Re:Sick tank syndrome and running out of ideas

Pete Giwojna

Dear Lonnie:

It sounds like he did an excellent job of administering the formalin treatments. I know it’s intimidating the first time you perform such baths, but providing the treatment water is well aerated and you observe the necessary precautions, it has been my experience that seahorses tolerate the formalin very well. Many times only one of the formalin baths is needed, so hopefully it won’t be necessary to repeat the procedure.

Of course, any time seahorses must be handled for any sort of treatment or be transferred from their familiar surroundings to a strange new environment, it is always stressful to a certain degree. But handling the seahorses properly (see discussion below) can minimize this stress. Ordinarily, though, the seahorses will forgive you and forget all about the traumatic transfer by the time their next feeding rolls around, so they rebound pretty quickly. As a rule, you want to minimize handling and transferring the seahorses as much as possible, but some conditions that respond well to topical treatments require the medication to be applied to 2-3 times a day for a week to 10 days, and the seahorses often do well under such circumstances. (The more they are handled, the more accustomed to the whole procedure they become.)

In your case, Lonnie, the transfer back to the main tank should be relatively easy on the seahorses, since they will be happy to be returned to their familiar surroundings and the more spacious accommodations in the seahorse tank. Here are some suggestions for handling the seahorses to assure that all goes well:

Handling Seahorses

I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

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 with your Hippocampus kuda and H. reidi seahorses, Lonnie!

Pete Giwojna

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