Re:New to the Forum…tank question :-)

#3085
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Marcela:

It sounds like you did a great job with your Brazilian reds (Hippocampus reidi). That’s a long-lived species, but if you’ve had yours for seven years now, I’m sure the male passed on due to natural causes at the end of his life span.

All of the types you mentioned would make good companions for your surviving female, but I would recommend either the Pintos or the Mustangs, which are very similar in size to a mature Brazilian seahorse, have virtually identical aquarium requirements, and have even been known to interbreed with H. reidi. When they are available, Brazileros (H. reidi) would also make perfect companions for your lonely female, of course. A SunFire would also make a spectacular tankmate for a Brazilian red, but there is a long waiting list for SunFires.

I don’t believe a Maxi Jet 1200 powerhead in a 50-gallon tall aquarium would present a problem for seahorses at all, Marcela. With an output of 295 gph, it would be turning over the entire volume of the 50-gallon tank about six times every hour, and I would consider a turnover rate of anything less than five times per hour for a seahorse setup to be under circulated. For example, here is what I usually recommend for a modified reef system that will house seahorses with regard to water movement:

<open quote>
Water Circulation for the Seahorse Reef

Many seahorse keepers are overly conscious of the inactive life style and limited swimming ability of Hippocampus, and have adjusted their flow rates accordingly, resulting in undercirculated tanks with too little water movement. Don’t make that mistake when setting up your seahorse reef. In actuality, seahorses prefer moderate water movement, including some areas of brisk current, providing there are also sheltered spots and some areas of relatively slack water they can move to when desired. Slack water means comparatively low flow, NOT stagnant conditions! As with any aquarium, avoid dead spots and stagnant areas in the seahorse tank at all costs (Giwojna, unpublished text).

Contrary to popular opinion, seahorses are quite effective swimmers that can hold their own in strong currents (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). I have often discussed this matter with professional divers and collectors who regularly encounter seahorses in the ocean, and they report that the horses are often found where you would least expect them — well offshore and thriving in areas with powerful currents. For example, here is how Paul Baldassano, a commercial diver in New York who makes his living collecting sea urchins, describes the behavior of his local seahorses:

"In regard to seahorses in the wild, I occasionally see Hippocampus erectus in the wild while SCUBA diving but never in the places where they are supposed to be. I see them in the open sea far from shore and also in areas with large rocks and very strong currents. The last one I saw was in a channel off the south shore of Long Island New York in water about 12 feet deep. The current was so strong that I had to hold on to the rocks so as not to be swept away. This Hippocampus erectus was having no trouble staying there munching on the abundant plankton. Apparently they find places near the rocks where there is no current because as you know they are lousy swimmers. There is also a large population of seahorses in a similar area in another part of the New York shore, but I think it is best not to divulge that location for obvious reasons (Baldassano, pers. com.)."

Neil Garrick-Maidment, a very successful seahorse breeder in the UK, reports much the same thing, noting that seahorses in the wild seem to thrive amid strong currents:

"Whenever I have dived on Seahorse sites I have always been amazed by the currents and tides that this very fragile looking Seahorse lives in. We often find Seahorses in flat muddy/silt areas nowhere near rocks or weed. These areas are often scoured by strong currents and the Seahorses do well in them and seem completely unperturbed by the current. [When setting up a seahorse tank,] I try to remember the feeling I had in those areas and replicate them (Garrick-Maidment, Jun. 2002)."

Likewise, David Warland, a fish farmer and commercial seahorse breeder in Port Lincoln, Australia, reports he often finds Hippocampus abdominalis perching on the tuna net enclosures at the farm in deep water:

"The Horses that are around the farms have traveled vast distances over plain sand/mud to get to the farms, which are in at least 20 meters of water, and are miles from the nearest land or shallow water (Warland, pers. com.)."

And Jorge Gomezjurado, the Senior Aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, recommends the following when it comes to water movement:

"I personally believe that current and water dynamics are very important for Syngnathids. In nature they live in areas with active water movement.(i.e., tides in mangrove lagoons and estuaries, coral reefs, kelp forests, etc.). Why don’t we give them the same environmental conditions in captivity? Our small tanks (90 gallons) have large turnovers. It is very important that the current is steady and directionally constant, which allows the animals to find a good spot to hold and they will not be pulling in different directions all the time."

My point is that as long as slack-water retreats are available, the greater seahorses can tolerate far more current than most folks suspect. What they lack as swimmers is not agility, but rather stamina (Evans, 1998). They can hold their own against strong currents, but not indefinitely, so low flow areas where they can move out of the current and hold when they want to rest must be provided in addition to good circulation.

So does this mean the seahorse reef must be devoid of corals that do best in strong currents? No, just that the reefkeeper must be cognizant of the above and plan accordingly. When designing a reef tank that will include seahorses, one must anticipate the different ways they might be injured in such a setup and then take precautions to prevent them from coming to harm. The process of rendering your reef system seahorse safe is much like the measures new parents take to childproof their house when they are expecting their first child. Intake tubes for the filters should be shielded, siphon tubes should be equipped with filter baskets or screens, and so on…

For instance, when unpredictable surges and powerful water movement are combined with overflows, there is a risk that seahorses could become pinned against an overflow or even go over it (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). Therefore, in the seahorse reef, overflows must be baffled and/or screened off, or the water flow should be adjusted sufficiently to prevent that from happening.

Likewise, although seahorses have no problem with strong currents in the wild, in the confines of aquarium, it is possible for them to come in contact with stinging corals if they are struck by a sudden powerful wave or surge, or are overwhelmed by a strong, unexpected current (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). The hobbyist needs to take this into consideration when placing water returns and corals in the seahorse reef, particularly if species with powerful nematocysts such as Euphyllia torch corals or Catalaphyllia elegant corals will be part of the exhibit (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). If possible, keep the water currents steady and unvarying so the seahorses can establish holding areas in the sheltered spots and low-flow zones without getting blindsided by unpredictable currents.

One good way to accommodate both the needs of corals that prefer powerful currents and the seahorse’s need for slack-water retreats is to create tall rock formations a foot or two down current from the strongest water flows to intercept and deflect or divert that strong flow of water, thereby creating eddies and slack-water zones where there is relatively little water movement downstream. Seahorses will hold in these low flow areas when they want to move away from the current, so it’s a good idea to position convenient hitching posts in the lee or down-current side of such formations.

Another excellent way to accomplish the same thing is to use small powerheads to create and direct current wherever needed. A properly positioned powerhead can thus bathe your prized Acropora formations in a brisk water stream precisely without generating too much water movement elsewhere in the aquarium. Just be aware that powerheads can become death traps for seahorses if their intakes are not properly shielded or screened off, and take the necessary precautions (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). Carefully conceal the intakes amidst the rockwork where they will be completely inaccessible to seahorses, otherwise shield them, or screen them off with a coarse sponge prefilter.

In short, if your filtration is not turning over the entire volume of the aquarium a MINIMUM of 5 times per hour, your seahorse setup is undercirculated. A spray bar return positioned above the surface of the water to diffuse the outflow will allow you to achieve turnover rates of 10 times or even 20 times the total volume of the aquarium every hour without generating too much turbulence or current for seahorses. If you have seahorse-proofed your system properly, there’s really no such thing as too much water movement as long as your seahorses aren’t getting buffeted around by the currents, aren’t spilling eggs during the copulatory rise, and aren’t having difficulty targeting their prey and eating (Giwojna, unpublished text). Powerheads can be turned off or unplugged at feeding time, if necessary. <Close quote>

That’s an excerpt for a new article I wrote for Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine titled "Seahorses in the Reef Tank" that should be hitting the newsstands right about now, Marcella. It would be worth picking up a copy if you will be keeping a collection of hand-picked corals in your new 50-gallon seahorse setup. As you can see, providing you observe the precautions outlined above, a Maxi Jet 1200 powerhead should be a good way to direct a flow of water at the corals that require strong water movement without creating too much turbulence for large seahorses.

Not much is known about the exceptionally beautiful snowflake clownfish at this time, but as I understand it, they are a rare variation of the normal Amphiprion percula/A. occelaris species. As such, they should be among the few clowns that makes suitable tankmates for seahorses, as discussed below:

"Clownfish meet many of the criteria for suitable tankmates, but should generally be regarded with caution (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). 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 Percula Clowns (Amphiprion percula) and False Percula Clownfish (A. ocellaris), and then only after a rigorous quarantine period (Giwojna, Feb. 2004). Captive-bred specimens are best."

So I think your snowflake clowns should probably do fine with large seahorses like Pintos, Mustangs (H. erectus) or H. reidi. Most of the corals and invertebrates you mentioned are also seahorse safe.

Soft corals have very little stinging ability and generally make good choices for a modified mini reef that will include seahorses (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). This includes most mushroom anemones (corallimorpharians). However, as Charles Delbeek cautions, "One notable exception is the elephant ear mushroom anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer). This animal is an active feeder on small fish and will envelope them whole with its mantle then slowly digest them by extruding its digestive filaments into the space created. No small fish are safe with these animals in the tank (Delbeek, Oct. 2001)."

Hippocampus also does very well with zoanthids and colonial polyps in general. Other low light corals that should be suitable for a seahorse reef include genera such as Cynarina, Scolymia and Trachyphyllia, as well as non-photosynthetic gorgonians such as Subergorgia and Didogorgia, and perhaps wire corals such as Cirripathes spp. (Delbeek, Nov. 2001). However, supplemental feedings of zooplankton may be required to maintain these corals in good health.

As you know, the hard or stony corals fall into two categories depending on the size of their polyps. The small polyped stony (SPS) corals have tiny polyps that extend out of minute openings in the stony skeleton, and generally have weak stings that should not pose a threat to seahorses. Depending on conditions in the tank, SPS corals such as Acropora, Montipora, Pocillipora, Porities, Seriatopora and Stylophora can be tried freely at your discretion (Delbeek, Oct. 2001).

The large polyped stony (LPS) corals, however, must be regarded with a more caution. These include genera such as Catalaphyllia, Cynarina, Euphyllia and Trachyphyllia that have large fleshy polyps which often have tentacles equipped with powerful stinging cells. The Euphyllia and Catalaphyllia have the most powerful nematocysts among the LPS corals, and can deliver stings that are stronger than most anemones (Delbeek, Oct. 2001).

And just to be on the safe side, I would recommend that you avoid Tridacna clams and similar bivalve mollusks in your seahorse reef, if possible, Marcella. Sooner or later a seahorse will perch on them with its tail between the valves and the clam’s powerful adductor muscle will clamp down on it like a vise. At best this will be a very stressful experience for the unfortunate seahorse, since it can be the devil’s own business trying to persuade the stubborn mollusk to release its struggling victim! At worst, it can result in serious injury or permanent damage to the seahorse’s tail (Giwojna, unpublished text).

Otherwise, your proposed seahorse setup sounds great! I like the AquaC remora protein skimmers and your lighting system should be fine. For all intents and purposes, you really can’t go wrong no matter what lighting system you chose as long as you provide both shaded areas where your seahorses can escape from the light altogether and well-lit areas where they can bathe in bright light as they please. You will find your seahorses will move into and out of the light often, seeking the comfort level that suits them at the moment.

Best of luck with your new seahorse setup, Marcella!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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