Re:Vitamins for seahorses?

#4784
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Brian:

When it comes to vitamins, Brian, there are a number of commercially made food supplements for marine fish that will work well for enriching frozen Mysis, but in my opinion, Vibrance is the best of these since it was developed specifically to provide a long-term balanced diet for seahorses. It includes additional highly unsaturated fatty acids (especially the DHA Omega 6 DHA series), along with Vitamin C and essential minerals, in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress management, and proper reproduction. Vibrance is a bright red-orange powder that gets its characteristic color due to its high content of carotenoids, which are an abundant source of Vitamin A and act as natural color enhancers for yellow and red pigmentation.

In short, Vibrance is the supplement that produces the best results for me. It was designed by a research team of nutritionists and fish biologists for use with frozen mysid shrimp in order to meet the dietary requirements of these unique fishes, and it comes in two different formulations — Vibrance 1 (the original Vibrance) and Vibrance 2 — which are tailored for seahorses with different needs. The two Vibrance formulations differ primarily in their fat content. One of them is a low-fat formula, whereas the other is rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids and other lipids.

As you know, the two different Vibrance formulations are intended for entirely different purposes. The lipid-rich formulation (Vibrance 1) was designed for enriching live foods that are low in lipids or fat content, such as brine shrimp (Artemia spp.), whereas the low-fat formulation (Vibrance 2) was designed to enrich frozen Mysis which are naturally rich in HUFAs, thereby protecting adult seahorses from hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

I keep both Vibrance 1 and Vibrance 2 on hand at all times, and which formula I used to enrich the frozen Mysis depends more on the behavior of my ponies than their age. I like to use the lipid-rich Vibrance 1 as long as the seahorses are actively breeding, whether they be yearlings or old reliable pairs. Likewise, I prefer to use the low-fat Vibrance 2 for mature seahorses that are not currently breeding, whether they are five months old or five years old. And, of course, Vibrance 1 is perfect for enriching baby brine shrimp for newborn seahorses or adult brine shrimp for mature seahorses. Finally, regardless of which type of Vibrance I am using for any particular seahorses, I always observe fast days in one form or another religiously as part of my feeding regimen.

Among other things, Vibrance 2 includes beta-glucan, pure Astaxanthin, carotenoids, water-soluble vitamin C, and various other vitamins and minerals in the proper proportions. It is a no-fat formulation intended for enriching frozen Mysis. As such, it’s perfect for fortifying frozen Mysis for adult seahorses, further enhancing their nutritional value while safeguarding against hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).

The original Vibrance (i.e., Vibrance 1) is a lipid-rich formula including beta-glucan, the proper balance of long chain fatty acids (DHA and EPA) derived from natural schizochytrium algae, and color-enhancing carotenoids, all combined with just the right amount of vitamins, minerals and water-soluble stabilized vitamin C. It is ideal for enriching live foods with poor nutritional value that are naturally low in lipids, such as newly hatched brine shrimp or adult Artemia.

Personally, aside from enriching live foods, I prefer the high-fat formula (Vibrance 1) for young seahorses that are still growing, and for adult seahorses that are actively breeding, churning out brood after brood, since they need all the calories and energy they can get. Vibrance 1 is also great for fattening up any seahorses of any age. On the other hand, I like the low-fat formula (Vibrance 2) for mature seahorses that are no longer breeding. This includes younger adults that are taking a break from breeding during the off-season, unpaired adults that have no mates at the moment, and older individuals that have been retired and put out to pasture. No longer growing and no longer producing clutch after clutch of eggs (or nourishing a pouch full of babies, in the case of males), these older specimens don’t need as much fat in their diets. Switching them to a low-fat formulation can help protect them from age-related conditions such as fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).

What really sets Vibrance apart from other enrichment products is that it is the only one that includes beta-glucan as a primary ingredient. Beta-glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fishes. Thanks to Vibrance, we can now boost our seahorse’s immune systems and help them fight disease as part of their daily feeding regimen. Enriching our galloping gourmets’ frozen Mysis with Vibrance will give them a daily dose of Beta Glucan to stimulate phagocytosis of certain white cells (macrophages). If the research on Beta Glucan is accurate, this could be a great way to help prevent infections from bacteria, fungus, and viral elements rather than attempting to treat disease outbreaks after the fact.

Not only should Vibrance + Beta Glucan help keep healthy seahorses healthy, it should also help ailing seahorses recover faster. Research indicates that it helps prevent infections and helps wounds heal more quickly (Bartelme, 2001). It is safe to use in conjunction with other treatments and has been proven to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics (Bartelme, 2001). It will be great for new arrivals recovering from the rigors of shipping because Beta Glucan is known to alleviate the effects of stress and to help fish recover from exposure to toxins in the water (Bartelme, 2001)

For more information on the potential benefits of Beta Glucan for aquarium fish, please see the following article:

Click here: Advanced Aquarist Feature Article
http://www.advancedaquarist.com/issues/sept2003/feature.htm

Adminstering Beta Glucan orally via Vibrance-enriched frozen Mysis, which are so naturally rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA), is the perfect way to boost the immune response of our seahorses since vitamins and HUFA enhance the capacity of immune system cells that are stimulated by the use of beta glucan (Bartelme, 2001).

Vibrance 1, the high-fat formulation, is ideal for enriching newly-hatched brine shrimp that will be fed seahorse fry, so it’s especially useful for hobbyists that are into breeding and rearing their seahorses. Vibrance 1 is the formulation you want for fortifying newly hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) to feed the seahorse fry, and it’s also the one I use for my breeding pairs.

In your case, Brian, your H. reidi seahorses are probably young adults that have recently hit sexual maturity. The low-fat Vibrance 2 formulation is best suited for such seahorses. However, if and when they begin breeding regularly in your refugium, you may want to switch to the lipid-rich Vibrance 1 instead to keep your broodstock in top condition. And when you are feeding them adult brine shrimp, the Vibrance 1 is ideal for enriching the brine shrimp.

Here are the online instructions for using and storing the Vibrance, sir, and I will be happy to elaborate on them later in this e-mail as well:

Vibrance 1 Instructions

How to use Vibrance: our original high fat formula, a must when feeding Artemia (brine shrimp) of all sizes. Use with all feedings.

For seahorses and other marine fish that eat frozen Mysis: simply sprinkle a “pinch” of Vibrance onto the frozen Mysis. Allow the Mysis shrimp to thaw. Gently mix the Vibrance into the Mysis so that the head is red. Apply the feed to seahorse tank. You will see that they recognize this food quickly taking the Mysis directly from the feeding station or from the tank bottom.

For other frozen foods simply sprinkle a “pinch” of Vibrance onto the frozen food. Allow the food to thaw and mix the Vibrance gently into the food. Feed to your fish.

For enriching or “gut packing” live artmeia (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.

For feeding invertebrates such as corals make a slurry buy blending or mixing well 1 teaspoon of Vibrance into 1 cup of salt water for 3 minutes. Pour this slurry right onto the polyps and watch them open up with hunger!!

With proper use, you will ensure the long term high health and vibrant coloration in your seahorses and other marine animals. See for your self!!

Storage instructions: Please store in a cool dark place. The freezer or refrigerator is fine, but not necessary. Because Vibrance is packaged in a bag that does not allow light to penetrate and is a dry product the shelf life is indefinite as long as the bag is stored in a cool place and kept sealed. Once the bag is opened the shelf life is approximately one year.

Just a light dusting of Vibrance is all that’s needed to enrich the frozen Mysis. After using the Vibrance, seal the packet tightly to keep out as much air as possible and store it in a cool, dry place. Avoid exposing the Vibrance to heat, light, or moisture. Storing the sealed packets in the fridge works great for most folks.

Feeding & Enriching Frozen Mysis

There is no simple answer to the question, "How many frozen Mysis should each of my seahorses be eating per day?" That depends on the size of the frozen Mysis, which varies considerably from brand to brand, the size of the seahorses themselves, and the size of their appetites, which is also quite variable from one pony to another, and a number of other factors. Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) of average size usually eat between 2-7 of the big Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta per feeding, but rather than trying to keep track of how many frozen Mysis each of your seahorses has eaten, it’s a better idea to check them for well-rounded abdomens after they have eaten a big meal and to observe their fecal production in order to make sure they are all getting enough to eat on a daily basis, as discussed below.

In addition to cycling your aquarium and setting it up to create an ideal environment for seahorses, you will also need to line up a good source of frozen Mysis before your seahorses arrive. Frozen Mysis is available in several different brands from a number of different sources. Gamma brand frozen Mysis is good, Hikari frozen Mysis is quite acceptable (although often fragmentary) as is San Francisco Bay brand frozen Mysis and the Omega One Mysis, whereas the Mini Mysis by H2O Life is great for small seahorses, and Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis is no doubt the best in terms of nutritional content and quality control. Your local fish stores should carry one or more of these brands.

I have noticed that seahorses can sometimes be very selective when it comes to the size of the prey they prefer. For instance, the jumbo PE Mysis relicta are of course quite large, and it’s certainly possible that young seahorses may balk at the jumbos simply because of their size. Some seahorses are very particular in that regard, and tend to reject food items that are significantly larger or smaller than their preferred range of prey. For example, I’ve seen some seahorses that rejected the smaller Hikari Mysis with great disdain, yet which greedily gulped down the jumbo Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta. On the other hand, I’ve had small seahorses turn up their snouts at the jumbo PE frozen Mysis because it’s too large for their liking, and attack the small Hikari frozen Mysis with great gusto.

Whatever brand of frozen Mysis you obtain, for best results, it’s a good idea to fortify it with Vibrance before feeding it to your seahorses. Vibrance is an enrichment formulation that was designed by a research team of nutritionists and fish biologists especially for use with frozen Mysis shrimp in order to meet the dietary requirements of seahorses, and it has been developed specifically to provide a long-term balanced diet for these unique fishes. Depending on which Vibrance formulation you use, it includes additional highly unsaturated fatty acids (especially the DHA Omega 6 DHA series), along with Vitamin C and essential minerals, in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress management, and proper reproduction. Vibrance is a bright red-orange powder that gets its characteristic color due to its high content of carotenoids, which are an abundant source of Vitamin A and act as natural color enhancers for yellow and red pigmentation. It is the only enrichment product that includes beta glucan as an active ingredient. That’s important because beta glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fish.

In order to enrich it, the frozen Mysis is carefully thawed out and rinsed well to remove any excess shrimp juices, and then a VERY light dusting of the Vibrance is added to the Mysis while they are still just a bit moist. The Vibrance is then gently worked into the frozen Mysis and it usually adheres very well. The end result should be whole, completely intact Mysis shrimp that have acquired a reddish tinge to their head or anterior end. In actual practice, there are probably as many different ways of successfully thawing and enriching frozen Mysis as there are aquarists that use them; most everybody works out their own method of preparing the frozen Mysis that works best for their needs and busy schedule.

Here are Ocean Rider’s usual feeding suggestions to guide you at mealtime:

Feeding Tips

In general, it’s a good idea to offer one morning feeding and one mid-to-late afternoon feeding, if possible, but there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to easy-to-feed, farm-raised horses. Some hobbyist prefer to give their seahorses two feedings a day, while others prefer to give them their quota of frozen Mysis in one big meal. As long as they get their fill, there is really no right or wrong way to go about this — just do whatever works bests for your seahorses and your schedule.

As you know, the feeding regimen that generally works best for most captive-bred seahorses is to provide each of them with 2-7 frozen Mysis relicta twice a day, enriched with Vibrance, and then to fast your seahorses entirely once a week. In other words, your seahorses should each be eating a total of around 4-14 frozen Mysis each day, depending on the size of the seahorse and the size of the Mysis. But those are just rough guidelines and there is a lot of variation in how much Mysis healthy seahorses eat each day.

A large seahorse naturally eats more than a smaller pony. And jumbo-sized Mysis will fill up a hungry seahorse faster than smaller shrimp. So a seahorse that’s scarfing up king-sized Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta does indeed need to eat fewer shrimp than a pony that’s dining on the tiny Hikari Mysis or the miniscule H2O Mini Mysis.

Aside from size, some of the other factors that determine how much a seahorse eats are water temperature, the age of the seahorse, and whether or not it is actively breeding at the moment. The warmer the water temperature (within the seahorse’s comfort zone), the higher it’s metabolism, and the more calories it needs to eat as a result. Young seahorses that are still growing rapidly typically eat more than mature seahorses that have reached their full growth. As you might expect, breeding pairs that are producing brood after brood every few weeks need to eat a lot because so much of their bodily resources go towards producing clutches of eggs or nourishing a pouch full of developing young.

So don’t get hung up trying to count every morsel every seahorse in your tank scarfs down. Just make sure all your seahorses have full bellies at the end of the day, as indicated by their well-rounded abdomens. After a good feeding, the seahorses belly rings should be flush or even slightly convex in cross section when viewed from head on. (We never want to see sunken, severely pinched-in abdomens on our seahorses! Concave belly rings are a sure sign of an underfed seahorse, with the sole exception of a female that has just transferred her eggs.)

So if you want to check whether your seahorses are eating well or not, don’t look at their profile — just examine them head-on and check out their gut. Their abdomens or belly plates should bulge out slightly or at least be flush with their flanks, not pinched in or sunken. In other words, when viewed from the back or from head-on after a good feeding, the cross-section of their abdomens should appear convex "( )" or flush "l l" rather than concave ") (" or pinched in.

Feeding Frozen Mysis

Tips for thawing and enriching frozen Mysis.

In order to prevent wastage and obtain the maximum benefit from this superb food, it must be thawed properly. This is especially important because once the Mysis are fully thawed, they are not refreezable (Adib, 2004). Most hobbyists tend to simply thaw their mysids in aquarium water, which has the virtue of thawing it quickly but is not the best approach. The faster the frozen shrimp is thawed, the more likely it is to be damaged in the process. We want the mysids to remain intact and lifelike; we don’t want the tissue of the Mysis to begin to breakdown in the process of freezing/thawing. The goal is to preserve the Mysis and retain all those precious shrimp juices when we thaw it, not to release their fluids into the aquarium water where it will only degrade the water quality and do your seahorses no good!

So don’t thaw frozen Mysis in 75°F-80°F aquarium water. Don’t nuke it in the microwave to defrost it! And don’t simply toss a chunk of frozen Mysis in your tank and let it float around until it thaws and releases individual mysids!

Nor should you thaw it in tap water, distilled water, or any other source of freshwater. You want to thaw the shrimp in water that is about as salty as their own bodily fluids so there is little or no difference in osmotic pressure. Freshwater will tend to move into the mysids as they thaw and can break down their integument and rupture cell walls as they swell; excessively salty water will tend to draw water out of the Mysis as they thaw, desiccating them in the process. Normal strength seawater is just right for thawing.

So the recommended method for thawing frozen Mysis is to use refrigerated saltwater from your aquarium. Keep a small jug of your artificial saltwater in your refrigerator and reserve this for thawing your mysids (Adib, 2004). Place a couple of ounces of the chilled saltwater in a small cup or similar receptacle and use that to thaw the shrimp. Break off a small chunk from the mass of frozen Mysis — just enough for one feeding or a day’s worth at most (with experience, you will soon learn exactly how much to use) — place it in the cup of saltwater and allow the Mysis to slowly thaw in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes (Adib, 2004). Then take the cup out of the refrigerator and allow the thawed Mysis to warm up at room temperate for another 15 minutes (Adib, 2004). This method leaves the mysids perfectly intact and lifelike, and produces immaculate shrimp that need no further rinsing. (If you use another method for thawing the Mysis, it’s generally advisable to rinse the thawed shrimp in a brine shrimp net to prevent fouling of the aquarium water.) You are now ready to fortify the Mysis with the enrichment formula of your choice.

Carefully remove the individual thawed mysids from the thawing container using a plastic fork or a toothpick and gently deposit them in the bowl of a plastic spoon. The idea is to handle the shrimp as little as possible during the thawing and enriching process, since rough handling can cause the mysids to break apart. If your enrichment product is in powder form such as Vibrance (which I recommend), take a pinch of the formula, sprinkle it on the Mysis, and mix it in very gently (a plastic knife or similar instrument works well for this step). The orange power will adhere to the moist Mysis, and when you’re done, the head region (cephalothorax) of the mysids should be stained reddish. (If your preferred supplement is a liquid formula, just add a few drops to the Mysis and let it soak in.)

With a little practice, most hobbyists quickly work out their own technique for preparing enriched Mysis. The method outlined above works well for me and many other aquarists, but there are many other ways of defrosting and enriching the Mysis that work equally well. For instance, other hobbyists prefer to add a dusting of enrichment powder (or a few drops of a liquid supplement) to a chunk of frozen Mysis and gently mix it in (or allow it to soak in) as it thaws. One nifty way to do this is to break off my little chunk of frozen shrimp and place it on a square of wax paper, allow it a while to defrost, and then add a pinch of enrichment formula and roll the Mysis and power in the wax paper as though making a cigarette. This technique is trickier and takes a little experience before you can pull it off properly. The thawing and rolling/mixing process must be done very, very carefully or you may crush some of the Mysis and lose a lot of shrimp juice while preparing it. As always, if you’re doing it right, the heads of the individual Mysis shrimp should end up stained red, which is a feeding "trigger" captive-bred chowhounds find hard to resist. With a little practice, you will soon refine your own method for preparing frozen Mysis that works the best for your schedule and the needs of your herd.

But however you prepare it, it’s important to keep the enriched Mysis refrigerated until it’s used, and to use all the Mysis you thawed and enriched within 24 hours. For best results, the enriched Mysis should be used immediately after it’s prepared. Whether it’s been refrigerated or not, avoid using thawed and prepared Mysis that is 2 or 3 days old. We don’t want to offer our seahorses food that might have become laden with bacteria.

This is what I suggest regarding your feeding regimen, Brian. Discontinue offering your Hippocampus reidi the frozen zooplankton and the frozen brine shrimp. H. reidi are notoriously finicky eaters and, unless I miss my bet, most of the zooplankton and frozen brine shrimp is going uneaten. Unless you are extremely diligent about cleaning up all the leftovers after every meal, the uneaten zooplankton and frozen brine shrimp will impair your water quality and result in ammonia and/or nitrite spikes after a heavy feeding. Instead, I would concentrate on feeding your H. reidi a good brand of frozen Mysis along with live adult brine shrimp, both of which you have enriched with the proper Vibrance formulation. Enriching these foods with the Vibrance will assure that your seahorses get a well-rounded nutritious diet.

Furthermore, I strongly recommend that you avoid scatter feeding or broadcast feeding the frozen Mysis to your seahorses. A much better method is to target feed the seahorses, and when they are eating the frozen Mysis from your baster or feeding wand readily, then you can train them to eat the frozen Mysis from a feeding station. More information on these feeding techniques is discussed below:

Use a feeding station.

Seahorses respond very well when they are fed at the same time and place each day. They quickly learn the routine and will come to recognize their keeper as the one who feeds them — the giver of gourmet delights! Once that happens, they will often beat you to the spot, gathering around their feeding station as soon as they see you approach.

In fact, the aquarist can easily condition his seahorses to come a running at feeding time. Before you open the aquarium cover, make a point of lightly tapping it a few times or rapping on it gently. The seahorses will quickly learn to associate the tapping with the mouthwatering morsels that follow, and before you know it, they will respond by gathering at the feeding station as if you were ringing the dinner bell.

To facilitate this process and make feeding them easier, choose a feeding station that’s convenient for you in a relatively uncluttered part of the aquarium, and give your seahorses their meal right there every day. The feeding station should have some convenient hitching posts situated nearby as well. Avoid using an area where currents might whisk the food away from the seahorses before they can eat it.

I know one hobbyist who uses a toadstool leather coral as his feeding station. He places the Mysis on the bowl-shaped top of the toadstool, which contains them nicely while his seahorses perch around the edges and scarf up the shrimp as if dining at a lunch counter.

Not everyone has a toadstool coral to serve as a natural feeding station, of course, but it’s easy to make your own lunch counter that will work just as well. Get a small Pyrex bowl or a similar shallow container made of clear glass or plastic (a large petri dish works great for this) and fill it about halfway with your tank substrate (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). Then sink the bowl into your sand bed until the substrate you placed in the bowl is level with the substrate in the tank (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). Leave the rim sticking up above the sand bed about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or so (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). The clear glass rim of the bowl is transparent and virtually unnoticeable, so don’t worry that it will detract from the appearance of your display tank. Artfully position a few natural hitching posts around the bowl to provide your seahorses with a handy perch from which to snick up their dinner.

At feeding time, place the frozen Mysis on the sand or gravel inside the bowl. A long tube of clear plastic 1/2′ to 1′ in diameter facilitates this. The bottom of the tube is placed in the middle of the bowl and the enriched Mysis are then placed in the top of the tube, which guides them exactly where you want them as they sink. The rim sticking above the sand bed will then keep the food in place while your seahorses dine at their leisure. Afterwards, any leftovers are neatly contained, making cleanup a breeze!

Or you can always purchase a seahorse feeding station off the shelf, ready to go, as is. Artificial cup coral makes an attractive elevated "lunch counter" that does the job nicely. Elevated on a pedestal, the seahorses can perch around the edge of the cup, which contains the frozen shrimp nicely until eaten. The coral cups are very lifelike and make nifty ready-made feeding stations if positioned at a convenient (for you and your galloping gourmets) spot in your tank where currents won’t whisk the Mysis away.

For example, one of the artificial Velvet Stone Corals offered by Living Color (<http://www.livingcolor.com/coral.cfm&gt;), in particular, makes an absolutely superb natural-looking feeding station for seahorses! The inner whorls of the colorful coral form a deep bowl to contain the frozen Mysis and protect it from being swept away by water currents, whereas the outer whorls provide convenient places for several seahorses to perch while they wait to eat:

Item number 360 DPK Velvet Stone Coral (Montipora sp.) from Living Color (11"L x 8"W x 7.5"H)

Another handy item that makes a great ready-made feeding station for seahorses are the conical worm feeders designed for offering bloodworms and tubifex worms to fish. They may require a little modifying since many of them are designed to float. Depending on the type of feeder, you may have to perforate air filled chambers around the collar, weigh it down to submerge it, or cut the conical worm trap free from the rest of the feeder. Worm feeders come with a suction cup, so once you’ve overcome the buoyancy problem, they can be secured anywhere in the aquarium you want, and they work just as well with frozen Mysis as with worms. If you position the conical feeder where a slight current hits it, gently jostling and agitating the frozen Mysis inside, it is even more effective. The flow of water imparts a bit of movement to the frozen Mysis, causing it to twitch or swirl about just a bit periodically inside the feeder. This makes the thawed Mysis look all the more lifelike and quickly attracts the interest of the seahorses. They will gather around the feeder and snick up Mysis through the open top. The conical shape of these feeders contains the frozen Mysis even better than most other feeding stations.

Some hobbyists prefer a more natural looking, aesthetically pleasing feeding station, which they fashion themselves to suit their own tastes. They start with a piece of well-cured live rock that’s approximately the right size and shape, and painstakingly hollow out the center to form a shallow concave depression. This shallow bowl is fashioned by grinding it out, using an electrical moto-tool (available at any craft store or hardware store) with a carbide burr or sometimes even a shop grinder. Once the bowl has been hollowed out, a series of holes are then drilled around the circumference of this depression. Red, brown or purple Gracilaria, green Caulerpa and/or gorgonian branches are planted in these holes to create natural hitching posts. As the macroalgae takes hold and fills out, this produces an attractive feeding station that looks completely natural. It’s a great do-it-yourself project for the handy hobbyist.

An upturned clamshell also makes a nifty natural feeding station that fits in perfectly in your seahorses’ setup. Choose a colorful natural seashell for this, such as one valve of a Tridacna clam or perhaps a Lion’s Paw Scallop shell, and you have an attractive feeding station that’s perfectly appropriate for your tank. The concave interior of the bivalve shell acts as a shallow bowl to contain the frozen Mysis until it’s eaten, and unlike some feeding stations that look out of place and detract from the appearance of your tank, a seashell looks as natural as can be in a marine aquarium. My favorite for this type of feeding station is a medium-sized Abalone shell. The iridescent, opalescent colors of the upturned interior, with its magnificent polished surface of mother-of-pearl, are spectacular! An upturned abalone shell requires no further modification whatsoever, making it the ideal feeding station for the unhandy hobbyist who’s all thumbs.

Other aquarists reserve a small, transparent glass bowl or clear plastic receptacle for feeding their seahorses. They merely place the bowl or plastic container on the bottom of the tank at feeding time, add the enriched Mysis, and let their seahorses gather round and dine at their leisure as though eating from a feeding trough. A few hours later, the feeding container is removed, along with any leftovers. Quick and easy!

For more information, see my article in Conscientious Aquarist which explains exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use a in greater detail.. It’s available online at the following URL:

Click here: Seahorse Feeders
<<http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_2/cav2i5/seahorse_feeders/seahorse_feeders.htm>&gt;

For best results, I recommend elevating the feeding station, which provides several benefits for our galloping gourmets:

(1) First and foremost, it isolates the feeding trough from the bacteria-laden substrate and provides the seahorses with a sanitary lunch counter from which to feed.

(2) Secondly, it keeps the feeding station beyond the reach of bottom scavengers such as bristleworms, Nassarius snails and hermit crabs, which are attracted to the frozen Mysis.

(3) Finally, it provides a sterile feeding surface for the ponies that is easy to remove and keep clean, thereby making it a breeze to dispose of leftovers, which safeguards your water quality. Keeping the feeding tray elevated makes it convenient to clean and sterilize between feedings.

Some creative hobbyists elevate their feeding stations by attaching an upturned seashell or an improvised feeding tray to a strong aquarium magnet. This allows them to move the feeding station to any location within the tank quickly and easily, and to adjust its height as desired without ever putting their hands in the aquarium. How nifty is that? And you thought those magnetic glass cleaners were only useful for cleaning algae from the aquarium glass…

You can also buy ready-made feeding stations if you feel that would be easier than improvising one of your own. For example, the Aquarium Fish Dish sold here works well in some seahorse tanks, if you don’t mind adding that particular piece of apparatus to your tank:

<http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/10853/product.web&gt;

And don’t forget to check out the ultra-cool feeding station shown in the picture at the link below, which was fashioned from a seashell by a very clever seahorse keeper. Notice how the hobbyist inverted a Lambis shell or scorpion seashell and then used a Dremel tool to cut away part of the main body whorl, creating a perfect feeding trough. As you can see, the fingerlike projections that extend from the aperture of the Lambis shell (and all other scorpion shells) make handy hitching posts for a hungry Hippocampus. This enterprising aquarist has also attached a convenient suction cup for elevating and mounting his fancy feeding station to the wall of the tank. Outstanding! So be creative when you’re setting up a feeding station and you can come up with a design that looks great and is also very functional:

http://www.greenighs.com/seahorses/tank/first_snick.jpg

However you go about it, and whatever sort of feeding dish or trough you fancy for your seahorse tank, setting up a feeding station is a convenient, sanitary method of feeding seahorses that works very well for most home hobbyists.

(6) Observe fast days and don’t overfeed.

One of the most common mistakes hobbyists make is to overfeed their seahorses. Any excess Mysis that’s not eaten within an hour or two of a feeding can become a threat to your seahorses. Either it will find its way into some inaccessible nook of the aquarium and begin to decay, degrading your water quality, or it may be noticed by a hungry seahorses hours later or perhaps even the next day, and eaten after bacteria have gone to work on it. The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed and remove leftovers promptly, as soon as you’re sure all the seahorses have had their fill. If you can only feed once a day, make it a morning meal before you leave for work, so the seahorses have the rest of the day to glean their leftovers. A good cleanup crew can also help by taking care of any uneaten morsels that slip past the aquarist.

It’s equally important to observe the once-a-week fast day. Fasting helps prevent any potential problems with hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) and keeps your seahorses feeding aggressively rather than losing interest in frozen foods. The problem is that although fasting is very healthy for seahorses on a staple diet of enriched Mysis, it can be very hard on the hobbyist. Here’s how I described this dilemma in a recent aquarium magazine article (Giwojna, Jun. 2002):

"The only thing I don’t like about this extremely nutritious diet is the obligatory fast day. The problem with fasting is that my mustangs don’t seem to realize it’s good for them — that it’s absolutely in their own best interests, essential for their long-term health. Whenever I make an appearance on fast day, they insist on parading back and forth in front of the glass in their greeting colors, begging for a handout. Before my butt hits the upholstery, both of them will be dancing at the feeding station, impatiently awaiting their gourmet shrimp dinner. When it doesn’t materialize, they forlornly abandon their post at the lunch counter, and come up to stare at me through the front glass. When I still don’t take the hint, the female paces back and forth at the front, looking her brightest and most conspicuous, as though trying to attract my attention, while the male reverts to his drab everyday attire and dejectedly resumes his futile vigil at the feeding station. If not for their well-rounded cross-sections, one would think they were dying of hunger, making it difficult to resist their puppy-dog antics. Just sitting there ignoring them makes me feel like a first-class heel. Sheesh — talk about your guilt trips…Dang! I hate fast days." (Giwojna, Jun. 2002)

(7) Target feed your seahorses and remove uneaten leftovers promptly.

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 and stare it down forever 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 scarfing 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?

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.

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.

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.

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. (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. And it’s great for tapping on the cover to ringing the dinner bell and summon the diners for their gourmet feast!)

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.

The key to keeping active specimens like firefish or compatible 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.

Before I sign off, I would also like to re-emphasize one more point regarding feeding frozen foods. Whether it is a tank with lots of live rock, a modified minireef, a seagrass system or a mangrove biotype, a well-designed seahorse setup is an elaborate environment. A certain level of complexity is necessary in order to assure that our seahorses behave naturally (Topps, 1999) and to provide our ponies with plenty of hitching posts and shelter, and enough sight barriers to assure them a little privacy when they feel the need to be alone. Their homemade habitat may thus take the form of a labyrinth of live rock, an intricate arrangement of corals and gorgonians, a well-planted bed of seagrass or macroalgae, or a full-fledged reef face. When feeding seahorses in such intricate surroundings, the worst thing you can do 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. There it will begin to decompose and impair your 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 gone bad. Either outcome can lead to dire problems. Target feeding the seahorses or training them to use a feeding station are the best ways to avoid such complications.

Your Hippocampus reidi will love the live copepods and Gammarus amphipods you have ordered, Brian! Go ahead and add all of the copepods to your 29-gallon Biocube. With luck, some of them will avoid being eaten long enough to establish a breeding colony in the tank. If possible, I would recommend setting up the amphipods in a small tank of their own so that you can culture them and then dole them out to your H. reidi from time to time as special treats. Here are some suggestions for culturing amphipods, sir:

<open quote>
GAMMARUS AMPHIPODS

Pros (Giwojna, Oct. 1996):
· Highly nutritious, hard-bodied crustaceans.
· Favorite food of many larger seahorse species.
· Good tolerance for saltwater (marine Gammarus survive indefinitely and even freshwater Gammarus will last until eaten if your sea horses are fond of them).
· Live Gammarus are increasingly available as fish food.
· Starter cultures are widely available through the mail.

Cons (Giwojna, Oct. 1996):
· Slow reproductive rate makes it difficult to raise them in large quantities.
· Slight risk of introducing disease with Gammarus collected in the wild.

Collecting Tips:

Marine Gammarids–Gammarus locusta, a marine amphipod, can often be found in large numbers at the seashore by overturning rocks and coral rubble at low tide (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Also know as scuds or beach-hoppers, scads of the land-dwelling form of these amphipods (Talitrus saltator) can often easily be collected from the mats of seaweed washed up on shore at the tide line. Simply gather up clumps of the freshly deposited seaweed and shake it vigorously over your collecting bucket to dislodge the amphipods.

Freshwater Gammarids–Gammarus fasciatus can be collected from vegetation and leaf litter on the bottoms of ponds and slow-moving streams (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).

Culture Instructions:

Marine Gammarus will maintain a self-sustaining colony if established in a standard saltwater aquarium with coral gravel and rubble and left undisturbed while their population grows (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Encourage a lush growth of green algae and restock periodically.

Under the right conditions, these small, shrimplike crustaceans mate and reproduce readily in captivity. Provide them with a lush green mat of Ulva macroalgae as natural habitat, and they will soon take up residence and establish a breeding colony of amphipods (Indo-Pacific Sea Farms, 2003). Provide them with low light levels, good aeration, and a pinch of flake food twice a week and you’ll soon have a growing population of Gammarus to dole out to your seahorses (Indo-Pacific Sea Farms, 2003).

Freshwater Gammarus can be cultured in a plastic wading pool or similar spacious receptacle equipped with an airstone (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Feed sparingly with chopped raw spinach, Spirulina, or a pinch of dry fish food. Include plenty of algae-covered rocks and driftwood for shelter, and position where strong direct sunlight will produce heavy algal growth (Giwojna, Oct. 1996).

Comments:

To feed these 1/4"-5/16" crustaceans to your fish, siphon water from around the rocks, shells, and gravel in the culture tank and strain it through a net to separate the Gammarus from the debris (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Commonly known as side-swimmers, these hard-shelled amphipods have a herky-jerky, sidestroke swimming style that most large sea horses find irresistible (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). Their seemingly frantic movements and tendency to dart out from hiding suddenly seldom fail to trigger a sea horse’s feeding response, and this is one food hungry Hippocampines will actively pursue and search out. Some sea horses will even accept freshly killed or dead Gammarus (Giwojna, Oct. 1996). An ideal food: substantial enough to be your sea horses’ staple diet, if you can obtain it in sufficient quantity!

When mating, the male amphipod carries the smaller female grasped between its legs, a breeding method known as amplexus (Biology of Amphipods, 1996). Thus, when you see pairs swimming together while locked in amplexus, it’s a sure sign your amphipod colony is growing. The female subsequently releases the fertilized eggs into a ventral brood chamber where the unattached eggs are held by extra branches of her walking legs and incubated during development (Biology of Amphipods, 1996).

Unlike crab and shrimp larvae, baby amphipods are not released as zoea that develop into adults after several stages of metamorphosis (Biology of Amphipods, 1996). Instead, the young look like miniature versions of their parents when released, and some species even show parental care of their young after they leave the brood chamber (Biology of Amphipods, 1996).

Different types of amphipods move differently, depending on the arrangement of their legs. Most species can walk upright, scuttling along by using most of their thoracic legs, but this is a slow, rather cumbersome method of locomotion (Biology of Amphipods, 1996). Practicing their sidestroke and swimming along using three pairs of pleopods is much faster (Biology of Amphipods, 1996). But the true specialty of amphipods is the tail-flip, a rapid escape response where the abdomen flicks the animal away after the uropods are dug into the substrate (Biology of Amphipods, 1996). Terrestrial amphipods (scuds, sand fleas, beach hoppers, etc.) are especially adept at this startling maneuver. It is this variety of frantic movements and escape maneuvers that triggers the seahorse’s feeding response and makes amphipods so irresistible to Hippocampus. Seahorses love to hunt them!
<Close quote>

Okay, that’s the quick rundown on culturing amphipods, Brian. If you can manage it, culturing your amphipods will make them last a great deal longer than adding them off your seahorse tank at once.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Brian!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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