Pots are great! But they’re not a good choice for anyone who cannot provide an aquarium chiller. Nor are these giants a good option for any hobbyists who are limited to smaller aquaria. Potbellies are much more active swimmers than most seahorses and need adequate height in particular in order to mate comfortably. However, anyone who can provide an aquarium 24-36 inches deep with a chiller should seriously consider these magnificent animals. They are relentlessly polygamous which makes their social interactions and a group courtships especially interesting to observe. Big, beautiful, boldly marked, and fairly easy to rear, they have a great deal to offer the hobbyist. They are my favorite temperate seahorses by far.
These magnificent fish deserve the title of world’s biggest seahorse. Hippocampus abdominalis vies with H. ingens and H. kelloggi as the longest of all hippocampines, but abdominalis if far more robust than either of these and is certainly the heaviest seahorse in the world. A foot-long female may have a chest that’s 2-1/2 inches deep and a good 3/4 of inch thick (Warland, pers. comm.). They are simply the largest and most massive of the greater seahorses. Fully mature Potbellies as small as 3 inches (8.0 cm) have been recorded, but the maximum size for this species is over 14 inches (35 cm) in total length; most specimens reach an adult height of 7-10 in (18-25 cm). So there is considerable size variation within the species, as is typical in Hippocampus, but I would say that 8 inch adults are pretty average for aquarium specimens, Carrie. If you contact me off list ([email protected]), I have a lot of additional information on Pots I would be happy to provide for you.
Pick up a copy of "How to care for your Seahorses in the Marine Aquarium A Stable Environment For your Seahorse Stable" by Tracy Warland. She is a very accomplished Australian breeder who has raised H. abdominalis and a number of other Australian species in commercial numbers for the aquarium hobby (South Australian Seahorse Marines Services) and she provides good information about them in her guidebook.
Hula fish and especially the Catalina goby would make great tankmates for potbellies seahorses and are a number of other specimens you could consider for a temperate tank as well.
Here’s some information on temperate tankmates excerpted from my new book (Complete Guide to the Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, TFH Publications, unpublished) that should be suitable companions for Hippocampus abdominalis or H. breviceps:
In general, tankmates for temperate and subtemperate seahorses must meet the same compatibility requirements as the companions for tropical seahorses, with of course the added proviso that they must be comfortable at cooler temperatures. Coldwater seahorses (temperate and subtemperate species) generally tolerate temperature ranging from 50 – 70 degrees F (10-21 C; Kuiter, 2000), with 60-66 F (16-19 C) being a reasonable range for subtemperate aquariums and 66-72 F (19-22 C) a feasible temperature range for temperate species (Wrobel, 2004). These cooler temperature requirements restrict the suitable tankmates for coldwater seahorses severely. Temperate fishes and invertebrates are simply much less readily available in the US than tropical species. Nevertheless, there are a number of specimens that make delightful tankmates for temperate and subtemperate seahorses.
Chief among these are the gaudy Catalina gobies (Lythrypnus dalli). These little jewels will thrive at temperature from 64-72 F (18-22C) and are perhaps the most colorful of all the gobies with their dazzling blue and orange stripes (Wrobel, 2004). Beautiful, peaceful, and passive eaters, Catalina gobies are the ideal tankmates for coldwater seahorses. Best of all, they are widely available from pet dealers.
A number of colorful coldwater invertebrates are also available for temperate tanks. For example, Bat Stars (Patiria miniata) are very common denizens of the kelp forest and tide pools in temperate seas, and they are brilliantly colored with variegated patterns of vivid red, orange, violet and beige (Wrobel, 2004). They are active scavengers but not as voracious as some of the predatory starfish, making them good candidates for a seahorse-only setup. However, they cannot be trusted in a modified reef tank with soft corals and sessile invertebrates (Wrobel, 2004). Although they will scavenge for meaty leftovers such as frozen Mysis, for best results they should be fed a piece of fresh fish or shellfish about once a week. You will know when it’s time to offer them a meaty tidbit since they will climb the glass and expose their tube feet and underside at the surface of the water when hungry and searching for food (Wrobel, 2004).
Bloodstars (Henricia sp.) are another good choice for a temperate tank (Wrobel, 2004). Despite their ghoulish name, which refers to their coloration, these starfish are entirely innocuous in the aquarium. Their diet consists primarily of detritus and small organic particles that adhere to their mucous coat and are passed along to their mouths when enough has accumulated (Wrobel, 2004).
Most other coldwater starfish should be shunned. For example, the beautiful Rainbow Stars (Orthasterias koehleri) are predatory on mollusks, as are Ochre and Giant-spined Starfish (Pisaster sp.; Wrobel, 2004). Although lovely, their mission in life is to terminate marine mollusks. They pose a serious threat to tank inhabitants, and they will relentlessly hunt down and devour all the snails in your cleanup crew (Wrobel, 2004). They can’t be bargained with or reasoned with. They don’t know pity or mercy or fear. And these gastropod terminators absolutely will NOT stop — ever! — until all your snails have been consumed. Avoid them accordingly.
Worse yet are the attractive Sunflower Stars (Pyncnopodia helianthoides; Wrobel, 2004). With more than 20 arms, these starfish are capable of surprising speed and should be considered heavily armed and dangerous (Wrobel, 2004)! Day and night, the activities of these malicious, multi-legged monsters are one endless search-and-destroy-mission for sessile invertebrates and anything else the can overpower. Aside from their destructive habits, they are notorious for releasing toxins into the water (Wrobel, 2004).
Coonstripe Shrimp (Pandalus danae) are ideal for a temperate aquarium (Wrobel, 2004). Brilliantly colored, these dazzling shrimp are boldly marked with electric blue and red patches (Wrobel, 2004). They will seek out crevices, caves, overhangs and other sheltered nooks and hidey-holes in the aquarium, and if you can get large enough Coonstripes they should do very well with temperate or subtemperate seahorses.
There are also a number of coldwater snails that make valuable additions to the temperate tank. Like their tropical counterparts, temperate turban snails are prized for their ability as algae grazers. The Red Turban (Astraea qibberosa) is renowned for its tireless efforts to cleanse rocks of stubborn filamentous algae and brown diatom growths (Wrobel, 2004). An armored brigade of these snails can do wonders for controlling nuisance algae in a temperate tank. The common Tegula tide-pool snails will perform a similar service in temperate tanks, and their small size allows them to get in tight spots where the Turbans cannot go, making a mixture of temperate Astraea qibberosa and Tegula snails a very effective combination for combating invasions of nuisance algae (Wrobel, 2004).
Most temperate snails are rather drab, but the omnivorous top shells (Calliostoma sp.) include a number of colorful species such as the Jeweled Top Snail, which is decorated with gold and purple spiral bands (Wrobel, 2004).
If your coldwater tank is setup for temperate species, with a milder temperature range of perhaps 68-72 F (20-22 C), then you have many more options. Virtually all of the hermit crabs, snails, and cleaner shrimp that are commonly keep in tropical tanks will adjust very well to those temperatures (Leddo, Jun. 2003). Likewise, almost all of the commonly available gorgonians, feather dusters and brittle stars are comfortable within that range of temps (Leddo, Jun. 2003).
Among the soft corals, the following species are suitable for an aquarium with temperatures 68-72 F or 20-22 C (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.):
Tree Leathers (Cladella sp.) 68-79 F (20-26 C)
Mushroom or Cup Leather Coral (Sarcophyton glaucum) 68-79 F (20-26 C)
Lobed Leather Coral (Sinularia dura) 68-79 F (20-26 C)
Kenya Tree (Lemnalia africana) 68-84 F (20-29 C)
Broccoli Soft Coral or Tree soft coral (Capnella sp.) 68-84 F (20-29 C)
Pinnate Bouquet Soft Coral (Anthelia glauca) 68-84 F (20-29 C)
Lobophytum sp. 68-86 F (20-45 C)
Among the fishes that may do well in a temperate setup are the Yellow Coral Gobie or Yellow Clown Gobie (Gobiodon okinawae, 68-77 F), Wheeler’s Prawn Gobie (Amblyeleottris wheeleri, 69-86 F), the Neon Gobie (Gobiosoma oceanops, 70-82.5 F), the Pinkbar Gobie (Amblyeleottris aurora, 70-82.5 F), and the Yellow Snout Gobie (Stonogobiops xanthorhinica, 70-81 F) (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.).
Best wishes with all your fishes, Carrie!