Congratulations on your new Sunbursts, sir!
I would not be overly concerned by the behavior of the smaller pony, which has not eaten much since last Friday, Ron – that’s not uncommon for new arrivals, and the fact that she ate well on Friday is a good sign. Most likely all your small Sunburst needs is a little more time to get adjusted to her strange new surroundings before she settles down and resumes feeding normally. If your seahorse setup is well-established and has a good population of copepods and amphipods, the small Sunburst may be feeding secretly on the pods or left over Mysis when she thinks no one is looking and feels it is safe. But there are a few things you can do in the meantime, sir, to encourage her to eat better.
First of all, I recommend adjusting the water circulation in your seahorse tank and/or adding an airstone to improve surface agitation and oxygenation, and to facilitate more efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface. That will increase the levels of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium, and lower the levels of dissolved carbon dioxide, which are water quality parameters that do not show up on the standard test kits. Very often seahorses will react to the increased level of dissolved oxygen by becoming more active, brightening up in coloration, and eating more aggressively. (Low levels of O2 and/or high levels of CO2 in the aquarium water are among the leading causes for loss of appetite in seahorses.)
Secondly, Ron, you may want to try changing brands of frozen Mysis. At the Ocean Rider aquaculture facility, the seahorses are accustomed to eating Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta, which have a better nutritional profile and are much larger than most other brands of Mysis. The PE frozen Mysis is very high quality, and tends to release whole, intact, very lifelike individual Mysis as it thaws.
On the other hand, sir, you mentioned that it is the smaller Sunburst which is not eating as well. Sometimes seahorses can be very selective regarding the size of prey that they prefer, and if this pony is relatively small, then it may prefer a brand of frozen Mysis that is smaller. In that event, you can try offering her H2O Life Mini Marine Mysis or the regular Hikari frozen Mysis instead, both of which are quite small by comparison to Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis.
If these brands are not available at your local pet stores or fish stores, Ron, they are all available online from Doctors Foster’s and Smith, so anyone should be able to obtain them.
Thirdly, sir, if the small Sunburst seems reluctant to come to the feeding station at this point, I would recommend carefully target feeding her using a large glass eyedropper or a small disposable laboratory pipette to gently release individual Mysis so that they drift down gently right in front of her snout. Many hobbyists will use a cooking baster or turkey baster for target feeding, but it sounds like the small Sunburst might be shy and reclusive, and when that’s the case, a large glass eyedropper or small plastic pipette often works better for target feeding because they are smaller and less intimidating to the seahorses.
So you can try gingerly target feeding the small Sunburst once or twice a day as described above, Ron, and the shy seahorse will normally quickly come to recognize you as its feeder – the giver of gourmet delights – after which you will find it quite easy to lead the new pony over to the feeding station as you target feed it.
I have provided some additional information on feeding new arrivals for you below, Ron, that discusses target feeding, secretive feeders, and how to tell when a new seahorse is getting enough to eat in more detail.
Feeding Frozen Mysis
There is no simple answer to the question, "How many frozen Mysis should each of my seahorses be eating per day?" That depends on the size of the frozen Mysis, which varies considerably from brand to brand, the size of the seahorses themselves, and the size of their appetites, which is also quite variable from one pony to another, as well as a number of other factors. Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) of average size usually eat between 2-7 of the big Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta per feeding, but rather than trying to keep track of how many frozen Mysis each of your seahorses has eaten, it’s a better idea to check them for well-rounded abdomens after they have eaten a big meal and to observe their fecal production in order to make sure they are all getting enough to eat on a daily basis, as discussed below.
In addition to cycling your aquarium and setting it up to create an ideal environment for seahorses, you will also need to line up a good source of frozen Mysis before your seahorses arrive. Frozen Mysis is available in several different brands from a number of different sources. Gamma brand frozen Mysis is good, Hikari frozen Mysis is quite acceptable (although often fragmentary) as is San Francisco Bay brand frozen Mysis and the Omega One Mysis, whereas the Mini Mysis by H2O Life is great for small seahorses, and Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis is no doubt the best in terms of nutritional content and quality control. Your local fish stores should carry one or more of these brands.
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.
Whatever brand of frozen Mysis you obtain, for best results, it’s a good idea to fortify it with Vibrance before feeding it to your seahorses. Vibrance is an enrichment formulation that was designed by a research team of nutritionists and fish biologists especially for use with frozen Mysis shrimp in order to meet the dietary requirements of seahorses, and it has been developed specifically to provide a long-term balanced diet for these unique fishes. Depending on which Vibrance formulation you use, it includes additional highly unsaturated fatty acids (especially the DHA Omega 6 DHA series), along with Vitamin C and essential minerals, in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress management, and proper reproduction. Vibrance is a bright red-orange powder that gets its characteristic color due to its high content of carotenoids, which are an abundant source of Vitamin A and act as natural color enhancers for yellow and red pigmentation. It is the only enrichment product that includes beta glucan as an active ingredient. That’s important because beta glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fish.
In order to enrich it, the frozen Mysis is carefully thawed out and rinsed well to remove any excess shrimp juices, and then a VERY light dusting of the Vibrance is added to the Mysis while they are still just a bit moist. The Vibrance is then gently worked into the frozen Mysis and it usually adheres very well. The end result should be whole, completely intact Mysis shrimp that have acquired a reddish tinge to their head or anterior end. In actual practice, there are probably as many different ways of successfully thawing and enriching frozen Mysis as there are aquarists that use them; most everybody works out their own method of preparing the frozen Mysis that works best for their needs and busy schedule.
But whatever method you use to prepare and enrich your fortify your frozen Mysis, it is very important to use your enrichment product sparingly! It has been my experience that home hobbyists tend to overdo it when it comes to the enrichment process, possibly on the theory that "if a little is good for them, then a lot must be even better," or perhaps simply due to confusion about the proper way to enrich Mysis. How can you tell if you are using too much of your enrichment product? If it washes off the thawed Mysis when you add the fortified shrimp to the aquarium water, then the high-calorie ingredients are simply being added to the aquarium water and not doing your ponies any good. Rather than helping to provide your seahorses with good nutrition, the enrichment formula instead is increasing the organic loading in the aquarium and degrading your water quality. A little bit of the enrichment powder, or concentrated liquid formulation, goes a long, long, long way when you are fortifying frozen Mysis, and if any appreciable amount of the enrichment product is washing off the Mysis when you feed them to the seahorses, you are using too much. Cut back accordingly and/or do without any enrichment at all for some of the seahorses’ feedings each day.
Here are Ocean Rider’s usual feeding suggestions to guide you at mealtime:
In general, it’s a good idea to offer one morning feeding and one mid-to-late afternoon feeding, if possible, but there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to easy-to-feed, farm-raised horses. Some hobbyist prefer to give their seahorses two feedings a day, while others prefer to give them their quota of frozen Mysis in one big meal. As long as they get their fill, there is really no right or wrong way to go about this — just stick with whatever works bests for your particular ponies and their eating habits as well as your busy daily schedule.
As you know, the feeding regimen that generally works best for most captive-bred seahorses is to provide each of them with 2-7 frozen Mysis relicta twice a day, enriched with Vibrance, and then to fast your seahorses entirely for one day each week. In other words, your seahorses should each be eating a total of around 4-14 frozen Mysis each day, depending on the size of the seahorse and the size of the Mysis. But those are just rough guidelines and there is a lot of variation in how much Mysis healthy seahorses eat each day.
A large seahorse naturally eats more than a smaller pony. And jumbo-sized Mysis will fill up a hungry seahorse faster than smaller shrimp. So a seahorse that’s scarfing up king-sized Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta does indeed need to eat fewer shrimp than a pony that’s dining on the tiny Hikari Mysis or the miniscule H2O Mini Mysis.
Aside from size, some of the other factors that determine how much a seahorse eats are water temperature, the age of the seahorse, and whether or not it is actively breeding at the moment. The warmer the water temperature (within the seahorse’s comfort zone), the higher its metabolism, and the more calories it needs to eat as a result. Young seahorses that are still growing rapidly typically eat more than mature seahorses that have reached their full growth. As you might expect, breeding pairs that are producing brood after brood every few weeks need to eat a lot because so much of their bodily resources go towards producing clutches of eggs or nourishing a pouch full of developing young.
So don’t get hung up trying to count every morsel every seahorse in your tank scarfs down. 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 seahorses are eating well or not, don’t look at their profile — just examine them head-on and check out their gut. Their abdomens or belly plates should bulge out slightly or at least be flush with their flanks, not pinched in or sunken. In other words, when viewed from the back or from head-on after a good feeding, the cross-section of their abdomens should appear convex "( )" or flush "l l" rather than concave ") (" or pinched in.
Another good way to tell if your seahorses are getting enough to eat is by observing their fecal production. Ponies that are producing well-formed fecal pellets regularly are receiving good nutrition.
When it comes to feeding, give new arrivals time to recover and settle into their new surroundings before you force the issue.
That’s a long haul from Hawaii, 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 shyer and more 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; 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.
Morning feedings are best.
The recommended feeding regimen is to provide each of your seahorses with 4-14 frozen Mysis shrimp daily, enriched with a good food supplement, and then to fast your seahorses entirely once a week. Some hobbyists prefer to give their seahorses two or more feedings a day, while others prefer to give them their quota of frozen Mysis in one big meal. As long as they get their fill, there is really no right or wrong way to go about this — just do whatever is most convenient for you and also keeps the ponies fat and sassy.
However, many hobbyists find that their seahorses feed best during the morning, so if you can only feed your seahorses once a day, try to make it a morning meal. Whether it’s their biological clocks, something built into their natural circadian rhythm, or whether they’re simply hungriest shortly after waking up, seahorses do seem to feed more aggressively in the morning, about an hour or so after the aquarium lights come on, and hobbyists should try to accommodate them, if possible. Breakfast, it seems, is the most important meal of the day for our aquatic equines as well as ourselves.
If you can only manage one feeding a day, DO NOT make it an evening meal. The worst thing you can do is to feed your seahorses late in the day when there will likely still be leftovers remaining at lights out. The uneaten Mysis will begin decaying overnight and put your water quality at risk. Worse still, the next morning, when they are hungriest, your seahorses may discover the bacteria-laden Mysis and snap them up off the bottom. This is an excellent way to spread disease and make your seahorses sick. Feeding your seahorses early in the day, so they have plenty of time to clean up leftovers, is a good way to prevent this. An efficient clean-up crew of scavengers also helps.
Target feed your seahorses and remove uneaten leftovers promptly.
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!)
Other hobbyists prefer a large glass eyedropper or disposable plastic laboratory pipettes for target feeding frozen Mysis to their ponies. Such utensils are considerably smaller and lighter than a cooking baster, making them easier to maneuver and control with one hand. Because of their smaller size, they may appear to be less intimidating to new seahorses when they are first learning your new feeding regimen, and timid seahorses are therefore less likely to be leery of them or to shy away from them. In the case of the disposable laboratory pipettes, they can simply be discarded at the end of the day, which simplifies cleaning. As a rule, anything you can do to make the feeding process cleaner and more sanitary will be beneficial to your ponies.
The disposable plastic pipettes are available from Amazon.com in several different sizes and lengths, and they are sold in various quantities (25/100/500) for very reasonable prices. For example, you can purchase 500 of the 3 mL plastic transfer pipettes for $19.95, so for less than $20, you can get a supply of the disposable plastic pipettes for feeding your seahorses that will last more than a year and a half, allowing you to simply dispose of the pipette you used for the daily feedings at the end of the day. Very neat and very sanitary – perfect for target feeding!
Depending on the size of the plastic pipettes you purchase, you may want to consider partially trimming the tip of the pipette to increase the size of the opening, allowing you to control the release of the frozen Mysis from the tip of the pipette more easily (Annamarie Curry, pers. com.). Here is a link where you can find the disposable plastic pipettes:
For these reasons, many hobbyists find large eyedroppers made of glass or disposable laboratory pipettes to be ideal for target feeding their seahorses.
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.
Okay, Ron, those are some suggestions to keep in mind when feeding your new Sunbursts. Be sure to increase the surface agitation and aeration in your seahorse tank, try different sizes or brands of frozen Mysis, if necessary, and try carefully target feeding the small Sunburst using a glass eyedropper or a plastic pipette to deliver individual Mysis where she can easily see it, target it, and slurp it up as it drifts past.
Keep me informed of the small Sunbursts progress over the next several days, sir, and if you send me a brief e-mail ([email protected]) I will send you additional information on feeding seahorses properly, including many helpful illustrations, that are too large to post on this forum.
Best of luck with your new arrivals, Ron!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support