Re:New to Seahorses…..need help with fact V’s Ficti

Pete Giwojna

Dear Jamie:

No worries, mate! We can get you up to speed on the aquarium care and requirements of seahorses with no problem (although it would be easier if you could tell us what species your pet shop ponies are) and right now all of your aquarium parameters look rock solid, right on the button, although you are obviously measuring the KH on a different scale than I use. Carbonate hardness or KH is usually expressed in the German unit dKH (degrees of carbonate hardness) and is often considered to be the total alkalinity. (Natural seawater as a dKH of 7.) If you are adding supplemental iodine, strontium, and magnesium regularly, Jamie, then you should have test kits to monitor the levels of those trace elements as well to make sure they stay in the proper range, as indicated below:

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Strontium (Sr):
Natural Seawater Value = 8.1 mg/L
Acceptable Range = 5.0 to 12.0 mg/L
Optimum Level = ~8 mg/L

Strontium is important for coral and coralline algae growth, especially among the short polyp stony (SPS) corals. However, too much strontium can interfere with coral calcification processes to their detriment, and may even cause coral mortality. If your strontium level is too high, suspend the use of all chemical additives containing strontium. It may also be necessary to perform a partial water change to reduce excessively high levels of strontium.

Magnesium (Mg):
Natural Seawater Value = 1280 mg/L
Acceptable Range = 1100 to 1400 mg/L
Optimum Level = ~1280 mg/L

Magnesium is a key component of the water buffering system, and is incorporated into coral skeletons as the corals grow. It also plays a vital role in all photosynthetic processes. Low levels of magnesium indicate the need for more frequent partial water changes and/or buffering of the aquarium.

Iodine (I):
Natural Seawater Value = 0.060 mg/L
Acceptable Range = 0.030 to 0.090 mg/L
Optimum Level = ~0.06 mg/L

Iodine is required by soft corals and macroalgae, and it is important for proper pigment development in SPS corals. Iodine is removed from the water by protein skimming, the use of activated carbon, and certain biological processes. If the iodine level in your reef tank is too low, consider using an iodine-specific additive to raise the level of the proper amount.
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Maintaining the water temperature of 25°C (77°F) is fine for most tropical seahorses as long as that temperature holds steady, which should be the case with the aquarium chiller on your reef system. Depending on the species, tropical and subtropical may begin to experience heat stress when the water temperature approaches 80°F (27°C) or above for extended periods. Providing the water temperature in the combined system holds at a steady 25°C (77°F), Jamie, then I think that plumbing your seahorse tank into your reef system was a fine idea and should provide the ponies in the smaller tank with optimum water quality at all times.

It sounds like the water circulation in your seahorse tank is also fine, Jamie, since the seahorses are active and swimming normally, without difficulty.

Frozen Mysis should serve as the staple, everyday diet for your seahorses and I also prefer to hand feed my ponies, so you are doing great in that regard.

The small black Amphiprion occelaris clownfish and gobies should make compatible Tankmates for your seahorses, and snails are always a good addition to the cleanup crew in a seahorse tank.

I don’t think the behaviors you described are symptomatic of any health problems with your seahorses, Jamie. Seahorses will often hang upside down from a convenient hitching post when they are scanning the bottom of the aquarium for tasty morsels such as copepods and amphipods, so I suspect that may be what your ponies have been doing lately. I’m thinking that copepods and amphipods from the reef tank may have found their way into the seahorse tank and become established there, and that the seahorses have been hanging off their perches at a 45° angle in order to search the crushed coral sand for any tasty pods or leftover frozen Mysis that may have found its way to the bottom of the tank.

The other possibility is that the seahorses may be having a problem with negative buoyancy or an underinflated gas bladder, but that’s very unlikely if they are able to perch in their normal upright position at night.

Likewise, the big male that has become such an active swimmer lately is probably not stressed out or ailing as long as he is able to swim down to the bottom of the aquarium as usual when he wants to, Jamie. But you could be having a problem with positive buoyancy (i.e., the tendency to float) if he is floating sideways or upside down at the top of the aquarium and is unable to descend and swim normally. However, it sounds like your big stallion has no trouble swimming downwards when he wants to and can join the other seahorses hanging upside down at a 45° angle hunting for stray amphipods are copepods. If that’s the case, then you need not be concerned that your male may be developing a problem with pouch gas or an overinflated swim bladder.

This is what I normally advise hobbyists regarding positive buoyancy, Jamie:

<Open quote>
As in many other bony fishes, the seahorse’s gas bladder functions as a swim bladder, providing the lift needed to give them neutral buoyancy. In essence, the swim bladder is a gas-filled bag used to regulate buoyancy. Because the seahorse’s armor-plated body is quite heavy, this organ is large in Hippocampus and extends well down into the body cavity along the dorsal boundary.

When the swimbladder is inflated with just the right amount of gas, the buoyancy provided by this gasbag exactly cancels out the pull of gravity, and the seahorse will neither tend to float nor tend to sink. This condition is known as neutral buoyancy, and it makes it very easy for the seahorse to swim and maneuver almost effortlessly. But when the swimbladder is over inflated with gas, the seahorse will have positive buoyancy and must exert a lot of energy when swimming in order to counteract the tendency to float. And if the swimbladder is underinflated, the seahorse has negative buoyancy and must swim hard in order to avoid sinking.

The first indication of a problem with positive buoyancy is a loss of equilibrium. The seahorse’s center of gravity shifts as excess gas accumulates in brood pouch or its swim bladder, and it will have increasing difficulty swimming and maintaining its normal posture, especially if it encounters any current. It will become apparent that the seahorse has to work hard to stay submerged, as it is forced to abandon its usual upright swimming posture and swim with its body tilted forward or even horizontally in order to use its dorsal fin to counteract the tendency to rise.
<Close quote>

You need not be too alarmed if the big male wraps his tail around the neck or head of the females at times. He can’t do them any real harm — there is no danger that the females could be strangled or asphyxiated because of the protection their bony exoskeletons provide and the fact that they breathe through their gills, which won’t be obstructed by a tail grasping the neck or snout of the seahorse. Most likely the stallion is trying to interest the females in mating and he is just a little unrefined in his courtship attempts. The activity level of the seahorses naturally increases when they are courting or conducting their daily greetings.

Perhaps the best way for you to get up to speed on the specialized behaviors and aquarium care of seahorses quickly would be to participate in the Ocean Rider seahorse training program, Jamie. Please allow me to introduce myself in a little more detail. My name is Pete Giwojna and I provide tech-support for Ocean Rider ( Part of my duties in that regard include providing a quick training course for new Ocean Rider customers and first-time buyers to get them up to speed on the aquarium care and requirements of seahorses. .

This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge, Jamie. Ocean Rider provides the free training as a service to their customers and any other hobbyists who are interested in learning more about the care and keeping of seahorses. It’s a crash course on seahorse keeping consisting of 10 separate lessons covering the following subjects, and is conducted entirely via e-mail. There is no homework or examinations or anything of that nature — just a lot of good, solid information on seahorses for you to read through and absorb as best you can, at your own speed. The training course consists of a total of over 180 pages of text with more than 100 full life and color illustrations, broken down into 10 lessons covering the following subjects:

Lesson 1: Selecting a Suitable Aquarium & Optimizing It for Seahorses.
Tank dimensions and specifications (why height is important);
Tank location and aquarium stressors;
Setting up a SHOWLR tank to create ideal conditions for seahorses;
filtration options
protein skimmers
UV sterilizers
titanium grounding probe
water circulation
Test kits for monitoring water quality;
Aquascaping the seahorse tank;
artificial hitching posts
Basic aquarium setups for seahorses;
undergravel filters
sponge filters

Lesson 2: Cycling a New Aquarium & Installing the Cleanup Crew.
The nitrogen cycle;
nitrification and denitrification
Step-by-step instructions for cycling a new marine aquarium;
Seahorse-safe sanitation engineers and aquarium janitors;
microhermit crabs
cleaner shrimp
Starter seahorses (hardy, highly domesticated, high-health ponies)

Lesson 3: Reading Assignments (books, articles, and columns devoted to seahorses).

Lesson 4: Water Chemistry, Aquarium Maintenance, & Maintaining Optimum Water Quality.
Basic water quality parameters (acceptable range and optimum levels);
specific gravity
dissolved oxygen
Advanced water chemistry for reef keepers;
Performing partial water changes to maintain good water quality;
Aquarium maintenance schedule;

Lesson 5: Feeding Seahorses.
Frozen Mysis serves as their staple, everyday diet;
brands of frozen Mysis
thawing and preparing frozen Mysis
enriching with Vibrance
Recommended feeding regimen;
how to tell if your seahorse is getting enough to eat
Feeding tips for seahorses;
preparing and serving the frozen Mysis
feeding new arrivals
secretive feeders
morning feedings
setting up a feeding station
training the seahorses to use a feeding tray
artificial feeding stations
natural feeding stations
purchasing a ready-made feeding station
elevating the feeding station
fasting seahorses
target feeding
Mysis relicta from Piscine Energetics
Broadcast feeding or scatter feeding — just say no!

Lesson 6: Compatible Tankmates for Seahorses.
Safe and unsafe companions — no guarantees;
Tropical tankmates;
fish to avoid
seahorse-safe fish
seahorse-safe invertebrates
Feeding seahorses in a community tank;
Seahorse-proofing a reef tank
safe corals
unsafe corals
lighting the seahorse reef
managing water circulation for a seahorse reef

Lesson 7: Courtship & Breeding.
Courtship displays in Hippocampus (fully illustrated)
tilting and reciprocal quivering
pouch displays (pumping and ballooning)
copulatory rise and the egg transfer
Pair formation
Morning greetings
Male brooding — a true pregnancy
Giving birth — dawn deliveries

Lesson 8: Raising the Young.
Seahorse fry
Determining ease of rearing
Setting up a basic nursery for benthic babies
Advanced nursery tank options for pelagic fry
the shaded nursery
kriesel and pseudokreisel nurseries
the divided nursery
in-tank nurseries (illustrated)
the greenwater "starter" nursery
hyposalinity for pelagic fry
Delivery day
Culling the fry (if necessary)
Feeding the fry
hatching and enriching brine shrimp (Artemia)
decapsulated brine shrimp eggs
culturing rotifers and copepods
Fry feeding schedule

Lesson 9: Disease Prevention and Control.
Captive bred vs. wild-caught seahorses
Importance of High-Health seahorses
Seahorse anatomy illustrations
external anatomy
internal anatomy
Screening seahorses from your LFS
Quarantine tank
Quarantine protocol for pet-shop ponies and wild seahorses
Beta glucan boosts immunity to disease
Early detection of health problems
aquarium stressors
disease symptoms in seahorses
What to do at the first sign of a health problem
The seahorse-keepers medicine chest
first aid kit for seahorses
must-have medications to keep on hand
properties of the main medications
Life expectancy
Hepatic lipidosis (prevalence of fatty liver disease)
Seahorse disease book

Lesson 10: Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) & Acclimating New Arrivals.
Nature of Mustangs and Sunbursts
multi-generational approach to rearing
hybrid vigor
genetic diversity
selective breeding
Hippocampus erectus species summary
scientific name and common names
meristic counts and morphometric measurements (illustrated)
climate and distribution
color and pattern
breeding habits
breeding season
gestation period
brood size
pelagic/benthic fry
onset of sexual maturity
ease of rearing
natural habitats and natural history
preferred parameters and aquarium requirements
suggested stocking density
successful rearing protocols
feeding the fry
nursery tank designs
rearing and grow out tanks
diet and nutrition
color variations
temperature requirements
wide ranging species with different races
recommended reading
Acclimating new arrivals (step-by-step instructions)
Keeping and culturing red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)

if you are interested, Jamie, I will be providing you with detailed information on these subjects and answering any questions you may have about the material I present. With your background as an experienced reefkeeper, no doubt you would breeze right through all of the lessons, but it would be a good way for you to brush up on me care and keeping of seahorses so that you can create ideal conditions for the particular ponies.

If you would like to check out the lessons, just send me a brief note off list ([email protected]) saying so and I will get you started on the training program immediately.

Best wishes with all your fishes (and invertebrates), Jamie! It sounds like you have been doing quite well with your seahorses thus far despite a lack of sound advice and good guidance, and we can rectify the latter…

Pete Giwojna

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