Yes, indeed — it sounds like you’ve done an excellent job of getting your seahorse tank ready and the big day when you’re ready to begin stocking the old corral is not far off.
Your 85-gallon tank has the size and stability that is so desirable in an aquarium for the greater seahorses and it should provide you with a comfortable margin for error. With live rock to provide nitrification and denitrification and lots of macroalgae, you will have created a very good habitat for your seahorses. And your water quality parameters look great — just where we want them to be.
Judging from your ammonia, nitrite and nitrate readings, it appears that your new tank has cycled, and if so, this would be a good time to introduce your cleanup crew. Having GARF select seahorse-safe sanitation engineers for your tank should assure you of a fine selection of aquarium janitors. You can begin feeding them a little frozen Mysis, and the wastes they produce will continue to feed your biofilter until you’re ready to introduce the seahorses.
For best results, I would let your new tank mature and stabilize for several more weeks before you have your seahorses delivered. We want to make sure that the aquarium has completely cycled and that the biological filtration is well-established before you start adding the fish. Starting out with two pairs of seahorses is about right. Introducing four seahorses together certainly shouldn’t overtax the biofiltration in a well-established aquarium of 85-gallons and you can be confident that there won’t be any harmful ammonia or nitrite spikes.
Yes, I think it’s an excellent idea to order your clown fish (Amphiprion occelaris) from Ocean Rider as well, Tammy. That way, you’ll know that the clowns are coming from a High-Health aquaculture facility and are healthy fish free of pathogens and parasites. That will eliminate the need for you to quarantine the clown fish before you introduce them to your seahorse tank, which will simplify things while still ensuring that you don’t inadvertently introduce any disease organisms to your main tank along with the clowns.
When keeping seahorses in a community tank with other fish that are aggressive eaters, such as clown fish, you’ll want to target feed the seahorses to make sure that they get their fair share at mealtime, as discussed below, Tammy. (This is even more important in a large aquarium with lots of live rock and macroalgae.)
When keeping seahorses in an appropriately elaborate environment, it is imperative that you feed them properly! Domesticated seahorses thrive on enriched frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet. But the worst thing you can do when feeding the seahorses in a intricate reef or live rock environment is to scatter a handful of frozen Mysis throughout the tank to be dispersed by the currents and hope that the hungry horses can track it all down. Inevitably some of the frozen food will be swept away and lodge in isolated nooks and crannies where the seahorses cannot get it (Giwojna, 2005). There it will begin to decompose and degrade the water quality, which is why ammonia spikes are common after a heavy feeding. Or it may be wafted out into the open again later on and eaten after it has begun to spoil. Either outcome can have dire consequences (Giwojna, 2005).
The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed your seahorses or set up a feeding station for them. See my online article in Conscientious Aquarist for a detailed discussion explaining exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use it:
Click here: Seahorse Feeders
Personally, I prefer to target feed my seahorses instead. 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 gobbling 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 (Giwojna, unpublished)?
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
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 (Giwojna, unpublished). (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.
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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
The key to keeping active specimens like firefish and occelaris clownfish 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 (Giwojna, unpublished).
Once the aquarium is finished cycling, macroalgae can be added to it at any point, Tammy. I like to begin introducing macros as soon as a new tank has cycled so that they can help prevent nuisance algae (hair algae, Bryopsis, slime algae or cyanobacteria, etc.) from getting a toehold in the aquarium by outcompeting them for the available nutrients.
I prefer decorative marine plants or macroalgae in a variety of shapes and colors and color — reds, browns, golds, and yellows in addition to green varieties, some tall and feathery, some short and bushy — to provide natural hitching posts and shelter for my seahorses. I like to start with a mixture of red and gold Gracilaria (Ogo) and artfully arrange them around a lush bed of assorted bright green Caulerpa. Any of the plumed (feathery) or long-bladed Caulerpa would be ideal for this, such as Caulerpa sertularioides, C. mexicana, C. ashmedii, C. serrulata or C. prolifera. The result is a colorful macroalgae garden with a very nice contrast of colors (reds, yellows, greens, and brown) and interesting shapes. A tank heavily planted with macros such as these is a lovely sight and mimics the seahorses’ natural seagrass habitat well.
As an added benefit, the macroalgae act as an excellent form of natural filtration, reducing the available levels of phosphates and nitrites/nitrates. Be sure to carefully prune and thin out the fast-growing Caulerpa regularly; when you remove the excess fronds, you’re exporting phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the tank, thereby helping to maintain good water quality, and pruning the runners helps keep it from going sexual.
When pruning or thinning out macroalgae, take care not to actually cut it. Remember, you’re not pruning hedges or trimming trees — the idea is to carefully pull up and remove continuous, unbroken fronds. Simply thin out the colony of excess strands, gently plucking up convenient fronds that can be readily removed intact. A little breakage is fine, but cutting or breaking too many strands will result in leaching undesirable substances into the aquarium water as the Caulerpa’s lifeblood drains away. Too much cutting or breaking can thus sap the colony’s strength and cause die offs or trigger the dreaded vegetative events that judicious pruning otherwise prevents.
If you’re concerned about your ability to maintain and control of Caulerpa properly, just use a different forms of macroalgae that grows less rapidly instead and you can get the same sort of benefits at relatively little risk. In that case, some of the other macroalge you may wish to consider are Gracilaria, Ulva, Chaetomorpha, and Chlorodesmis. Hawaiian Ogo (Gracilaria sp.) are bushy red-to-brown macros that do well under low light levels. Sea Lettuce (Ulva sp.) are deep green sheets of algae that do best under a little stronger lighting. Maiden’s Hair (Chlorodesmis sp.) are bright green tufts or clumps of very fine-bladed algal mats to grow attached to small rocks. All of these types of macroalgae are much less prolific and slower growing than Caulerpa. However, like all macroalgae, they should still be harvested periodically in order to export the excess nutrients they have consumed.
Aside from red and brown Gracilaria and the bright green Ulva and Maiden’s Hair, some seahorse keepers also like the Chaetomorpha turf algae from. It can best be described as looking like the clumps of the colorful plastic grass we use to fill Easter baskets. It is popular because it is slow growing and doesn’t require the kind of pruning that Caulerpa needs, and because it it comes loaded with microfauna: miniature feather dusters, copepods and amphipods, tiny snails and micro stars. In short, Chaetomorpha is another interesting marine plant that can add some extra variety to a lush bed of macroalgae.
You asked for suggestions regarding new additions, Tammy, and I was wondering if you are primarily interested in more information on compatible tankmates for your seahorses, or if you are looking for recommendations regarding more hitching posts to add or tips for aquascaping your new seahorse tank? Just let me know what type of new additions you were wondering about, and I would be happy to share my thoughts on the matter with you.
Best of luck stocking your new seahorse tank, Tammy!