When your male thrusts his tail forward like that, he is performing and energetic display known as "Pumping" which is a vital part of the courtship ritual in all seahorse species that have been studied to date. These pouch displays are perform for the benefit of the female and are an indication that your stallion is very interested in mating.
Pumping requires a series of coordinated movements. Bending vigorously, the aroused male jackknifes his tail to meet his trunk, thereby compressing his inflated brood pouch in the middle. The male then straightens up again, suddenly snapping back to "attention" so as to relieve the pressure on his severely compressed midsection. This rapid pumping motion has the effect of forcing water in and out of the brood pouch in a manner that is virtually identical to the way the young are expelled at birth (Vincent, 1990).
The strenuous pumping action is the stallion’s way of demonstrating his pouch is empty of eggs and that he is a strong, healthy, vigorous specimen capable of carrying countless eggs (Vincent, 1990). By so doing, he assures the female that he is ready, willing, and able to mate, and that he can successfully carry and deliver her entire brood. Evidence suggests that the males may also released sex pheromones during these displays.
However, a courting male can sometimes get air trapped inside his pouch during these figures displays, as described below.
"When courting, male seahorses perform a maneuver known as ”pumping,” in which they inflate their brood pouches to the bursting point and alternately pump water in and out of the dilated opening with their tails anchored to a holdfast. Troubles arise when bubbles are drawn into the brood pouch during this process, causing buoyancy problems. This often happens when a courting male attaches itself to the airline tubing connected to an airstone and begins pumping in the stream of bubbles. For instance, Dr. Amanda Vincent found ”It’s a good idea to hide airstones. Seahorses are subject to many buoyancy problems that may result from or be exaggerated by sitting in airstone bubbles. This problem is especially prevalent around courtship periods and occurs if males dilate the pouch opening in air streams” (”Keeping Seahorses”, Journal of Maquaculture, Winter 1995, Vol. 3, No. 1: pp 1, 5-6.)
"Airstones are particularly troublesome because seahorses actually seem to relish basking in the bubble stream and may actively seek out airstones for that purpose. They appear to enjoy the tactile stimulation provided by the bubbles. The small size of dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae ) makes them especially vulnerable to such buoyancy problems, as explained below.
"This is how Kirk Strawn describes the problem in an article called ”Keeping and Breeding the Dwarf Seahorse” (Aquarium Journal, October 1954: pp 226-228.): ”Unguarded airstones disrupted many courtships. A courting male pumps up his brood pouch with water until it appears ready to burst. When this action occurs in the stream of bubbles above an air stone, a bubble is likely to be sucked into the pouch producing a disastrous effect on courtship. The male swims over to meet the female. When the air bubble in the brood pouch shifts, he loses balance and floats tail first to the surface. With great effort he swims down to a perch and wraps his tail around it. Firmly anchored, he resumes an upright position. The female comes over and wraps her tail around his. When she moves away, he follows, loses his balance, and shoots to the surface. Finally the pair give up trying to breed. These bubbles remain in the pouch unless removed. In nature death would surely result either by the male’s being washed ashore or from its being exposed to predators. In the aquarium a floating male can live indefinitely.”
So if your male has been displaying and pumping in a bubble stream, he may simply have gotten some air bubbles trapped within his pouch. When that happens, the males can sometimes expel the trapped air again during subsequent displays of pumping, and it’s possible that may be what’s happening with your stallion, Nick. In that event, the bubbles he’s expelling are not symptomatic of pouch emphysema or gas bubble syndrome (GBS), and if he is successful in ejecting the air bubbles on his own, all is well.
I would keep a close eye on him for any signs of positive buoyancy for the time being. If there is not an airstone or bubble stream in your tank that could account for the trapped bubbles, or if his pouch becomes bloated and positive buoyancy becomes an issue, then you should intervene and perform a pouch flush on him immediately.
Here are the instructions for using your pouch kit to perform such a pouch flush, Nick:
Pouch Kit Instructions
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Pouch Wash
The antibiotic pouch kit should be like a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and used only in an emergency and NEVER as a prophylactic. Please perform this procedure in a separate vessel so that the antibiotic wash does not flow into the holding tank. You may wish to trim the plastic tip of the syringe attachment to accommodate the orpheus of your seahorse. You can express the air in the pouch by gently inserting this tip into the opening.
PLEASE KEEP REFRIGERATED shake well before using
What you need to do:
First: Find someone to help you!
Second: Keep the head and gill area of the seahorse submerged at all times! You may cut the end of the tip to fit your needs.
Third: The Procedure should be preformed in a separate hospital tank where the antibiotic flush will not harm your biological filter:
*Have one person hold the seahorse upside down with the head in the water and his tail and abdomen out of the water. He may wrap his tail firmly around your finger. Insert the tip of the pipette into the opening in the pouch being careful not to insert it too far. (You may cut the end of the tip to fit your needs.)
*Gently massage out any air bubbles into the pipette.
*Remove the pipette and express the air bubbles from the pipette.
*Rinse the tip of the pipette with alcohol and let dry.
*Withdraw approximately 2 ml’s of pouch wash into the pipette. The quantity will actually vary according to the size of the males pouch. The extra large males can easily use 2 mls of pouch wash and the smaller males less than one.
*Reinsert the tip into the pouch and gently force the liquid into the pouch and then gently suck it out. Do this twice and then release the male into his tank.
*He may seem slightly stunned or shocked. Don’t panic! Simply turn off the lights and allow the male to rest. If you have any red shrimp he may enjoy them at this time.
*You may have to repeat this procedure again the following day.
*Return him to his normal diet of frozen mysis shrimp enriched with Vibrance the day after the procedure.
*You may email ocean rider with questions, or if you are a member of the Ocean Rider Club ask them for assistance.
Flushing the pouch can be a tricky procedure and I know it’s intimidating the first time you perform the procedure, Nick, so I’ll provide you with some additional instructions by myself and others that explained some of the other approaches to flushing the seahorse’s pouch in greater detail. For starters, here are detailed instructions from Leslie Leddo and myself explaining how to perform a pouch flush:
"Pouch Flush Techniques and Tips"
By Leslie Leddo
You will need:
·A small syringe. I like to use a 1-cc syringe.
·A catheter of some sort. It needs to be something that is plastic, very narrow, cannulated, blunt tipped, semi pliable, but not so soft that it bends from just a bit of pressure, on one end and fits snugly on to the tip of a syringe at the opposite end. Some suggestions would include an a plastic intravenous catheter, with the center introducer needle used to puncture the skin and vein order to introduce the catheter removed, a plastic pipette, or the syringe tips that come inside some of the aquarium test kits. If you have access to an IV catheter any size, between an 18 and 25g will work well.
·A bowl. I like to use something with a wide rim so I have space to move freely and have enough room should I need another pair of hands…i.e., an assistant. The syringe and pipette/catheter are both used to flush the pouch as well as to aspirate the previous days flush from the pouch.
How to prepare the Syringe and Catheter:
Draw about 1cc of the medicated flush solution into the syringe by pulling back on the plunger.
Invert the syringe so the tip is pointed up. With the syringe inverted, gently tap it until all the air bubbles come to the surface just below the syringe tip; with the syringe still inverted depress the plunger until all the air is removed from the syringe and a small amount of the solution is emerging from the syringe tip.
Attach the catheter or pipette to the tip of the syringe, depress the plunger of the syringe to fill (prime) the catheter or pipette with the solution.
Okay, now you are ready to flush the pouch. Proceed as follows:
Gently place the horse in the bowl filled with his own tank water. Very gently and slowly introduce the tip of the catheter through the pouch opening, into the pouch. When you enter the pouch you may meet some resistance. If you encounter resistance when inserting the catheter, I have found that it helps to try different angles, rather than pushing forcefully. I have never dissected a seahorse, but from all the evacuations and flushes I have done it feels to me as if the opening to the pouch is more than a simple opening. It feels like a short tunnel, with folds or pockets of tissue along the walls of the tunnel. I have had to flush/evacuate several different horses. They all seem to be built a bit differently.
I have had success entering the pouch opening straight and then angling the catheter down a bit as well as entering at an angle from the start.
Once you have the catheter tip inside the pouch, depress the plunger of the syringe, flushing the pouch until you see some of the solution coming back out of the pouch. Continue to flush the pouch with about .2 to .3 cc.
Once the pouch has been flushed, you want to leave a small amount of flush inside the pouch. Pulling back on the plunger aspirate the some of the fluid until some of the solution has been removed from the pouch, leaving enough so that the pouch remains softly full, but is not at all taught or tight. Place your horse back in his tank
The next day, prior to the new flush, aspirate the previous days flush from the pouch. Using the syringe with the catheter/pipette attached to the tip, insert it as described above. Pull back on the plunger of the syringe withdrawing the flush from the day before.
Now you are ready to administer the newly mixed flush by repeating the steps described above.
Antibiotic Pouch Washes
If you can obtain a suitable small glass eyedropper with a rubber squeeze bulb, the tip of which you can insert into the pouch orifice, you can use the eyedropper to flush the pouch instead. Otherwise, you’ll have to obtain a small pipette or use a small syringe and catheter for the flushes, as previously described in Leslie Leddo’s pouch flushing tips. You will be flushing the male’s pouch once a day for three consecutive days, using a medicated pouch flush solution.
The first thing you’ll need to do is prepare the pouch flush solution. I recommend using a combination of nifurpirinol and neomycin sulfate for the pouch flushes, since that combo works together synergistically to forms a wide spectrum antibiotic with potent antifungal as well as antibacterial properties (Basleer, 2000). Nifurpirinol and neomycin sulfate are the active ingredients in two different commercial products designed for aquarium use, and both of them should both be readily available at your local fish store. Prepare a 50:50 solution by taking approximately 1/10 teaspoon of nifurpirinol and 1/10 teaspoon of neomycin powder (from a capsule) and mixing them together with about 40 cc (or 2-1/2 tablespoons) of tank water from your seahorse setup. (Nifurpirinol comes in tablet form, so you’ll have to crush a tablet into as fine a powder as possible, using a blender if necessary, and then use 1/10 teaspoon of this nifurpirinol powder for the mixture.) Mix the nifurpirinol powder and neomycin sulfate powder with the tank water very well until the medication is thoroughly dissolved. Avoid any undissolved residue that remains. (You will have to make up a new batch of this solution each day for 3 days.)
If you can’t find both nifurpirinol and neomycin, then you can use either one alone, or substitute kanamycin capsules alone, to make your medicated pouch solution. In that case, just use 1/10 teaspoon of the antibiotic powder and mix it thoroughly with about 20 cc (or 1-1/2 tablespoons) of tank water. Again, make a new batch of pouch-flush solution each day.
And here are instructions from Keith Gentry explaining how to do a pouch-flush directly with Diamox:
In cases of recurring pouch emphysema, diamox can be administered as a solution injected into the pouch via an narrow gauge irrigating cannula or plastic 26 or 28 gauge IV catheter sleeve attached to a 0.5 or 1ml syringe (larger syringes should not be used).
Using a blender, mix ½ of a 250mg Diamox tablet with a cup of seawater at the same specific gravity as the tank. Fill the syringe with about .5ml of this solution, avoiding the residue at the bottom of the cup. The seahorse should be held as per the procedure for pouch evacuations.
Insert the catheter sleeve slowly and gently a small way into the pouch opening and inject this solution SLOWLY into the seahorse’s pouch, leaving the solution in the pouch. Make sure you are familiar with the location of the pouch opening.
Never use a metal needle for this procedure.
The procedure may have to be repeated twice to be effective. In stubborn cases, it is recommended to concurrently administer broad spectrum antibiotics. Diamox and antibiotics have been used simultaneously and successfully without appararent side effects.
I believe the dosage of antibiotic is one 250mg tablet of neosulfex per 10 gallons. It’s important you treat the horse in a quarantine tank. Diamox and neosulfex can kill your
For neomycin and sulfa you can use up to 4 times the marine dosage listed on the instruction or are up to 8 times the recommended freshwater dosage. [End quote]
Finally, here are Neil Garrick-Maidment’s instructions for performing his extremely successful pouch flushing procedure:
Hope you don’t mind me interjecting on the point about gas bubble in the
pouch but it is important to emphasise a few things.
When I devised and developed this treatment quite a number of years ago, I
was shocked to hear some of the ways people were clearing the bubbles within
the pouch, from cocktail sticks to straws, which caused irreparable damage
to the pouch and the Seahorse. It is vital that great care is taken when
doing this process and the purchase of a fine blunt ended pipette from the
chemist is the best way.
When handling the Seahorse make sure you have a
firm grip with the pouch facing outwards under the water, its best to have
the tail curled around the little finger to add stability. Then insert the
pipette almost vertically, through the pouch opening so the pipette goes
down into the pouch (almost parallel with the body) and not in towards the
body which will cause major internal and secondary problems.
Once the pipette is safely in the pouch then a fine nozzled hand spray (it must be
fine to fit into the end of the pipette) must be used to flush down through
the pipette, you will notice bubbles of gas being vented from the pouch as
you flush the pouch, initially with water from the tank, this stops shock to
the animal and at the same time clears the pouch. This same method (do not
remove the pipette in between stages) should then be used to add medication
When withdrawing the pipette use a slight twisting motion and remove in
exactly the same direction as it has gone in. The Seahorse will seem a
little shell shocked after this but the immediate release from floating etc
will provide instant relief.
I have had 100% success with this process but
you must be in mind of the Seahorse and its discomfort at all times.
Just before starting make sure you have all your equipment and medication in
place, there is nothing worse than getting part way through and realising
you have forgotten something.
Hope this helps
Neil Garrick-Maidment [close quote]
One of these techniques should work well for you, Rick, depending on what medications and equipment you have on hand or have access to for performing the pouch flushes. If the pouch gas problem recurs, I would suggest alternating Diamox pouch flushes with antibiotic pouch flushes until the problem is resolved.
Best of luck with your gassy stallion, Seagazer! Here’s hoping he just got a little air trapped in his pouch and that he resolves the problem on his own during his vigorous displays of pumping.