Okay, let’s see if we can get you straightened out a bit regarding feeding the newborns.
First of all, it’s encouraging that you can see the fry tracking their prey and snickingat it. That means that they are almost certainly feeding, and they have voracious appetites, as you will discover. If you watch the fry closely, you should be able to see them defecating. The fecal pellets are eliminated from the vent, which is located at the base of the abdomen near the tail in the front. The fecal pellets are tiny darkish blobs that often have an orangeish coloration when the newborns are feeding on a strict diet of baby brine shrimp.
There are a couple of good ways to separate the newly hatched brine shrimp from the empty egg shells and unhatched eggs. The best approach to this problem is to decapsulate the eggs before you hatched them, which eliminates the egg shells altogether and increases the nutritional value of the Artemia nauplii at the same time, as we’ll discuss below later in this post. Other than that, a simpler method that works well for me is to shine a light on the hatching jar in order to concentrate the newly hatched brine shrimp in the middle, where they can be sucked up with the baster are siphoned up using a length of airline tubing.
The brine shrimp nauplii can be separated from the eggs simply by turning off the air for a few minutes and allowing the water to settle. The unhatched eggs will sink to the bottom of the hatching jar while the empty egg shells will float to the top. The nauplii can then be concentrated in the center of the jar by darkening the room and shining a flashlight on the jar’s midsection. (Brine shrimp are attracted to light and will be drawn together in midwater where the light is focused.) Harvest the nauplii by using a siphon or turkey baster to suck up the concentrated mass of shrimp. The shrimp-laden water can then be strained through a plankton screen or fine-meshed brine shrimp net.
Return the strained water to the hatching container, add more eggs, and readjust the aeration. The same hatching solution can be used for a week’s worth of hatchings before it has to be replaced.
Alternating the hatching container from which you harvest each day’s supply of nauplii will assure that you have a nonstop supply of newly hatched brine shrimp available at all times. That’s the best way to assure that the newborns are receiving nutritious Artemia nauplii for each feeding, Donna. You want to feed them the right amount of newly hatched brine shrimp at each feeding so that they have cleaned up the majority of the brine shrimp before their next feeding. It takes a while to determine what the right amount of shrimp that at each feeding – that depends on the size of the brood, the appetite of the fry, and the type of Artemia you are using – but you will eventually work that out over the days ahead. It doesn’t matter if there are some leftover brine shrimp when you add more for the next feeding. That’s fine, as long as the bulk of the shrimp are newly hatched.
There is no good way to assure that all of the brine shrimp you are feeding our nutritious newly hatched Artemia if you just have one hatching container. The idea is to setup a battery of different hatching containers, and then stagger the hatch between them and alternate which of the jars you harvest for each feeding to assure that you are always using relatively newly hatched brine shrimp. The five-pot system used by Neil Garrick-Maidment that we discussed in an earlier post on this discussion thread is one good way to achieve that goal, and I will provide you with additional suggestions along those lines later in this post as well.
As you know, the best eggs or cysts to use for your brine shrimp factory are decapsulated eggs which have had their hard, outer shells stripped away. These shell-less eggs have many advantages over ordinary Artemia cysts. For starters, they simplify the task of separating the live nauplii from the unhatched eggs, since there are no empty shells, and the decapsulated eggs eliminate the possibility of clogged intestines due to the indigestible cysts. Secondly, the decapsulation process destroys virtually all known pathogenic organisms. Since the shell-less eggs have been disinfected, there is much less risk of introducing disease or parasites to the aquarium when you feed your seahorses with brine shrimp from decapsulated cysts. More importantly, the nauplii produced from decapsulated eggs have greater caloric value than the nauplii from unaltered cysts. This is because the nauplii from decapsulated eggs do not have to waste energy struggling to break free of their shells, and thus emerge with 20% greater food value, primarily in the form of additional amino acids and essential fatty acids. This extra nutritional value can make a crucial difference to the rapidly growing seahorses.
Decapsulated brine shrimp eggs are now available from some manufacturers. Although the shell-less eggs are expensive to buy, it is easy for the serious hobbyist to decapsulate his own brine shrimp eggs at home.
Decapsulating Brine Shrimp Eggs.
Decapsulating brine shrimp cysts — the process of dissolving away their hard outer shell — may sound intimidating at first and may seem awkward when you first attempt it. No doubt you will have these instructions open, your eyes glued to the page, with all of your supplies at the ready the first few times you perform this procedure. Relax, this is not difficult at all, and after you’ve done it a couple of times, you will see how truly easy it is and realize decapping is well worth the extra few steps. I will walk you through each numbered step. Measurements do not have to be exact. Regular strength bleach is best, but ultra bleach can be used at lesser portions. You can estimate this yourself. Decapsulating your cysts is beneficial for a number of reasons:
• Reduces the risk of hydroids.
• Removes the outer shell, which means less mess and no fouling of your tank.
• Eliminates intestinal blockages from accidental ingestion of indigestible shells.
• Kills off any and all unwanted contaminants.
• Slightly quicker hatching times.
• Better hatch rates.
• Increased nutritional value secondary to less energy expenditure during hatching.
Supplies Needed for Decapsulating:
• Brine shrimp net
• Air pump
• plastic clip or paper clip wrapped in baggie to clip airline into the container
• Approximately 2 teaspoons brine cysts.
• Approximately 2/3 cup of bleach
• Approximately 2 cups of water
1. Pour your water into a container and clip airline tubing to the side. (No air stone is needed for this). This will keep the cysts in motion. Allow the cysts to aerate this way for approximately 1 hour or a little more.
2. Add in your bleach and continue aerating. As the outer shell gradually dissolves, the eggs go through a series of color changes from brown to gray to white and finally to orange–the color of the nauplii within. This process takes about 7 minutes. The decapsulation process is complete when your cysts become an orange-yellowish color.
3. Pour decapsulated eggs into a brine shrimp net. Add a dechlorination product if you want and rinse until you no longer smell bleach.
4. Drop eggs into your hatching container. You can also refrigerate eggs for about 1 week prior to use in a supersaturated saline solution.
In short, Donna, if you decapsulated your brine shrimp eggs then you don’t need to worry about separating the newly hatched Artemia nauplii from the egg shells.
Once you get your brine shrimp hatcheries cranked up and running in high gear, you’ll need to maintain frequent feedings in order for the newborns to do well. I’ve outlined the recommended fry feeding schedule for you below, which is based on Tracy Warland’s fry feeding regimen as a professional breeder. When looking over these recommendations, bear in mind that the home hobbyist almost always needs to be more concerned about underfeeding than overfeeding (it’s ordinarily only the pros that worry they might be feeding their fry too much). The humble home breeder will have his or her hands full just trying to keep up with the endless appetites of all those fry.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions and information to serve as guidelines when getting your rearing program started, Donna:
Fry Feeding Schedule
When feeding baby brine shrimp (bbs) or Artemia nauplii to seahorse fry, you want to avoid overfeeding (feeding them too much at a single feeding) as well as feeding them newly hatched bbs which have depleted their yolk supply and are nutritionally barren. The best way to do that is provide the fry with many small feedings throughout the course of the day, each of which they can clean up fairly quickly, rather than one or two massive feedings.
I suggest feeding the fry 3-5 times daily, at least 2-3 hours apart. When you are feeding the right amount, the fry should consume most of the nauplii within the first 20-30 minutes, but give them 3 hours to finish the rest and digest it fully before you feed them again. Ideally some brine shrimp will remain throughout each 3-hour feeding session, albeit at a greatly reduced feeding density after the first half-hour.
In other words, your ideal fry feeding schedule should go something like this: 8 AM feed, 11 AM feed, 2 PM feed, 5 PM feed, 8 PM feed, lights out at 11 PM. Harvest the baby brine shrimp for each feeding session in succession from each of the jars you started hatching at 3-hour intervals. This will assure that the Artemia nauplii you are feeding to the fry are no more than 3 hours old and thus at the peak of their nutritional value.
Like all babies, seahorse fry exist only to eat and poop. To say they are voracious is a gross understatement — at this stage of their development, the newborns have but one mission in life: to eat and thus to grow. Researchers have found that a single seahorse only a few weeks old can consume 3000-4000 newly hatched brine shrimp in a single day! Milligram for milligram, a great white sharks feeding habits appear downright dainty and positively anorexic compared to a baby seahorse on the prowl for live prey. And as you can imagine, when well-fed fry eat that much, defecation is amazingly rapid, with each newborn producing an average of one fecal pellet every 25-30 minutes.
One of the many quirks of seahorse anatomy is that they lack a true stomach like ours with the capacity to store food between meals (Bellomy, 1969). Rather, they are endowed with a rudimentary "stomach" that is little more than a pouchlike expansion of their intestine with no distinct separation between it and the rest of their digestive tract (Tamaru, Aug. 2001). Food passes continuously through this simple stomach instead of being stored therein. This is an adaptation to a sedentary lifestyle in which seahorses feed while at rest (as ambush predators that wait for their prey to come to them) more or less continuously throughout the daylight hours, rather than storing food or stockpiling energy in fat reserves (Tamaru, Aug. 2001). And like other carnivorous fishes, their intestinal tract is also relatively short (Tamaru, Aug. 2001).
Therefore, think of their digestive tract as a short continuous tube. When a seahorse is full, nothing more can be taken in at one end of its digestive tract without something being passed out of the other end. Seahorse fry don’t stop eating once they are full — the feeding instinct of these seagoing gluttons is so strong it compels them to keep eating as long as suitable prey is present. Baby seahorses, not sharks, are the ocean’s "remorseless eating machines!"
When they are overfed, particularly on hard-to-process Artemia nauplii, food passes through their system too fast to be digested properly. Because they swallow their prey whole and intact, this can actually reach the absurd point where they are passing live Artemia in their fecal pellets (Warland, 2003)! When that happens they are getting virtually no nourishment from their food and are literally starving in the midst of plenty. Here’s how Tracy Warland, a commercial seahorse farmer in Port Lincoln, Australia, describes this feeding dilemma and how to deal with it:
"We feed by looking closely at the ponies feces under a microscope, (a cheap dissecting microscope is ample); we breed 5 different species and all the ponies are the same, in as much as they are total gluttons. Baby seahorses (ponies) will eat so much instar 2 Artemia that they will pass out live Artemia in their feces, and they will of course not get any nutritional value from any feeds, so by over feeding you will starve them to death. We have done this. So if you feed them too much you will just love them to death as they will starve due to inability to digest. We look at the feces to determine the level of digestion and feed accordingly. Usually a feed is what the biomass of the tank can clean up in a 20-minute session, after which we leave them alone for about 2 hours and then feed them again. As soon as they defecate, we use a pipette to gather up the droppings and examine them under the microscope to check digestion levels and adjust our feeding accordingly. This is not necessary for every feed as you can soon learn the quantity required for each feeding; just make sure that the Artemia is digested fully (Warland, 2003)."
So if you have a microscope, you can easily verify that you are feeding enough but not too much at any given feeding by visual examination of the fry’s fecal pellets. Otherwise, you will eventually learn the right amount to feed and how often to feed from experience. The right feeding regimen varies according to species, the size of the brood and the size of your nursery tanks, as well as the type of food you are providing, so it is difficult to make generalizations in that regard. But Tracy Warland recommends the following:
"You need to add enough food for your fry to eat for about 15-20 minutes (75%
of the food should have been consumed within that time). If it is not, then you have added too much. The fry then should have some time to digest this food, about 2 – 3 hours is plenty. Provide at least 3-5 feedings daily. Only feed during daylight hours and turn off lights at night (Warland, 2003)."
As I said, Tracy’s feeding regimen may not be the best option for the home hobbyist, however. The average hobbyist has his hands full just trying to keep up with the demands of a brood of fry, doesn’t have access to a microscope to monitor the fecal pellets of the fry, and generally needs to be far more concerned about underfeeding than overfeeding. The salient point is that when rearing fry, many small feedings daily are vastly preferable to one or two large feedings. Most hobbyists are more successful at rearing when their goal is to assure that the fry have access to at least some food throughout the day. Many breeders accomplish this by adding small amounts of newly hatched Artemia to their nurseries whenever they walk by. For the sake of hygiene and water quality, its important to siphon off the bottom of the nursery tanks between feedings, whether or not you are able to do a microscopic examination of the fecal pellets.
It’s imperative that you work out the most efficient feeding regimen one way or another, since overfeeding is not only bad for the seahorse’s digestion, it also debilitates the fry because it is very energetically demanding for them to pursue prey and eat nonstop all day long (Warland, 2003). With a little experience, you will soon work out the feeding regimen that works best for you.
Many home hobbyists find an alternating 2-hour feeding schedule works well during the day. The fry are allowed to feed for 2 hours, then fasted for 2 hours, then given another feeding and fasted for 2 hours, and so on. The nursery is then darkened overnight and the seahorses are rested.
The general idea is to set up multiple hatching containers so that you can harvest the newly hatched brine shrimp nauplii from a different hatchery for each feeding. Thus, if you’re going to be feeding five times a day (i.e., every three hours throughout the day), then you would set up a battery of five separate brine shrimp hatcheries, and you would start the brine shrimp cysts hatching in each of them at three hour intervals.
The reason you stagger the hatching jars that way, adding the eggs to each at three hour intervals, is to assure that you are feeding the fry newly-hatched Artemia nauplii that have just emerged from their eggs, and therefore are at the peak of their nutritional value, for each of the feedings. Right after the first instar Artemia nauplii have emerged from their shells, their yolk supply is completely intact and they are more nutritious, since when the seahorse fry eat them, they get the benefit of all the nutrients in the rich yolk supply. Several hours after the Artemia nauplii have hatched out, they will have consumed much of their yolk supply and have relatively little nutritional value as a result. So it is very desirable to feed the newborns seahorse fry first-instar Artemia nauplii that have just emerged from their shells, because the nauplii are the smallest at that stage and therefore the easiest for even the undersized fry (i.e., runts) to swallow and more importantly because the newly emerged nauplii retain their maximum nutritional value at that point.
Once the Artemia nauplii undergo their first molt and becomes second-instar nauplii, they have exhausted their yolk supply and develop mouthparts so they can begin feeding on their own. Baby brine shrimp at this stage are larger and and may be too large for the smallest newborns to eat, and the second-instar bbs must be fed or enriched (i.e., gut-loaded) at this stage or they have very poor nutritional value. So the idea is to assure that you are always feeding the newborn seahorses first-instar Artemia nauplii that have just hatched and retain their full supply of yolk.
That’s why it’s important to stagger the start of the hatch in each of the hatcheries. If you started the brine shrimp hatching at the same time in all five of the hatcheries, by the time you did your second feeding of the day, some of the brine shrimp would be three hours old. Likewise, some of the brine shrimp you fed for the third feeding would be six hours old, and some of the brine shrimp you offered at the fourth feeding that day would already be nine hours old, and so on. The older brine shrimp nauplii would have used up more and more of their yolk supply, or already entered the second-instar phase before they were fed to your seahorses, and not have been nearly as nutritious as the brine shrimp you offered for the first feeding that day.
Staggering the start of the hatch in each of the hatching containers therefore allows you to offer primarily newly-hatched first-instar Artemia nauplii with complete yolk supplies at each of the feedings throughout the day. In other words, for the first feeding of the day, you harvest the Artemia nauplii from the hatchery you started first. You harvest the nauplii for your second feeding from the hatching jar you started hatching three hours later, and you harvest the nauplii for the third feeding from the hatchery you added the Artemia cysts to six hours later, and so on.
In short, if you will be feeding your seahorse fry five times a day, your ideal fry feeding schedule should go something like this: 8 AM feed, 11 AM feed, 2 PM feed, 5 PM feed, 8 PM feed, lights out at 11 PM. Harvest the baby brine shrimp for each feeding session in succession from each of the jars you started hatching at 3-hour intervals. This will assure that the Artemia nauplii you are feeding to the fry are no more than 3 hours old and thus at the peak of their nutritional value.
Yes, I think it’s appropriate to wait until the newborns are 5-6 months old and beginning to hit sexual maturity before you try introducing them into a reef tank, Donna. The reason for this is that reef tanks normally have stronger circulation and water flow than an ordinary seahorse tank, and you want to make sure that your juveniles are big enough to handle the water movement in a reef tank. This is especially important considering that reef systems house various live corals all of which have some stinging ability, and you want the youngsters to avoid being swept up against the stinging corals.
However, if you have a regular seahorse tank available to receive the juveniles, rather than a reef system, then you can start thinking about transferring some of the juveniles into the main tank as soon as they have been weaned onto a staple diet of frozen foods. They need to be eating the frozen Mysis well and they need to be large enough to handle the stronger currents in the main tank, so keep a close eye on them at first to make sure they are able to handle the currents in the main tank and are able to get their fair share at feeding time (you may need to target feed the juvies individually at first to make sure that they are not being bullied or outcompeted at mealtime).
Ordinarily, once the newborns out grow their nursery tanks, they are transferred to larger grow-out tanks for further rearing.there are many different designs for these grow out tanks, but they can be set up much like the nursery tank only on a larger scale, say 15-20 gallons. For more information in that regard, check out the following online articles on rearing Hippocampus erectus and out the type of grow out tanks some other breeders prefer, Donna:
Fry Development Cycle – From Egg to Horse
Your best luck for obtaining the little cartridges of activated carbon is to visit your local fish store. Most any well-stocked LFS will have small perforated plastic cylinders available that are designed to be filled with charcoal or activated carbon and are made to fit on the bubbler stems or uplift tubes of undergravel filters. These can usually be modified to fit on the bubbler stem or airlift of the sponge filters I mentioned as well.
Best of luck working out the fried feeding schedule that’s best suited for your babies and the time you have available to devote to rearing. It takes time to work things out and much of it is simple trial and error, which is why results are often so poor during the first attempt at rearing. Just keep plugging away and your efforts will eventually be rewarded.