Re:white patches on female sunburst

Pete Giwojna

Dear Heather:

Does your female Sunburst have a pinched in abdomen or otherwise look emaciated or underweight? If she doesn’t look noticeably skinny, it may be that she is eating more than you think but doing it on the sly.

It’s quite common for new arrivals to display shy, secretive behavior. I have found that some of my seahorses, especially newly acquired specimens, are reluctant to eat while they know they are being observed. That doesn’t mean they are starving themselves, however, just that they tend to feed in secret. Rather than feeding from your hand or gobbling up the Mysis when you first offer it, they will prey upon the natural fauna in the tank, slurping up copepods and amphipods from hiding, or snatch up leftover frozen Mysis when they think no one is looking.

A good way to make sure your female Sunburst is getting enough to eat is to examine her abdomen at the end of the day, Heather. It’s a good idea to make sure that 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, the cross-section of their abdomens should appear concave "( )" or flush "l l" rather than concave ") (" or pinched in.

If she is a bit underweight, I can suggest a couple of good sources for live foods to help fatten up your female Sunburst, Heather. For example, Seawater Express is an excellent source for post-larval white shrimp. They provide bite-sized white shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) in batches of anywhere from 50 to 1000 each. They are hardy, easy-to-keep and disease free. I recommend getting the smallest of the "Snicking Shrimp" they offer:

Seawater Express Inc.
Organic Shrimp Farm / Hatchery

Or the live Mysis from Sachs Systems Aquaculture would also be a good choice for this. You can obtain 200 live Mysidopsis bahia for $35 from Sachs and your seahorses will love them:


Judging from your brief description it’s difficult to say whether the white patches you noticed on the back of the head and neck of your female Sunburst are natural markings — part of her normal color pattern — or something unusual.

But I can tell you that Mustangs and Sunbursts are often adorned with various white markings — interlocking white diamonds, white bands, white saddles, white blazes, strings of white dots that coalesce into lines, irregular white splotches, and so on. These bold markings act as a form of natural camouflage known as crypsis or disruptive coloration. The contrast between the irregular white patches, streaks and blotches and the darker background coloration breaks up the seahorse’s outline or silhouette and deceives the eye, making it more difficult to separate the animal from the background. So this type of mottling or banding (white ring segments, especially on the tail) is perfectly normal for Hippocampus erectus.

Without having seen the seahorse, Heather, my first inclination is that the white patches are most likely just part of a natural color phase your female is displaying, providing they are not up raised or different in texture from the rest of her skin. If you can possibly provide me with one or more photographs of your female, I would be happy to examine them closely and I could then give you a much more definitive answer as to whether they are natural or a cause for concern. Plus I could also determine if your female is underweight and needs to be fattened up from a photograph that includes her abdomen and tail. If possible, you can send digital photographs to me off list in an e-mail at the following address: [email protected]

In the meantime, I will send you a couple of photographs off list of orange Sunbursts with the type of natural white markings on the back of their head/necks, backs and tails I mentioned so that you can compare them to your female and have a better idea if the white patches are normal or not.

Best of luck with your seahorses, Heather!

Pete Giwojna

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