It’s difficult to say what may be causing the increase in the respiratory rate of your orange female Hippocampus reidi, since many different factors may affect the breathing rate of your seahorses, but it was very observant of you to notice the change in her breathing, and you could be on the right track if she is still getting picked on a lot as a subordinate seahorse that’s down fairly low in the pecking order.
Your seahorses’ respiration rate may increase naturally when they are feeding, actively courting, being handled, or excited in general, and then return to their normal resting respiratory rate afterwards. That’s natural and nothing to be concerned about.
Likewise, a seahorses respiration rate will increase whenever they are stressed out. In your case, if the larger female is continuing to single out the young H. reidi female as a rival and occasionally snaps at her to keep her in her place, that would certainly be stressful and good account for her more rapid breathing. Do the respirations of the orange female H. reidi returned to normal when she is not being harassed by the dominant female? If so, then that’s probably par for the course and you needn’t be overly concerned. The episodes when she is snapped at by her bigger rival should be few and far between, and should gradually taper down as the seahorses establish their rank in the social hierarchy of your herd.
Here is some additional information that discusses the breathing rate in seahorses and the factors that affect their breathing:
Normal Respiration vs. Respiratory Distress
Symptoms of respiratory distress are ordinarily pretty obvious and you should have no trouble determining when your seahorse is laboring or struggling to breathe. For example, seahorses that are stressed or suffering from gill disease or parasites that attack the gills will exhibit rapid respiration, labored breathing, huffing, panting, yawning or coughing behavior, and other indications of respiratory distress. So familiarize yourself with your seahorse’s normal respiration rate when they are comfortable in healthy, which will vary somewhat with water temperature and their activity level or degree of arousal/excitement, and subsequent changes in their normal breathing pattern can alert you to a possible problem.
There is no simple answer to the question, "What is the remote breathing rate for seahorses?" Their respiration rate will vary according to the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the aquarium, the water temperature, their metabolic rate, their activity level, and their emotional state.
Unlike human beings, which are homeothermic and maintain homeostasis at all times, seahorses are of course cold-blooded creatures, so their metabolic rate is determined largely by the water temperature. The warmer the water temperature, the higher their metabolism and the greater their oxygen demand becomes, and their breathing rate goes up according. At lower water temperatures, the seahorse’s metabolism and oxygen demand are reduced, and their breathing rate slows.
The level of oxygen in the atmosphere that we breathe is quite stable and constant, but that’s not the case with the level of oxygen in an aquarium. For example, the warmer the aquarium water is, the less dissolved oxygen it can hold, and the higher the salinity of the aquarium water, the less dissolved oxygen it can hold. So the amount of oxygen in the water varies with the aquarium temperature and salinity or specific gravity.
Likewise, the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in an aquarium varies from day to night due to the photosynthesis performed by macroalgae and zooanthellae. When the aquarium reflector is on, providing plenty of light, the algae and plants in the aquarium take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. As a result, the pH of the water and the dissolved oxygen levels rise throughout the day, while the level of dissolved carbon dioxide drops.
On the other hand, during the night when the aquarium light is turned off and no photosynthesis takes place, the plants will begin to take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide. This has exactly the opposite effect — the pH of the aquarium water and the level of dissolved oxygen drop at night, while the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide rises. This can occasionally become a problem in a small, poorly circulated, closed-system aquarium that is very heavily planted if the oxygen levels drop so much during the night and the carbon dioxide levels rise so high that the seahorses have difficulty breathing and getting enough oxygen.
So in an aquarium where the dissolved oxygen levels are low and/or the carbon dioxide levels are high, seahorses will exhibit very rapid respiration.
Seahorse setups are often more susceptible to such problems because hobbyists are so conscious of their seahorses’ limited swimming ability that they tend to leave their aquariums undercirculated. Poor circulation and inadequate surface agitation can lead to inefficient oxygenation and insufficient offgassing of carbon dioxide, aggravating the situation.
Seahorses are more vulnerable to the low O2/high CO2 levels than most fishes because of their primitive gills. Unlike most teleost (bony) fishes, which have their gills arranged in sheaves like the pages of a book, seahorses have rudimentary gill arches with small powder-puff type gill filaments. Seahorses are said to have "tufted" gills because they appear to be hemispherical clumps of tissue on stems. Their unique, lobed gill filaments (lophobranchs) are arranged in grape-like clusters and have fewer lamellae than other teleost fishes. Because of the difference in the structure and efficiency of their gills, seahorses are thus especially vulnerable to low oxygen levels and asphyxia.
Warm water temperatures exacerbate such problems in the aquarium. Elevated water temperatures increase the metabolism of seahorses, and therefore their consumption of oxygen, at the same time that the rise in temperature is reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen the water can hold. That double whammy creates a dangerous situation for seahorses and may well result in respiratory distress and rapid, labored breathing.
For best results with most tropical seahorses, strive to maintain stable water conditions in your Biocube within the following aquarium parameters at all times:
Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026, optimum 1.0245
pH = 8.2 – 8.4
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm
Provide good surface agitation and aeration in order to promote better oxygenation and facilitate better gas exchange at the air/water interface.
Since your orange female H. reidi is the only seahorse that is breathing rapidly, we can rule out low levels of dissolved oxygen or high levels of CO2 in the aquarium water in this case. If she is stressed and upset about being snapped at by the dominant female, that certainly could explain her accelerated respiration rate. As long as her breathing returns to normal when the other female is not giving her a hard time, there is probably no need for you to intervene. They will eventually sort things out and any persecution will gradually diminish and disappear once the dominant female pairs up.
If not — if the orange female’s rapid respirations continue unabated whether or not the dominant female is nearby — then you’re H. reidi may benefit from a quick dip in methylyne blue to ease her breathing and reliever respiratory distress, as discussed below:
Commonly known as "meth blue" or simply "blue," this is a wonderful medication for reversing the toxic effects of ammonia and nitrite poisoning (commonly known as "new tank syndrome"). Since hospital tanks are usually without biological filtration, and ammonia and nitrite can thus build up rapidly (especially if you are not doing water changes during the treatment period), it’s a good idea to add methylene blue to your hospital ward when treating sick fish.
Methylene blue also transports oxygen and aids breathing. It facilitates oxygen transport, helping fish breathe more easily by converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin — the normal oxygen carrying component of fish blood, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried through the bloodstream. This makes it very useful for treating gill infections, low oxygen levels, or anytime your seahorses are breathing rapidly and experiencing respiratory distress. It is the drug of choice for treating hypoxic emergencies of any kind with your fish.
In addition, methylene blue treats fungus and some bacteria and protozoans. Methylene blue is effective in preventing fungal infections, and it has antiprotozoal and antibacterial properties as well, by virtue of its ability to bind with cytoplasmic structures within the cell and interfere with oxidation-reduction processes. A "must" for your fish-room medicine cabinet. However, be aware that it is not safe to combine methylene blue with some antibiotics, so check your medication labels closely for any possible problems before doing so.
If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), the instructions for administering it as a very brief, concentrated dip are as follows:
For use as a dip for treatment of fungus or external parasitic protozoans and cyanide poisoning:
(a) Prepare a nonmetallic container of sufficient size to contain the fish to be treated by adding water similar to the original aquarium.
(b) Add 5 teaspoons (24.65 ml) per 3 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 50 ppm. It is not recommended that the concentration be increased beyond 50 ppm.
(c) Place fishes to be treated in this solution for no longer than 10 seconds.
(d) Return fish to original aquarium.
When you administer such a dip, hold the seahorse in your hand throughout the procedure and time it closely so that the dip does not exceed 10 seconds.
And here are Kordon’s instructions for administering the methylene blue in a hospital tank if longer-term treatment seems appropriate to reverse more severe cases of nitrite poisoning and ammonia toxicity or exposure to high-level of nitrates:
As an aid in reversal of nitrite (NO2-) or cyanide (CN-) poisoning of marine and freshwater aquarium fishes:
(a) Remove carbon filter and continue to operate with mechanical filter media throughout the treatment period.
(b) Add 1 teaspoon of 2.303% Methylene Blue per 10 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 3 ppm. Continue the treatment for 3 to 5 days.
(c) Make a water change as noted and replace the filter carbon at the conclusion of the treatment.
See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:
Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue
If you obtained a brand of methylene blue other than Kordon, just follow the instructions the medication comes with. Remember that methylene blue will have an adverse impact on the beneficial bacteria that carry out the nitrogen cycle, so don’t use it in your main tank — rather, use the methylene blue as a quick dip or for treating the seahorses for a prolonged period in your hospital tank.
Regarding the female Sunburst (Hippocampus erectus) that still appears fairly skinny after dropping her clutch of eggs some time ago, you shouldn’t worry too much just because he is a slow, deliberate feeder. It’s perfectly normal for seahorses to vary in their feeding habits and appetites, and when you have a rather finicky, deliberate feeder that’s having a difficult time getting her fair share at meal time, it’s customary to handfeed or target feed them, as explained below:
For instance, I can sometimes be a problem when seahorses are kept with active feeders such as cleaner shrimp. Nowadays it’s a common practice for a seahorse setup to include a few Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis), or Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius). They are popular additions to a seahorse tank because hobbyists like to use them to augment their cleanup crews and add a splash of color and activity to their tanks. Aside from their utility as attractive scavengers, they often perform a useful service by grooming the seahorses, which is fascinating to watch, and regularly reproduce, releasing swarms of nauplii many seahorses love to eat. Peppermint Shrimp are especially popular because they are natural predators of Aiptasia rock anemones and do a wonderful job of eradicating these pests from the aquarium.
Yet once established in the aquarium, those beautiful red shrimp species are much more active feeders than seahorses. They’ll come flying across the tank the moment that enticing scent of frozen mysids hits the water, raiding the feeding station and snatching mysis right out of the ‘horse’s snouts. Does that mean they’re incompatible with seahorses? Heck no, you just shoo the pesky shrimp out of the way at dinnertime and target feed the seahorses, making sure each of them gets its fill.
For captive-bred seahorses, which eat enriched frozen mysis as their staple diet, it is customary to feed the more active fish and inverts their fill of standard aquarium foods first, and then target feed the seahorses with frozen mysis, using the feeding wand or baster to discourage any fishes that might try to steal a bite while the seahorses are eating (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). This works quite well providing the fishes are suitable tankmates for seahorses.
That’s SOP for many seahorse keepers and is not much different than the situation in a species tank when one of your seahorses is an aggressive eater with an insatiable appetite that tends to monopolize the feeding station, and one of your other seahorses is a deliberate feeder that has to examine every morsel of mysis forever before he finally eats it. Hardly an insurmountable problem — just hand feed or target feed the seahorses, as described below, and the problem is solved.
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 are 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 scarfing 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?
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.
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.
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.
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. (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. And it’s great for tapping on the cover to ringing the dinner bell and summon the diners for their gourmet feast!)
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.
The key to keeping active specimens like firefish 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.
So in this instance, amc, I would recommend target feeding your Sunburst female and enriching her frozen Mysis with the lipid-rich Vibrance 1 formula until she fills out again. Temporarily switching to the high-fat Vibrance formulation (i.e., Vibrance 1) is a great way to fatten up a skinny seahorse. The original Vibrance (Vibrance 1) is a lipid-rich formula including beta-glucan, the proper balance of long chain fatty acids (DHA and EPA) derived from natural schizochytrium algae, and color-enhancing carotenoids, all combined with just the right amount of vitamins, minerals and water-soluble stabilized vitamin C in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress management, and proper reproduction. Temporarily switching your female Sunburst from Vibrance 2 to Vibrance 1 may be all that’s necessary to build her up and get her back in top condition.
Best wishes with all your fishes, amc!