Re:Which one to get?

#4915
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Grantman:

When it comes to rearing, of course, all newborn seahorses are quite challenging to raise. How difficult or challenging they may be depends varies considerably from species to species. Two main factors determine how easy or hard seahorse fry are to raise: (1) their size at birth and (2) whether or not they undergo a prolonged pelagic phase. The bigger and better developed the newborns are, the easier they are to raise. Seahorse fry whose average length at birth is 10 mm (0.4 inches) or more are able to take enriched Artemia as their first foods and are relatively easy to rear. Seahorse fry that are significantly smaller than 10 mm (0.4 inches) at birth need to be started on smaller foods that are more difficult to provide in copious amounts on a daily basis, such as rotifers, copepods, and larval Mysis, making them more difficult to raise. Likewise, seahorse fry that undergo an extended pelagic phase, during which they drift freely with the plankton, are much more troublesome to raise than benthic seahorse fry, which orient to the substrate and seek out hitching posts straightaway. The pelagic fry are difficult because the surface huggers tend to gulp air and suffer fatal buoyancy problems, and may even become entrapped by surface tension. As a result, most hobbyists find that mortality is very high during the pelagic phase.

The easiest seahorse fry to rear are therefore benthic fry that are large and well developed at birth. Dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) fall into this category, and indeed many hobbyists have closed the life cycle with zosterae. The most difficult seahorse fry to raise are relatively small and underdeveloped at birth, and must pass through a lengthy pelagic stage. Brazilian seahorse fry (Hippocampus reidi) are a good example of this category, and are notoriously difficult to raise.

In addition, as a rule, you will find that cultured seahorses that have been born and bred for life in captivity for several generations are easier to breed and raise than wild seahorses, and are also much hardier aquarium specimens, so I would suggest that you concentrate your efforts on captive-bred-and-raised seahorses, sir.

With that in mind, sir, of the domesticated seahorses that are currently available, I would rank the following species as the easiest to keep and raise:

1) the dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae) — tropical species with benthic fry;
2) the Cape seahorse (Hippocampus capensis) — temperate species with benthic fry;
3) the Seapony (Hippocampus fuscus) — tropical species with benthic fry;
4) the Sydney seahorse (Hippocampus whitei) — temperate species with benthic fry;
5) the Emperor seahorse (Hippocampus procerus) — subtropical species with benthic fry;
6) the prickly seahorse (Hippocampus barbouri) — tropical species with benthic fry;
7) the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) — tropical species than undergoes a brief pelagic phase.
8) the potbelly seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis) — temperate species with large pelagic fry.

Pixies or dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae) are the easiest of all to raise in my experience, but they would be very difficult for you to obtain in Sweden. They are tiny and a whole herd of them can easily be maintained in a small 2-10 gallon aquarium. Best of all for your purposes, they are very prolific, mate readily in the aquarium, and are probably the easiest of all the seahorses to rear. Anytime you keep a group of dwarf seahorses together under favorable conditions, courtship and mating is almost guaranteed. In fact, anytime you obtain several pairs of dwarf seahorses in the summertime (the height of their breeding season), it’s almost certain that at least one or two of the males will be pregnant when they arrive. These prolific little ponies will probably provide you with your best chance to observe and record courtship, mating, and the amazing spectacle of pregnant males giving birth.

However, they are so small (fully grown dwarf seahorses are the size of your thumbnail, and much of that modest length consists of their tails). Their fry or newborns are roughly the same size as all other seahorse babies. Because of their small size, they require daily feedings of newly-hatched live brine shrimp rather than frozen foods, but that is the same food that the babies require, so if your project is going to focus on rearing seahorse fry, you will need to be hatching a large quantities of brine shrimp on a daily basis anyway.

In your case, Grantman, you should cross dwarf seahorses off your list of possibilities because it would be very difficult to maintain an adequate feeding density of newly hatched brine shrimp for the in a large 55-gallon aquarium. You would want to set up one or more smaller tanks in order to raise the dwarf seahorses…

Cape seahorses (H. capensis), also known as the Knysna seahorse (or Zulu-lulus or Zulus for short in the US), the very similar Seapony (H. fuscus), and the Sydney seahorse (H. whitei) or its warm-water counterpart, the Emperor seahorse (H. procerus), would also be good choices for anyone who is primarily interested in breeding and rearing their seahorses. Their fry are almost as easy to raise (relatively speaking) as dwarf seahorse fry, and as adults they are considerably larger than the dwarfs (2-3 times as big). They also eat frozen Mysis as their staple diet and are therefore easier to feed them the dwarf seahorses. They are best suited for tall tanks in the 30 gallon range or above. Ocean Rideris the only aquaculture facility that raises Zulus here in the US, and they are not offering them to hobbyists at this time.

However, H. capensis and H. whitei are temperate seahorses that require relatively cool water temperatures in order to thrive in the aquarium. You would need to keep your water temperature around 68°F-70°F (20°C-21°C) and be able to avoid temperature spikes above 75°F (24°C) during summertime heat waves in order to do well with these species. It will most likely require an aquarium chiller to maintain stable temperatures within their comfort zone, and chillers can get pretty expensive.

Hippocampus fuscus is a tropical seahorse that is every bit as easy to raise as H. capensis best thing, and which will probably be considerably easier for you to obtain in your part of the world. If possible, I would target H. fuscus for your breeding project, Grantman. Ocean Rider does not have a strain of captive-bred-and-raised H. fuscus but they are available from Oceans, Reefs, & Aquariums (ORA) in Florida. Just fine a local fish store in your area that is willing to order them for you from ORA and then arrange to pick up the H. fuscus from your LFS as soon as they arrive, before they go in your dealer’s tanks and are exposed to the other fish.

Hippocampus procerus can be considered a tropical version of H. whitei which is more colorful and hasn’t even taller coronet. H. procerus are just as easy to raise as H. whitei and don’t require a chiller to keep. However, both H. procerus and H. whitei are Australian species that may be difficult to obtain here in the US.

Prickly seahorses (H. barbouri), affectionately known as barbs for short, and the lined seahorse (H. erectus), which are marketed here as Mustangs or Sunbursts, are both large tropical species that are fairly easy to raise. They do well at standard aquarium temperatures and eat frozen Mysis as their staple diet, making them relatively easy to feed and keep. Both species grow to well over 6 inches in length.

H. barbouri fry are fairly easy to raise and they are pretty comparable to H. capensis/H. fuscus and H. whitei/H. procerus in that regard. H. erectus fry undergo a brief pelagic period, which makes them a little more difficult than the others to raise, but erectus have been domesticated longer than H. barbouri and are therefore a little more hardy in the aquarium, since they are now even better adapted to aquarium life than the barbs.

Potbellied seahorses (H. abdominalis/H. bleekeri) are the giants among the seahorses in the largest specimens may obtain a total length approaching 14 inches (35-36 cm). They are temperate seahorses from Australia that will require an aquarium chiller to keep and raise, and their offspring undergo a lengthy pelagic period. However, the fry are large, relatively easy to feed, and generally produce good survival rates when cultured. They are active swimmers, and due to their size and mating habits, require relatively large aquaria that should be at least 30 inches tall in order for fully grown adults to breed successfully.

All of the species discussed above can accept newly-hatched brine shrimp (Artemia spp.) right from birth and are thus suitable for the "easy" rearing method, but all things considered, I think your best bet is the black Seapony (Hippocampus fuscus), which is also seen in a yellow or golden color morph.

Best of luck with your breeding project, Grantman!

Respectfully,
Pete Giwojna


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