Re:Turning White

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tammy:

It’s good to hear from you again and great to learn that you are continuing to have outstanding success raising your seahorse’s offspring! It’s always exciting when you close the life cycle and your babies grow up and become adults that are ready to start producing babies of their own! Congratulations on your second generation homegrown seahorses!

The change in the coloration of one of the adult offspring you mentioned does not strike me as Vibrio (marine ulcer disease or hemorrhagic septicemia), or white patch disease (Myxobacteria), or white tail disease (tail rot) offhand, Tammy. I can certainly understand why you would be concerned, since suspicious white patches are often an early indication of incipient bacterial infections and certain parasites such as Uronema.

My best guess is that your male that is experiencing these localized areas of depigmentation may be developing the Pinto pattern, that is so attractive and desirable in some specimens of Hippocampus erectus. In a few rare seahorses with the proper genotype, this sort of depigmentation is normal and occurs at a certain stage of development. In short, I think that this male may be a rare sport that is developing the Pinto coloration pattern.

Contact me off list ([email protected]), Tammy, and I will send you some photographs of Pintos as well as pictures of white patches that are a manifestation of disease so that you can compare the pictures with your young male and determine whether he is developing some sort of an infection or may simply be developing the Pinto color phase.

In the meantime, keep a close eye on your young male for any change in his behavior that could indicate a problem, such as a loss of appetite, rapid respirations or labored breathing, scratching himself or lethargic behavior and let me know immediately if you notice any such symptoms.

The disease this change in coloration is most similar to is white tail disease (i.e., tail rot), but there is a very easy way to rule that out. Tail rot, or white tail disease, begins with a loss of prehensility in the very tip of the tail (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). At this stage, the seahorses can grasp large objects just fine, but cannot take hold of slender objects with a small diameter (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.). Next the loss of prehensility spreads further up the tail and the seahorses begin to act as if their tails are very tender and sensitive. They will drape their tails over objects rather than grasping onto them and begin to drag their tails behind themselves, often arching the end of their tail upward in the shape of "U" (rather than the usual "J" or tight coil) as if to lift it off the ground and keep it from touching anything (Leddo, pers. com.).

This is usually when the tip of the tail becomes white and the loss of coloration starts advancing further and further up the tail (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). At this point, the discolored skin begins to flake or lift up and open wounds and ulcers develop on the most distal portions of the tail (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). The infection attacks the underlying tissues, and the tail is gradually eaten away, often all the way to the bone, exposing the vertebrae (hence the name Tail Rot). Survivors may end up missing the last few segments of their tail (Giwojna, Oct. 2003).

But if your male has not lost any of the prehensility in its tail and is continuing to grasp objects and hitch onto things normally, then you can be sure that the loss of coloration on his tail is not symptomatic of tail rot. If he is losing his ability to grasp things, then you can be equally certain that he is developing tail rot. In that case, let me know immediately and I will explain how to treat this condition.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Tammy! Good luck with all of your rearing projects!


Pete Giwojna

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