Re:white snouts

Pete Giwojna

Dear seahorse7:

Of course, snout rot is the concern with seahorses whenever there is a change in the coloration or appearance of their snouts. The initial symptoms of snout rot are discoloration (typically white or pinkish) and a slight swelling of the affected area of the snout. The end of the snout is most often affected, but the barrel of the snout can also be subject to tissue erosion depending on the genesis of the infection.

However, I don’t believe that is what you are describing. Snout rot is typically the result of a secondary infection (either bacterial or fungal) that takes hold at the site of a mechanical injury. Many times the initial injury takes place when the seahorse is feeding from the bottom of the aquarium and it accidentally ingests a foreign particle, such as a bit of gravel or crushed seashell from the bacteria-laden substrate, that scrapes or irritates the interior of its snout.

However, because snout rot is usually a secondary infection, it normally affects isolated individuals, rather than the whole herd. Since all four of your Sunbursts have the whitening at the tips of their snouts, rather than just one of them that may have injured its snout striking at food on the bottom, I suspect that this is simply a normal color phase for your particular specimens and not an indication of snout rot or some other health problem.

The best thing you can do right now is to concentrate on maintaining optimum water quality (performing the partial water change was a good precaution) for your Sunbursts, provide them with a nutritious diet, and keep a close eye on them for any other symptoms that could suggest a problem. Let me know right away if there is any change in the whitening or any swelling or inflammation or other indications of tissue erosion of the affected areas of their snouts.

Another good way to prevent potential problems with snout rot is to train your seahorses to eat from a feeding station, or to hand feed them, so that they aren’t slurping up frozen Mysis from the bottom of the tank where it could become contaminated from their fecal pellets and wastes.

Teaching your seahorses to eat their frozen Mysis from a feeding tray is really easy when you’re dealing with highly domesticated Mustangs and Sunbursts, and elevating the feeding station is the best approach, in my opinion. Sometimes bottom scavengers such as micro-hermit crabs or Nassarius snails or bristleworms will sort of monopolize a station that’s placed on the bottom. For this reason, if the aquarium has a heavy population of bristleworms, micro-hermit crabs, Nassarius snails, or miniature brittle stars (micro stars), and they tend to converge on the feeding station at mealtime and steal the Mysis or just generally get in the way, many hobbyists find it useful to elevate their feeding tray in order to keep it out of the reach of such bottom feeders. And, of course, elevating the feeding station also helps keep it sanitary and provides a sterile feeding platform for the seahorses.

There are a number of ways this can be accomplished. For example, 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.

Or you can modify one of the conical worm feeders designed for offering bloodworms and tubifex worms to fish to serve as an elevated feeding station instead. 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 at any height 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.

Or a tall clump of suitable macroalgae can make a very effective elevated feeding station. If the macroalgae has the right texture and enough densely packed branches, the frozen Mysis will adhere to the upper branches of the cluster out of the reach of the bottom feeders where your seahorses can happily dine on at their leisure.

Surprisingly, a good cluster of red grape Caulerpa also makes a superb natural feeding station (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.)! Seahorses love to perch on the Caulerpa and are naturally attracted to it as a convenient hitching post. Release a baster full of frozen Mysis over the grape Caulerpa, and you will find that the Mysis becomes trapped amongst the tightly packed branches of the algae, clinging to the cluster of fronds wherever it happens to settle (Leddo, pers. comm.). The hungry seahorses will then carefully scour the branches of the Caulerpa for the Mysis just as if they were hunting live shrimp amid the beds of seagrass in the wild. Grape Caulerpa is ideal for this because the seahorse’s tubular snout is adapted for suctorial feeding, perfectly designed for plucking small invertebrates from amongst dense foliage.

For more information on natural feeding stations, see my article in Conscientious Aquarist which claims exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use a feeder in some detail . It discusses all the different kinds of feeding stations, including natural feeding stations. It’s available online at the following URL:

Click here: Seahorse Feeders

Best of luck with your new Sunbursts! Most likely they are just fine, but let me know immediately if there is any further change in the appearance of their snouts.

Pete Giwojna

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