Re:Seahorse can’t suck food

Pete Giwojna

Dear Judy:

If you can obtain the softbodied adult brine shrimp, your female may have better luck slurping up the live brine shrimp than the frozen Mysis, now that she is confined to the sump by herself.

If the seahorse is accustomed to handfeeding or has developed a bond of trust with you as its keeper — the giver of gourmet delights and the source of good things to eat — then there is often no need to hold the seahorse at all. It will remain on its perch and allow you to place one of the intact, thawed frozen Mysis in its mouth (headfirst works best for inserting the Mysis), and then take it from there and slurp it down on its own.

If not, if seahorse hasn’t had time to recognize you as the source of all good things and the seahorse shies away from you when you try to feed it the Mysis, then you may have to hold and restrain the pony while it’s hand fed. In that case, you can hold the seahorse the same way you would if you are tube feeding it rather than feeding it by hand. Induce the seahorse to release its grasp on its holdfast (gently shake the holdfast until it attempts to swim away or use the "tickle technique" described at the end of this message to persuade her to let go) and then cup her in your nondominant hand while she is swimming. Encourage the seahorse to wrap its tail around your remaining fingers while you use your thumb and forefinger of your nondominant hand to gently grasp the back of its head and neck. Then you can use your dominant hand to carefully insert one of the Mysis into its mouth headfirst.

Normally seahorses realize they are getting food from this technique right away and cease to struggle or resist. But if the seahorse does not cooperate or spits out the frozen Mysis, you’ll have to be patient and hold it in place longer or work it back further into the mouth of the seahorse until it reflexively swallows it. If the seahorse is uncooperative and handfeeding simply doesn’t work for you, Judy, then you can always resort to tube feeding the seahorse. That is a more invasive procedure that’s best reserved as a last result, however. Let me know if tube feeding becomes necessary, and I will provide you with instructions on how to proceed…

If you have never held a seahorse before, you may be surprised at how strong she is if your female struggles at first, Judy. Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

Best of luck getting some nourishment into your female H. kuda one way or the other, Judy.

Pete Giwojna

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