Re:Whats the best way to start out?

#5101
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Tim:

If you’re interested in seahorses, sir, the best way to start out is to complete the free Ocean Rider seahorse training program, as described in the pinned topic at the top of this forum. It is a comprehensive correspondence course that will teach you everything you need to know about the care and keeping of seahorses in considerable detail — much better and much more informed than any of the seahorse guidebooks that are available and much more thoroughly than we can cover it a simple discussion group such as this. I was very pleased to see that you have enrolled in the training program, Tim, so you are already discovering the answers to most of your questions.

Providing efficient biological filtration and using mangrove seedlings to help control nitrates is one way of establishing a suitable seahorse setup, Tim, and I imagine that such an arrangement would include live sand and live rock, which would provide the bulk of the biological filtration by virtue of the dense population of beneficial nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria they support. You can certainly keep seahorses successfully without live rock or live sand if you provide another means of biological filtration, such as undergravel filters, sponge filters, a wet/dry trickle filter or an external filter with biological filtration media, so you can use whatever means of biological filtration you prefer.

In my opinion, the two species of small tropical seahorses that are best suited for beginners are Pixies or dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) or the Black Seapony (Hippocampus fuscus). The dwarf seahorses are tiny — only about the size of your thumbnail when fully grown — and require live food in the form of newly hatched brine shrimp as their staple diet, whereas Hippocampus fuscus is one of the medium-sized "Shetland pony" class of seahorses and is large enough to eat frozen Mysis as a staple diet. Both dwarf seahorses and the Black Seaponies are considered to be very easy to breed and raise.

Here is some additional information that discusses the pros and cons of dwarf seahorses so you can determine if they would be the best choice for you, Tim:

Pixies or Dwarf Seahorses (Hippocampus zostrae)

The first species you might want to consider are Pixies, which are Ocean Rider’s strain of domesticated dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae). Dwarf seahorses are the smallest of all the cultured seahorses and a whole colony of them can live happily in a 12-gallon aquarium. They are the easiest of all the seahorses to breed and raise, and they are the least expensive ponies, which makes them affordable in groups.

However, three factors make Pixies or dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae) somewhat more demanding to keep than the larger breeds of seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) or the Black Seapony (H. fuscus):

(1) Their need for live foods.
(2) The small water volume of typical dwarf seahorse setups.
(3) Their susceptibility to aquarium hitchhikers and stinging animals (e.g., hydroids, Aiptasia).

Because of their small size and sedentary lifestyle, dwarf seahorses cannot be consistently trained to eat frozen foods without risking polluting the aquarium with uneaten food. As a result, the adults must be provided with copious amounts of newly-hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) at least twice a day and the fry must have access to bbs throughout the day.

This means maintaining a battery of brine shrimp hatcheries and hatching out large quantities of brine shrimp on a daily basis. If you are not proficient at hatching out brine shrimp or consider that to be too much of a hassle, then dwarf seahorses are not for you!

Because they are so terribly tiny — adult H. zosterae are only about the size of your thumbnail and half of that is tail — dwarf seahorses do best in small aquaria of 2 to 10 gallons to facilitate maintaining an adequate feeding density of bbs. Such a small volume of water is more susceptible to fluctuations in temperature, pH, and specific gravity than larger aquariums, and the water quality can also go downhill much faster in such small tanks than in large setups.

This means that dwarf seahorse keepers must practice diligent aquarium practices and an accelerated maintenance schedule in order to stay on top of water quality. As an example, water changes should be made weekly or biweekly, rather than monthly or bimonthly. This is not really onerous at all, since the water changes are so small (a fraction of a gallon to 1 or 2 gallons at most, depending on the size of the dwarf tank). It’s an easy matter to prepare and store a month’s worth of freshly mixed saltwater in advance, and I then find that I can perform a water change, vacuum of the bottom of my dwarf seahorse tank, and clean the sponge filters in no more than 5-10 minutes tops. But if the aquarist is not diligent about water changes and aquarium maintenance, dwarf seahorse setups can "crash" more easily than bigger, more stable aquariums with a larger volume of water.

The need for an accelerated maintenance schedule and daily feedings of live foods thus makes dwarf seahorses a bit more demanding to keep than the greater seahorses.

In addition, because of their diminutive dimensions, dwarf seahorses are susceptible to the stings from hydroids and Aiptasia rock anemones, which normally do not present a risk to the larger breeds of seahorses. Hydroids in particular are especially problematic for dwarves because once they find their way into a dwarf seahorse setup or nursery tank, the dreaded droids can explode to plague proportions very quickly because conditions are ideal for their growth: perfect temperatures, an abundance of planktonic prey that is renewed every few hours, and a complete absence of predators. As they proliferate and spread, they will soon begin to take a toll on the seahorse fry and even adult dwarfs can succumb to multiple stings or secondary infections that can set in at the site of a sting (Abbott, 2003).

The type of substrate — aragonite, black sand, crushed shell, coral sand, or a bare glass bottom — doesn’t seem to make much difference at all. It’s just that nursery tanks and dwarf seahorse tanks are perfect environments for culturing hydroids, and once they find their way into such a system they go forth and multiply with a vengeance. So unless dwarf seahorse keepers take special precautions, they can find themselves waging a losing battle with an infestation of hydroids, and that’s something that hobbyists who keep larger seahorses simply never need to be concerned about.

However, dwarf seahorses are widely considered by far the easiest seahorses of all to raise. They are prolific, breed readily in groups, and produce large, benthic fry that accept newly-hatched brine shrimp as their first food and reach maturity in as little as three months. They are the least expensive of all the seahorses to own and a dwarf seahorse aquarium can be set up far more economically than a system for keeping the larger seahorse species.

Dwarf seahorses are therefore ideal for breeders and anyone operating on a shoestring budget. Pint-sized and prolific, these pigmy ponies are the perfect pick for anyone primarily interested in rearing or for any seahorse keepers who can’t afford to devote too much money or space to their hobby. Hippocampus zosterae is the best choice for the novice who wants to learn more about keeping and breeding seahorses before moving on to the big boys. More budding seahorse keepers have cut their teeth on dwarves than all the other seahorses put together. H. zosterae is the right pick for newbies who would like to try their hand with seahorses for a modest investment, or for hobbyists with a tight budget, or aquarists looking for captive-bred seahorses that are a snap to breed and a breeze to raise, or anyone captivated by keeping tiny elfin creatures no bigger than your thumbnail.

All things considered, I feel that the many advantages of keeping dwarf seahorses far outweigh the drawbacks we have outlined above.

If you would like to know some more information about the care and keeping of either the dwarf seahorses or Hippocampus fuscus, just contact me off list ([email protected]), Tim, and I will provide you with the species summaries for them, which are quite comprehensive.

Good filtration will keep a well-maintained marine aquarium crystal clear, Tim. The right combination of biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration will keep the tank as clear as glass. The mechanical filtration removes suspended solids and particulate matter that can cloud an aquarium, whereas chemical filtration will prevent yellowing and discoloration of the aquarium water as it ages, and efficient biological filtration will help to maintain optimum water quality and prevent bacterial blooms or algae blooms.

The best way to prevent algae blooms is to maintain good water quality and eliminate the excess phosphate and nitrate that fuel the growth of nuisance algae, sir. Some of the measures that will help control nitrates and phosphates (and excess nutrients in general), or otherwise help control nuisance algae in the aquarium are the following:

1) Make sure your protein skimmer is working correctly. A protein skimmer works 24 hours a day to remove excess waste and nutrients from a tank. If the venturi is clogged on a venturi skimmer or there is another problem with other skimmer designs, waste will not be exported from your tank and algae will take advantage of the waste.

2) Perform regular water changes. Regular water changes will decrease the level of wastes and nutrients in the water. But the water changes won’t do much good if your tap water itself contains phosphates and amines. Depending on how high the nitrate levels become, increasingthe proportion of water that you change each time may be necessary to help reduce those nitrates. There is an article about nitrate reduction at <<http://www.about.com/>&gt; in the saltwater section that really explains water changes (gives you the math), on actually how little you are reducing nitrates with small water changes when you have high nitrates.

3) Make sure makeup water is pure. Phosphates and nitrates often found in tap water. Phosphate and nitrate test kits will show if your tap water is contributing to your algae problem. If phosphate and nitrate levels are more than 0 ppm (some tap water measures out at over 50 ppm nitrate), filter the water through a RO/DI unit before using it as makeup freshwater or as source water for saltwater changes, or purchase RO water from a vendor.

4) Add additional detritivores to your cleanup crew. If excess food isn’t eaten, it will decay and add to the nutrients and waste in the tank. More microhermit crabs, Nassarius snails and cleaner shrimp will help ferret out any uneaten Mysis before it breaks down and enters the nitrogen cycle to eventually end up as excess nitrate.

So if you’re having a problem with nuisance algae, consider bolstering your cleanup crew with additional snails and/or micro-hermit crabs that eat slime algae and other types of nuisance algae. Astrea snails, red foot moon snails, and Scarlet reef hermit crabs (Paguristes cadenati) all fit the bill and would be good additions in that regard.

Introduced as soon as possible to a new aquarium, as soon as the ammonia and nitrite levels are safe, Astrea snails effectively limit the development of all microalgae. In other words, they are good at eating diatoms, but will consume red slime and green hair algae as well. The Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenati) is a colorful micro-hermit that’s a harmless herbivore. So cannibalism isn’t a concern at all for these fellows, nor are they likely to develop a taste for escargot. As hermits go, most of the time the Scarlet Reefs are perfect little gentleman and attractive to boot. I even use them in my dwarf seahorse tanks. Best of all, they eat all kinds of algae, including nuisance algae such as red, green and brown slimes, as well as green hair algae.

In addition, Garf (http://www.garf.org/redslime.html) offers a Reef Janitors package with hermits (chibanarius or clibanarious digueti, mexican dwarf hermit) and the snail (Cerithium strercusmuscarum), which are said to do an excellent job of cleaning up red slime algae.

5) Introduce macroalgae to consume excess nutrients and nitrates. If regular pruning is done, fast-growing Caulerpa will maintain its color and high growth rates without going sexual. Better yet, an algal filter or "algae scrubber" can be established in a sump or refugium.

6) Chemical controls. Phosphate absorbers can remove excess phosphates, and Poly Filter pads can help absorb excess nitrates, changing color as they do so, which helps indicate= when the Poly Filter needs to be changed. Low ash activated carbon that is free of phosphates will also help remove such nutrients if it is change religiously and replaced with new carbon.

7) Controlled addition of food to tank. Don’t broadcast feed, scattering Mysis throughout the tank. Instead, target feed your seahorses or use a feeding station. Don’t overfeed, cleanup leftovers promptly, and observe fast days religiously. Thoroughly rinse your frozen Mysis before enriching it, since these shrimp juices that accumulate when the Mysis thaws can be rocket fuel for nuisance algae.

8) Eliminate dead spots and increase the water flow in areas where the nuisance algae tends to grow.

9) Maintain the pH in total alkalinity of the aquarium in the proper range. Monitor alkalinity or carbonate hardness and the calcium levels in the tank as well as the pH.

10) Replace your aquarium lamps regularly to assure that the spectrum of light they put out favors the growth of coralline algae and macroalgae. (Over time, as bulbs age, they begin to put out light shifted more towards the red-end of the spectrum, which encourages the growth of hair algae.)

11) Reduce the photoperiod in your aquarium is much as possible to cut down on the light that’s available for photosynthesis.

12) Increase the circulation in the aquarium to eliminate dead spots, particularly in the areas where the hair algae tends to grow.

13) Physically remove as much of the nuisance algae as possible. Some aquarists go as far as to remove all of the live rock from the aquarium and painstakingly scrub it free of the hair algae or even boil it to rid it of the nuisance algae, but boiling it also destroys the beneficial nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria it houses.

For more information, check out the following online articles which are loaded with additional tips and suggestions for controlling outbreaks of nuisance algae. Please read these carefully, since they’ll give you many more good ideas for combating your problem with hair algae:

<http://www.syngnathid.org/articles/greenHairAlgae.html&gt;

<http://www.seahorse.org/library/articles/ProblemAlgae.shtml&gt;

Click here: GreenAlgContFAQs
<http://www.wetwebmedia.com/greenalgcontfaqs.htm&gt;

Click here: Reeftank.com – Articles – Reeftank Maintenance – Algae Control FAQ
<http://www.reeftank.com/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&id=1&gt;

If the tap water or well water in your area is of dubious quality, and you don’t mind lugging containers of water home from the pet store, then purchasing pre-mixed saltwater from your local fish store is often a good option. Many seahorse keepers purchase reverse osmosis/deinonized water (RO/DI) for their water changes. Most well-stocked pet shops that handle marine fish sell RO/DI water as a service for their customers for between 25 and 50 cents a gallon. For example, WalMart sell RO/DI water by the gallon for around 60 cents.

Natural seawater is another good option for a seahorse setup. Like RO/DI water, natural seawater can often be purchased at fish stores for around $1.00 a gallon, depending on where you live. It sounds expensive, but when you consider the alternative — paying for artificial salt mix and RO/DI water and mixing your own saltwater — then natural seawater is not a bad bargain at all. It has unsurpassed water quality and seahorses thrive in it.

Strive to maintain the following water quality parameters at all times for best results:

Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific gravity or salinity = range 1.022 – 1.026, optimum 1.0245
pH = 8.2 – 8.4
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm

You will know when a new aquarium is completely ready for fish and invertebrates by monitoring the cycling process with your test kits. You will find detailed, step-by-step instructions for cycling a new aquarium and monitoring the cycling process in Lesson 2 of the seahorse training program. When you are cycling your tank, you will be adding a source of ammonia to feed the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that carry out biological filtration, Tim, and when both the ammonia and nitrite levels remain at zero, meaning that all of the ammonia is being broken down into nitrite as fast as it is being produced, and all of the nitrite is being converted into nitrate as fast as the nitrite is being produced, that is the first indication that the new tank has cycled and is ready to be stocked gradually.

Best of luck with your ongoing research into seahorses, Tim. Going over the lessons from the training program with me off list will assure that you get started off on the right foot, sir.

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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