Your 35-gallon hex should make a fine seahorse setup!
The suggested stocking density for large captive-bred seahorses like Mustangs or Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) in a tank like your is about one pair per 10 gallons of water volume. So a reasonable number of average size Mustangs (or Sunbursts) to keep in a 35-gallon aquarium is a total of about three pairs or six individuals. An experienced seahorse keeper with a relatively sophisticated filtration system could comfortably keep around eight H. erectus in such a tank with no problems, but if you are new to seahorses, you will have a better margin for error if you keep your tank somewhat understocked at first while you gain a little more valuable firsthand experience keeping seahorses.
With the efficient biofiltration provided by all that live rock and live sand, two pairs of seahorses plus your clownfish is a sensible stocking density for your particular setup (the pair of ocellaris clowns are the equivalent of a pair of seahorses themselves. You’re correct about the clownfish — most species are problematic with seahorses — but A. ocellaris is one of the exceptions, 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 if your clowns are already healthy, established residents of the aquariumby the time you order your seahorses, that is in effect a quarantine period and they should be all right.
With that much live rock, you’ll want to bolster your cleanup crew at some point.
I prefer a cleanup crew consisting of a mixture of assorted snails and micro hermits (heavy on the snails but light on hermits) at a density of up to 1-2 janitors per gallon. The snail assortment may include bumble bee snails, trocha snails, margaritas, Astrea and Cerith snails, etc., but especially Nassarius snails.
Nassarius snails are terrific detritivores and amazingly active for snails. They’ll bury themselves until they detect the scent of something edible, and then erupt from the sand and charge out to clean it up.
For best results, Astrea sp. snails should go in the tank as soon as the ammonia and nitrite levels are down to zero in order to keep nuisance algae from gaining a foothold in your tank. Introduced as soon as possible to a new aquarium, that has reached this cycling phase, Astrea snails effectively limit the development of all microalgae. In other words, they are good at eating diatoms, but will consume red slime and green algae as well.
For hermits, I like a combination of Dwarf Blue-leg (Clibanarius tricolor), Left-handed (Calcinus laevimanus), Mexican Red Legged Hermits (Clibanarius digueti) and above all, Scarlet Reef hermit crabs (Paguristes cadenati), which are my personal favorites.
The Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenati) is a colorful micro-hermit that’s a harmless herbivore. So cannibalism isn’t a concern at all for these fellows, nor are they likely to develop a taste for escargot. As hermits go, most of the time the Scarlet Reefs are perfect little gentleman and attractive to boot. I even use them in my dwarf seahorse tanks. Best of all, they eat all kinds of algae, including nuisance algae such as red, green and brown slimes, as well as green hair algae.
Stick with hermits like the above, which are known as micro hermits because they start out tiny and stay small. Avoid Anomura species of hermit crabs no matter how small they are, however, because they will kill Astraea snails to obtain their shells.
A mixture of the snails and micro hermits listed above provides a very good balance of herbivores, omnivores, and detritivores that are all active scavengers and completely compatible with seahorses.
After the tank has been up and running for several months, you can add a few large Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius), and/or Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp or Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) to complete your cleanup crew and add a touch of color and activity to the tank.
Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are a favorite with seahorse keepers because they eat Aiptasia rock anemones, and both the peppermints and Scarlet cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) will perform another useful service by grooming the seahorses and cleaning them of ectoparasites. As an added bonus, they reproduce regularly in the aquarium, producing swarms of larval nauplii that the seahorses love to eat.
Just remember, it is important to select the largest possible cleaner shrimp for your seahorse tank(s). Seahorses will actively hunt small cleaner shrimp and they are quite capable of killing shrimp that are far too big to swallow whole, so the cleaners need to be large enough that they are not regarded as potential prey.
Another thing to keep in mind when introducing cleaner shrimp to your aquarium is that they are more sensitive to water quality and rapid changes in pH, temperature, or salinity than fishes are, meaning the shrimp need to be acclimated more carefully and gradually. Whereas drip acclimation should be avoided for seahorses that have been on the shipping bag for 24 hours or more, it is the perfect way to acclimate delicate shrimp from your LFS. They will do best it drip acclimated to the new aquarium over a period of several hours to allow them to adjust to any differences in the water parameters very gradually.
Shrimp that are introduced to a new aquarium too abruptly will not flourish and are liable to die within a day or two from the stress of acclimation, unable to adjust to any significant differences in pH or salinity, or they simply fail to thrive and expire a week or two later for no apparent reason. If the shock is too great, they will autotomize, dropping legs, claws and/or antennae immediately upon being introduced to the new aquarium conditions.
So providing your fire shrimp is reasonably large, it should make a great addition to your seahorse tank.
Protein skimmers are difficult to fit on hex tanks, I know, but you can compensate for the lack of a skimmer by be careful not to overfeed or overstock, cleaning up leftovers promptly, and practicing diligent aquarium maintenance. See the suggested maintenance schedule below for general guidelines, but in your case, I would suggest small weekly or bi-weekly water changes rather thanlarger but less frequent water changes.
Cleaning and Maintenance.
Once established in a well-designed aquarium, keeping seahorses successfully becomes largely a matter of providing them with optimum water quality and a nutritious diet. Good water quality is a direct result of proper cleaning and maintenance. Get a set of new 5-gallon plastic buckets, a siphon hose designed for the aquarium, gravel washer, algae scrapers, dip tubes and nets to assist you with your regular aquarium chores. Set these aside for aquarium use only (indeed, it’s a good idea to have a separate set of such aquarium tools just for your seahorse setup, in order to avoid cross-contamination with other tanks).
Your daily chores begin with feeding your livestock and cleaning up afterwards. Considering that captive-bred seahorses are trained to eat enriched frozen Mysis as their staple diet, proper feeding means assuring that each of your steeds gets it’s fill without overfeeding them, and that you clean up any leftovers promptly. Use of a feeding station, target feeding slow eaters, and a good cleanup crew are all helpful in that regard, as will be discussed in detail in the next chapter.
Dip tubes, basters, and long-handled nets are useful for gleaning leftover Mysis, and while you’re at it, you should also take a moment to police the bottom for any debris, accumulated plant matter, and fecal pellets. Promptly removing such waste materials, before they breakdown and enter the nitrogen cycle, will go a long way toward towards assuring good water quality, controlling nitrates, and keeping your substrate clean.
When feeding your seahorses, take advantage of this opportunity to conduct a close-up, daily inspection of every specimen in his tank. These detailed examinations are perhaps the most important of the seahorse keeper’s daily chores, yet many aquarist ignore this vital task altogether. Such inspections 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 extremely important, since seahorses hide their illnesses so well (Indiviglio, 2002), and the sooner such potential problems are detected, the easier they are to cure or prevent. Due to there sedentary lifestyle, it can be difficult to detect when a seahorse has a problem. The first signs of trouble are often very subtle: an increase in respiration, a decrease in eye movement or appetite, a localized change in pigmentation or the appearance of a tiny nodule the size of a goosebump or mosquito bite.
So take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they all show up for mess call, are acting normally, and have a well-rounded abdomen when they’re done eating. Watch them swim and move around as they answer the dinner bell. Make sure they’re not having difficulty maintaining their equilibrium or experiencing any buoyancy problems. Observing their behavior at mealtimes makes it hard to miss when one these chowhounds is off its feed, which is often an excellent early indicator that something’s amiss in the aquarium.
Likewise, keep a close eye on the health of any sessile animals and benthic invertebrates in the tank, such as sponges, sea cucumbers, tunicates, snails and starfish. It can be difficult to determine if inactive animals like these are alive and well or on their way out, and nothing fouls a tank faster than the undetected death of a large turban snail or sea star or sponge. This is especially important if you’re keeping your seahorses in a modified reef tank. One neglected mushroom coral turning to mush can cause an ammonia spike that imperils all the other invertebrates and thus threatens the entire tank.
Make a quick check of the electrical equipment as well. See that the aquarium temperature is holding where you want it to assure that the heaters are working properly. Double check the filters, pumps, powerheads and lights to make sure they are all operating and producing normal flow rates. Decreased flow could indicate a malfunction or indicate that the filter is dirty and clogged and needs to be cleaned. Make sure the protein skimmer is doing its job: adjust the bubble column if needed and empty the collection cup if necessary.
Checklist of Daily Chores:
· Daily inspection of livestock.
· Temperature check.
· Equipment check.
· Empty the collection cup on your skimmer.
· Clean up leftovers and debris.
It’s important to check the water level of the aquarium at least once a week. It will drop steadily due to evaporation, increasing the salinity of the aquarium water in the process. If the water level falls too far, it can break the siphon on return tubes and intakes, filters can become airlocked, and protein skimming may be disrupted. Remember, only the water evaporates; all of the salts and minerals it contains are left behind. When replacing the water lost to evaporation, top off the tank with freshwater, not saltwater. The water used to top off the tank should be treated to remove chlorine and chloramines, aerated, and adjusted to roughly the same temp as the aquarium water.
Salt creep and condensation of aquarium water on the underside of the aquarium cover can led to the build up of salt deposits on the glass, light fixture, hood or lid of the tank, or on various pieces of equipment. Not only is this unsightly, it can drastically reduce the light level in the aquarium and cause electrical shorts. It’s a good idea to remove these crusty accumulations periodically by cleaning them off once a week or so with a damp cloth or sponge reserved for aquarium use only.
The aquarium glass itself should likewise be cleaned at least once a week. Algae scrapers or algae sponges (often mounted on strong magnets) can be used to clean the interior of the tank. Different tools are available for cleaning glass tanks and easily scratched acrylic tanks, so be sure you use the right kind for your setup.
The exterior aquarium glass can be cleaned using plenty of elbow grease and crumpled up newspapers. Surprisingly, old newspaper has just the right texture, consistency and absorbency to do a marvelous job of polishing aquarium glass, and something about the newsprint prevents streaking of the glass on the viewing surfaces. Slightly damp newspaper is perfect for keeping the aquarium glass looking immaculate.
It’s also advisable to break out your test kits on the weekends and check the key measurements of your water chemistry. Test the pH for sure since it inevitably declines over time. A significant drop in pH may require the addition of a buffer to correct it or indicate the need for a water change. Get out your hydrometer and test the specific gravity. It may have fallen due to salt creep or the formation of salt stalactites, or it may have risen due to evaporation. Adjust it accordingly. Nitrate levels will rise steadily over time so they must be monitored as well. We want to keep nitrates below 20 ppm (lower if your setup is a modified reef system). Many systems rely primarily on water changes to control nitrates, and a persistent rise in nitrate levels calls for a water exchange.
Checking your dissolved oxygen level can be especially revealing. A decrease in O2 is often a harbinger of trouble, and it thus alert the aquarist to a dangerous situation while there’s still time to correct it. For instance, an unexpected drop in O2 can be an indication of overcrowding or overfeeding, or it can be a sign that the tank and/or the filters are overdue for a good cleaning, or reveal the need for better circulation and surface agitation. Take appropriate measures to correct the problem, until the oxygen readings are back to normal (6 – 7 ppm is optimal).
The aquarist should also be diligent at harvesting any fast-growing Caulerpa in the tank on a regular basis. Periodically removing a portion of the Caulerpa is a very effective way to export nitrates, phosphates, and other nutrients from the aquarium. When pruning back or harvesting the Caulerpa, take care not to cut or sever the plants. Cutting it or breaking off too many fronds causes the Caulerpa to leach undesirable substances from the cut or broken ends into the water. Not only is this bad for the water quality, it can sap the colony and perhaps trigger one of the dreaded "vegetative events," during which the main colony enters its reproductive phase and releases its reproductive products. The best way to harvest the Caulerpa is to carefully extract unbroken continuous fronds. The idea is to thin out convenient strands of Caulerpa from the colony, gently pulling up entire fronds, intact and unbroken. This is a wonderful way to remove nitrogenous wastes (which the plants utilize for growth like fertilizer) from the aquarium, and if done consistently, it will prevent the colony from going sexual.
Checklist of Weekly Chores:
· Top off tank with freshwater to replace water lost to evaporation.
· Remove salt buildup.
· Clean aquarium glass (inside and out).
· Check basic water quality parameters:
(pH, specific gravity, nitrate, etc., and especially dissolved O2)
· Harvest Caulerpa.
· Partial water change (if indicated).
Checklist of Monthly Chores:
· Clean filters/replace filter pads/rinse and recharge or replace chemical media.
· Perform partial water change.
· Vacuum uppermost layer of substrate (top 1/2 inch).
· Clean aquarium decorations as needed.
One thing that will really help maintain good water quality in the absence of a protein skimmer is feeding your seahorses properly, and that’s going to be absolutely imperiative in a 35-gallon aquarium with 50-pounds of live rock (great nitrification and denitrification ability, by the way!).
As you know, cultured 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 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
But 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 and 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 (Giwojna, unpublished)?
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
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 (Giwojna, unpublished). (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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
The key to keeping active specimens like 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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
As for your cannister filter, that should work fine. Just remember to posijtion the spray bar so it will provide maximum surface agitation for added aeration/oxygenation and proimote efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface. And bear inb mind, 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.
Finally, in case you haven’t seen them already, there have been a few other threads on the Ocean Rider Club discussion board at seahorse.com from hobbyists who were just starting out with seahorses that you should also find to be of interest. They discuss setting up an ideal system for seahorses, filtration, feeding, lighting, circulation and so on. I’ve provided links to those discussions for you below, so please check them out. I think they will answer many of your questions about keeping seahorses:
Re:Hello, newbie here! – O http://www.seahorse.com/option,com_simpleboard/Itemid,144/func,view/id,1004/catid,2/
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Re:Setting up a 100gal for
Re: Guidance on Keeping Seahorses:
Re: New to seahorses and I have lots of questions!
Re: Tank set-up advice
Re:New with lots of questions 🙂
Best of luck with your new seahorse setup, eaglestour!