mass with as little breakage or damage to the entire colony is possible. Often there will be older strands and fronds that have separated from the rest of the colony naturally, and these are the best runners to target since there will be little or no breakage when they are removed. By regularly removing the older runners and the associated fronds, you can interrupt the life cycle of the Caulerpa and prevent it from going sexual. This is best done on a weekly basis to be safe, if the Caulerpa colony is growing rapidly.

A little breakage when thinning out the Caulerpa is fine, but cutting or breaking too many strands will result in leaching undesirable substances into the aquarium water as the Caulerpa’s lifeblood drains away. Too much cutting or breaking can thus sap the colony’s strength and cause die offs or trigger the dreaded vegetative events that judiciously thinning out the colony otherwise prevents.

The Caulerpa colony also dies off en masse after reproducing sexually, and the massive die off of Caulerpa for any reason can present a danger to the aquarium. There are undesirable substances leached back into the aquarium from the dying colony, and the resulting decay of a large quantity of organic matter all at once may trigger a bacterial bloom and subsequent drop in the dissolved oxygen level of the aquarium. The combination of these events can sometimes result in the loss of specimens or even crash the entire system.

Such a "vegetative event" is unmistakable because it will often turn the water in a small, close system aquarium milky white until the filtration begins to have an affect. If such an event occurs, the observant aquarist can often save the day by performing a series of water changes and employing activated carbon and other chemical filtration media to remove the harmful substances that have been released.

If you find it difficult to obtain Caulerpa (it’s illegal in some coastal areas) or you’re simply concerned about your ability to maintain and control of Caulerpa properly, just use a different forms of macroalgae that grows less rapidly instead and you can get the same sort of benefits at relatively little risk. In that case, some of the other macroalge you may wish to consider are Gracilaria, Ulva, Codium, Chaetomorpha, and Chlorodesmis. Hawaiian Ogo (Gracilaria sp.) are bushy red-to-brown macros that do well under low light levels. Sea Lettuce (Ulva sp.) are deep green sheets of algae that do best under a little stronger lighting. Maiden’s Hair (Chlorodesmis sp.) are bright green tufts or clumps of very fine-bladed algal mats to grow attached to small rocks. Codium is another bright green algae with an attractive branching structure. All of these types of macroalgae are much less prolific and slower growing than Caulerpa. However, like all macroalgae, they should still be harvested periodically in order to export the excess nutrients they have consumed.

Aside from red and brown Gracilaria and the bright green Ulva and Maiden’s Hair, some seahorse keepers also like the Chaetomorpha turf algae or spaghetti algae, as it is also known. It can best be described as looking like the clumps of the colorful plastic grass we use to fill Easter baskets. Good on seven It is popular because it is slow growing and doesn’t require the kind of pruning that Caulerpa needs, and because it comes loaded with microfauna: miniature feather dusters, copepods and amphipods, tiny snails and micro stars. In short, Chaetomorpha is another interesting marine plant that can add some extra variety to a lush bed of macroalgae.

If you are looking for colorful macroalgae that goes well with live rock and will provide good hitching posts for seahorses, then I think you might like the "red-on-rock" algae species offered by Inland Aquatics. They are more colorful and won’t overgrow or overwhelm your tank.

Other colorful red macroalgae that are well worth trying include Heymenia or Halymenia (commonly known as dragon’s tongue) and Botryocladia red grape algae, which is commonly known as red grape Caulerpa (even though it’s not a species of Caulerpa at all) The dragon’s tongue is a very attractive red species that either likes the conditions in your aquarium and thrives, or doesn’t like the tank conditions and disappears. When it thrives, it’s a beautiful red macroalgae that’s an asset to any aquarium. The distinctive appearance of these Botryocladia and it’s reddish coloration make it an aquarium favorite which is also useful since a large colony makes a good natural feeding station for seahorses. It does well when attached to the rockwork.

Maiden’s hair algae and sea lettuce (Ulva spp.) are bright green species of macroalgae that normally grow attached to rocks and are typically sold that way for aquarium use. They could also be placed amid your live rock where they would receive bright light.

If you are looking for marine plants to maintain in a sandy area of your tank, many species of Caulerpa, Merman’s shaving brushes (Penicillus spp), Udotea "sea fans," and Halimeda sea cactus are available, all of which are just anchored in the sandy bottom and will put out rhizoids or holdfasts to keep himself in place. Other species of Halimeda are available that sprout from live rock instead, so that’s another option if you prefer.

But the Halimeda sea cactus, Penicillus shaving brushes, and Udotea sea fans are all calcareous macros that require high levels of calcium in order to thrive. To maintain them successfully, you will need to monitor the calcium levels, total alkalinity, and carbonate hardness of your seahorse setup, provide occasional supplements of calcium or Kalkwasser, and maintain the aquarium more like a reef tank than an ordinary saltwater system.

Codium is another green macroalgae that’s very attractive in the aquarium and very distinctive in appearance (with its branching structure, it looks more like some sort of green gorgonian or bushy seafan, rather than a species of algae). It can grow several inches tall and may develop a bushy branching crown several inches in diameter. The Codium thus makes a good natural hitching posts for seahorses (Peggy Hill, pers. com.) and is a good choice for a well lit sandy area in the tank.

Some macroalgae are rootless and do not anchor in place. This is true of the Chaetomorpha turf algae or spaghetti algae, for instance. It grows in tangled clumps that look like nothing more than the colorful green Easter grass we use in our Easter baskets as betting for the jellybeans, marshmallow chicks, and chocolate bunnies. Chaetomorpha is therefore not very aesthetic looking in your main tank, but you can’t beat it for use in refugia or algal filters because hordes of copepods, amphipods, and other microfauna love to shelter, feed, and breed in the tangled masses of the spaghetti algae.

Like the Chaetomorpha, different types of Gracilaria or Ogo are often cultured by tumbling them so that they are always in motion, exposing different areas of the plant masses to the sunlight and assuring that clean water circulates through them continually. Several different types of Gracilaria (red, brown, green) are available and are typically sold in clumps by the bag or the pound. They don’t have roots as such, of course, but if you wedge them in crevices in your live rock or anchor them in place with a small rock or piece of coral rubble, they will attach to a hard substrate and grow well under favorable circumstances. Again, like the Chaetomorpha, these balls or clumps of Gracilaria/Ogo are ideal for culturing copepods and amphipods in your sump or refugium, but they will also look nice in your main tank once they take hold.

When it comes to the live macroalgae (living marine plants), you can get various species of Ogo (Gracilaria) from Ocean Rider, but for more color and variety, there are a number of other places to order suitable live plants online.

For example, Inland Aquatics has perhaps the best selection and variety of macroalgae available:

http://www.inlandaquatics.com/prod/tr_algae.html

Aquacon is another good source for cultured macroalgae:

Click here: Marine Plants for Saltwater aquariums
http://www.aquacon.com/vip.html

Other good sources for macroalgae include reefcleaners.org and liveplants.com:

<http://live-plants.com/index.htm&gt;

When it comes to fake plants, Zach, I like the SeaGarden series of "Fancy Plants" that are designed for use in saltwater, as discussed below:

Synthetic Marine Plants

Sea Garden synthetic aquarium plants also make good hitching posts for seahorses. The Sea Garden saltwater series of "Fancy Plants" are very realistic, completely safe for saltwater, and very easy to maintain. Just rinse them under warm running water before installation and periodically thereafter for cleaning. There’s a very nice selection of them available and seahorses can’t seem to tell the difference between them and the real thing.

For background decorations in a tall tank, I especially like the SeaGarden synthetic Sargassum plants because Hippocampus erectus is often associated with Sargassum in the wild and is famous for its rafting ability on mats of these plants. So it’s a natural biotype for erectus, and of course the Sargassum grows nice and tall, which is what we want for aquascaping the extra-tall tanks that are best suited for seahorses. I like to obtain one or more of the Large, Tall, and Extra Large examples of both the Sargassum fluitans (reddish brown in color) and the Sargassum platycarpum (green in coloration) and arrange them together across the back of the aquarium. They range in size from 12 to 24 inches in height, so if you group the tallest of the plants together, they should effectively conceal the filtration system and enhance the beauty of the aquarium, creating a colorful natural background with shades of green, brown, and red. They sway in the current just like the real plants and are very easy to clean and maintain. Just rinse them well under warm water when they need cleaning.

The SeaGarden saltwater series of "Fancy Plants" also includes some attractive artificial Caulerpa, such as the Caulerpa mexicana and Caulerpa verticellata macroalgae pictured below, which are ideal for hobbyists that would like to provide Caulerpa for their seahorses but lack a green thumb and are leery about using the real thing:

Before you put them in your aquarium, however, I recommend rinsing the Fancy Plants thoroughly under warm water and then soaking them in a bucket of clean tap water for several days, changing the water every day throughout this period to keep it clean and fresh. After the artificial plants have soaked for several days in this manner, you can give them another good rinse under warm water and then arrange them in your aquarium.

You can find me SeaGarden saltwater series of Fancy Plants available online from Dr.’s Foster and Smith and a number of other sources.

Seahorses also like live rock, particularly colorful pieces that are heavily overgrown with pinkish or purplish coralline algae. Aside from looking pretty, live rock also provides additional biological filtration (both nitrification and denitrification) for the aquarium and provides shelter and sight barriers that make the seahorses feel secure.

In short, special attention to the hitching posts you select when decorating your seahorse tank. Strive for bright reds, oranges, and yellows in anything your seahorses may adopt as a holdfast. These aquatic equines — especially the stallions — will often choose one particular hitching post as their home base and spend much of there time perched right there (think of your Dad hunkered down in his favorite easy chair in the den). Once they adopt a favorite base of operations like this, they will often proceed to change coloration to match their preferred resting spot. So you want to encourage them to adopt one of the more vivid pieces as a favorite holdfast whenever possible.
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Okay, Zach, that’s the quick rundown on macroalgae and other hitching posts for a seahorse setup. There aren’t really any fake plants that you should avoid because they might injure the seahorses’ tails, but you should make sure that any synthetic plants you select are designed for use in saltwater because not all of the fake plants that are suitable for freshwater can be used in a marine aquarium…

3. I noticed on the video on your mainpage that you have clownfish in one of your tanks. I was wanting to buy a small clown to put in there. Will this work out?

Yes, sir, you can consider including a small clown fish with your seahorses providing it is the right type of clown fish and that you are willing to feed the seahorses properly, as explained 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 discussed 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.

4. I hear alot about people buying SH pairs. Should I start off with mated pair, or should I wait to get more experience? What are the odds of them breeding?

Yes, sir I would recommend that you obtain a male/female pair of seahorses. Your ponies will certainly enjoy a richer, more natural life if they have the opportunity to interact, court one another, pair up and reproduce. Allowing your seahorses to breed will also give you a chance to observe their amazing courtship displays and mating rituals, as well the miraculous spectacle of the male seahorse giving birth, Zach.

If you can provide your seahorses with a nutritious diet, optimum water quality, and a stress-free environment in which to live, chances are good that they will eventually pair off and reproduce in the aquarium. However, maintaining seahorses in pairs doesn’t necessarily mean that you must be prepared for the challenge of raising the young right away, Zach. 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 that you can consider.

For example, Ocean Rider allows the home hobbyist to disperse their newborn seahorses up until they are 30 days-year-old, Many 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. If there is a Marine Aquarium Society in your area, Zach, you can bet that they will have members who would love to take the newborn seahorses off your hands and try their luck at rearing them.

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.

5. About how many seahorses will I be able to fit in my 20g?

If you can locate Hippocampus fuscus seahorses, your 20-gallon aquarium could accommodate 3-4 pairs of the seahorses when it is fully stocked. Likewise, a 20-gallon aquarium can safely support two pairs of Mustangs (H. erectus) when fully stocked, Zach. However, it’s always best to keep your aquarium under stocked to allow a better margin for error, especially if you are a beginner who is new to seahorse keeping, sir. So I would recommend keeping only two pairs of H. fuscus or one mated pair of Mustangs in your 20-gallon aquarium until you learn the ropes, Zach, particularly if you want to keep a small clownfish along with the seahorses.

Finally, Zach, for additional tips on setting up your 20-gallon column tank, I would strongly urge you to participate in the Ocean Rider seahorse training program. It is a correspondence course conducted entirely via e-mail that is completely free of charge and discusses everything you need to know about setting up a new seahorse tank and optimizing it for seahorses, as well as comprehensive information on the care and keeping of seahorses, including feeding, compatible tank mates, courtship and breeding, raising the babies, and disease prevention and control. (For complete details on the seahorse training program, see the pinned discussion thread at the top of this forum.)

The first lesson in the training course is devoted entirely to selecting a suitable tank (which you have already accomplished) and preparing it to create ideal conditions for seahorses. It includes a list of all of the equipment and items you’ll need for your seahorse setup and discusses hitching posts and aquascaping in depth. Likewise, the second lesson is devoted entirely to cycling a new seahorse setup and establishing the biological filtration. There are a total of 10 lessons, all of which are loaded with useful tips and helpful suggestions for the seahorse keeper. In short, the training program discusses setting up for seahorses and maintaining your seahorses in much more detail then we can go into on a simple discussion forum like this.

If you would like to give the seahorse training program a try, Zach, just contact me off list ([email protected]) with a brief message that includes your full name (first and last) and I will get you started out with the first lesson right away. Once we begin corresponding, I will continue to work with you personally until your new aquarium is up and running, ready to receive the seahorses.

Best of luck with your new seahorse tank!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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