Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

Seahorse Club
Aquarium & Livestock

Feed Ezy Frozen Mysis

live rock

  • This topic has 7 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 17 years ago by KarenS.
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  • #1215


    My name is Karen and I have kept seahorses many years ago. I am considering starting up a new tank for seahorses and pipefish, a mandarin, some cardinals etc.
    I used to have problems with the shrip and crabs that came living in the live rock. Some of them lived in the rock undetected for months or years before deciding to suddenly eat my fish. I had a big fat mandarin fish who I suddenly found head first wedged into a hole with his face eaten off by a crab years after the tank was established. I was always worried that my seahorses would have problems like this too, particularly with their tails.
    Aquariums in the past have tried leaving rock out in the sun to bake, and fresh water baths. But then there would be lots of dead rotten debris on the rock…
    What do you suggest?


    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Karen:

    Welcome to the forum!

    Yes, unwelcome hitchhikers that find their way into the aquarium admits live rock are really concerned for seahorse keepers and its customary to minimize this risk by subjecting the live rock to various "debugging" procedures before it’s introduced to the seahorse tank, as discussed below:

    Debugging Live Rock

    Their a few ways you can cleanse your live rock to eradicate unwanted hitchhikers without harming the desirable organisms and beneficial bacteria it houses. For example, a hypersaline dip should work, or you could treat it with Panacur (fenbendazole in your hospital tank, and the old Club Soda trick may be the quickest, easiest way to go about it. I’d be happy to run through those live rock "debugging" procedures for you.

    The hypersaline dips are pretty self explanatory. Just get yourself a nice big plastic bucket or Rubbermaid tub or styrofoam cooler/shipping box, fill it halfway with extra salty water, submerge the piece of live rock (LR) you want to cleanse of unwanted hitchhikers and give it a good soak. Pests like stomotopods (mantis shrimp), pistol shrimp, predacious crabs and bristleworms won’t like the suddenly change from normal-strength saltwater to the hypersaline bucket water and will bale out of their hidey holes in the live rock in a hurry in search of conditions more to their liking.

    There are no hard and fast rules about how salty the dipping water should be or how long the dips should last, but it’s a good idea to use tap water for the dips (don’t detoxify it or adjust the pH — the bigger the shock, the quicker the pests will abandon the live rock, so a little chlorine in the water is a good thing). In general, adjusting the salinity in the dipping container to a specific gravity of around 1.042 (55-ppt salinity) is a good place to start. The saltier the water, the quicker the critters will bug out and the more thorough this debugging procedure will be.

    Place something in the bottom of the bucket to keep the live rock elevated above the bottom (pvc pipe, a couple of bricks, plastic eggcrate from a light fixture — anything along those lines will suffice) and plunk the live rock directly into the hypersaline water. The mobile pests it harbors will soon crawl, slither or drop off the live rock, and, when you remove the LR after 10 minutes or so, the unwanted hitchhikers will be left behind in the dipping container.

    The Club Soda trick is a similar technique that relies on carbonated water to flush out mobile pests rather than hypersalinity. Simply remove the live rock to an empty bucket and flush out the hidey holes thoroughly with a generous amount of straight, undiluted Club Soda. The carbonation in the Club Soda means the hitchhikers will be immersed in CO2, deprived of oxygen, and subjected to a drastic pH shift all at once. They’ll bail out of the rock in a big hurry! You can then rinse the live rock in a bucket of saltwater you have prepared in advance, to remove any lingering traces of the Club Soda, and return it to the aquarium immediately. Problem solved.

    This method works well for surgical strikes in which you are flushing out a particular pest whose hidey hole you have already located. If you want to cleanse your live rock of unwanted hitchhikers in general, place the live rock in a bucket with just enough saltwater to cover the rock and then add a full 2-liter bottle of Club Soda (Liisa Coit, personal communication). Pour the Club Soda slowly over the surface of the rock, concentrating in particular on any cavities or crevices. This will drive out any mobile pests hiding in the rock, including crabs, mantis shrimp, pistol shrimp, and bristleworms, in a matter of moments.

    Afterwards the live rock is rinsed in saltwater to remove the residual Club Soda, and is ready to be returned to the aquarium. (Any desirable critters that may have been driven out of the live rock — Gammarus, pods or snails, for example — can be netted out of the delousing bucket and returned to the aquarium as well, none the worse for wear.) Too much Club Soda can be deadly to microfauna such as gammarids and copepods, so if you want to recovery and revive the ‘pods, use more saltwater in the bucket and less Club Soda until you achieve the desired results.

    Fenbendazole (brand name of Panacur) is an inexpensive anthelmintic agent (dewormer) used for large animals such as horses, and the de-worming granules can be obtained without a prescription from stores that carry agricultural products (e.g., farm and ranch equipment, farming supplies and products, veterinary supplies, livestock and horse supplies, livestock and horse feed) or via the Internet from places such as KV Vet Supply (see link below). The granular form of fenbendazole (horse dewormer granules 22.2%) is preferable to the paste for aquarium use, as the dosage of the granules is easier to regulate (Liisa Coit, pers. com.). It is available in packets of 5.2 grams or 0.18 ounces.

    Click here: KV Vet Supply / KV HealthLinks – Pet, equine & livestock supplies / Quality nutrition for you!

    (Use the 22.2 % granules rather than the paste.)

    Administering a regimen of fenbendazole (FBZ) or Panacur after a hypersaline bath has chased out the mobile pests will eradicate any hydroids, Aiptasia rock anemones, or remaining worms, thereby rendering your live rock completely seahorse safe. The recommended dose is 1/8 teaspoon of the horse dewormer granules (22.2% fenbendazole) per 10 gallons of water. Dose the live rock with 1/8 teaspoon/10 gallons every other day until you have administered a total of 3 such treatments (Liisa Coit, pers. com.). Even one dose will do a fine job of eradicating bristeworms, but Aiptasia rock anemones and hydroids are a bit tougher and may require 2-3 doses to eliminate entirely.

    Because fenbendazole is essentially a de-worming agent, it will destroy any bristleworms, flat worms, spaghetti worms or the like. The FBZ or Panacur treatments are best administered to the live rock in a bucket or hospital tank before the LR is introduced in the main tank. Otherwise, the massive die-off of the worm population in the aquarium may require large water changes in order to prevent a dangerous ammonia spike! And after the treatment is completed, its a good idea to add a portion of newly purchased live sand to the system in order to help restore its normal diversity of fauna and microfauna again (Liisa Coit, pers. com.).

    Fenbendazole does not have any adverse effects on biological filtration, but be aware that it is death to many Cnidarians besides hydroids. Mushrooms and related corals are generally not affected, but expect it to have dire effects on other corals (e.g., sinularias), polyps, gorgonians, and anemones. In general, any Cnidarians with polyps that resemble the stalked family of Hydrozoans are likely to be hit hard by fenbendazole, so don’t use this treatment in a reef tank!

    Also be aware that fenbendazole seems to soak into the porous live rock and be absorbed indefinitely. I know one hobbyist who transferred a small piece of live rock that had been treated with fenbendazole (Panacur) months earlier into a reef tank, where it killed the resident starfish and Astrea snails. So enough of the medication may be retained within treated live rock to impact sensitive animals months after the fenbendazole was administered. Don’t treat live rock intended for reef systems with fenbendazole (Panacur)!

    At the lower dosage recommended for nursery tanks and dwarf seahorse tanks with fry (1/16 tsp. per 10 gallons), fenbendazole normally does not harm cleaner shrimp and decorative shrimp. With the exception of Astrids (Astrea), Coit and Worden have found it does not usually affect the types of snails typically used as cleanup crews (e.g., Nassarius, Ceriths, and Nerites). It will kill starfish but copepods, hermit crabs, and shrimp are normally not affected.

    Macroalgae such as the feathery or long-bladed varieties of Caulerpa or Hawaiian Ogo (Gracilaria) are not harmed by exposure to fenbendazole at even triple the normal dose. In fact, if you will be using Caulerpa in your nursery tanks to provide hitching posts for the fry and serve as a form of natural filtration, it’s a very wise precaution indeed to treat them with a regimen of fenbendazole beforehand.

    So fenbendazole (FBZ) or Panacur is primarily useful for ridding bare-bottomed nursery tanks and dwarf seahorses setups of hyrdroids and Aiptasia anemones, ridding Caulerpa and other macroalge of hydroids or Aiptasia before its goes into the aquarium, and cleansing live rock of bristleworms, hydroids, and Aiptasia rock anemones before it is introduced to the aquarium.

    It can also be used to eradicate bristleworms, hydroids, an Aiptasia from an established aquarium if it does not house sensitive animals such as live corals and gorgonians, starfish, Astrea snails, or tubeworms and other desirable worms that may be harmed by FBZ, providing you monitor the ammonia levels closely and are prepared to deal with the ammonia spike that may result from the sudden death of the worm population.

    But the greater seahorses are not bothered by hydroids, which can be so troublesome for miniature seahorse species, Aiptasia rock anemones in the aquarium can easily be controlled by Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), and bristleworms are largely harmless except in plague proportions, so if you’ll be keeping Mustangs, Sunbursts or any of the large breeds of seahorses, treating your aquarium or pretreating your live rock with FBZ may not be warranted. In such cases, giving the live rock a hypersaline bath before it goes in the main tank is generally sufficient to drive out mantis shrimp, predatory crabs, and the like, and will usually flush out enough of the bristleworms to keep their numbers in check.

    Best of luck eliminating unwanted hitchhikers from your seahorse tank, Karen!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    Thanks so much! That is very helpful. Your replys are massive! Thankyou for taking the time to write them.:)

    I am interested in the larger types of seahorses and some pipefish so soda and hypersaline solution should do it. I will just need to learn more about the good critters which I should put back in… I dont know much about what they look like I’m afraid. I will have a look on the net to see if I can find out more about them.

    Also, I am thinking that I may have an aquarium made especially for larger seahorses. I would like a corner unit possibly with a curved front window. I have read that it is important for the tank to be deep. What is the optimum depth for an aquarium for large horses?

    I also used to have a filter box with bio balls as my filtration. I have also seen other kinds of sand filters etc. My information on filtering is out of date. So what type of filtration is currently best?

    Last question…. some of the seahorses that aquariums gave me to ‘save’ were more aggressive than others. A few that I came across would fight with my pair. (and no they were definately not mating!). They would wrestle. Why is this?

    Thanks again,


    About the wrestling horses….

    I just looked up on the net the species of the aggressive ones. They are H. abdominalis. The one that was given to me was a large white one with yellowish patches on it. Apparently a fisherman had brought it in and nobody knew what species it was. It would wrestle with one of my horses.


    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Karen:

    You’re very welcome to all the information I can provide to help keep your seahorses happy and healthy!

    Yes, there’s no reason a bow front corner tank wouldn’t work well for seahorses as long as you equip it with an efficient filtration system and suitable lighting. I would suggest an aquarium of at least 40 gallons for the following reasons. When keeping the larger breeds of seahorses, it’s best to start with the largest aquarium you can reasonably afford and maintain (the taller, the better). In general, a tank of at least 40 gallons (150 L) is preferable since that’s the size when one begins to see significant benefits in terms of the greater stability a larger volume of water can provide. An aquarium of 40-gallons or more will be more resistant to overcrowding and to rapid fluctuations in temperature, pH, and salinity than smaller setups. The larger the aquarium the larger the margin for error it offers the aquarist and the greater the benefits it provides in terms of stability.

    It is equally desirable to select an aquarium at least 20-inches high when keeping the greater seahorses. They need the vertical swimming space to perform their complex mating ritual and successfully complete the egg transfer, which is accomplished while the pair is rising through the water column or drifting slowly downwards from the apex of their rise. If the aquarium is too shallow, eggs will be spilled during the transfer from the female to the male’s brood pouch, and mating becomes increasingly difficult or impossible below a certain minimum depth. A tall aquarium can also help protect the seahorses from depth-related health problems such as bloated pouch and certain forms of Gas Bubble Disease.

    The optimum height for a seahorse tank would be greater than 36 inches (research shows that a water depth of 36 inches or greater effectively prevents most forms of gas bubble disease). In actual practice, however, tanks that are 3 feet tall or better are quite impractical for the home hobbyist. For one thing, few tanks that size are available; you would have to have something custom made to achieve those dimensions and that gets to be prohibitively expensive with such a tall aquarium. In the second place, it’s very difficult to clean and maintain an aquarium that is 36 inches deep or more since you cannot reach the bottom of the tank with your arms.

    For this reason, most seahorse keepers compromise on the height of the aquarium. I find that a height of 24 inches is a good compromise. Standard, off-the-shelf aquariums 24-inches tall are available so that you can obtain such a tank at a reasonable cost, and a height of 24 inches still provides significant protection against gas bubble disease, while being quite manageable when working in the aquarium. So I would suggest that you shoot for a depth of about 24 inches, Karen.

    As far as filtration goes, an external power filter is a valuable addition to any seahorse setup for several reasons. It will provide added water movement and circulation for your aquarium, as well as accommodating any mechanical or chemical filtration you may desire. A bewildering array of filtration options are available today, including a myriad of canisters and hang-on-the-back models, most of which will do the job reasonably well. Even the trusty old standbys, undergravel filters and air-operated sponge/foam filters, are still reasonable choices for a standard seahorse setup under some circumstances.

    If you are using 1-2 pounds of live rock per gallon as your primary biofilter, then a basic canister filter or hang-on-the-back filter is all you need to provide mechanical/chemical filtration and additional water movement. Otherwise, you’ll need to include a filter that can provide biological filtration. Undergravel filters and air-operated sponge filters can accomplish this and work well for some applications, but there are better choices available for seahorse keepers nowadays.

    For example, wet/dry trickle filters are probably the most desirable units for the seahorse keeper if the aquarium has adequate space (behind or beneath it) to accommodate such a unit and the hobbyist can afford one. They are top-of-the-line units that feature a thin film of water trickling over filter media with an ultra-large surface area, thereby allowing maximum air-water contact. This provides excellent oxygenation with efficient offgassing, which is very important for seahorses. It helps keep dissolved oxygen levels high, CO2 low, and effectively prevents gas supersaturation, which can sometimes contribute to serious problems for our aquatic equines. As a added benefit, wet/dry trickle filters can also provide remarkable biological filtration, which can give you a real nice edge by further increasing your carrying capacity and boosting your margin for error accordingly.

    The type or brand of supplemental filter you choose for your seahorse tank is not critical, but there are certain desirable features you want to look for in any filter that will be used for seahorses. For example, it should provide good surface agitation and water movement with adjustable flow. The intake tubes should reach all the way to the substrate (add extenders if they do not) and be screened off or otherwise shielded so they cannot "eat" a curious seahorse. The filter must provide efficient oxygenation and gas exchange and be able to accommodate mechanical and chemical filtration media such as activated carbon and polyfilter pads. A prefilter is very desirable, as is a "waterfall" return (or a spray bar attachment, if you decide on a good canister filter instead).

    Males seahorses can indeed be aggressive with one another under certain circumstances, Karen. When a male displays aggression, it’s almost always directed toward a rival male and involves competition for mates, as discussed below.

    As a rule, competition over mates is nothing to be overly concerned about with captive-bred seahorses. Believe me, such encounters tend to be much more stressful on the attentive aquarist than on the actual participants. Competition for mates is a highly ritualized affair in seahorses and though it can be chaotic at times, it’s mostly harmless bluster and serious damage is almost unheard of as a result of such jousting and sparring among the males.

    Here is an excerpt from my new book (Complete Guide to Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, unpublished) that discusses tail-wrestling and other antagonistic behavior in Hippocampus, Karen:

    Competition for Mates

    In the aquarium, both males and females compete for mates, but there is a big difference in the way they go about it. Females compete with one another passively, each trying to outdo the other and be the first to attract a mate simply by increasing the intensity of their courtship activities and displays. Their competitive behavior is therefore directed at the eligible males rather than any rival females. Males, on the other hand, compete much more actively and much more antagonistically. Their behavior is often aimed directly at their rival(s) and includes aggressive behaviors such as tail wrestling and snapping or sparring, which are never seen in the fairer sex. In other words, females respond to the presence of rivals by getting more flirtatious, whereas males often react to rivals by getting surly and carrying a testosterone-induced chip on their shoulders.

    This is rather surprising when you think of it. Since, with seahorses, it is females that "impregnate" males, so to speak, and the males who undergo a prolonged pregnancy, many researchers have speculated that sex roles should also be reversed in Hippocampus and that females would thus exhibit typically male traits. According to the role-reversal theory, since males carry the young and limit the female reproductive rate, females are predicted to assume the male role and compete more vigorously for mates.

    Several studies have shown that this is emphatically not the case (Vincent 1990, 1994a), however, and that male seahorses compete more actively and aggressively than females, and basically try harder to get pregnant than female seahorses try to give their eggs away. In the kinky world of seahorse sex, the boys still chase the girls, even though it’s the boys who get pregnant as a result!

    And when two or more evenly matched young studs are butting heads and aggressively contending for the right to reproduce, chaos and confusion can sometimes result. Such cutthroat competition often brings out surprising, seldom-seen behaviors in Hippocampus. This is how I described the sort of fireworks and festivities that can ensue in an article entitled "Seahorse Breeding Secrets" (FAMA, Vol. 20, Num. 1 & 2, January-February 1999):

    <quote>"What do I mean by chaos and confusion? I’m talking about normally passive, totally nonaggressive fish suddenly engaging in no-holds barred wrestling matches and exchanging sucker punches and knockout blows. I’m talking spousal abuse, with hapless females taking a beating when they get trapped in the middle of a melee between two rival males. I’m talking about shameless homewreckers trying everything from lies, trickery, and deception to brute force in order to come between would-be mates. As for confusion, crowded conditions often result in homosexual mating attempts, with over-aroused males trying to copulate with other stallions and frustrated females rising to mate with other fillies (Vincent, 1990)!

    "In its mildest form, this sort of competition begins when the odd-man out in a trio of unpaired seahorses attempts to interfere with the other couple by interposing its body between them, as if ”cutting in” on their courtship dance (Vincent, 1990). If this simple ploy fails to break up the budding romance, the intruder may then decide to take matters into his own hands by wrapping his tail around his rival and actively restraining him (Giwojna, Jan. 1999)." <end quote>

    If the opponents are evenly matched, a strenuous wrestling match will ensue, with each adversary trying its best to hog-tie the other and forcibly remove him from the female’s presence. If unable to break free, the loser will eventually signal that he’s had enough by darkening dramatically in coloration while flattening his body so that he’s lying parallel to the bottom. This is the way a seahorse cries "Uncle!" and the victor quickly recognizes this submissive display and releases his vanquished foe.

    However, certain unscrupulous males are not above using this as a ruse, feigning submission in order to trick their rival into letting down his guard so they can launch a sneak attack. The moment the unsuspecting male relaxes his grip, the supposedly submissive scoundrel will take advantage of this lapse in order to deliver a sharp blow to the head of his unwary victim. One of these sucker punches is often enough to KO the would-be winner, thus enabling the crafty coward to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Like they say, "All’s fair in love and war," and, as we have just seen, when that war is over the right to mate with a frisky filly, the competition can quickly escalate in violence until the stallions come to actual blows.

    With seahorses, this takes the form of "Snapping," an aggressive maneuver in which the attacker stretches out his head and flicks his snout against his rival with a violent snap, thus delivering a nasty blow to the adversary. The snap is often aimed either at the opponent’s eye or gills — particularly sensitive areas — and the force of a well-directed snap will knock the unfortunate recipient reeling across a distance of 10cm or more. Stunned by this sudden assault, the victim of one of these vicious blows invariably throws in the towel, flattening in submission and darkening in coloration. The loser’s dusky body coloration stands out in stark contrast to its brightly colored conqueror.

    The winner may then celebrate his conquest with a curious kind of victory dance directed toward the female he’s been fighting over. The victorious male begins by tilting his body, often leaning over so far he is almost lying horizontally on his side, and then rapidly righting himself, repeating this motion several times in quick succession so he seems to be shuddering. At times it looks almost as if shivers are travelling down his spine until the male’s entire body is trembling and quivering with a rhythmical rippling motion that would put a hula dancer to shame. It’s as though the male anchors its tail to a solid object in order to wag his body, like a baby shakes a rattle. As suddenly as they began, the male will bring these amazing vibrations to a complete halt, only to resume them a short while later, repeating the whole procedure again and again.

    This tremulous victory dance is a solo version of the displays of reciprocal quivering conducted during courtship and, of course, it is performed solely for the benefit of the nearby female, who often stands by motionlessly, as if rapt with sheer adoration. To the victor go the spoils, and the conquering hero will soon begin to court his lady fair in earnest.

    <quote> "Short of a knock-out punch, this sort of sparring only serves to get the competitors all the more excited, which can be rough on the nearby female, who, of course, is the object of the entire exercise in the first place. Overzealous males sometimes swim right over the female, trampling her underfoot in their haste to get at their adversary, and woe to the luckless lady who gets caught in the crossfire between two sparring males (Vincent, 1990). She will certainly be snapped at inadvertently, and may even find herself stuck smack dab in the middle of a tail-wrestling tug-o-war, pulled in opposite directions by her admirers — the same sort of rough treatment Olive Oyl so often received from Popeye and Bluto in the cartoons.

    "In self-defense, the harassed female often attempts to evade sparring males by darkening and flattening herself against the bottom in submission, or by swimming to the top and suspending high in the water column in order to escape the notice of her pumped-up paramours, since courtship and competition take place on the bottom and seahorses seldom look upwards. But in the close confines of the aquarium, it is impossible for a female to escape the attention of her over-sexed suitors for long, and even submissive females sometimes get dragged around the tank by rival males in the heat of combat…

    "Worst of all, under crowded conditions, seahorses sometimes attempt to mate with members of the same sex. These homosexual copulations are usually the result of confusion (Vincent, 1990). For example, sometimes a male and female will rise together as usual — the final phase of courtship leading to copulation — only to have a rival intrude at the crucial moment when the transfer of eggs is about to take place; just as the couple is about to merge in midwater, a rival will swim up and wedge itself between them, mistakenly resulting in a male-male (or female-to-female) mating attempt. Other times, a three-some will rise together, only to have the female fall back at the last moment, leaving two males to complete the copulatory rise.

    "On occasion, however, two over-stimulated stallions will persist in their futile attempts to pair with each other, as if oblivious to the sex of their ill-chosen partner. Fielder reported a case where two male Hippocampus hippocampus courted one another for over two hours and unsuccessfully attempted at least 20 copulatory rises together, despite the presence of a very frustrated female who actively intruded several times. Further, in her famous study on the reproductive ecology of seahorses, Amanda Vincent found that such male-male copulatory rises lasted fully as long as heterosexual mating attempts (Vincent, 1990)….

    "…Female-female mating attempts are even more disastrous, since they often result in an overly-ripe female dropping her eggs. When that happens, the competition is all over, since a female that has lost her clutch has nothing to offer a prospective mate. In fact, some females are thought to use this as a ruse to deliberately eliminate their competition (Vincent, 1990). These cunning courtesans will entice a rival female to rise with them, and then hang back slightly beneath her, in a position to pose as a receptive male. If the ploy is successful, the ripe female will dutifully attempt to transfer her eggs, losing her entire clutch in the process… (Giwojna, Jan. 1999)" <end quote>

    Lest you get the wrong idea, I should emphasize that competition for mates is highly ritualized in Hippocampus. Let me repeat: the idea is to assert dominance, not inflict bodily harm. Tail wrestling and snapping are forms of ritual combat — little more than glorified shoving matches and tug of wars — with clear-cut submission signals that are always honored. They seldom do any real damage and the combatants are so well protected that serious injuries are virtually unknown when these armor-plated adversaries throw down the gauntlet. In short, intrasexual competition for mates can sometimes disrupt courtship and prolong the process of pair bonding, but it’s usually nothing to be concerned about and is always extremely interesting to observe.

    In short, Karen, it’s not too unusual for male seahorses to use their tails aggressively under certain circumstances. Because of the seahorse’s bony plates and body armor, even when a tail is wrapped around the neck of an adversary, there is no real danger of strangulation, asphyxiation or injury. Seahorses breathe through their gills so their breathing isn’t impaired in such situations. They don’t like it one bit, and will certainly struggle and do their best to break free, but they’re not really in any danger. Of the agonist displays rival males may engage in, snapping is far more worrisome, particularly when it’s directed at the eye or head of the adversary, as is usually the case.

    Male potbelly seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis) are particularly prone to this type of aggression because they are polygamous by nature. Pot bellies are promiscuous ponies and groups of males will often compete actively for the favors of receptive females. Many other seahorse species form lasting pair bonds, which tends to limit the need for such aggression.

    So the male H. abdominalis you rescued from your LFS were just doing what comes natural to them — butting heads and tail wrestling with rival males to assert their dominance and win the right to mate.

    Best of luck with your new seahorse tank, Karen! I hope you find a bow front corner aquarium with just the right height.

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    Thanks Pete.

    Yes that Abdominalis was very aggressive. He was massive too. At least 10 inches. Probably bigger.

    I think I will have an aquarium custom made this time. I know it gets expensive when you need extra thick glass but I think it will be worth it. Thanks again for all the info.

    Do you know much about pipefish? I would like my horses and pipes to be of species that grow quite large. The bigger the better. Colouration is important too. What are your favourites?


    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Karen:

    I don’t know much about pipefish at all. Right now, no one is culturing them so all the pipes are wild caught and they seemed to be a little more delicate than seahorses, in general.

    However, I like to keep the small Gulf Pipefish (Syngnathus sp.) from Florida in my dwarf seahorse tanks. The pipes add a lot of interest to the aquarium because their behavior is so different from the dwarves (Giwojna, 2005). For example, when they’re just trying to blend into their surroundings, the pipes orient themselves vertically, heads up and tails down, and sidle up alongside a fake gorgonian or a tall clump of sea cactus, imitating one of the branches. It’s not a bad bit of camouflage, and once in a while one of the seahorses perches on a pipefish by mistake and gets taken for a wild ride, like a bareback bronco rider at a rodeo.

    But when they’re hunting, the pipes slip into the beds of Caulerpa horizontally, and launch themselves like torpedoes at passing prey (Giwojna, 2005). Unlike the seahorses, which prefer to wait for their prey to come to them, the pipes dart out from hiding and snatch up brine shrimp right and left. It’s amazing how much faster and more agile they are than the pigmy ponies. At feeding time, the pipes go blasting around the tank like little guided missiles. Fortunately, with just two pipefish in the tank, they can’t make a serious dent in the swarms of Artemia.

    Like the seahorses, these pipefish are livebearers and give birth to independent babies that are miniature replicas of themselves, except that the newborn pipes are totally transparent (Giwojna, 2005). They look like glass splinters or tiny transparent threads. Although I never made a serious attempt to raise them, a number of them survived for several weeks when left to their own resources in the dwarf tank. They were very good at concealing themselves amid the macroalgae, and especially liked to take refuge amongst the "bristles" of my Merman’s Shaving Brushes. The dwarf seahorses have no interest in them whatsoever, but I strongly suspect the parent pipes are cannibals. All in all, Gulf pipefish are inexpensive and entertaining additions to my dwarf seahorse setups.

    But if you like big pipefish, Karen, then the alligator pipefish (Syngnathoides biaculeatus) is probably your best bet. Many specimens I have seen were eaten 11 or 12 inches in length (28 cm to 30.5 cm).

    As I have said many times, my favorite subtropical or warm-water seahorses are Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus). Commonly known as the Lined Seahorse, Hippocampus erectus was the first seahorse to be commercially raised for the aquarium hobby. They have been captive-bred and raised for more generations than any other seahorse, and have now achieved a level of domestication that makes them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The Ocean Rider aquaculture facility in Hawaii that raises H. erectus selects them for traits such as adaptability, vigor, disease resistance, fast growth and aggressive feeding habits — traits that increase the fitness of each line over time (Abbott 2003). After numerous generations of strengthening and improvement, the current breeds of farm-raised erectus are tough as nails. Very hardy and very impressive, yet affordable, CB Mustangs are a great choice for a novice seahorse keeper who is still learning the ropes (Abbott 2003). They are very adaptable and have led the on-going trend toward keeping captive-bred seahorses only (Abbott 2003).

    Mustangs are impressive animals. They are large, robust, deep-chested seahorses that can reach well in excess of 7 inches in length when fully grown. They tend to be cryptically colored, and often show earth tones such as beige, russet, charcoal black, gray, brown, ochre or olive over an underlying pattern of fine parallel lines that run down their necks and across their chest (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). White blazes, blotches, saddles, triangles, and diamonds are common markings for captive-bred erectus (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).

    The lighter specimens that show their stripes boldly can be very striking, and they are apt to express a wide range of color phases as time passes, including everything from yellow to yellow-green, green, lavender, purple, maroon, magenta, pink, red, and orange from time to time (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Like all seahorses, the coloration expressed by Lined seahorses can vary with their mood, environment, and social activities.

    The first pair of captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my ‘stangs quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder, whereupon they would often interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors. As I mentioned, I prefer to target feed (i.e., handfeed) my seahorses, which allows me to observe them closely on a daily basis, monitor their health, keep track of exactly how much each specimen is eating, and remove any leftovers immediately.

    Led by the female-by far the bolder and most outgoing of the two-the Mustangs were soon literally eating right out of my hands. (I know, I know-sensible aquarists should always strive to keep their mitts out the aquarium as much as possible, but handfeeding is a thrill I find difficult to resist, and hey — nobody ever said I was sensible!) Of course, I’m very well aware of the risks involved and extremely diligent about taking all the necessary precautions beforehand.

    As much as feeding time brightens up my day, I have no doubt it livens things up for my seahorses even more. They genuinely appear to enjoy interacting with me, and I believe in enriching their captive environment as much as possible. No doubt it’s the food they’re looking forward to, not the food giver, but our daily encounters are always eagerly awaited and they like to linger on my hand long after all the food is gone. They would allow me to lift them out of the water when I withdraw my hand if I didn’t gently shoo them away first. There’s a lot of puppy dog in your average seahorse and no doubt that’s a big part of their appeal, too. One almost expects to see them wagging their tails as they beg for handouts.

    After I’d had them a week or so, my Mustangs were beating me to their feeding station whenever I approached their tank, betraying their eagerness and excitement by flashing through a series of bright color changes as soon as I opened the aquarium cover. Needless to say, I was delighted to find my Mustangs were such aggressive feeders. They have never had a health problem, and I’ve been equally pleased with the results of Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis enriched with Vibrance as a long-term diet.

    The only thing I don’t like about this extremely nutritious diet is the obligatory fast day. The problem with fasting is that the Mustangs don’t seem to realize it’s good for them-that it’s absolutely in their own best interests, essential for their long-term health. Whenever I make an appearance on fast day, they insist on parading back and forth in front of the glass in their greeting colors, begging for a handout. Before my butt hits the upholstery, both of them will be dancing at the feeding station, impatiently awaiting their gourmet shrimp dinner. When it doesn’t materialize, they forlornly abandon their post at the lunch counter, and come up to stare at me through the front glass. When I still don’t take the hint, the female paces back and forth at the front, looking her brightest and most conspicuous, as though trying to attract my attention, while the male reverts to his drab everyday attire and dejectedly resumes his futile vigil at the feeding station. If not for their well-rounded cross-sections, one would think they were dying of hunger, making it difficult to resist their puppy-dog antics. Just sitting there ignoring them makes me feel like a first-class heel. Sheesh–talk about your guilt trips Dang! I hate fast days.

    My favorite temperate or cold-water seahorses are the potbelly seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis), by far. Big, beautiful, boldly marked, and fairly easy to rear, they have a great deal to offer the hobbyist.

    These magnificent fish deserve the title of world’s biggest seahorse. With a maximum size of over 14 inches (35 cm), Hippocampus abdominalis vies with H. ingens and H. kelloggi as the longest of all hippocampines, but abdominalis if far more robust than either of these and is certainly the heaviest seahorse in the world. A foot-long female may have a chest that’s 2-1/2 inches deep and a good 3/4 of inch thick (Warland, pers. comm.).

    The base coloration of the head and body ranges from a pale, off white to variable brown or purplish to mottled yellow and shades of orange (Lourie, Vincent & Hall 1999). The dorsal fin is typically mottled. Large, dark spots and blotches adorn the head and trunk, and the tail is usually marked with alternating light and dark bands. Males typically sport more dark blotches than females (Lourie, Vincent & Hall 1999) and flaunt their pale, overdeveloped pouches marked with a yellow slash at the top during courtship displays, which make the aroused males looked like they were decked out for a formal dance, complete with broad white cummerbunds and yellow sashes! Well-marked males have a distinctly giraffe-like pattern of spots.

    There are a number of color phases, including a beautiful golden color form and an amazing red-and-white color morph. The rare specimens colored like candy canes are among the most spectacular seahorses I have ever seen.

    Potbelly seahorses are often further adorned with extravagant cirri on their heads and necks. In some case, this attractive feature is so extravagant it resembles an Indian Warbonnet.
    When courting, Potbellies rely on pouch displays (ballooning) rather than color changes to impress prospective mates. This is how David Warland describes their courtship displays: " the article spoke of how seahorses change color so as to attract a mate. Well not so with abdominalis, they (he) just puffs himself up like a muscle bound beach jerk. The understanding is that he puffs his belly up so his prospective mate sees what a beaut breeder he is, I suppose the same as we look at a woman with good child-bearing hips. . . . I have 28 breeders in two tanks. . I sit and watch them for what seems like forever, the boys blow themselves up till you are sure that they will burst and just prance around in front of the girls. It is quite comical as the boys will fight for the right to be closest to the female, it’s most unviolent, just a bit of push and shove and occasionally a big male will grab a smaller male and tow him away. The interesting thing is that, of all the females in the tank, all the effort is given to one female at a time, and only when one male gets that glint in his eye and starts blowing himself up and approaching a female does one or more of the other males see this and think I better get in on this in case he gets lucky and I don’t (Warland, pers. comm.)."

    Hippocampus abdominalis is very different from most seahorses. For example, while other seahorses are feeble swimmers that seldom stray far from home, H. abdominalis is a strong swimmer that ventures far and wide. Most hippocampines are strict homebodies — real stick-in-the-muds that are tied to a relatively small home base. Hence researchers refer to them as "site-faithful," meaning that divers find them day after day within a few feet of the same place on the substrate, as demonstrated by tagging studies that followed individual seahorses for an entire breeding season. But not abdominalis; compared with its conservative cousins, Potbelly seahorses are footloose and fancy free — regular nomads that can stand up to a stiff current and often travel long distances every day (Warland, pers. comm.).

    As a rule, seahorses are very cryptic animals that rely on camouflage and concealment for their safety. Not so Hippocampus abdominalis. This large, boldly-marked seahorse apparently feels little need to blend into its background, for it is often seen in settings in which it is quite conspicuous: settling over bare, muddy bottoms in estuaries or clinging to the netting on tuna traps in the middle of nowhere, for instance. Its sheer size may be enough to deter some enemies, and its armor-plated exoskeleton no doubt provides additional protection, making an adult abdominalis a rather unpalatable package that faces little risk of predation compared to most seahorses.

    The polygamous mating system seen in abdominalis is unusual as well. Potbellied seahorses congregate in loose groups and males compete vigorously for ripe females, with the female selecting the lucky winner from among the rival males. Interestingly, in the aquarium, all of the males will compete for the same female at the same time, regardless of how many other females may be available at the time. It seems likely that the males are able to recognize a female that has prepared her eggs (pheromones?) from all the other females with unripened eggs, and thus choose to concentrate their attention on the one which is ready to mate at any given moment. Stimulated by the ensuing mass courtship, it will take the female only a few hours to fully hydrate her eggs — ample time to select a suitable mate from her stable of stallions. It is the female who calls the shots under this nonmonogamous mating system, and more likely than not, she will choose a different stallion the next time she mates.

    For best results breeding these polygamous ponies, David Warland recommends maintaining a skewed sex ratio in favor of females. He feels a ratio of 1 male for every 2-3 females is about right, noting that Potbelly stallions can look after between 2 and 3 mares (Warland, pers. comm.). The reason for this is that the females make a greater relative contribution to their offspring than the male who incubates the young. Therefore, if you want Potbelly mares to remain healthy and continue to produce large clutches of eggs, David suggests that broodmares should be given a rest between matings.

    Best of luck with your custom-made seahorse tank, Karen!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    Hi Pete,

    Thanks again for the reply. You certainly are a natural-born author aern’t you! The amount of information you send is absolutely massive! My favourite horses are the reidi but that is because they are the species I have had most contact with. They were about 8 to 10 inches and were very affectionate. They would hand feed, but more than just that… they would snuggle on my hands wrapping their tails around my fingers actually snuggling against me. They would dance tirelessly at the front of the tank until I would give in and put my hand in to play with them. Personality plus. Very cute.

    Thanks again,

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