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Future Seahorse Parent needs advise

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    I wanted to know if I need a protein skimmer for my 110 gal tank because I have (2)Skilter 400 Power Filter that pumps 400 gph. These power filters have been stated to be an ideal primary filter for saltwater aquariums. These filters have built-in protein skimmer s to assures high quality water with Bio Matrix Cartridge that is providing me with mechanical and chemical filtration.

    I just wanted to know because I do have live rock and some coral in my tank and have heard that when you have these you need a protein skimmer and you must have one with seahorses. I currently have some toadstool and purple ribbin(whip) soft corral and I want to make sure that these corals are safe for my future babies. Iheard that the toadstool was safe but just double checking. I am in the ending phase of week 2 of cyling… Have a ways to go but just wanted to make sure that I am doing all the right things for their future home:) .

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear hobbyist:

    A good protein skimmer is highly recommended but is not a prerequisite for keeping seahorses successfully by any means. In your case, the Skilters should provide all the protein skimming your tank needs if they are operating properly. Just keep them clean and tune or tweak the built-in skimmers as needed, according to the instructions.

    Yes, indeed, both the toadstool coral in the purple ribbon coral are perfectly safe to keep with seahorses. Generally speaking, most soft corals are quite safe to keep with seahorses. The stony corals are another matter and must be regarded with caution. Avoid the long polyp stony (LPS) corals, which have powerful stings and can be very dangerous for seahorses in a small, close system aquarium. Certain of the short polyp stony (SPS) corals can be tried at your discretion, but they often require high-intensity lighting and strong water currents in order to thrive, which can sometimes make it difficult to strike a good balance between the needs of the SPS corals and the needs of the seahorses.

    Your 110-gallon aquarium should be a good choice for a seahorse tank. It has the superior height that seahorses need in order to mate comfortably and to protect them from depth-related problems such as gas bubble syndrome. And it has excellent water volume which should provide the system with outstanding stability and give you a very comfortable margin for error.

    If your new aquarium is in the process of cycling right now, this would be the perfect time for you to participate in Ocean Rider’s free training course on seahorse keeping. It will tell you everything you need to know about the aquarium care and requirements of seahorses and how to optimize your aquarium to create ideal conditions for the ponies. This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge. Ocean Rider provides the free training as a service to their customers and any other hobbyists who are interested in learning more about the care and keeping of seahorses. It’s a crash course on seahorse keeping consisting of 10 separate lessons covering the following subjects, and is conducted entirely via e-mail. There is no homework or examinations or anything of that nature — just a lot of good, solid information on seahorses for you to read through and absorb as best you can, at your own speed:

    Aquarium care and requirements of seahorses;
    Selecting a suitable aquarium for seahorses;
    *size (tank height and water volume)
    *aquarium test kits
    Optimizing your aquarium for seahorses;
    *water movement and circulation
    *hitching posts (real and artificial)
    Cycling a new marine aquarium;
    The cleanup crew (aquarium janitors & sanitation engineers);
    Water Chemistry
    *optimal parameters
    *water quality & water changes
    *aquarium maintenance schedule
    Feeding seahorses;
    Compatible tank mates for seahorses;
    Courtship and breeding;
    Rearing the young;
    Disease prevention and control;
    Acclimating Ocean Rider seahorses.

    If you are interested, I will be providing you with detailed information on these subjects and answering any questions you may have about the material I present. I will also be recommending seahorse-related articles for you to read and absorb online.

    When you get to Lesson 6 in the training, it is devoted entirely for compatible tank mates for seahorses, including a discussion of the various fish, live corals, and other invertebrates that do well with seahorses and the others that you should avoid. One entire section of this lesson is devoted to keeping seahorses in tanks with live corals, and should be very useful for you when you are stocking your new aquarium.

    By the time you complete all 10 lessons, your new aquarium should be ready for the seahorses and you can feel very confident about adding the ponies to the new tank.

    If you would like to give the seahorse training a try, just contact me off list ([email protected]) with your full name, and I’ll get you started on the training course right away. You’ll be up to speed on the care and keeping of seahorses and ready to order your first specimens before you know it!

    Best wishes with all your fishes (and invertebrates)!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna

    Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2009/02/15 02:02



    Thank you so much for the information I went to my local LFS today and was looking at the different types of skimmers and was told that the best skimmer for my tank would be the PS 75 Skimmer. I am a little concerned because it if for a 75 gal. I was told that it is better than the ones on the market for the 110 gal. What is your take on this?

    And I would love to take the training course and will be responding to you off list.


    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Tasha:

    Well, here are my feelings on the matter — a marine aquarium can never be over skimmed but they certainly can be hindered by insufficient protein skimming or foam fractionation. Truth be told, the Skilters have a pretty decent filtration system but the built-in protein skimmers leave a lot to be desired. They tend to be a bit noisy and twitchy — difficult to keep tuned in properly, which makes them relatively inefficient units. I suspect that’s why your local dealer is recommending a supplemental protein skimmer in addition to the build-it protein skimmers that come with the Skilters. I’m not familiar with the PS 75 skimmer he suggested, but I figure he’s recommending a protein skimmer that’s only rated for 75 gallons because you will be using it in addition to the built-in skimmers in the Skilters, and altogether that should provide your 110-gallon aquarium with plenty of protein skimming ability. At least, I suppose that is his line of reasoning…

    This is what I normally advise hobbyists regarding protein skimmers, Tasha:

    <Open quote>
    Protein Skimming.

    Although seahorses can certainly be kept successfully without the use of a protein skimmer, I recommend including a good skimmer for best results. As a rule, seahorses are messy feeders, particularly when scarfing down enriched frozen Mysis. Ample evidence of this is revealed every time they scarf one up. As they snick up a shrimp with their slurp-gun snouts, water is passed over their gills and expelled forcibly (it is this very process that generates the powerful suction they use to slurp up their prey). As the jet of water is ejected through their gills, it carries a cloud of macerated particles and debris with it. It is a startling sight the first time you observe this phenomenon, for it brings a fire-breathing dragon to mind. As one young hobbyist matter-of-factly described it, "My seahorse blows smoke out of its ears when he eats." I’ll be darned if that’s not exactly what it looks like, too!

    The majority of the undesirable metabolites, organic wastes and excess nutrients that accumulate in our aquariums and degrade water quality are "surface-active," meaning they are attracted to and collect near the surface of a gas-liquid interface (Fenner, 2003). Skimmers take advantage of this fact by using a column of very fine air bubbles mixed with aquarium water to trap dissolved organics and remove them from our systems. This air-water mixture is lighter than the surrounding aquarium and rises up the column of the skimmer until the foam eventually spills into a special collection cup atop the skimmer, which can be removed and emptied as needed. Proteins and other organic molecules, waste products, uneaten food and excess nutrients, and a host of other undesirable compounds stick to the surface of the bubbles and are carried away along with the foam and removed from the aquarium (Fenner, 2003a). As a result of this process, these purification devices are typically known as foam separators, foam fractionators, air-strippers, or simply protein skimmers.

    In my experience, nothing improves water quality like a good protein skimmer. They provides many benefits for a seahorse setup, including efficient nutrient export, reducing the effective bioload, and increasing both the Redox potential and dissolved oxygen levels in the water (Fenner, 2003a). They do a tremendous job of removing excess organics from the aquarium, including phenols, albumin, dissolved organic acids, and chromophoric (color causing) compounds (Fenner, 2003a). Their ability to remove dissolved wastes BEFORE they have a chance to break down and degrade water quality makes them indispensable for controlling nuisance algae. A good protein skimmer is an invaluable piece of equipment for keeping your nitrates low and your water quality high when feeding a whole herd of these sloppy eaters in a closed-system aquarium.

    When it comes to skimmers, both the AquaC Remora and Euro-Reef series of protein skimmers are first-rate units that will serve you well. You can’t go far wrong if you select a quality AquaC or Euro-Reef skimmer rated for an aquarium of appropriate size. I believe Premium Aquatics ( carries all of those brands of hang-on-the-back protein skimmers, and I would select one of the above if I was you. If the available space behind the aquarium is at a premium as far as installing a protein skimmer goes, a lot of hobbyists like the Red Sea Prizm protein skimmers because of their sleek compact design.
    <Close quote>

    If you can afford a good protein skimmer to supplement the Skilters, Tasha, then I would be all for it. And since I don’t believe a marine aquarium can have too much protein skimming, I would have no problem at all if you wanted to get a quality unit that was rated for an aquarium of 110 gallons or more.

    However, you really don’t need to be worrying about a protein skimmer while your aquarium is in the process of cycling. It’s important not to operate your protein skimmer, ultraviolet sterilizer, or ozonizer, or make water changes while your new aquarium is cycling. Remove chemical filtration media while the aquarium is cycling and avoid adding any ammonia-removing liquids or ammonia-sequestering products (such as BIO-Safe, Amquel, Ammo-lock, Aqua-Safe, etc.) while the tank cycles. You want a nice high ammonia spike, followed by a nice high nitrite spike, when the aquarium cycles in order to build up the largest possible population of the nitrifying bacteria that feed on ammonia and nitrite, so using any type of filtration or additives that could reduce the amount of ammonia or nitrite at this time will actually hinder the cycling process and be very counterproductive.

    So wait until your 110-gallon aquarium has cycled and the biological filtration is fully established before you worry about installing a protein skimmer on the tank, regardless of the brand or the size.

    Best of luck with your new aquarium, Tasha!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

    Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2009/02/16 00:41


    Hi Pete,

    I wanted to know what is the minimum amount of live rock that I should have in my 110 gallon tank. I know per my lesson 1 that 1-2 pounds per gallon but is there a minimum because I just dont want only live rock in the tank. I would like to add artificial decorations.

    Please advise,


    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Tasha:

    That’s a good question! As you know, as much as 1-2 pounds of live rock per gallon of water is recommended if you will be using the live rock as your primary means of biofiltration. That would be the maximum amount of live rock that you would ever want to consider for a seahorse tank.

    In your case, you have the two powerful external filters on your 110-gallon aquarium, which will be providing the bulk of the biological filtration, so you don’t need nearly so much live rock. There is no minimum amount of live rock you should have in a seahorse tank such as yours, Tasha. That’s a matter of personal preference. You can have no live rock at all, and the aquarium system can still be very successful.. Or you can have just a small amount of live rock to augment the filtration provided by the big Skilters. That’s desirable because the live rock can provide denitrification, and complete the nitrogen cycle, converting nitrate into nitrogen gas which eventually leaves the aquarium. Denitrification is carried out by anaerobic (i.e., oxygen-hating) bacteria deep within the interior of the live rock, and that’s something that the Skilters cannot accomplish. They will support a tremendous population of the beneficial Nitrosomonas bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite, and an equally large population of the beneficial Nitrobacter microbes that then convert the nitrite into nitrate (both the Nitrobacter and Nitrosomonas or types of aerobic bacteria that thrive in the oxygen-rich environment provided by the Skilters). But the Skilters cannot support any of the anaerobic bacteria that are so important for denitrification.

    So the live rock complements the Skilters, which are very good at breaking ammonia down into nitrite and then converting the nitrite into nitrate, what caused the nitrate levels to steadily accumulate, which is where the live rock is important, since the oxygen-poor interior of the live rock harbors anaerobic bacteria that can go ahead and complete the nitrogen cycle, converting the nitrate into harmless nitrogen gas. Live rock therefore helps to keep the nitrate levels under control, at the low levels that seahorses need in order to thrive. And a certain amount of live rock will also provide the aquarium with stability by virtue of the additional nitrification and denitrification ability it offers.

    Now, if you prefer artificial décor and you want to have no live rock or very little live rock in your tank, that’s just fine as long as you are diligent with your aquarium maintenance. Without the live rock, you will need to perform more frequent water changes and be diligent about harvesting macroalgae periodically in order to export nitrates from your aquarium and keep them within the acceptable range.

    In your case, I would recommend selecting a handful of softball-size live rocks to provide some limited denitrification ability and extra stability for your aquarium. If you wish, you can place these at the back of the aquarium and conceal them behind the artificial decorations, so that they won’t detract from the effect you are striving to achieve with your aquascaping.

    Or you could hand pick of few especially interesting formations of live rock to create a sort of interesting rockwork centerpiece for the tank — something with attractive arches, caves, and overhangs, and surround the rock formation with artificial decorations. You can always position artificial corals and synthetic marine plants in and on and amidst the live rock formation so that it blends in with the rest of your decor almost imperceptibly.

    But that’s strictly a matter of taste. You needn’t have any live rock whatsoever in your tank if you are concerned about introducing pests or simply don’t like the appearance of the rock.

    To help you decide if you want to include any rockwork at all in your setup, Tasha, here is a post from another of our members (Sissy), in which she discusses why she likes to use live rock in her tanks in response to another hobbyist concerns:

    <Open quote>
    Well, personally I’m a big fan of live rock. Because of the massive quantities of beneficial bacteria that thrive both on the surface and deep within the substrate, LR is a great way of maintaining superior water quality. Commonly nitrate levels are kept lower in a tank stocked with live rock, since the bacteria needed to break down nitrate are anarobic and can live deep in the oxygen-poor sections of the rock. LR, of course, also provides a refuge for the copepod/amphipod population needed to keep a brace of seahorces and a dragonet or two. Finally, live rock provides some fascinating viewing experiences as time progresses. Most live rock will have creatures living deep within the crevices of the rock that start to sprout a few months after the rock is re-cured, including corals, coraline algae of course, and the occasional bit of sponge. Fresh live rock is even more varied in it’s livestock, but you run the risk of pest species sometimes.

    If I may ask, why exactly don’t you want LR in the tank? Are you concerned with pest species? If I may offer a suggestion or two, there are a few ways to deal with the problems of pests on live rock. I’m not going to go into a curing lesson here — there are many different and excellent articles available online in regards to curing LR, and I won’t tell someone that one method is necissarily better than another. Let’s just assume you have your rock cured, or mostly cured.

    First, and this is only my personal experience, but try to buy your LR from a LFS. You have the benefit this way of looking at the pieces and picking out exactly which ones you want. You can also observe the LR in the pet shop’s tank before you buy it sometimes, and watch to see if there are critters moving about it. You can also choose from most places how live the rock really is. My LFS is great, they have separate curing tanks for LR that is plain coraline-encrusted rock, some that is fully cured, near cured, and a tank for rock that is SO live it has lots of macroalgae, coral frags, etc, already heavily populated.

    Second, if you choose your live rock and bring it home, you can always submerge the rock in a plastic container filled with RO/DI water. Many mobile organisms will flee the rock in a couple minutes of this exposure in attempt to find a proper saline environment. This includes pest bugs such as bristle worms and mantis shrimp. The downside of this is that if there are existing copepods on the rock, they will go too. This is less of a problem though because you can always re-seed the rock with fresh pods later. If you have the benefit of doing this in a white plastic container, you can also pick and choose the life that has fled the rock. In other words, if you see a crab or snail that you decide you want to keep, you can rescue it from the RO water and plop it in the tank for later.

    Finally, go over the rock with a toothbrush, tweezers, and syringe with lemon juice. Remove any sessile organisms you don’t want with the brush or the tweezers. The dreaded Aptaisia anemones are pretty hard to see if the rock is out of the water, but if you do see them, or one sprouts later, you can inject them with the lemon juice. This is a trick I found online, and I’ve recently had the opportunity to try it. I’m happy to say that it is pretty effective! Use a diabetic syringe of 1 cc or .5 cc, and just inject .1 to .2ml of juice to the stalk or mouth of the anemone. It takes a day or two, but it works.

    Well, I’m at the end of my speech here, so I’m getting off of the soapbox. It’s pretty evident that I am a fan of LR in a display aquarium of any kind, and I think you would find it easier than you expect to properly maintain your new dragonet’s and your sea horses’ food supply with the proper amount of rock in your tank. I’m no expert, this is just my opinion for what it’s worth. I’m just another schmoe with aquarium life constantly on the brain! :-))
    <close quote>

    In short, you can have as much or as little live rock in your tank as you please, Tasha. There is really no right or wrong way to proceed in that regard. it’s just a matter of taste. First and foremost, you want to establish an aquarium that is aesthetically pleasing to you as the owner, since you will be spending so many hours observing the aquarium and you want it to be a showpiece for your home.

    Best of luck preparing your new 110-gallon aquarium for seahorses, Tasha!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    Hi Pete,

    I have a question in regards to the foods that seahorses eat. I have a friend who went out and got seahorses at a LFS that she uses and she is feeding them plankton and freeze dried krill and shrimp . Of course I told her about this site and the care and that feeding the seahorses [u]mysis[/u] is best. I wanted to know your opionion on feeding them these foods. I asked her what the LFS was feeding them and she said flake food was their primary source of food and krill.

    Please advise,


    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Tasha:

    Yikes — it sounds like your friend has been getting some bad device from the guys at the LFS! As a rule, seahorses will have no interest whatsoever in eating flake food. They will not swim up to take flake food floating at the surface, they normally do not slurp up flake food after it has settled on the bottom, and they will not swim after flake food to eat it in midwater. By and large they do not recognize flake food as edible, and most of the flake food is too large for a seahorse’s tube mouth to ingest. The best outcome you could hope for my offering flake food to seahorses is that they might eat a few of the smallest crumbs that happen to drift right by their snouts where they are perched. The vast majority of the flake food is going to go uneaten and degrade the water quality in the aquarium. So tell your friend to avoid using any type of flake food for her seahorses.

    If the seahorses will eat the freeze dried krill and plankton readily: then that’s fine and can be used occasionally to diversify their diet. But frozen Mysis should serve as their staple, everyday diet. Frozen Mysis as a natural prey item for the seahorses, it’s readily available from any LFS in a number of brands, the seahorses recognize the Mysis as a natural food source and eat it very well, and frozen Mysis enriched with Vibrance provides them with a diet designed specifically by fish nutritionists to meet all of the seahorse’s long-term dietary needs.

    The next lesson in your training course (Lesson 5) is devoted entirely to feeding seahorses with frozen Mysis, Tasha, and it will tell you everything you need to know on that subject. Look for in your inbox later today and feel free to pass the information along to your friend, if you wish.

    In fact, your friend is welcome to join the Ocean Rider training program for new seahorse keepers as well, Tasha (we don’t want to leave for in the hands of the guys from her LFS who are using flake food as the primary diet for their seahorses.) Just have her contact me ([email protected]) with her full name and I will get her started on the training program right away!

    Best wishes with all your fishes, Tasha!

    Pete Giwojna


    Hi Pete,

    I told her that it sounded "fishy" to me and I also gave her your name and a copy of the feeding instructions. I hope between the both of us she gets the point about the flake food because she is still trying to give it to them. I noticed everything thing you said about the sea horses not eating the flake food today when I went to see how they were doing and they did not look well there tummies looked sunk in:unsure:. So I bought some mysis at her local fish store today and gave it the sea horses. They let it be known that they were hungry. She does not have a feeding station so I feed them with my hand. I must admit it was thrilling to have them eating out my hand, but I was nervous too because her babies were on a "food…feed me" mission. I told her that she needs to order some vibrance to gut load the mysis so that they can stay strong and healthy and to give the flake food to her fish and to get a feeding station.

    I will keep you posted on the status…:)

    Post edited by: 1babelove, at: 2009/03/03 04:25

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Tasha:

    Well, let me just say that she and her seahorses are very lucky that she has a friend like you who was willing to step in, take the initiative, and make sure that her new ponies received some proper food! I’m sure that her seahorses were starved and it’s good to hear that you survived the feeding frenzy with all your fingers intact.

    Seriously, Tasha, you did a great job of getting some badly needed nutrition into her emaciated seahorses, and now that you’ve showed her the right way to proceed and provided her with all the information on treating, I have no doubt that her seahorses will benefit as a result. Well done!

    If she wants to take advantage of the training course, I would be more than happy to get her started out on the right foot. Or she could always rely on you to instructor in the right way to go about things.

    Best wishes with all your fishes, Tasha! Keep up the good work!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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