Re:seahorse help

Pete Giwojna

Dear Riley:

Yes, it is possible to maintain a small, closed-system marine aquarium successfully under the conditions you propose if you are diligent, practice good aquarium management, and follow an accelerated schedule of aquarium maintenance. In general, saltwater fish (including seahorses) are no more difficult to transport from one location to another than freshwater tropical fish.

However, if your only option is a 10-gallon aquarium, then you are going to be severely limited when it comes to seahorses, Riley. Dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) are the best suited for such a tank and a 10-gallon aquarium is certainly large enough to safely house an entire herd of these miniature marvels and all of their offspring. But if you wish to keep live corals and live rock, and possibly another fish in the aquarium, then you’ll need to cross dwarf seahorses off your list of possibilities right now.

Hydroids would be continually overrunning a dwarf seahorse tank with live corals and live rock, with deadly results for the pigmy ponies, Riley. Sooner or later hydroids will appear in any marine aquarium that is receiving regular feedings of rotifers, copepods, or baby brine shrimp or plankton suitable for filter feeding invertebrates. It’s inevitable because they can can gain entry into the aquarium in many ways. For example, they are notorious hitchhikers. Both the colonial polyp stage and the free-swimming micro-jellies can thumb a ride on live rock, corals, macroalgae, hitching posts, sand or gravel, specimens of all kinds, or within so much as a single drop of natural seawater (Abbott, 2003). Beware of fuzzy looking seashells! Very often hydrozoans come in on the shells of the hermit crabs or snails we purchase as aquarium janitors (Abbott, 2003). Or they may be introduced with live foods, or even among Artemia cysts, in some cases it seems. They can even be transferred from tank to tank in the aerosol mist arising from an airstone or the bubble stream of a protein skimmer.

Hydroids are insidious because they start out so small and insignificant, yet spread so quickly under ideal conditions (e.g., a nursery tank or dwarf seahorse tank receiving daily feedings of Artemia nauplii). Many species can spread asexually by fragmentation as a microscopic speck of the parent colony. All of the troublesome types have a mobile hydromedusae stage, which look like miniscule micro-jellyfish, and can spread sexually in this way as well (Rudloe, 1971). The mobile medusae swim about with a herky-jerky, pulsating motion and are often mistaken for tiny bubbles due to their silvery, transparent, hemispherical bodies (Rudloe, 1977). These tiny jellies often go unrecognized until they begin to settle and are discovered adhering to the tank walls. They will have a large "dot" in the middle of their bodies and smaller ones at the base of their nematocysts (Abbott, 2003). Both the polyp stage and the medusa stage sting (Rudloe, 1977) and are capable of killing or injuring seahorse fry. Multiple stings can kill the babies outright, but they are often only injured by the nematocysts, which damage their integument and leave them vulnerable to secondary infections. Many times it is a secondary bacterial or fungal infection that sets in at the site of the injury which kills the fry. Even adult dwarf seahorses can be overwhelmed by multiple stings from hydroids and their hydromedusae.

Once they find their way into a dwarf seahorse setup or nursery tank, hydroids can explode to plague proportions very quickly because conditions are ideal for their growth: perfect temperatures, an abundance of planktonic prey that is renewed every few hours, and a complete absence of predators. In short, Riley, attempting to keep dwarf seahorses, which require daily feedings of newly hatched brine shrimp, in an aquarium with live rock and live coral would quickly become a nightmare because the tank would be constantly infested with hydroids. That’s a disaster waiting to happen, so let’s eliminate dwarf seahorses from any further discussion.

Larger species of seahorses are not bothered by hydroids, and all of the greater seahorses eat frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet, so hydroids will not flourish in a seahorse tank with any of the larger ponies because of the lack of planktonic prey to feed upon. Unfortunately, a 10-gallon aquarium is not large enough to accommodate the larger breeds of seahorses. There is, however, one of the "Shetland pony" class of seahorses that you might consider, Riley, and that is the black Seapony (Hippocampus fuscus). The H. fuscus are large enough to eat frozen Mysis as their staple diet but are small enough to do well in a relatively small tank, and they are hardy seahorses that are a good choice for beginners. So keeping a pair of H. fuscus seahorses in your tank with live rock and seahorse-safe soft corals is a viable option. If you contact me off list ([email protected]), I can provide you with a lot more information about H. fuscus and its aquarium care and requirements to help you decide whether or not you might want to give them a try under your circumstances.

Now, regarding the other obstacle to this project, which is the need to relocate the entire aquarium to and from college a number of times over the course of a year, that’s going to be a hassle as you no doubt are very well aware, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle by any means and is accomplished with a saltwater aquarium the same way as its done with a freshwater tank. When it comes to moving the aquarium, I have to warn you that moving a fish tank from one location to another is a major undertaking that requires careful planning and a great deal of time and effort. Simply relocating a small aquarium from one room to another is a painstaking task that can take much of the day to accomplish, let alone transporting a larger aquarium across town, even if it’s just a tribe of a few hours. Aquariums are fragile objects that were never meant to be portable.

But I know you’re up to the task since you’ve done this before, Riley, and there are some suggestions I would like to share with you that can make the job a lot easier and safer. You’ll want to unplug and remove any filters, accessories, and the aquarium reflector/light or hood and move them separately. Then you’ll want to siphon all of the water from the aquarium except for an inch or two to make the aquarium later and easier to handle. (if the aquarium has a stand, it’s usually best to move the tank and the stand or cabinet separately as well.)

There are two reasons why an aquarium is usually emptied except for a couple of inches of water before it is moved. The first of these is simply because even a modest aquarium is too heavy to move when it’s full of rockwork and water (water weighs roughly 8.3 pounds per gallon and of course the weight of the live rock and the tank itself are added to the burden you’ll be carrying). That means that your 10-gallon aquarium weighs about 100 pounds when it is full of water. Due to its shape shape and smooth surface which makes it an unwieldy object to handle, when an aquarium is being relocated, it is therefore usually necessary to remove almost all of the water and the decorations beforehand in order to make it a more manageable load.

The second reason this is done is to reduce the chances that the aquarium will spring a leak or crack while it is being transported. If you leave the water and rockwork in the aquarium while you attempt to movement, chances are great that the glass can crack or a leak can develop due to the abrupt change in pressure as the water level shifts and sloshes about while it is being carried or transported. With an acrylic tank, that’s not really a factor, but glass aquaria are susceptible to breakage and leaks if they are not emptied before they are moved. The chances of a leak or a crack taking place increase greatly if the aquarium cannot be kept reasonably level all the while it is being moved.

For these reasons, it is usually best to empty the aquarium of water save for a couple of inches before it is moved, and you must take special precautions in order to preserve your biofilter and maintain the beneficial nitrifying bacteria throughout the move. Unless it’s a very short move, you must be careful to keep the live rock and biological filtration media moist (immersed is best) and oxygenated throughout the move.

Save the water you siphon out of the aquarium prior to relocating it, and it can be used to refill the aquarium once it’s in place at its new destination (large Rubbermaid vats or clean, new plastic buckets that can hold 5-10 gallons of water are very useful for this).

Before you attempt to move the aquarium be sure to carefully read the article in Conscientious Aquarist by Amy Janacek titled "Moving and Transporting Your Livestock and Tanks," which is available online at the following URL:


At the end of the article, you will find links for further discussions on the subject of moving and relocating an aquarium that should also be helpful. After checking out Amy’s article and the relevant discussions, you should be able to tackle the job of moving your aquarium confidently!

However, since you are new not only to seahorses but also to marine aquarium keeping, Riley, there is one other suggestion I would like to make before you consider moving forward with this project. I would like you to participate in Ocean Rider’s training course for new seahorse keepers so that you will have a very clear understanding of everything that’s involved before you take the plunge.

This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge, Riley. Ocean Rider provides the free training as a service to their customers and any other hobbyists who are interested in learning more about the care and keeping of seahorses. It’s a crash course on seahorse keeping consisting of 10 separate lessons covering the following subjects, and is conducted entirely via e-mail. There is no homework or examinations or anything of that nature — just a lot of good, solid information on seahorses for you to read through and absorb as best you can, at your own speed:

Aquarium care and requirements of seahorses;
Selecting a suitable aquarium for seahorses;
size (tank height and water volume)
aquarium test kits
Optimizing your aquarium for seahorses;
water movement and circulation
hitching posts (real and artificial)
Cycling a new marine aquarium;
The cleanup crew (aquarium janitors & sanitation engineers);
Water Chemistry
optimal parameters
water quality & water changes
aquarium maintenance schedule
Feeding seahorses;
Compatible tank mates for seahorses;
Courtship and breeding;
Rearing the young;
Disease prevention and control;
Hippocampus erectus
natural history
professional rearing protocols
Acclimating Ocean Rider seahorses.

If you are interested, Riley, I will be providing you with detailed information on these subjects and answering any questions you may have about the material I present. I will also be recommending seahorse-related articles for you to read and absorb online.

In short, the training course will teach you everything you need to know to keep your seahorses happy and healthy, and it will arm you with the information you need in order to tackle your first ponies with confidence.

If you would like to give the training program a try, just contact me off list ([email protected]) with a brief message including your first and last name, which I’ll need for the records, and I will get you started with the first lesson right away. You can easily complete the entire training course over your spring break and then decide if you feel you are well enough prepared to tackle a pair of black Seaponies (H. fuscus) while you are still attending college.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Riley!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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