Re:Stocking first Seahorse tank…

Pete Giwojna

Dear Reverend:

Excellent! It’s very good to hear that all of your new arrivals have already resumed feeding on the frozen Mysis. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of target feeding and managing your feeding regimen.

Yes, sir — nothing perks up their interest and stimulates a seahorse’s feeding instincts like the frantic movements and evasive maneuvers of real, live, "catch-me-if-you-can" prey items. And they just can’t resist those red feeder shrimp, in particular.

Feeding seahorses are entertaining to watch, and the attentive aquarist can learn a lot about his pets from watching them eat. For instance, if they’re really hungry, seahorses will take off in hot pursuit when some mouth-watering morsel wanders by just beyond reach. No longer content to wait for their supper to come to them, they’ll launch themselves on a ”high-speed” chase at a blistering pace that’s just about capable of overtaking a lumbering brine shrimp or weary water flea. Once they’ve closed to within about one-quarter inch of their target — often prodded along by their tails to gain a final burst of added propulsion — that distinctive ”snick!” will announce the sudden demise of their quarry.

And when no prey is evident, seahorses will sometimes set off on hunting expeditions in a effort to scare up a meal on their own. A seahorse on safari will patrol the perimeter of its aquarium, carefully searching every nook and cranny as it skims along just above the bottom. (This behavior is often displayed when seahorses are hunting Gammarus, since the side-swimmers hug the bottom and seek shelter under every scrap of cover they can find. These amphipods are a favorite food of seahorses, which will often resort to amazing acrobatics in an attempt to winnow them out of their hiding places.) Suffice it to say, when you see your seahorses conducting these search-and-destroy missions, it’s time to feed them!

When the red feeder shrimp run out and you want to provide your seahorses with live foods as an occasional treat, adult brine shrimp is vastly preferable to the newly hatched brine shrimp. Adult seahorses will have no interest at all in baby brine shrimp. It’s just too insignificant to attract their interest and, as a rule, they do not eat it.

Hopefully, one of your local fish stores will be able to provide you with adult brine shrimp. If not, it is fairly easy to culture and grow out the brine shrimp on your own, as described below.

Growing Out Brine Shrimp (Culturing Artemia salina)

Under ideal conditions, Artemia reach adulthood in 8 days after molting 15 times. The easiest way to raise brine shrimp is to set up 5-to-30 gallon tanks (indoors or outdoors) in a sunny location that will encourage an algae bloom, seed these tanks with freshly hatched Artemia nauplii, and let nature take its course.

Here is how Robert Straughan describes this simple culture method: "Fill the culture container with fresh seawater or salt brine solution and let it age for a week or two in a sunny location. Then add a good hatch of live brine shrimp from your regular hatching jar and if conditions are right, you will soon be a full-fledged brine shrimp grower. In a few weeks, the shrimp will mature and even reproduce in the container. By siphoning off just a portion of the shrimp at a time, you will have a continued supply of this superb food. Green algae will form along the sides of the container and will furnish food for the growing shrimp so that all you will have to do is check the salinity occasionally and add a little freshwater when necessary. About every three or four months, replace about one-fourth of the solution with fresh saltwater and, if all goes well, the growing process will go on indefinitely. If the container is left outside, cover the top partially with a piece of glass so that just a little rain will enter the container during storms. Aeration is helpful where a large quantity is desired, but it is not necessary if clean water is used and the container is not too crowded. Evidently the growing algae gives off oxygen for the author has raised large quantities in the method described above and used neither aeration nor food" (Salt-Water Aquarium in the Home, pp 103-104).

The grow out containers for this low-maintenance method of raising brine shrimp can be buckets, large Rubbermaid vats, or old aquaria, but I find transparent containers work the best for promoting the growth of algae and observing the culture as the brine shrimp grow.

However, this simple system for culturing Artemia is inadequate if you need to provide enough nauplii to feed hundreds of hungry juveniles. This is often the case when you’re dealing with a large, healthy brood from a prolific species such as Hippocampus erectus or H. reidi, or when you have several mated pairs and more than one male gives birth within a short period.

A more sophisticated Artemia culture system is called for under these circumstances. This can be achieved by modifying your conventional rectangular culture tanks to form closed brine shrimp ”raceways” with improved circulation patterns that boost productivity. The modification involves installing a central partition that is equidistant from all four sides of the tank and then mounting 4 or more airlift tubes on the sides of the partition (see diagram). The air lifts are positioned so they provide optimum circulation and aeration by producing a circular flow with sufficient upwelling to keep the food particles and shrimp evenly distributed and in a state of constant suspension.

The converted raceway tanks are then stocked with nauplii at the rate of 1000-3800/liter and maintained under optimum conditions that will maximize brine shrimp production (pH = 8.0, specific gravity = 1.022 to 1.035, temperature = 80-82 F, and low light levels). (See the Plankton Culture Manual by Frank Hoff and Terry Snell* for complete instructions on this high-productivity, raceway culture method.)

If you live in an area with a favorable climate, there is an easier method for culturing brine shrimp in large quantities that might be just right for you: raising them outdoors in wading pools or small ponds. Simply install the pond in a suitable sunny location of your yard, fertilize the water with manure, and inoculate it with a starter culture of unicellular marine algae. Once the algae takes hold and the weather is right, the pond is seeded with brine shrimp eggs and nature is allowed to take its course. Voila! If all goes well, after a few weeks, you can begin harvesting large amounts of brine shrimp in various stages of development on a daily basis. For a more detailed discussion of the pond culture method, see William Gant’s article in the October 1996 issue of FAMA (”The Brine Shrimp, Part IV”).

Likewise, here is Sissy’s preferred technique for growing or adult brine shrimp (something along the same lines should work well for you, too, Patricia):

"I do things different from most. I take decaupsulated BS eggs and hatch them, use as many as I can for a day or two. Then I take whats left and pour them water and all into a fish shipping styro outside, that has saltwater already in it from water changes on tanks.Add a air stone,I feed algae paste and selco from BS Direct everyday. The results is full grown BS in a few days, and they lay eggs and the eggs hatch,I have a constant supply of all sizes of BS. I use different size mesh nets to seperate adults from BBS. I have 3 styros going most of the year, except winter. This gives me food for all sizes of seahorses and fish."
Sissy Sathre

Always remember that unfed adult brine shrimp are virtually nutritionally barren, and it is therefore vital that they be enriched improperly before you offer them to your seahorses. It is a great idea to enrich the brine shrimp with Vibrance, but make sure you use the lipid-rich Vibrance I rather than the low-fat formula (Vibrance II) for the Artemia. Adult brine shrimp are a good source of protein, but they have very little fat content. The lipid-rich formulation in Vibrance 1 (the original Vibrance) is thus ideal for enriching brine shrimp, transforming them from nutritionally barren, empty calories into a high-fat powerhouse of vitamins and nutrients that’s loaded with color-enhancing carotenoids. As an added benefit, enriching brine shrimp with Vibrance is also an excellent way to get your seahorses to ingest beta-glucan, which will boost their immune systems and help keep them healthy.

So if feasible, Reverend, I recommend that you start growing out brine shrimp outdoors as described above. The algae growth from sunlight will help to feed them, but for best results I would also provide them with ArtemiaGro on a daily basis as well. That will assure that they grow into the adults, which are the only brine shrimp your H. abdominalis will be interested in, much faster and are much more nutritious. Then, before you feed the adult brine shrimp you have grown out to the seahorses, be sure to enrich it with the lipid-rich Vibrance I. Here are the specific instructions for feeding the baby brine shrimp you hatch out with ArtemiaGro and for enriching the adult brine shrimp with Vibrance I:

Ocean Rider Artemiagro

This dry product is a trade secret and has been specifically formulated for growing and/or maintaining healthy populations of artemia (brine shrimp) and/or rotifers. It is very high in vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and digestible proteins that optimize growth and survivability.

Please store in a cool dark place (refrigerator or freezer is fine).

For fast and efficient feeding: Blend for 2 to 3 minutes 1 tablespoon of Ocean Rider Artemiagro into 1 cup of fresh water. Store any unused portion in the refrigerator. Add to artemia/rotifer grow out vessel until water turns slightly murky. When the water has cleared you may add more. Store any unused portion in the refrigerator in a container that does not allow light to penetrate. For slower and alternative feeding : Simply sprinkle a small amount directly into artemia vessel until water turns slightly murky. Re-apply when water has cleared. (Be careful not to stir up the bottom of vessel.)

Enriching Artemia with Vibrance I

For enriching or "gut packing" live Artemia (brine shrimp), or other live shrimp or live food of all sizes. Blend 1 teaspoon of Vibrance into 1 cup of water for 3 minutes. Add this to the live food vessel for 30 minutes, or until you see the gut of the animal turn red. Rinse the animals with clean salt water and feed immediately to your seahorses or other fish.

Selcon is also a good option for enriching brine shrimp, but I prefer to the Vibrance I which is especially formulated to meet the long-term needs of seahorses.

Best of luck with your seahorses, Reverend!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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