Re:Whats the best way to start out?

#5108
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Tim:

Yes, sir, I agree — Hippocampus fuscus should be ideal for your needs and interests.

However, if you are having any difficulty obtaining H. fuscus, then you are correct — ZuluLulus or Cape seahorses (H. capensis) and the Sydney seahorse (H. whitei) are two other small seahorse species that are also very well suited for beginners. However, you would need an aquarium chiller in order to keep either H. capensis or H. whitei seahorses comfortable in a home aquarium, and both of those species are even more difficult to obtain here in the United States than the black Seapony (H. fuscus). Be advised that H. capensis is endemic to only a few estuaries in South Africa and is strictly a temperate seahorse and therefore needs cool water in order to thrive, whereas H. whitei is native to Australia and does best at a water temperature of 70°F-73°F, which will also likely require an aquarium chiller to maintain.

Both the Cape seahorse (H. capensis) or ZuluLulu and the Sydney seahorse (H. whitei) would be terrific seahorses for you if you could obtain them and if you can equip your aquarium with a chiller to keep them in their comfort zone. Although Ocean Rider (seahorse.com) continues to work with both of these species, Tim, they are not making them available to the general public at this time.

Allow me to elaborate: Ocean Rider is still working all of their lines of captive-bred-and-raised seahorses, which includes more species than ever (several varieties of Hippocampus erectus, as well as H. reidi, H. barbouri, H. ingens, H. fisheri, H. zosterae, H. capensis, H. whitei, H. procerus, etc.), but most of their strains are no longer being raised in commercial numbers for the aquarium market consistently. Rather, they are merely raising enough of the most of the species to maintain their broodstock and to eliminate any concerns about inbreeding, and to provide display animals for the aquaculture facility and the ever-popular tours, but they aren’t raising enough surplus specimens to offer them to hobbyists at all times anymore. The lines for all of these species are being improved and maintained nonstop, but they are listed as "out of stock" on their website for hobbyists purposes.

For the home hobbyist, they are instead concentrating on raising lots and lots of their various strains of H. erectus, which are there bread-and-butter items. They made a conscious decision in that regard and feel that the H. erectus are by far the hardiest seahorse species for the home hobbyists, particularly first-time seahorse keepers, so those are the seahorses they now make available to home aquarists, primarily. Mustangs and Sunbursts are always in stock, and Pintos and Fire Reds are also provided for those who can afford them. But other than their H. erectus morphs, nowadays they only make the other seahorse species available to hobbyists very sporadically, when their numbers build up enough that they need to reduce their surplus.

In addition, the spectacular seadragons are demanding more of their time these days as they work to develop and maintain the Seadragon exhibit at the aquaculture facility. Ocean Rider is working very hard at this time to develop captive-bred-and-raised strains of both the leafy seadragons and the weedy seadragons, Tim. As you can imagine, the seadragons are challenging to work with and that means less time for raising all of the other seahorse species in mass quantities.

In short, Tim, if you cannot obtain Hippocampus fuscus ponies, then I would say that the hardy, highly domesticated Mustangs and/or Sunbursts (H. erectus) are your best bet for a beginner. You will need a somewhat larger aquarium to accommodate them than the H. fuscus seaponies, but as we discussed off list, either a 20-gallon extra high or a 30-gallon Extra High All-Glass Aquarium would do very nicely.

If you want to start out with a low budget set up for keeping a single pair of Mustangs, Tim, perhaps the most basic aquarium system I could suggest would be to obtain a 20 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (20"L x 10"W x 24"H), equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an off-the-shelf strip reflector with a florescent bulb, and then fit it with a full set of undergravel filters that completely cover the bottom of the aquarium, as described below.

The filtration system for the tank could thus be as basic as a set of well-maintained undergravels (preferably the new reverse flow designs) that covers the bottom of the tank completely. I know undergravel filters are considered old-fashioned technology nowadays, but they are inexpensive, utterly reliable and foolproof (no moving parts), easy to install, require no modification whatsoever, and work extremely well for seahorses within their limitations. An inexpensive diaphragm air pump will operate the filter and provide all the aeration you need, or you can upgrade to powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement.

For the substrate with your undergravel filters, use a coarse bed of good calcareous aquarium gravel such as dolomite, aragonite, or crushed oyster shell 2-3 inches deep, since the buffering ability of such substrates will help maintain good pH.

It is a good idea to supplement the undergravels with an inexpensive hang-on-back filter or canister to provide better circulation and accommodate chemical filtration media. This is a very simple, inexpensive aquarium that’s extremely easy and economical to set up and operate, yet it can be very successful if used within its limitations. For instance, undergravel filters are notorious nitrate factories and the hobbyist must take measures to compensate for this fact. This simple system relies totally on water changes to control nitrates. There is no live rock or live sand bed to provide denitrification, no algal filter or denitrator in a sump, and no protein skimmer to remove organics before they enter the nitrogen cycle. This limits the carrying capacity of the tank and makes an accelerated maintenance schedule and more frequent water changes an absolute necessity. For this reason, reverse flow undergravels often work best with seahorses; they help prevent detritus from accumulating in the gravel bed.

I recommend biweekly water changes of 10%-15% or weekly water changes of a least 25% for such a system. Use a gravel washer to clean a different portion of the gravel bed (no more than 25%) each week and keep the tank under stocked. If you are diligent about aquarium maintenance, perform water changes religiously, and limit yourself to fewer seahorses that you feed carefully, you will find that a simple system featuring undergravel filters can be very successful. But if you are negligent with regard to maintenance, skimp on water changes, or tend to overcrowd or overfeed your tanks, this system will be very unforgiving.

If you’re new to seahorses, Tim, it’s generally best to start out with the largest tank you can reasonably afford and maintain, the taller the better, in order to provide yourself with a comfortable margin for error. The 20-gallon Extra-High All Glass Aquarium we have already discussed is the smallest tank I would consider using for it pair of Mustangs, but if you can afford to spend just a little more than I would suggest the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H), which won’t cost much more but which will provide you with a bigger margin for error. Any local fish store can order one for you from the All-Glass Aquarium company and it’s an economical tank with excellent height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it the same as the 20-gallon tank, using a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an ordinary off-the-shelf strip reflector with a daylight florescent bulb, and that can form the basis of an inexpensive yet very solid seahorse setup.

If you can afford to upgrade the filtration system a notch above undergravels, many seahorse keepers prefer well-cured, "debugged" live rock to provide all or most of the biofiltration for their aquariums. A simple external hang-on-the-back filter or an efficient canister filter instead that is rated for an aquarium of the size you have chosen could then be added on to provide water circulation, surface agitation for good oxygenation, and the means for providing mechanical and chemical filtration.

If you are able to get an extra-high aquarium in the 20 to 30 gallon range, Erin, then I agree that Mustangs (H. erectus) would be an excellent choice for you. They are ideal for beginners. Commonly known as the Lined Seahorse or the Florida Giant, Hippocampus erectus was the first seahorse to be commercially raised for the aquarium hobby. Mustangs have been captive-bred and raised for more generations than any other seahorse, and have now achieved a level of domestication that makes them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The Ocean Rider aquaculture facility in Hawaii that raises H. erectus selects them for traits such as adaptability, vigor, disease resistance, fast growth and aggressive feeding habits — traits that increase the fitness of each line over time. After numerous generations of strengthening and improvement, the current breeds of farm-raised erectus are tough as nails. Very hardy and very impressive, yet affordable, Mustangs are great choices for a novice seahorse keeper who is still learning the ropes. They are very adaptable and have led the on-going trend toward keeping captive-bred seahorses only. Simply put, more hobbyists keep CB erectus than any of the other greater seahorses, and rightly so.

Mustangs are impressive animals, Tim. They are large, robust, deep-chested seahorses that can reach well in excess of 7 inches in length when fully grown. They tend to be cryptically colored, and often show earth tones such as beige, russet, charcoal black, gray, brown, ochre or olive over an underlying pattern of fine parallel lines that run down their necks and across their chest (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). White blazes, blotches, saddles, triangles, and diamonds are common markings for captive-bred erectus (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

The lighter specimens that show their stripes boldly can be very striking, and they are apt to express a wide range of color phases as time passes. Like all seahorses, the coloration expressed by Lined seahorses can vary with their mood, environment, and social activities.

Seahorses are one fish that can become a true pet, and I’m convinced this is because they are more intelligent than most fishes. The highly domesticated Mustangs are real personality fish and many of them actually enjoy being handled. Unlike most other fish that back off when you approach the aquarium and flee in terror if you place your hand in the tank, seahorses soon learn to recognize their keeper and will come out to meet you. They quickly learn to take food from your fingers, and as you will discover, having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. When one of these shy, enchanting creatures — whose very survival in the wild depends on concealing itself from predators at all times — comes trustingly up to the surface to eat right out of your palm, it’s a thrill you won’t soon forget. The training sessions and daily feedings required for this tend to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets. Many times they will even include you in their daily greeting, flashing their recognition colors and parading back and forth and at the front of the tank, performing their dancelike displays for your benefit.

The first pair of captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my ‘stangs quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder, whereupon they would often interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors. My original pair are still going strong several years later, and I have watched them go through a number of color phases from month to month. One has settled on gray-green as its base coloration for the moment, and the other ranges between rust, burnt umber, and orange, but always with contrasting beige bands (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Last season, the male adopted a rich ochre yellow as his everyday attire (still with the same beige bands, though), while the female displayed a dark purplish ensemble with definite greenish highlights. When courting, they consistently brighten to a pearly white and a creamy yellow respectively (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). They make a handsome couple, and I find my erectus to be very attractive specimens in all their guises.

I set up my pair of these spirited steeds in a brand-new 30 gallon (tall) aquarium all their own, and that tank has been my most entertaining, trouble-free exhibit ever since. With a simple setup like theirs, I prefer to target feed my seahorses. That allows me to observe them closely on a daily basis, monitor their health, keep track of exactly how much each specimen is eating, and remove any leftovers immediately.

Led by the female-by far the bolder and most outgoing of the two-the Mustangs were soon literally eating right out of my hands. (I know, I know-sensible aquarists should always strive to keep their mitts out the aquarium as much as possible, but handfeeding is a thrill I find difficult to resist, and hey — nobody ever said I was sensible!) Of course, I’m very well aware of the risks involved and extremely diligent about taking all the necessary precautions beforehand. And besides, there are major advantages to handfeeding that more than offset any minor risks.

For one thing, the seahorses seem to enjoy the experience every bit as much as I do. They head for the feeding station as soon as I approach the tank, a series of color changes betraying their excitement, and queue up at the dinner table looking their best and brightest. Of course, they both try to snap up the first morsel – even pair-bonded ponies are not big on sharing or waiting turns – so I no longer offer them one mysid at a time. I offer them a handful of individually thawed Mysis in my upturned palm instead. They know the drill and happily perch on my fingers while snicking up the shrimp as fast as they can.

Secondly, feeding your seahorses by hand permits the aquarist to conduct a close-up, daily inspection of every specimen in his tank, and I like to use the opportunity to give ’em a good once over. These detailed examinations make it difficult not to notice any subtle changes in my seahorse’s appearance or behavior that might signal impending problems with disease or the water chemistry. That’s a big advantage, since the sooner such potential problems are detected, the easier they are to cure or prevent, and I recommend other hobbyists do
the same.

Take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they’re all eating well, and use this opportunity to look them over closely for wounds, injuries, or signs of disease. Seahorses are natural-born gluttons. Ordinarily, these galloping gourmets are ALWAYS hungry, so when a seahorse is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s amiss in the aquarium.. Early detection of a potential problem can be the key to curing it, so it’s a good idea for the alert aquarist to observe his prize ponies while they put on the ol’ feed bag. Make sure they all show up for mess call, are acting normally, and have a well-rounded abdomen when they’re done eating. Handfeeding makes it hard to miss when one these chow hounds is off its feed, tipping off the alert aquarist to a potential problem.

Best of all, handfeeding is pure, sure-fire, 100% unadulterated fish-keeping fun! Feeding time for my seahorses is always a high point in my day. Having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. These daily feedings tends to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets.

As much as feeding time brightens up my day, I have no doubt it livens things up for my seahorses even more. They genuinely appear to enjoy interacting with me, and I believe in enriching their captive environment as much as possible. No doubt it’s the food they’re looking forward to, not the food giver, but our daily encounters are always eagerly awaited and they like to linger on my hand long after all the food is gone. They would allow me to lift them out of the water when I withdraw my hand if I didn’t gently shoo them away first.

Okay, Tim, those are my thoughts on the seahorses that are best suited for beginners.

Best of luck finding the perfect ponies for your needs and interests, sir!

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna

Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2010/04/27 22:03


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