Re:question about Pixie set up

Pete Giwojna

Dear Carrie:

Congratulations on your new herd of Pixies (Hippocampus zosterae) and the pregnant males! That’s a nice bonus and since the gestation period for these prolific point-site ponies is only 10 days, that means your herd will be increasing nicely before you know it. The newborn Pixies are large enough to eat newly-hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) as their first food, so they can be raised right alongside your latest brood of erectus fry with no problems whatsoever.

No, due to the very small size of most dwarf seahorse setups, they almost always do without foam fractionation or protein skimming. I have seen a few setups designed for Pixies or dwarf seahorses that had a small Skilter-type filter whose intake tube was mated to an undergravel filter’s lift tube, or where the dwarf seahorse enclosure was ingeniously plumbed into a sump that included a protein skimmer, but those are rare exceptions.

Rather, it is customary to stay on top of the water quality for a dwarf seahorse setup by performing small partial water changes more frequently and practicing an accelerated maintenance schedule. Most Pixie keepers perform small weekly water changes on my dwarf tanks of 10%-15%, rather than the monthly or bimonthly water changes I perform on large setups, but the volume of the water exchanged is so small — just a gallon or so at most — that they are a breeze. Heck, if I mix up a 5-gallon bucket of new artificial salt mix in advance, that provides enough clean, aged saltwater for a month’s worth of water changes on my dwarf tank. When I siphon out the water for the weekly exchange, I use the opportunity to vacuum the substrate and tidy up the tank a bit. Once it settles, I use the water I siphoned out to clean the sponge filters. The whole process, water change and all, takes all of 10 minutes.

But that 10 minutes of weekly maintenance returns wonderful rewards in terms of water quality. With such a small volume of water, the conditions can deteriorate quickly in a dwarf tank, and this modicum of weekly maintenance keeps things running smooth and trouble free.

I like to clean my sponge filters at the same time I perform the water changes. Cleaning the foam filters is a snap. Simply immerse them in a bucket of saltwater and gently squeeze out the sponge until it’s clean and releases no more sediment or debris. Run a bottlebrush through the inside of the tube, wipe off the outside of the tube, and you’re done. The filter is ready to go back in the aquarium with no impairment at all of the biofiltration. Takes only a couple minutes.

I like to keep a few extra sponge filters running in my sump or a refugium at all times, too. That way, I’ve got instant, fully established, portable biofilters I can use wherever needed — a hospital ward or quarantine tank, a nursery tank or rearing tank, a brand new setup, or anytime the biofiltration needs a boost in another tank for any reason. Very versatile! You’ll never realize how valuable an instant biofilter can be until you really need one.

Other dwarf seahorse keepers prefer to do very small daily water changes on their Pixie tanks. Again, the water changes are miniscule — just a cup or two or perhaps a point of water daily — and very quick and painless if a 5 gallons of pre-mixed, pre-aged saltwater is kept on hand. These minute, daily water changes are usually administered in conjunction with siphoning up some of the fecal pellets from the bottom, and generally do a very nice job of maintaining water quality in these small setups.

Most Pixie tanks feature a lush bed of macroalgae to simulate the natural seagrass habitat of the dwarf seahorse, and the macros also help to maintain good water quality. The macroalgae act as an excellent form of natural filtration, supplementing the sponge filters, and reducing the available levels of phosphates and nitrites/nitrates. When we prune and trim back the fast-growing Caulerpa and macros regularly and remove the excess fronds, we’re actually exporting phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the tank, thereby helping to maintain good water quality.

Best of luck with your new Pixies, Carrie! Here’s hoping a baby boom will be forthcoming shortly and that the explosion of small fry thrive and flourish on your tanks.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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