Re:Temperture for suburst seahorse

Pete Giwojna

Dear Ray:

Yes, sir, that would be perfectly acceptable.

As you know, Mustangs and Sunbursts are different color morphs of the same species (Hippocampus erectus) and, as such, they are very hardy and adaptable, particularly in regards to the water temperature. As long as you lower the water temperature gradually (no more than a change of 2°F per day is best), your Sunbursts will have no difficulty adjusting to a stable water temperature of 68°F, sir.

However, the metabolic rate of the seahorses will be a little slower at the reduced temperature, so don’t be surprised if the seahorses eat a little less than they normally would or if they are somewhat lethargic and less active than usual.

As far as mating goes, the reduced water temperature should not keep your Sunbursts from breeding as long as you maintain a photoperiod of at least 12 hours. (When it comes to seasonal cues that can affect breeding, I find that the photoperiod or hours of daylight are much more important for regulating breeding then the water temperature, especially for a species of seahorse that has an enormous range in the wild and can therefore handle a wide range of temperatures.)

In my experience, the photoperiod of the aquarium – the length of time the aquarium is lighted each day – has a much more profound effect on the breeding behavior of tropical seahorses in captivity than water temperature. In a nutshell, seahorses breed best when provided with a photoperiod of at least 12 hours a day, and providing your ponies with significantly less light each day can inhibit breeding.

To understand why the photoperiod is so important for regulating breeding, we must first understand how the light-dark cycle regulates the levels of key hormones that control breeding. Gonadotropin (GtH) is a hormone that stimulates the growth and activity of the gonads and thus controls reproductive activity in vertebrates. It is secreted by the pituitary gland and stimulates the growth and function of the ovaries and testes. The levels of gonadotropin in the body are in turn regulated by melatonin, a hormone secreted by the light-sensitive pineal gland in response to darkness. Among a great many other functions, melatonin switches on a recently discovered enzyme known as gonadotropin inhibitory hormone, thus reducing the levels of gonadotropin in the body and shutting down reproduction (Sanders, 2005).

In other words, when the days are shortest and there is less sunlight, melatonin secretion is high and the levels of gonadotropin are reduced accordingly, causing the gonads to shrink and turning off reproduction. Likewise, when the days are longest and there is more sunlight, melatonin secretion is low and the levels of gonadotropin are high, stimulating the gonads and triggering reproductive activity (Sanders, 2005).

If you want to encourage your seahorses to breed in a home aquarium, keep the aquarium light on for at least 12 hours a day for best results. If you maintain good water quality and provide your seahorses with a nutritious diet, and provide them with a suitable photoperiod, sooner are later, nature will do the rest and your Sunbursts will breed readily in the aquarium.

In any case, Ray, you needn’t be concerned that the Sunbursts will have any difficulty in making the adjustment to the cooler water. Hippocampus erectus is a seahorse of many different temperatures. With an enormous range that extends all the way from Canada to Brazil, crosses a great deal of latitude, and overlaps 4 different climatic belts, this species tolerates an equally wide range of temperatures. Specimens of erectus from Nova Scotia are verging on subtemperate conditions, but a bit further south (i.e., the New England and midAtlantic States of the US), it’s a temperate seahorse; Florida erectus are subtropical and still further south, in Central America and the Caribbean, it’s a tropical species. And in parts of South America, erectus is accustomed to torrid equatorial conditions. You may thus see H. erectus correctly described in the literature as everything from temperate to tropical; some references say it is a cold-water seahorse and others describe it as a warm-water seahorse. Perhaps you have been confused by such apparent contradictions in the past. Don’t be. All the sources are correct, and all the various descriptions are accurate. The temperature requirements for H. erectus simply vary depending on where the seahorses originated. Specimens from Chesapeake Bay need cooler water than seahorses from Florida or the Gulf of Mexico. This is reflected in Dave Littlehale’s information, in which public aquaria reported keeping H. erectus successfully at temperatures ranging from 55°F-82°F (13°C-22°C) (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p33). If acclimated carefully, these hardy seahorses will thrive under either temperate or tropical conditions.

Nor should a low water temperature of 68°F cool the ardor of the seahorses or curb the romantic impulses of your Sunbursts, Ray, providing you maintain an adequate photoperiod. The genetic imperative to reproduce is very strong in the genus Hippocampus and the hardy, highly domesticated Ocean Rider Mustangs and Sunbursts are particularly irrepressible in that regard.

In fact, the cooler water temperatures may actually have a beneficial effect when it comes to the survivorship of the newborns, Ray. Along with reducing the metabolism of the seahorses, the lower temperatures will also increase the gestation period for your Sunbursts, which can actually be beneficial for the offspring.

A prolonged pregnancy is now known to have benefits for the developing young. For example, the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography finds that maintaining locally obtained H. ingens at cooler water temperatures extends the gestation of gravid males and increases survivorship of their pelagic fry (Liisa Coit, pers. com.). Lowering the water temperature, hence prolonging the gestation, increases the incubation period for the fetal fry and embryonic young the gravid male is carrying, which in turn translates into larger, more developed fry. The bigger, better developed newborns that result can feed and swim more efficiently and their survival rates are increased accordingly (Liisa Coit, pers. com.)

Best wishes with all your fishes, Ray!

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2012/12/14 01:06

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