Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › Pale and puffy?
- This topic has 1 reply, 2 voices, and was last updated 14 years, 4 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
January 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm #1588Mandy20Member
I recieved my first marine aquarium with some seahorses in it for Christmas. I\’m very new to this, and have a question. I have a 14 gallon biocube with 2 black Hippocampus Erectus and 2 yellow Kuda, all less than a year old. It also has a percula clown, a fire shrimp, 4 itty bitty hermit crabs, 4 turbo snails, and 3 gobies. On of my Erectus has become very pale, almost as light as the yellow horses, and it\’s supposed to be black. It also has a puffed out belly. This tank has been set up and running in my local fish store for two months, and contains live rock and sand, and the water was taken from a cycled tank in his store. Nitrite oppm, ammonia 0ppm and PH is 8.2. Salinity 1.020, and the temp is 78 degrees. I feed frozen brine shrimp twice daily. Any suggestions as to why my seahore is puffy and pale? (They\’re all believed to be females) Any help would be appreciated.
MandyJanuary 8, 2009 at 2:20 am #4581Pete GiwojnaGuest
If I didn’t know better, I would say that an otherwise healthy seahorse that has turned pale in coloration and puffed up its belly was a male that was performing courtship displays in an effort to interest the female in mating. Tropical seahorses typically lighten or brighten coloration when they are courting. For example, dark colored Hippocampus erectus typically turn a silvery white or pale cream color when courting, and may also assume pastel yellow coloration when displaying. They will retain this light coloration for several days throughout the courtship process during initial pair formation, as well as for a short period (10-30 minutes) during their daily greeting ritual thereafter.
Likewise, courting males inflate their brood pouches with water during courtship displays known as "Pumping" and "Ballooning," in order to demonstrate to the nearby females that they are healthy, vigorous stallions that can carry a large brood of developing young. So ordinarily I would say that your pale pony with a puffed up belly was a young stud trying to impress the female and entice her to breed.
You mentioned that all of the seahorses are young (less than a year old), Mandy — do you think it’s possible that one of them could be a late bloomer that is just now hitting sexual maturity and developing a pouch, along with a healthy interest in courtship and breeding?
If not, if indeed all of your seahorses are females, then the distended belly would be a cause for concern and could be an indication of a serious health problem. It could indicate that the female was egg bound, or it could indicate that fluid was building up within her coelom or abdominal cavity (a condition known as ascites) or that gas was building up within her abdomen, either due to internal gas bubble syndrome or a hyperinflated swimbladder.
When the distended abdomen is due to gas building up or an overinflated swim bladder, it causes positive buoyancy (the tendency to float), and when the distention is due to fluid building up within the abdomen, it causes negative buoyancy (the tendency to sink). Either way, the seahorse will struggle to maintain its equilibrium when swimming and have to work hard to either avoid floating to the surface or sinking to the bottom. Is the affected seahorse having any difficulty swimming normally, Mandy? Is it reluctant to release its hitching post and swim at all? If so, it could have be in serious trouble and it’s important for me to know whether the pony is positively or negatively buoyant in order to determine the best way to treat this problem.
If you could send me a photograph of the affected seahorse ([email protected]), I should be able to tell you if I am looking at a male with an inflated brood pouch or if it’s a female with a bloated abdomen, which could be trouble.
In the meantime, I would like to point out some potential problems with your seahorse tank. All of your water quality parameters look good with the exception of the temperature, which is a little too high, so your water chemistry appears to be fine for now. But the 14-gallon Biocube is too small for the type of seahorses you are keeping and also overstocked, and that’s going to cause increasing problems as the seahorses grow. The smallest aquarium I would recommend for keeping a single pair of Hippocampus erectus or H. kuda seahorses is a 20-gallon extra tall tank, and if you are beginner, new to both seahorses and marine aquarium keeping, I would suggest a tall tank of at least 30 gallons. The recommended stocking density for H. kuda and H. erectus is one pair per 10 gallons of water, and you are attempting to keep four of the seahorses in a 14-gallon aquarium along with a clownfish, three gobies, and assorted invertebrates. Your tank will be way too crowded when the seahorses mature and approach their adult size.
Even more troublesome is the fact that a 14-gallon Biocube is simply too shallow for large seahorses such as H. erectus and H. kuda. The lack of water depth will make them prone to problems with gas bubble syndrome, which is a serious affliction that is fatal when untreated. An aquarium of at least 20 inches is advisable for seahorses to offer them some minimal protection against GBS, and the tank that is 24 inches tall would be much better. So you should seriously consider upgrading to a 29-gallon Biocube or an even bigger tank as soon as is feasible for you, Mandy…
I would also recommend reducing the water temperature in the 14-gallon Biocube to 72°F-75°F, if at all possible. If your seahorse tank is running at 78°F during the winter, it’s going to be very difficult to prevent temperature spikes in excess of 80° during these summertime heat waves that lie ahead, and you can expect the seahorses to develop problems as a result of heat stress. They will be most comfortable if you can stabilize the water temperature at no higher than 75°F.
Finally, Mandy, you need to change your feeding regimen for the seahorses. Frozen brine shrimp cannot sustain the seahorses in the long run, and you should be feeding them frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet instead. Since your seahorses are young, they would probably do best on either the small Hikari frozen Mysis in flats rather than blister packs or the Mini Mysis from H2O life, but any brand of frozen Mysis that’s available from your local fish store would be a huge upgrade over the nutritionally barren frozen brine shrimp.
Just be aware that adult brine shrimp are not suitable as the long-term diet for your seahorses. It’s fine to provide your seahorses with live adult brine shrimp as an occasional treat, or to use it as a supplement to frozen Mysis several times a week. You can even feed it to your seahorses daily, giving them with one meal a day of live brine shrimp, as long as you also offer them a second feeding with Mysis or hard-bodied crustaceans such as feeder shrimp or Gammarus amphipods. But seahorses that are fed a strict diet of adult brine shrimp will eventually developed a debilitating condition known as soft plate disease over time:
Soft Plate Disease:
Seahorses and pipefish that receive a diet deficient in calcium are prone to "soft plate" syndrome, which is a progressive disease characterized by decalcification of the bony plates that fuse together to form the exoskeleton (Greco, 2004). In the olden days, seahorses fed a diet consisting solely of Artemia often developed this condition (Greco, 2004). We now know that brine shrimp (Artemia sp.) contains inadequate levels of calcium and an imbalanced ratio of calcium to phosphorus, making it unsuitable as a staple diet even when enriched (Greco, 2004).
Seahorses afflicted with soft plate syndrome exhibit shortened lifespans, decalcification of their exoskeleton, and poor survival rate amongst their fry (Greco, 2004). Pregnant males face the greatest risk of soft plate. Seahorse fry are known to incorporate calcium provided by their father into their skeletons during their embryonic development, so when a gravid male is deficient in calcium, his rapidly growing offspring typically suffer high mortalities due to a condition akin to rickets in human children.
Fortunately, this debilitating condition is easily prevented by providing seahorses with adequate levels of bioavailable calcium either in their diet or in the aquarium water itself (minerals can be obtained by fish directly from the water; Greco, 2004). I have never heard of a case of soft plate in a seahorse kept in a reef tank that received Kalkwasser (calcium hydroxide) via an automatic doser or regular supplementation of bioavailable calcium. Nor have I even seen this condition in seahorses that received a stable diet of enriched frozen Mysis relicta.
In short, Mandy, don’t hesitate to supplement your seahorse’s diet freely with liberal feedings of adult brine shrimp as long as you use it in conjunction with the frozen Mysis, which should constitute the bulk of their diet…
I recommend using enriched frozen Mysis for your seahorses everyday diet. Hippocampus erectus and H. kuda seahorses, particularly if they are captive-bred-and-raised, are easy to train to eat frozen Mysis and they will prefer it over other foods.
Here are some feeding suggestions that explain how to feed your seahorses using frozen Mysis in more detail, Mandy:
Feeding Frozen Mysis
There is no simple answer to how many frozen Mysis each of your seahorses should be eating per day. That depends on the size of the frozen Mysis, which varies considerably from brand to brand, the size of the seahorses themselves, and the size of their appetites, which is also quite variable from one pony to another, and a number of other factors. Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) of average size usually eat between 2-7 of the big Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta per feeding, but rather than trying to keep track of how many frozen Mysis each of your seahorses has eaten, it’s a better idea to check them for well-rounded abdomens after they have eaten a big meal and to observe their fecal production in order to make sure they are all getting enough to eat on a daily basis, as discussed below.
In addition to cycling your aquarium and setting it up to create an ideal environment for seahorses, you will also need to line up a good source of frozen Mysis before your seahorses arrive. Frozen Mysis is available in several different brands from many different sources. Gamma brand frozen Mysis is good, Hikari frozen Mysis is quite acceptable (although often fragmentary) as is San Francisco Bay brand frozen Mysis, the Mini Mysis by H2O Life is great for small seahorses, and Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis is no doubt the best in terms of nutritional content and quality control. Your local fish stores should carry one or more of these brands.
I have noticed that seahorses can sometimes be very selective when it comes to the size of the prey they prefer. For instance, the jumbo PE Mysis relicta are of course quite large, and in it’s certainly possible that young seahorses may balk at the jumbos simply because of their size.
Fortunately, the Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta is now available graded for size. You can get the usual jumbo Mysis relicta or smaller Mysis and young (i.e., small) seahorses sometimes prefer smaller prey and do better with the smalls. Some seahorses are very particular in that regard, and tend to reject food items that are significantly larger or smaller than their preferred range of prey. For example, I’ve seen some seahorses that rejected the smaller Hikari Mysis with great disdain, yet which greedily gulped down the jumbo Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta. On the other hand, I’ve had small seahorses turn up their snouts at the jumbo PE frozen Mysis because it’s too large for their liking, and attack the small Hikari frozen Mysis with great gusto.
Whatever brand of frozen Mysis you obtain, for best results, it’s a good idea to fortify it with Vibrance before feeding it to your seahorses. Vibrance is an enrichment formulation that was designed by a research team of nutritionists and fish biologists especially for use with frozen Mysis shrimp in order to meet the dietary requirements of seahorses, and it has been developed specifically to provide a long-term balanced diet for these unique fishes. depending on which Vibrance formulation you use, it includes additional highly unsaturated fatty acids (especially the DHA Omega 6 DHA series), along with Vitamin C and essential minerals, in the proper proportions to further enhance the nutritional profile of the protein-rich frozen Mysis. Studies indicate the DHA it includes is essential for high survivability, nerve development, stress manage it ment, and proper reproduction. Vibrance is a bright red-orange powder that gets its characteristic color due to its high content of carotenoids, which are an abundant source of Vitamin A and act as natural color enhancers for yellow and red pigmentation. It is the only enrichment product that includes beta glucan as an active ingredient. That’s important because beta glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fish.
In order to enrich it, the frozen Mysis is carefully thawed out and rinsed well to remove any excess shrimp juices, and then a VERY light dusting of the Vibrance is added to the Mysis while they are still just a bit moist. The Vibrance is then gently worked into the frozen Mysis and it usually adheres very well. The end result should be whole, completely intact Mysis shrimp that have acquired a reddish tinge to their head or anterior end. In actual practice, there are probably as many different ways of successfully thawing and enriching frozen Mysis as there are aquarists that use them; most everybody works out their own method of preparing the frozen Mysis that works best for their needs and busy schedule.
In case you haven’t seen them already, here are the Club’s usual feeding tips, Mandy:
In general, it’s a good idea to offer one morning feeding and one mid-to-late afternoon feeding, if possible, but there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to easy-to-feed, farm-raised horses. Some hobbyist prefer to give their seahorses two feedings a day, while others prefer to give them their quota of frozen Mysis in one big meal. As long as they get their fill, there is really no right or wrong way to go about this — just do whatever works bests for your seahorses and your schedule.
As you know, the feeding regimen that generally works best for most captive-bred seahorses is to provide each of them with 2-7 frozen Mysis relicta twice a day, enriched with Vibrance, and then to fast your seahorses entirely once a week. In other words, your seahorses should each be eating a total of around 4-14 frozen Mysis each day, depending on the size of the seahorse and the size of the Mysis. But those are just rough guidelines and there is a lot of variation in how much Mysis healthy seahorses eat each day.
A large seahorse naturally eats more than a smaller pony. And jumbo-sized Mysis will fill up a hungry seahorse faster than smaller shrimp. So a seahorse that’s scarfing up king-sized Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta does indeed need to eat fewer shrimp than a pony that’s dining on the tiny Hikari Mysis or the miniscule H2O Mini Mysis.
Aside from size, some of the other factors that determine how much a seahorse eats are water temperature, the age of the seahorse, and whether or not it is actively breeding at the moment. The warmer the water temperature (within the seahorse’s comfort zone), the higher it’s metabolism, and the more calories it needs to eat as a result. Young seahorses that are still growing rapidly typically eat more than mature seahorses that have reached their full growth. As you might expect, breeding pairs that are producing brood after brood every few weeks need to eat a lot because so much of their bodily resources go towards producing clutches of eggs or nourishing a pouch full of developing young.
So don’t get hung up trying to count every morsel every seahorse in your tank scarfs down. Just make sure 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.
Feeding Frozen Mysis
(1) Tips for thawing and enriching frozen Mysis.
In order to prevent wastage and obtain the maximum benefit from this superb food, it must be thawed properly. This is especially important because once the Mysis are fully thawed, they are not refreezable (Adib, 2004). Most hobbyists tend to simply thaw their mysids in aquarium water, which has the virtue of thawing it quickly but is not the best approach. The faster the frozen shrimp is thawed, the more likely it is to be damaged in the process. We want the mysids to remain intact and lifelike; we don’t want the tissue of the Mysis to begin to breakdown in the process of freezing/thawing. The goal is to preserve the Mysis and retain all those precious shrimp juices when we thaw it, not to release their fluids into the aquarium water where it will only degrade the water quality and do your seahorses no good!
So don’t thaw frozen Mysis in 75°F-80°F aquarium water. Don’t nuke it in the microwave to defrost it! And don’t simply toss a chunk of frozen Mysis in your tank and let it float around until it thaws and releases individual mysids!
Nor should you thaw it in tap water, distilled water, or any other source of freshwater. You want to thaw the shrimp in water that is about as salty as their own bodily fluids so there is little or no difference in osmotic pressure. Freshwater will tend to move into the mysids as they thaw and can break down their integument and rupture cell walls as they swell; excessively salty water will tend to draw water out of the Mysis as they thaw, desiccating them in the process. Normal strength seawater is just right for thawing.
So the recommended method for thawing frozen Mysis is to use refrigerated saltwater from your aquarium. Keep a small jug of your artificial saltwater in your refrigerator and reserve this for thawing your mysids (Adib, 2004). Place a couple of ounces of the chilled saltwater in a small cup or similar receptacle and use that to thaw the shrimp. Break off a small chunk from the mass of frozen Mysis — just enough for one feeding or a day’s worth at most (with experience, you will soon learn exactly how much to use) — place it in the cup of saltwater and allow the Mysis to slowly thaw in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes (Adib, 2004). Then take the cup out of the refrigerator and allow the thawed Mysis to warm up at room temperate for another 15 minutes (Adib, 2004). This method leaves the mysids perfectly intact and lifelike, and produces immaculate shrimp that need no further rinsing. (If you use another method for thawing the Mysis, it’s generally advisable to rinse the thawed shrimp in a brine shrimp net to prevent fouling of the aquarium water.) You are now ready to fortify the Mysis with the enrichment formula of your choice.
Carefully remove the individual thawed mysids from the thawing container using a plastic fork or a toothpick and gently deposit them in the bowl of a plastic spoon. The idea is to handle the shrimp as little as possible during the thawing and enriching process, since rough handling can cause the mysids to break apart. If your enrichment product is in powder form such as Vibrance (which I recommend), take a pinch of the formula, sprinkle it on the Mysis, and mix it in very gently (a plastic knife or similar instrument works well for this step). The orange power will adhere to the moist Mysis, and when you’re done, the head region (cephalothorax) of the mysids should be stained reddish. (If your preferred supplement is a liquid formula, just add a few drops to the Mysis and let it soak in.)
With a little practice, most hobbyists quickly work out their own technique for preparing enriched Mysis. The method outlined above works well for me and many other aquarists, but there are many other ways of defrosting and enriching the Mysis that work equally well. For instance, other hobbyists prefer to add a dusting of enrichment powder (or a few drops of a liquid supplement) to a chunk of frozen Mysis and gently mix it in (or allow it to soak in) as it thaws. One nifty way to do this is to break off my little chunk of frozen shrimp and place it on a square of wax paper, allow it a while to defrost, and then add a pinch of enrichment formula and roll the Mysis and power in the wax paper as though making a cigarette. This technique is trickier and takes a little experience before you can pull it off properly. The thawing and rolling/mixing process must be done very, very carefully or you may crush some of the Mysis and lose a lot of shrimp juice while preparing it. As always, if you’re doing it right, the heads of the individual Mysis shrimp should end up stained red, which is a feeding "trigger" captive-bred chowhounds find hard to resist. With a little practice, you will soon refine your own method for preparing frozen Mysis that works the best for your schedule and the needs of your herd.
But however you prepare it, it’s important to keep the enriched Mysis refrigerated until it’s used, and to use all the Mysis you thawed and enriched within 24 hours. For best results, the enriched Mysis should be used immediately after it’s prepared. Whether it’s been refrigerated or not, avoid using thawed and prepared Mysis that is 2 or 3 days old. We don’t want to offer our seahorses food that might have become laden with bacteria.
(2) When it comes to feeding, give new arrivals time to recover and settle into their new surroundings before you force the issue.
That’s a long haul from Hawaii, and it sometimes take new arrivals a good week or two to settle in, make themselves at home, and start feeding normally afterwards. For that reason, I suggest the hobbyist have a supply of live food on hand whenever acclimating new additions to his herd. The tiny red feeder shrimp from Hawaii (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this, but live Gammarus, ghost shrimp, or even adult brine shrimp will do. The live shrimp help them adjust during the initial acclimation period when you first introduce your seahorses to your tank. The live foods will give the new arrivals a head start, help them recover from shipping stress quickly, and get them through the difficult period of adjustment in tiptop condition.
Don’t worry about feeding your seahorses immediately after they arrive. Give them a good 24 hours to adjust and settle down first. After the adjustment period, go ahead and offer some carefully thawed Mysis to your seahorses each day. Many seahorses handle shipping and acclimation with ease and never miss a beat, gobbling up frozen Mysis from Day One. Others will need more time before they feel at home in their new surroundings, and may not feel comfortable enough to accept frozen Mysis from their keeper until a week or two has passed. So keep offering Mysis each day, but feed it sparingly at first and remove any uneaten Mysis after an hour or so. Once the seahorses that start eating the Mysis first have had their fill, add some live feeder shrimp for the others that are lagging behind.
Many times all the seahorses resume feeding on the frozen Mysis right away and the live red feeder shrimp aren’t needed; in that case, simply keep them on hand for use as occasional treats. They last indefinitely in a clean, aerated plastic bucket at room temperature with a pinch of flake food sprinkled in sparingly a few times a week.
Be patient with the ones that seem more reluctant to resume feeding on frozen Mysis. Don’t isolate them from the others, don’t pester them by persistently trying to target feed them at this point, and don’t keep dropping frozen shrimp on their heads! That can spook a high-strung seahorse and stress him out all the more, setting him back further. Just give them time and they will soon join the others, scarfing down frozen Mysis greedily again. This can sometimes take a couple of weeks. (Mature males often lag behind at first; for some reason, they seem to be more shy and retiring than females, which can be quite brazen at times. I suspect this is due to their parental duties — during the breeding season, pair-bonded males are ordinarily ALWAYS pregnant, and they can’t risk exposing their precious cargo to any more risk than absolutely necessary.) Make a note of the reluctant eaters; the ones that are slow to take frozen Mysis now may require target feeding later on.
(3) Be aware of secretive feeders and give them plenty of room at first.
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. Some of the seahorses that don’t appear to be eating at first may actually be feeding on the sly.
When that’s the case, it’s best to back off a bit and leave the tank alone as much as possible for the time being. It’s okay to observe the tank discretely but try to avoid flat-nose syndrome, and keep feeding your other specimens as usual, of course, but don’t try to force the issue with the shy ones. Just leave them be, give the seahorses plenty of peace and quiet, and let the secretive feeders adjust to their new environment and get used to the daily routine at their own speed. Before too long, they’ll begin sneaking leftover Mysis when they think you’re not watching and feel safe. Once they feel at home, the shy specimens will start exploring their tank freely and displaying themselves openly. Before you know it, they’ll come to recognize you as their feeder and begin interacting with you at dinnertime. And from there, it’s just one short step until you have them literally eating from your fingers.
(4) Morning feedings are best.
The recommended feeding regimen is to provide each of your seahorses with 4-14 frozen Mysis shrimp daily, enriched with a good food supplement, and then to fast your seahorses entirely once a week. Some hobbyist prefer to give their seahorses two feedings a day, while others prefer to give them their quota of frozen Mysis in one big meal. As long as they get their fill, there is really no right or wrong way to go about this — just do whatever works bests for your seahorses and your schedule.
However, many hobbyists find that their seahorses feed best during the morning, so if you can only feed your seahorses once a day, try to make it a morning meal. Whether it’s their biological clocks, something built into their natural circadian rhythm, or whether they’re simply hungriest shortly after waking up, seahorses do seem to feed more aggressively in the morning, and hobbyists should try to accommodate them, if possible. Breakfast, it seems, is the most important meal of the day for our aquatic equines as well as ourselves.
If you can only manage one feeding a day, DO NOT make it an evening meal. The worst thing you can do is to feed your seahorses late in the day when there will likely still be leftovers remaining at lights out. The uneaten Mysis will begin decaying overnight and put your water quality at risk. Worse still, the next morning, when they are hungriest, your seahorses may discover the bacteria-laden Mysis and snap them up off the bottom. This is an excellent way to spread disease and make your seahorses sick. Feeding your seahorses early in the day, so they have plenty of time to clean up leftovers, is a good way to prevent this. An efficient clean-up crew of scavengers also helps.
(5) Use a feeding station.
Seahorses respond very well when they are fed at the same time and place each day. They quickly learn the routine and will come to recognize their keeper as the one who feeds them — the giver of gourmet delights! Once that happens, they will often beat you to the spot, gathering around their feeding station as soon as they see you approach.
In fact, the aquarist can easily condition his seahorses to come a running at feeding time. Before you open the aquarium cover, make a point of lightly tapping it a few times or rapping on it gently. The seahorses will quickly learn to associate the tapping with the mouthwatering morsels that follow, and before you know it, they will respond by gathering at the feeding station as if you were ringing the dinner bell.
To facilitate this process and make feeding them easier, choose a feeding station that’s convenient for you in a relatively uncluttered part of the aquarium, and give your seahorses their meal right there every day. The feeding station should have some convenient hitching posts situated nearby as well. Avoid using an area where currents might whisk the food away from the seahorses before they can eat it.
I know one hobbyist who uses a toadstool leather coral as his feeding station. He places the Mysis on the bowl-shaped top of the toadstool, which contains them nicely while his seahorses perch around the edges and scarf up the shrimp as if dining at a lunch counter.
Not everyone has a toadstool coral to serve as a natural feeding station, of course, but it’s easy to make your own lunch counter that will work just as well. Get a small Pyrex bowl or a similar shallow container made of clear glass or plastic (a large petri dish works great for this) and fill it about halfway with your tank substrate (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). Then sink the bowl into your sand bed until the substrate you placed in the bowl is level with the substrate in the tank (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). Leave the rim sticking up above the sand bed about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or so (Mike Kelly, pers. com.). The clear glass rim of the bowl is transparent and virtually unnoticeable, so don’t worry that it will detract from the appearance of your display tank. Artfully position a few natural hitching posts around the bowl to provide your seahorses with a handy perch from which to snick up their dinner.
At feeding time, place the frozen Mysis on the sand or gravel inside the bowl. A long tube of clear plastic 1/2′ to 1′ in diameter facilitates this. The bottom of the tube is placed in the middle of the bowl and the enriched Mysis are then placed in the top of the tube, which guides them exactly where you want them as they sink. The rim sticking above the sand bed will then keep the food in place while your seahorses dine at their leisure. Afterwards, any leftovers are neatly contained, making cleanup a breeze!
Or you can always purchase a seahorse feeding station off the shelf, ready to go, as is. 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.
Another handy item that makes a great ready-made feeding station for seahorses are the conical worm feeders designed for offering bloodworms and tubifex worms to fish. 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 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.
Some hobbyists prefer a more natural looking, aesthetically pleasing feeding station, which they fashion themselves to suit their own tastes. They start with a piece of well-cured live rock that’s approximately the right size and shape, and painstakingly hollow out the center to form a shallow concave depression. This shallow bowl is fashioned by grinding it out, using an electrical moto-tool (available at any craft store or hardware store) with a carbide burr or sometimes even a shop grinder. Once the bowl has been hollowed out, a series of holes are then drilled around the circumference of this depression. Red, brown or purple Gracilaria, green Caulerpa and/or gorgonian branches are planted in these holes to create natural hitching posts. As the macroalgae takes hold and fills out, this produces an attractive feeding station that looks completely natural. It’s a great do-it-yourself project for the handy hobbyist.
An upturned clamshell also makes a nifty natural feeding station that fits in perfectly in your seahorses’ setup. Choose a colorful natural seashell for this, such as one valve of a Tridacna clam or perhaps a Lion’s Paw Scallop shell, and you have an attractive feeding station that’s perfectly appropriate for your tank. The concave interior of the bivalve shell acts as a shallow bowl to contain the frozen Mysis until it’s eaten, and unlike some feeding stations that look out of place and detract from the appearance of your tank, a seashell looks as natural as can be in a marine aquarium. My favorite for this type of feeding station is a medium-sized Abalone shell. The iridescent, opalescent colors of the upturned interior, with its magnificent polished surface of mother-of-pearl, are spectacular! An upturned abalone shell requires no further modification whatsoever, making it the ideal feeding station for the unhandy hobbyist who’s all thumbs.
Other aquarists reserve a small, transparent glass bowl or clear plastic receptacle for feeding their seahorses. They merely place the bowl or plastic container on the bottom of the tank at feeding time, add the enriched Mysis, and let their seahorses gather round and dine at their leisure as though eating from a feeding trough. A few hours later, the feeding container is removed, along with any leftovers. Quick and easy!
For more information, see my article in Conscientious Aquarist which explains exactly how to set up a feeding station and train your seahorses to use a in greater detail.. It’s available online at the following URL:
Click here: Seahorse Feeders
(6) Target feed your seahorses and remove uneaten leftovers promptly.
The individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits. Some are aggressive feeders that will boldly snatch food from your fingers, while some are shy and secretive, feeding only when they think they’re not being observed. Some like to slurp up Mysis while it’s swirling through the water column, and some will only take Mysis off the bottom of the tank. Some are voracious pigs that greedily scarf up everything in sight, and some are slow, deliberate feeders that painstakingly examine every morsel of Mysis before they accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds. So how does the seahorse keeper make sure all his charges are getting enough to eat at mealtime? How does the hobbyist keep the aggressive eaters from scarfing up all the mouth-watering Mysis before the slower feeders get their fair share? And how can you keep active fishes and inverts with seahorses without the faster fishes gobbling up all the goodies before the slowpoke seahorses can grab a mouthful?
Target feeding is the answer. Target feeding just means offering a single piece of Mysis to one particular seahorse, and then watching to see whether or not the ‘horse you targeted actually eats the shrimp. Feeding each of your seahorses in turn that way makes it easy to keep track of exactly how much each of your specimens is eating.
There are many different ways to target feed seahorses. Most methods involve using a long utensil of some sort to wave the Mysis temptingly in front of the chosen seahorse; once you’re sure this has attracted his interest, the Mysis is released so it drifts down enticingly right before the seahorse’s snout. Most of the time, the seahorse will snatch it up as it drifts by or snap it up as soon as it hits the bottom.
A great number of utensils work well for target feeding. I’ve seen hobbyists use everything from chopsticks to extra long tweezers and hemostats or forceps to homemade pipettes fashioned from a length of rigid plastic tubing. As for myself, I prefer handfeeding when I target feed a particular seahorse.
But no doubt the all-time favorite implement for target feeding seahorses is the old-fashioned turkey baster. The old-fashioned ones with the glass barrels work best because the seahorses can see the Mysis inside the baster all the way as it moves down the barrel and out the tip. By exerting just the right amount of pressure on the bulb, great precision is possible when target feeding with a turkey baster. By squeezing and releasing the bulb ever so slightly, a skillful target feeder can keep a piece of Mysis dancing at the very tip of the baster indefinitely, and hold the tempting morsel right in front of the seahorse’s mouth as long as necessary. Or if the seahorse rejects the Mysis the first time it drifts by, a baster makes it easy to deftly suck up the shrimp from the bottom so it can be offered to the target again. In the same way, the baster makes it a simple matter to clean any remaining leftovers after a feeding session. (You’ll quickly discover the feeding tube is also indispensable for tapping away pesky fish and invertebrates that threaten to steal the tempting tidbit before an indecisive seahorse can snatch it up. And it’s great for tapping on the cover to ringing the dinner bell and summon the diners for their gourmet feast!)
In short, target feeding allows the hobbyist to assure that each of his seahorses gets enough to eat without overfeeding or underfeeding the tank. And it makes it possible to keep seahorses in a community tank with more active fishes that would ordinarily out-compete them for food, since the aquarist can personally deliver each mouthful to the seahorses while keeping more aggressive specimens at bay.
The key to keeping active specimens like firefish or compatible clownfish or cleaner shrimp successfully with seahorses is to feed the other fish and inverts with standard, off-the-shelf aquarium foods first, and once they’ve had their fill, then target feed the seahorses.
(7) If possible, stick with frozen Mysis relicta from Canada.
Although there are several types of frozen Mysis on the market, the deep, cold water habitat and the unique way its captured and prepared makes Mysis relicta far superior to the others for feeding seahorses due to a variety of reasons (nutritional value, each individual shrimp is frozen whole and intact, the most lifelike in appearance, natural odor attractants, etc.). The fatty acid profiles of Mysis relicta are higher than that of enriched brine shrimp and it has more than three times the fatty acid content of ocean krill (Piscine Energetics. 2003). These high levels of fatty acids not only provide seahorses with essential nutrition, but also stimulate a positive feeding response (Piscine Energetics. 2003). Mysis relicta are high in protein and high in animal fat, yet are sodium free. The lack of salt intake is desirable for marine fishes, which are constantly working to expel salt from their bodies (Piscine Energetics. 2003). Suffice it to say that almost all farm-raised seahorses are pretrained to eat frozen Mysis relicta, and that’s the species they will eat the best in the hobbyist’s home aquarium as well.
One big reason for this is Mysis relicta’s highly diversified eating habits. The food chain in the deep, cold waters that this species prefers gives it extremely high levels of EPA and DHA (fatty acids), which are not only important for the nutrition they provide, but also act as natural appetite stimulants, triggering a positive feeding response in seahorses (Piscine Energetics. 2003).
Another reason Mysis relicta is eaten so greedily by seahorses is that it is virtually identical in appearance to the mysids that are a favorite food of all Syngnathids in the wild. Equally important, the Mysis relicta are flash-frozen after harvesting while they are still alive and kicking (Piscine Energetics. 2003). Their lifelike appearance is thus perfectly preserved, and they reach the consumer as whole intact shrimp. This is very important because seahorses accept frozen shrimp much more readily when the eyes and head are intact. I have observed on many occasions that when frozen Mysis are broken and fragmented, as is common with some brands, the seahorses will often eat the anterior portion with the eyes and antennae still present, and totally ignore the rest of the parts. Needless to say, that’s not only wasteful but also bad for your water quality. Mysis relicta thaws as whole, intact, individual shrimp, preventing such problems.
In short, Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis relicta has a superior nutritional profile and is a very desirable food source for large seahorses and other marine fish. But the PE frozen Mysis is by no means a prerequisite for keeping Ocean Rider seahorses. If you find the PE Mysis difficult to obtain locally, your seahorses will be quite content with another good brand of frozen Mysis that is readily available in your area. In fact, young seahorses often prefer the smaller Hikari frozen Mysis until they have grown large enough to handle the jumbo PE frozen Mysis.
I normally obtain my PE frozen Mysis from Premium Aquatics because they offer it online in small quantities, and they offer it graded for size (when they have it in stock, you can obtain either small Piscine Energetics Mysis relicta or the usual king-sized PE Mysis relicta).
If you want to go with the PE Mysis relicta, you can order it online from Premium Aquatics (see link below).
Click here: Frozen Foods: Premium Aquatics
If Premium Aquatics is out of the PE Mysis relicta, which happens at certain times of year, your next best bet is to contact Piscine Energetics and obtain a list of the retail outlets that carry their Mysis relicta, as Leslie explained. Depending on where you live, you may be able to obtain the PE Mysis relicta from a local fish store in your area:
Click here: Mysis Relicta — Natural fish food,for finicky saltwater and freshwater fish, by Piscine Energetics
If piscine energetics frozen Mysis relicta proves to be difficult to obtain in your area, frozen Mysis is available in several different brands from many different sources, and one of the other brands will suffice. Gamma brand frozen Mysis is good, Hikari frozen Mysis is quite acceptable as is San Francisco Bay brand frozen Mysis, and Piscine Energetics frozen Mysis is, of course, perhaps the best in terms of nutritional content and quality control. Your local fish stores should carry one or more of these brands. One way or another, you need to line up a good source of frozen Mysis to serve as the staple, everyday diet for your domesticated seahorses.
(8) Observe fast days and don’t overfeed.
One of the most common mistakes hobbyists make is to overfeed their seahorses. Any excess Mysis that’s not eaten within an hour or two of a feeding can become a threat to your seahorses. Either it will find its way into some inaccessible nook of the aquarium and begin to decay, degrading your water quality, or it may be noticed by a hungry seahorses hours later or perhaps even the next day, and eaten after bacteria have gone to work on it. The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed and remove leftovers promptly, as soon as you’re sure all the seahorses have had their fill. If you can only feed once a day, make it a morning meal before you leave for work, so the seahorses have the rest of the day to glean their leftovers. A good cleanup crew can also help by taking care of any uneaten morsels that slip past the aquarist.
It’s equally important to observe the once-a-week fast day. Fasting helps prevent any potential problems with hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) and keeps your seahorses feeding aggressively rather than losing interest in frozen foods. The problem is that although fasting is very healthy for seahorses on a staple diet of enriched Mysis, it can be very hard on the hobbyist. Here’s how I described this dilemma in a recent aquarium magazine article (Giwojna, Jun. 2002):
"The only thing I don’t like about this extremely nutritious diet is the obligatory fast day. The problem with fasting is that my 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." (Giwojna, Jun. 2002)
There you have it, Mandy — everything you need to know about feeding captive-bred-and-raised seahorses. If you follow these feeding tips, it should help keep your seahorses eating their best and you will soon find that keeping them well fed is fun and easy. Feeding time for my seahorses is always a high point in my day. They do appear amazingly like fire-breathing Dragons when they eat frozen Mysis — it looks for all the world like smoke is shooting out of their "ears" when they eat enriched Mysis, due to the pulverized particles they expel from their gills after slurping it up (Gilchrist, 2002).
So take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they’re all eating well, and use this opportunity to look them over closely for wounds, injuries, or signs of disease. Seahorses are natural-born gluttons. Ordinarily, these galloping gourmets are ALWAYS hungry, so when a seahorse is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s wrong. It Early detection of a potential problem can be the key to curing it, so it’s a good idea for the alert aquarist to observe his prize ponies while they put on the ol’ feed bag. Make sure they all show up for mess call, are acting normally, and have a well-rounded abdomen when they’re done eating.
As always, I would also like to emphasize one more point regarding feeding frozen foods. Whether it is a tank with lots of live rock, a modified minireef, a seagrass system or a mangrove biotype, a well-designed seahorse setup is an elaborate environment. A certain level of complexity is necessary in order to assure that our seahorses behave naturally (Topps, 1999) and to provide our ponies with plenty of hitching posts and shelter, and enough sight barriers to assure them a little privacy when they feel the need to be alone. Their homemade habitat may thus take the form of a labyrinth of live rock, an intricate arrangement of corals and gorgonians, a well-planted bed of seagrass or macroalgae, or a full-fledged reef face. When feeding seahorses in such intricate surroundings, the worst thing you can do is to scatter a handful of frozen Mysis throughout the tank to be dispersed by the currents and hope that the hungry horses can track it all down. Inevitably some of the frozen food will be swept away and lodge in isolated nooks and crannies where the seahorses cannot get it. There it will begin to decompose and impair your water quality, which is why ammonia spikes are common after a heavy feeding. Or it may be wafted out into the open again later on and eaten after it has gone bad. Either outcome can lead to dire problems. Target feeding the seahorses or training them to use a feeding station are the best ways to avoid such complications.
Best of luck with your seahorses and your new saltwater aquarium, Mandy! Here’s hoping they pale seahorse with the puffed up belly is just the young male showing off for the benefit of the females.
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