- This topic has 9 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 14 years, 8 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
January 13, 2009 at 6:40 am #1592CarianneMember
I am new to sea horses, and quite obviously should have done more research before beginning. I trusted the dealer at the marine life store, but now we\’re having problems. I\’m told that our two sea horses are H.kelloggi, but after all I\’ve read I have my doubts. I have one that isn\’t eating well, floats on it\’s stomache, and seems to have \"spasms\" occasionally. Our other horse is doing very well, happily swimming, floating, eating, and anchoring itself. I am very concerned. I do not want to lose either horse, and I am unsure of what to do. HELP!!!January 14, 2009 at 1:46 am #4588Pete GiwojnaGuest
I’m very sorry to hear about the problems you’re having with your new seahorses.
The seahorse that has stopped eating and is floating at the top is suffering from some form of gas bubble syndrome (GBS), which is a serious condition that is eventually fatal if left untreated. If the seahorse is a male, then the gas has most likely built up within its pouch, which is a problem that is relatively simple and easy to resolve initially by releasing the trapped gas. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished, and I will go over them and explain how to proceed in some detail, if you can confirm that the floating seahorse is indeed a male.
If the floating seahorse is a female, then she is either suffering from an overinflated swim bladder or from gas building up within her coelom or abdominal cavity, which are more serious forms of GBS that are more difficult to relieve. These forms of GBS require entirely different methods of treatment, which I will be happy to explain if you can verify that the floating seahorse is a female and therefore has no pouch.
It will also be helpful if you could tell me more about your seahorse tank, Carianne. How big is the aquarium (length, width, and height)? How long has the aquarium been set up and cycled? Also, what are the current aquarium readings for the following parameters:
specific gravity or salinity
If you can provide me with a little more basic information about your seahorse tank and water chemistry, I can tell you if you need to adjust any of the aquarium parameters to make your seahorses more comfortable and assure their health and well being.
Please get back to me as soon as possible with the additional information about the gender of the floating seahorse and the seahorse tank itself, Carianne, and I will explain exactly how you should proceed in order to address these problems. If you don’t know your current aquarium readings for any reason, then just tell me if the effect in seahorse is a male or female and we can go from there…
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 14, 2009 at 3:26 am #4590CarianneGuest
Our tank is a long, thin 55 gallon. It has been up and running since early November, cycled, and we added our sea horses last Thursday. The water temp is 75, ph 8.0, salinity is between 32 and 34, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are 0. Our maie is no longer floating, and has changed color to a much lighter creamier color. He is still spasming (for lack of a better word) a lot. Once again, the female is fine. We are very concerned about the water circulation, and wonder if this might be adding to his ailment. When they get in the way of the flow it throws them around the tank. We have turned one half of the under water gravel filter off, and that seems to help but now we are worried about circulation. As you can see, we need a LOT of help!!!January 14, 2009 at 7:05 am #4591Pete GiwojnaGuest
Thanks for getting back to me with the additional information so promptly. Your 55-gallon aquarium is a very good size for a seahorse tank and the system is fully cycled. All of the aquarium parameters are good and a stable water temperature 75°F is well-suited for most tropical seahorses, so you are doing a lot of things right.
It’s good to hear that it was the male sea horse that had been floating. It’s much easier to cure a case of bloated pouch or pouch emphysema then it is to resolve other forms of gas bubble syndrome. And it’s even better to hear that your male is no longer floating — that’s an encouraging sign.
I am more concerned about the spasming than the positive buoyancy at this point, but I am wondering if you could possibly be mistaking a pouch display known as "Pumping" for spasms. When a male is pumping, he bends forward at the waist and then jerks backward vigorously in a maneuver that thrusts his pouch out. This series of contortions has the effect of forcing water in and out of the male’s brood pouch, which is why it’s often referred to as "Pumping," and the procedure is normally performed to cleanse and flush out the pouch in order to prepare it for mating. (However, seahorses will also pump when something is irritating their pouches.)
During these displays the male carries out a series of strenuous pelvic thrusts that pump water in and out all of his pouch and are very similar to the contractions he goes through when giving birth. These pouch displays are performed with great vigor, while the brood pouch is fully inflated with water, and can be quite alarming the first time you see them. It looks almost as if the male is performing abdominal crunches or experiencing severe abdominal cramps. With it’s abdomen grossly distended, the male’s contortions make it look very much as if it’s suffering from a severe bellyache, and to the uninitiated it may look like the seahorse is experiencing seizures, spasms or convulsions, or is in the throes of death.
Males with pouch gas can sometimes eliminate the trapped gas on their own during their vigorous pouch displays in which they inflate their pouches to the fullest and pump water in and out. Just occasionally they can expel pouch gas or trapped air during these displays of "Pumping."
In fact, in the old days, I corresponded with Bart Goedegebuur, a successful seahorse breeder in the Netherlands, about one such incident in which a male H. erectus of his was able to expel the trapped air on its own. Afterwards, Bart noted that: "The releasing of air bubbles out of the horse pouch due to his own actions seems to me very interesting. Because till now I only read that trapped air has to be removed manually because the horse can’t do this himself." It’s obvious that English is Bart’s second language, but he always manages to get his point across nonetheless.
So I am wondering if the spasming you reported may actually be the male pumping out his pouch vigorously, and if perhaps he may have been able to expel at least some of the trapped gas well he was doing so, which may be why he is no longer floating? Do you think that’s possible, Carianne? Does my description of how males pump when they are performing these pouch displays sound like it could be responsible for the spasms that alarmed you?
If so, then things are not nearly as dire as you may have imagined, particularly if your male managed to release the gas that was trapped in his pouch while he was pumping. That may have provided them with some relief from the positive buoyancy and he may be able to swim and eat normally for the time being.
But you should be aware that pouch gas tends to recur and your male may experience more problems with positive buoyancy as more gas builds up in his pouch, so you’ll have to keep a close eye on him for any indications that the problem is returning. This is what to look for, Carianne:
One simple way to determine if the seahorse is struggling with positive buoyancy is to observe him while he is swimming. The first indication of positive buoyancy is a loss of equilibrium. The seahorse’s center of gravity shifts as it becomes more buoyant, and it will have increasing difficulty swimming and maintaining its normal posture, especially if it encounters any current. It will become apparent that the seahorse has to work hard to stay submerged, as it is forced to abandon its usual upright swimming posture and swim with its body tilted forward or even horizontally in order to use its dorsal fin to counteract the tendency to rise.
The uncharacteristically hard work it must do while swimming means the hard-pressed seahorse builds up an oxygen debt in its muscles, and the lactic acid that builds up as a result of anaerobic metabolism further disrupts its blood chemistry and worsens the situation. It will struggle mightily in a losing battle against its increasing buoyancy until finally it can no longer swim at all, bobbing helplessly at the surface like a cork whenever it releases its grip on its hitching post. At this point, its pouch is normally obviously swollen and bloated.
So I would like you to gently induce your seahorse to release its grip on its hitching post, Carianne, and then release him at the bottom of your aquarium and observe him closely to see if he can swim normally, in the typical upright swimming posture of Hippocampus, or if he struggles as described above and tends to float back up to the top of the aquarium again. (This will also be a good way to test whether or not you have too much water current or turbulence in your aquarium, by observing if the seahorse is getting blown around by the water flow and has to struggle mightily to fight against the current.)
Here is the proper way to encourage your seahorse to release its grip and to handle it when performing this simple test, Carianne:
I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!
In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.
If your new male should develop more problems with positive buoyancy and pouch gas, Carianne, you can provide him with some immediate relief by performing a pouch evacuation or a pouch flush in order to release the gas that is trapped within his pouch. If you look up a previous post on this forum titled "Seahorse floating upsidedown," you’ll find a thorough discussion of this condition explaining why it is potentially dangerous along with detailed instructions for evacuating the gas from his pouch manually or performing a pouch flush to release the trapped gas. Just copy the following URL and paste it in your Web browser and it will take you directly to that discussion and the instructions explaining exactly how you should proceed:
I would ordinarily not expect a seahorse to have problems with the current or water circulation in a long 55-gallon tank that is filtered with undergravels, unless the seahorses in question are very small or very weak. How large are your new seahorses, Carianne? You mentioned that the seahorses were sold to you as Hippocampus kelloggi but that you doubted that identification. What makes you think that your new seahorses are not H. kelloggi after all? Do you have any additional filters or water pumps on the tank that are contributing to the water movement?
Please keep a close eye on your male for any more indications of pouch gas or positive buoyancy, and test his swimming ability as described above, if you are unsure whether he needs help in expelling any more gas that may build up within his pouch. And please do let me know how large your seahorses actually are and, if they are not H. kelloggi, which species of seahorses you think they may be. Once I have the additional information about the size of the seahorses and the equipment on your 55-gallon aquarium, I can provide you with better advice regarding how to manage the water circulation.
Best of luck with your new seahorses, Carianne!
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 14, 2009 at 7:40 am #4593CarianneGuest
Thank you for all of the information. If a gas bubble was the problem, he seems to be doing well now. He is still a different color, and yes, the "spasms" were exactly as you described. There were also some side to side moves that were happening this morning (after we noticed the color change), but he is able to swim upright, eating well, and even anchored at the bottom on a shell and "rested." He was leaning forward as he did this, but when he was swimming afterwards he was upright. We have an underground filter with penguin 550 powerheads that move 145 gallons of water per hour each (we have two). The current is so swift that it bangs them into the glass and turns them upside down. The one positive is that it doesn’t produce any air bubbles at all. However, I can’t imagine that a current of that strength could be good. How do we change this, and what should we use instead? Stretched out our horses are about 3 inches. I’m doubting the H. kelloggi simply because I haven’t been able to find any information on H. kelloggi and I have also been told that it is a species that is rarely bred and of which there is little known. I could be wrong – I am VERY new to this. They may in all actuality be H. kelloggi. Is there a chance that the color changing and strange movement could be courting? Also, there is a brown algae covering our tank, and spreading rapidly – is this just because of the horses? And is it dangerous for them? We have a few snails and some shrimp in the tank, but they seem unable to keep up with the problem, and I do NOT want to create a new danger for our horses. Thanks. Your information is priceless!January 14, 2009 at 11:54 pm #4594Pete GiwojnaGuest
You’re very welcome!
Okay, that sounds good — if the spasming is merely your new male performing pouch displays and "Pumping," then that’s normal behavior and nothing to be concerned about. In fact, it may be helpful in this instance since pumping water in and out of his pouch will also release any gas that may have built up within his marsupium, thereby preventing problems with positive buoyancy.
Yes, if your new male is swimming normally now, eating well, and able to perch at the bottom of the tank without any difficulty, it’s quite possible that he could be courting the female. The change in coloration you observed and the side-to-side movements you noticed are characteristic courtship displays, as discussed below, and together with the pouch displays, they do suggest that the new seahorses might be courting.
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.
This change in coloration is known as "Brightening," and typically involves the seahorse turning much paler or later in coloration, with the exception of the head or face and dorsal surface of the seahorse, which usually remain quite dark. This has the effect of making the seahorse more conspicuous and signals its interest in mating.
Courting seahorses also perform another display known as "Reciprocal Quivering." This maneuver involves repetitive side-to-side movements that can range from a slow swaying to a rapid trembling or shaking, depending on the size of the seahorse and the species involved. If the seahorse being courted is receptive, it will answer the shimmying of its suitor with a shimmy of its own, and the pair of seahorses may exchange short bouts of quivering back and forth, becoming more excited in the process.
And, as you know, 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 it’s certainly possible that your new seahorses may be engaging in the preliminary stages of courtship, Carianne. In fact, in the absence of any other symptoms of a problem, that is likely to be the case. But male seahorses will also pump and shake themselves when something is irritating their pouches, so it’s difficult for me to be certain of what is going on from afar.
If you contact me off list ([email protected]), I will send you a detailed discussion of all the courtship displays commonly seen in seahorses along with a description of how initial pair formation and mating typically take place so you’ll have a better idea of what to look for, and which behaviors are normal and which could be signs of a problem.
Okay, since your new male seems to be back to normal, it’s time that we addressed the water circulation in your aquarium, Carianne. You’re quite right — if the water flow is so powerful that it is overwhelming the seahorses, whisking them away, and banging them into things, then you need to reduce the water current or diffuse it in some way to moderate the water flow.
The simplest solution would be to switch to smaller powerheads for the undergravel filters. I believe the Penguin 550 is the smallest powerhead that Penguin makes, but there are other brands you can consider. For example, the Maxi-Jet 400 HP Powerhead would also work great for powering your undergravels and it is rated at right around 100 gallons per hour, so switching to the Maxi-Jet 400s instead of the Penguin 550s would be a good start. (Check with your LFS to see if they have any powerheads that may be even smaller and put out even less water flow.)
In addition, you might consider positioning some tall decorations directly in front of the output from the powerheads in order to deflect and diffuse the water flow. I would suggest using the Sea Garden synthetic Sargassum plants for this, Carianne. They make good hitching posts for seahorses, look completely natural, and are tall enough to effectively intercept and diffuse the water flow from the powerheads. The Sea Garden saltwater series of "Fancy Plants" are very realistic, completely safe for saltwater, and very easy to maintain. Just rinse them under warm running water before installation and periodically thereafter for cleaning. There’s a very nice selection of them available and seahorses can’t seem to tell the difference between them and the real thing.
For background decorations in a tall tank like your 55-gallon aquarium, I especially like the SeaGarden synthetic Sargassum plants because seahorses are often associated with Sargassum in the wild so these plants look perfectly natural and very attractive in a seahorse tank. The Sargassum is a natural biotype for seahorses, and of course the Sargassum grows nice and tall, which is what we want for aquascaping the extra-tall tanks that are best suited for seahorses. I like to obtain one or more of the Large, Tall, and Extra Large examples of both the Sargassum fluitans (reddish brown in color) and the Sargassum platycarpum (green in coloration) and arrange them together across the back of the aquarium. They range in size from 12 to 24 inches in height, so if you group the tallest of the plants together, they should effectively conceal the uplift tubes from your undergravels and enhance the beauty of the aquarium, creating a colorful natural background with shades of green, brown, and red. They sway in the current just like the real plants and will work very well for moderating the output from your powerheads. They will deflect some of the water flow and absorb much of the energy of the water, which will go into rippling and ruffling the broad Sargassum leaves and be depleted accordingly, thus reducing the water current.
The SeaGarden Fancy Plants I mentioned above are available online from Drs. Foster and Smith at the following URL:
You could also consider replacing the powerheads by installing airlifts or airstones to operate the undergravels instead. That would introduce air bubbles to the aquarium, of course, but it would certainly reduce the water current to manageable levels, and as long as you keep the bubbles fairly coarse they should not present a problem for your seahorses.
Regarding the brown algae that has appeared in your aquarium, Carianne, it should not be harmful for the seahorses in any way. Nuisance algae such as red slime algae or hair algae are very unsightly and undesirable in the aquarium, and usually indicate a water quality problem (e.g., high nitrates and/or phosphates), but I am thinking that the brown algae is most likely just a bloom of diatoms in your case, which is nothing to be concerned about.
As I have are ready pointed out, diatoms are harmless and most newly set up marine aquariums go through a stage where the diatoms or brown algae grows on surfaces in the aquarium. In most cases, the brown algae will disappear as suddenly as it appeared once it uses up the available supply of some key nutrient in the aquarium (usually silicates). Ordinarily, once the available silica has been exhausted, the population of the diatoms will crash and they will then typically die off on their own.
Otherwise, there are some simple measures you can take to help eliminate the diatoms more quickly. As I said, brown diatom algae is usually the first problem algae that a new marine aquarist encounters. A bloom of brown algae often occurs soon after one introduces new live rock to a marine aquarium. This bloom occurs because the curing of the live rock introduces silicates and nutrients (even pre-cured live rock from your LFS will have some die off after it is transferred to a new aquarium; that’s normal). As a result of the diatom bloom, a brown film soon coats everything inside the tank.
Control of brown diatom algae is relatively easy. The first thing to do is to purchase Trochus or Astraea snails that eagerly consume the brown diatom film. I’ve had good results purchasing Trochus snails from IndoPacific Sea Farms (IPSF). There are other snails that will clean the glass such as Nerite and Strombus snails, but Trochus and Astraea snails are the brown diatom cleaner workhorses. The second thing to do is to perform regular water changes to remove any excess nutrients and silicates from the water. The third thing to do is to have an effective protein skimmer to help with the nutrient removal. The fourth thing to do is to cut down light intensity or duration. The final thing to do is to have some type of chemical filtration such as carbon or ChemiPure help with the nutrient removal. I would rank the methods above from most important to least important in the order they are listed.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to help eliminate unwanted algae is to avoid overfeeding your seahorses and to remove any uneaten Mysis promptly after feeding your ponies. Training the seahorses to eat from a feeding station or target feeding them are excellent ways to cut down on the wastage and to help eliminate uneaten food. And be sure to rinse the frozen Mysis thoroughly before you feed the seahorses. (Mysis juice is rocket fuel for nuisance algae!)
One other thing to keep in mind is to double check the type of activated carbon you are using. Carbon is activated two ways, either with steam or with phosphoric acid. The type of carbon that is activated with phosphoric acid contains phosphates, which can be leached back into the aquarium water and promote the growth of nuisance algae. So you will want to avoid that type of of activated carbon. The carton or box that the activated carbon comes in should be clearly labeled and state specifically that it is "steam activated" or "phosphate free" or something to that effect if it’s a suitable brand for your aquarium.
In short, you needn’t be overly concerned about the diatom bloom and it won’t be harmful for seahorses or any of your other specimens. Just be patient, reduce your photoperiod, add some Trochus and Astraea snails to your cleanup crew, don’t overfeed or introduce Mysis juice into the aquarium, and the situation will eventually resolve itself.
If your new seahorses were sold as Hippocamus kelloggi, Carianne, that’s almost certainly an accurate identification. You are correct in that little is known about this species in the US, but it has been imported in large numbers over the last few years, primarily from fish farmers in Southeast Asia and Vietnam. Unfortunately, you have chosen a very challenging seahorse beasties to work with, since the specimens that are imported to this country have proven to be very delicate and demanding to keep.
Here is what little information I have been able to compile regarding the genuine H. kelloggi, Carianne:
Hippocampus kelloggi (Lourie, Vincent and Hall, 1999)
Common name: Kellogg’s seahorse (US); Great Seahorse (Australia); Offshore Seahorse (Vietnam);.o-umi-uma (Japan)
Scientific name: Hippocampus kelloggi, Jordan & Snyder 1902
Maximum size: 11+ inches (28.0 cm).
Climate: subtropical to tropical according to latitude, but these deepwater seahorses appear to be accustomed to cooler water temperatures and have proven to do best under temperate conditions in the aquarium.
Red Sea and Indian Ocean: Tanzania (Zanzibar), Pakistan (Kurachei), India (Madras, Malabar);
Southeast Asia: Danang Sea, Philippines, China and Taiwan; Japan and Australia (southeast Queensland, north New South Wales, Lord Howe Island.
Rings: 11 trunk rings + 40 tail rings (tail rings vary from 39-41).
Dorsal fin rays: 18 rays (varies from 17 -19) spanning 2 trunk rings + 1 tail ring.
Pectoral fin rays: 18 soft rays (varies from 17-19).
Snout length: 2.1 (2.0- 2.3) in head length. (The length of the snout fits into the length of the head only about 2 times. In others, this seahorse has a relatively long snout that measures about 1/2 the length of its head.)
Other distinctive characters:
Coronet: medium-high, with five short spines, and a distinctive high plate in front of the crown.
Spines: low and rounded, always blunt tipped, even in the youngest specimens which have better developed spines. Adults are relatively smooth bodied.
Key Features: a prominent cheek spine (long but rounded) that points backward slightly; a deep head with a thick snout; a slender body with a long trunk and noticeably thick rings, a long tail, and a prominent eye spine (fairly tall but rounded).
Adult height: 6-10 inches (15.0-25.0 cm).
Color and Pattern:
H. kelloggi is typically a pale seahorse with uniform coloration, often adorned with tiny white spots that coalesce to form vertical lines (Lourie at all, 1999). There is some evidence suggesting sexual dimorphism in this species, with the males being darker (brownish to black), while juveniles and females are sometimes lighter in coloration (cream or yellowish), often with pale saddles or patches (Kuiter 2000). The stallions also tend to be slimmer than the females (Coit, pers. com.)
Cultured specimens often exhibit a color pattern that is similar to H. kuda, featuring a yellowish to pale olive green background coloration sprinkled profusely with small dark spots.
This is a very slender seahorse with a long trunk, a long tail, and a thick snout that tends to flare out at the tip (Kuiter 2000)
Very little is known about the life history or behavior of this large slender seahorse, except that it is primarily a deepwater seahorse (> 66 feet or 20 m deep) that is often found well offshore over soft, muddy bottoms (Kuiter 2000).
I have never worked with the species, so at the present, I cannot even tell you if it produces pelagic or benthic fry, or how long the gestation period for the species may be, but now that H. kelloggi is being cultured in large numbers, that information should be forthcoming soon.
Hippocampus kelloggi seahorses appear to do best under temperate conditions when kept in small, closed-system aquariums. The H. kelloggi keeper should therefore maintain the systems for the seahorses within the following aquarium parameters:
Temperature = range 64°F to 75°F (18°C-24°C), optimum 66°F-68°F (19°C-20°C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026, optimum 1.0245
pH = 8.2 – 8.4
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = < 20 (ideally 0-10 ppm)
Suggested Stocking Density:
When fully-grown, this is a very large seahorse with a recommended stocking density similar to other giants such as H. abdominalis and H. ingens: one adult seahorse 2-3 years old per 57 liters (15 gallons) or one pair of 6-month old young adults per 15 gallons (57 liters).
H. kelloggi can easily be confused with H. kuda, which is another large, smooth-bodied tropical seahorse with similar coloration. Upon close examination, however, it is not difficult to distinguish between the two. H. kelloggi has a slimmer body build than kuda, with a more slender profile due to its exceptionally long trunk, as well as a longer tail, and the coronets of these two species are quite different (Lisa Coit, pers. com.). The small spines that form the 5-pointed crown on H. kelloggi are nothing like the low, rounded coronet of H. kuda, which may have broad flanges and overhang at the back, but is not at all spiny.
Captive-bred-and-raised Hippocampus kelloggi have only recently become available in the US and very little is known about their behavior. Hobbyists who keep captive raised H. kelloggi tell me that they tend to be real bottom huggers that rarely perch higher up then about 4 inches above the bottom (Coit, pers. com.). Their behavior in that regard is said to be similar to the Cape seahorse (H. capensis), an estuarine species that always orients to the substrate and is notorious for its bottom-hugging behavior. I’m told that they have a big appetite and feed aggressively on frozen Mysis, and are almost fearless in the aquarium — flaunting themselves in the open, never hiding, and not at all shy or retiring (Coit, pers. com.).
When courting, H. kelloggi stallions perform the usual pouch displays (Ballooning and Pumping) in which they inflate their brood pouches with water in an effort to impress the females with the awe-inspiring dimensions of their fully inflated marsupium.
New arrivals may alarm their keepers with their propensity for performing unusual color changes, in which they exhibit pale patches in various places on their body for short periods before reverting to their normal coloration again just as suddenly (Coit, pers. com.). These lighter patches can appear almost anywhere on their body, from head to tail, and are typically not symmetrical but rather confined to one side of their body only (Coit, pers. com.). This can be disturbing to the uninitiated, since depigmentation and localized loss of coloration are often signs of potential disease problems ranging from fungal and bacterial infections to ectoparasites that attack the skin and gills. In H. kelloggi, however, these unpredictable, transitory, patchy color changes simply appear to be normal behavior for the most part.
However, they have proven to be delicate aquarium specimens overall that cannot seem to adapt readily to the standard conditions typically found in the home hobby tank, especially when tropical temperatures (75°F-78°F) are maintained. The Southeast Asia Hippocampus kelloggi simply don’t appear to be a particularly hardy strain of seahorses at this stage in its development. I believe part of the problem is simply that H. kelloggi have not been cultured or selectively bred for aquarium life as other species that have been around much longer, and as a result, the kelloggi are just not as well adapted to aquarium conditions as of yet.
Many people suspect that the H. kelloggi are merely pen raised, and have therefore not benefited from the sort of intensive aquaculture and selective breeding that produces superior captive-bred livestock here in the US. Net pens are a low-tech, low-maintenance method of farming seahorses that basically involves raising them in large enclosures in coastal waters. It is a common practice in Indonesia, many Asian countries, and the Philippines. In some cases, entire lagoons may be fenced off for that purpose. In the simplest form of pen rearing, broodstock are released into these enclosures, and then they and their progeny are pretty much allowed to fend for themselves thereafter. Any offspring that survive to marketable size are periodically harvested from the holding pens or lagoons.
The benefit of this technique is that it allows seahorses to be raised cheaply, and therefore produces specimens for the aquarium trade that are relatively inexpensive. (It is the low-cost of the H. kelloggi that attracts most hobbyists.) The downside is that pen raising does not strengthen and improve the seahorses generation after generation, making them ever better adapted for aquarium conditions, as does Western-style aquaculture. So the pen raised ponies are not generally as hardy and adaptable as captive-bred-and-raised seahorses.
Such operations (net pens) are controversial with environmentalists for a number of reasons. Since the enclosures are open to the ocean, there is a real risk that adults or their fry may escape from the pens and establish colonies in the wild that may pose a threat to endemic seahorse populations. The pens are no barrier to disease organisms or parasites, so pathogens and parasites imported on foreign broodstock may spread to fishes in the wild (or vice versa). Wastes from the high density of penned animals are carried directly to ocean on prevailing tides and currents and may have a negative environmental impact on the surrounding area. There is no way to monitor the penned animals, hence no way to determine whether the seahorses they contain are actually born and raised in the enclosures or are merely wild-caught seahorses maintained in holding pens prior to being shipped off to unsuspecting consumers.
Pen-grown ponies can thus be risky for the hobbyist because of the circumstances under which they were raised. In essence, a mesh barrier is all that separates them from wild seahorses. There is no guarantee they will be disease free. Although many of them learn to accept frozen Mysis, there is no guarantee they will eat frozen foods since they are often accustomed to foraging for live prey. There is no guarantee they will be able to adjust to aquarium conditions since they are essentially raised in the sea. There is no guarantee that they are even captive bred, since the pens are not secure and livestock is introduced and removed from the pens and lagoons on a continuous basis. There is no guarantee they will be friendly and sociable rather than shying away from their keepers, since they are unaccustomed to the human presence. Pen-raised ponies are particularly misleading because they are almost never advertised as such — they are typically called captive raised or even captive bred seahorses, which can lead the unwary consumer to assume that they have been painstakingly raised using intensive mariculture techniques and rearing protocols. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In light of the health problems so many home hobbyists have been having with their H. kelloggi for some time now, I have been discussing the needs and requirements of this species with advanced aquarists and experts that have worked with H. kelloggi in the past. The consensus seems to be that the current crop of H. kelloggi are being shipped out to hobbyists while they are still too young (the two-inch long juveniles are no more than 3-4 months old) and that they are not well adapted to aquarium conditions because they are likely being pen raised. The tiny H. kelloggi juveniles would fare better if they allowed them to grow up for a few more months and shipped them at the age of around six months.
However, the primary problem folks have been having with their H. kelloggi may be due to their temperature requirements. The people I conferred with maintained that H. kelloggi is a deepwater seahorse and is therefore adapted for lower light levels than most seahorses and also requires cool water temperatures (Lisa Coit et al., pers. com.). They feel that this species should be maintained in temperate tanks rather than tropical aquaria, and that H. kelloggi will only thrive if they are maintained at a water temperature of 68°F or less (Lisa Coit et al., pers. com.). They report that if the H. kelloggi are maintained at standard aquarium temperatures for a tropical marine aquarium (i.e., 75°F-78°F) they will be plagued by various bacterial infections and suffer as a result.
So there are several problems with the H. kelloggi at this point in their development. They are likely being pen raised in Southeast Asia, they are consistently being shipped to the consumer while they are too young and small to thrive, and they are typically being kept in tropical aquariums rather than the cool water or temperate tanks that they need. This combination of unfavorable circumstances is quite deadly and is dooming most all of the H. kelloggi that come into this country to an early demise. Heat stress is making the H. kelloggi susceptible to a variety of health problems, but especially bacterial infections, most often Vibrio in one form or another.
All things considered, I cannot recommend H. kelloggi for the home hobbyist at this time. Beginners should avoid this seahorse and experienced hobbyists may want to wait for the strain to be strengthened and improved over several more generations before they consider giving H. kelloggi a try.
That’s it, Carianne — that skimpy information is pretty much the grand total of what is known in the US regarding H. kelloggi at this time.
Because the H. kelloggi are little more delicate, I would recommend keeping them in a species tank at least 24 inches tall with lots of elbow room. Give them a tank devoted only to H. kelloggi and concentrate on maintaining optimal water quality. Make sure the water temperature remain stable at 75°F or below at all costs, and try to keep the tank as cool as possible. Installing an ultraviolet sterilizer and a chiller on their aquarium would be a worthwhile investment for this species.
Best of luck with your new seahorses, Carianne! Your 55-gallon aquarium has the right size and water volume for these delicate ponies to do well, so if you can adjust the water flow as we discussed earlier and keep their aquarium reasonably cool, hopefully they will respond to the good conditions and remain in good health. At the present, they seem to be displaying a healthy interest in courtship and breeding, which is always a good sign.
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 15, 2009 at 2:01 am #4596CarianneGuest
Despite the fact that he seemed to be doing so well yesterday our sea horse passed away during the night. I am completely baffled, because he was doing so well yesterday. I now find myself in a very bad situation. The marine life store that we went to ordered us two more sea horses that we will pick up tomorrow. Because of the condition our horses were in when we bought them last week we will not be doing business with them anymore. However, I want to pick up these sea horses and give them the best chance at survival. The catch is, they don’t even know what they ordered us. I am going to do all that you suggested for the circulation problem, but do I need to do anything to make sure that my living kellogg and our two new horses don’t get sick? As I said, I am terribly upset to be in this situation because I do not want to do something that will hurt any of these beautiful creatures. We researched this place thoroughly before shopping there, and went with it because it had a very LONG and good reputation for their marine life – I believe that seahorses must be the exception. Without knowing why our sea horse died, or what type we are getting, is there anything I can do to prepare? And do I need to find a new mate for our living Kellogg?January 15, 2009 at 10:33 am #4598Pete GiwojnaGuest
Rats! I’m very sorry to hear that you lost your new male just what it sounded like the crisis had passed and he was finally settling in nicely. It’s very difficult to say what might have been the cause of death with so little to go on, but one thing I can tell you for certain is that it wasn’t pouch gas, chronic pouch emphysema, or any other form of gas bubble syndrome (GBS) that caused his demise. GBS does not kill quickly but rather wears down seahorses gradually by attrition over a period of weeks.
My best guess is that your male Hippocampus kelloggi succumbed to an acute internal bacterial infection. Unfortunately, this species is prone to such problems, especially when they are kept under tropical conditions, and they can kill a seahorse quickly with no premonitory signs if the infection becomes septic.
In this instance, Carianne, the fault lies not so much with the marine fish store from which you obtained the seahorses, but rather with the tape of seahorses they provided for you. As discussed in this species summary in my previous post, no one has had any long-term success with the delicate H. kelloggi, and I’m sure you will fare much better with another species of captive-bred-and-raised seahorse. (In my opinion, the highly domesticated Hippocampus erectus such as Mustangs and Sunbursts are best suited for beginners.)
In general, Carianne, I believe the home hobbyist is better off ordering his seahorses directly from the breeder or collector, rather than purchasing them from their local pet store or fish store. The reason for this is that when you get the seahorses directly from the source, you can be assured that they have been handled properly and fed well, so that they are likely to reach you in the best condition. The seahorses that reach our local pet store have often undergone a long arduous journey from collector or breeder to wholesaler to your retail pet dealer, and are likely to have been starved or handled inappropriately at every step along the way. Pet dealers are often uninformed about the unusual requirements and specialized feeding habits of seahorses, so they often lack the proper food for them, and the seahorses are often malnourished as a result. Worst of all, when they reach your local fish store, the seahorses are normally kept in aquariums that share a common water supply with all of the rest of the marine fish in the store. This means they can be exposed to any pathogens or parasites that those other wild fish from all around the world may be carrying, and that is very undesirable for obvious reasons.
However, obtaining the seahorses locally does save you shipping costs and it does allow you to handpick the seahorses and examine them closely before you make a purchase, so I have no problem with that approach providing you screen the seahorses carefully to make sure they are healthy before you bring them home and you have a good LFS that you trust.
Here are the warning signs and symptoms to check for when you’re giving a seahorse at your marine fish store a visual inspection, as outlined in "Syngnathid Husbandry for Public Aquariums — 2005 Manual:"
When performing an initial physical exam, the posture and buoyancy of the seahorse should be closely scrutinized. A seahorse bobbing at the surface is abnormally and positively buoyant. Buoyant animals will often struggle to maneuver deeper into the water column. They should be evaluated for air entrapment problems such as air in the brood pouch (males) or hyperinflated swim bladders. If the tail is extended outward caudodorsally or ‘scorpion-style,’ examine the subcutis of the tail for gas bubbles (subcutaneous emphysema). Subcutaneous emphysema of tail segment also appears to be a condition restricted to males.
Just as abnormal is a seahorse that is lying horizontally at the tank bottom for extended time periods. This may be an indication of generalized weakness or it may indicate negative buoyancy associated with swim bladder disease or fluid accumulation in the brood pouch or the coelomic cavity.
Evaluate the seahorse’s feeding response. Seahorses normally forage almost constantly during daylight hours. An individual that consistently refuses appropriately sized live food is behaving very abnormally and should receive nutritional support to meet its caloric needs.
The rate and pattern of breathing should also be evaluated. Rapid breathing and ‘coughing’
(expulsion of water in a forceful manner through the opercular opening or the mouth) suggest gill disease.
The entire body surface including the fins should be examined for hemorrhagic regions,
erosions, ulcerations, excessive body mucus, unusual spots, lumps or bumps as well as the presence of subcutaneous gas bubbles. Evaluate both eyes for evidence of periorbital edema, exophthalmia, and any lenticular or corneal opacities. Since seahorses are visual predators, maintaining normal vision is absolutely essential to successful foraging. The tube snout is also very important to normal feeding activity. It is utilized like a pipette to literally suck prey out of the water column.
Evaluate the tube snout for evidence of edema, erosions, and successful protraction/retraction of the small, anterior, drawbridge-like segment of the lower jaw. Close
evaluation of the tail tip for erosive/necrotic lesions should also be performed.
Finally, the anal region should be closely evaluated for redness, swelling, or tissue prolapse. For closer evaluation it may require getting the seahorse in hand. If this is the case, wear non-powdered latex gloves to prevent injury to the integument of the animal.
If the seahorse passes this visual examination, and is eating well and behaving normally, with none of the red flags or warning signs discussed above, only then should you consider taking him home. That’s a quick checklist you can use to determine if the seahorses at your LFS appear to be healthy or not before you make a purchase.
And, of course, as with all marine fish from your LFS, it is highly recommended that you quarantine pet shop ponies properly before you introduce them to your main tank in order to make sure they are healthy and disease free. A 30 day period of observation while isolated in a hospital tank, where the seahorses can easily be treated without affecting any of your other fish should they develop symptoms of a problem, is standard operating procedure.
If the seahorses are captive-bred-and-raised specimens from a High-Health aquaculture facility such as Ocean Rider, then the quarantine protocols required for wild seahorses and pet shop ponies are unnecessary. Your seahorses will be free of pathogens and parasites when they arrive and will reach you well-fed and in top condition.
But there are other measures that you can take to help avoid disease problems even with the superior domesticated seahorses. For instant, providing them with a daily dose of beta-glucan by the simple expedient of enriching their frozen Mysis with Vibrance will boost their immune system and help prevent disease.
Both vibrance formulations now include beta-glucan as a primary ingredient. Beta-glucan is a potent immunostimulant that provides important health benefits for fishes. Thanks to Vibrance, we can now boost our seahorse’s immune systems and help them fight disease as part of their daily feeding regimen. Enriching our galloping gourmets’ frozen Mysis with Vibrance will give them a daily dose of Beta Glucan to stimulate phagocytosis of certain white cells (macrophages). If the research on Beta Glucan is accurate, this could be a great way to help prevent infections from bacteria, fungus, and viral elements rather than attempting to treat disease outbreaks after the fact.
Not only should Vibrance + Beta Glucan help keep healthy seahorses healthy, it should also help ailing seahorses recover faster. Research indicates that it helps prevent infections and helps wounds heal more quickly (Bartelme, 2001). It is safe to use in conjunction with other treatments and has been proven to increase the effectiveness of antibiotics (Bartelme, 2001). It will be great for new arrivals recovering from the rigors of shipping because Beta Glucan is known to alleviate the effects of stress and to help fish recover from exposure to toxins in the water (Bartelme, 2001) . Good stuff!
For more information on the potential benefits of Beta Glucan for aquarium fish, please see the following article:
Click here: Advanced Aquarist Feature Article
Adminstering Beta Glucan orally via Vibrance-enriched frozen Mysis, which are so naturally rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA), is the perfect way to boost the immune response of our seahorses since vitamins and HUFA enhance the capacity of immune system cells that are stimulated by the use of beta glucan (Bartelme, 2001).
Other preventative measures the hobbyist can take include providing a stress-free environment for your seahorses and being a good observer of their behavior so that you can detect any changes that might indicate a potential problem and nip it in the bud before it causes trouble, as discussed below:
When it comes to health problems, seahorses are like other tropical marine fish. They are susceptible to the usual diseases and infections and parasites that plague other reef fish, as well as a few afflictions that are specific to seahorses (e.g., prolapsed pouch, white tail disease, and gas bubble syndrome). The bony exoskeleton and protective slime coat of Hippocampus gives the seahorse limited immunity from certain ectoparasites such as marine ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) and marine velvet (Amyloodinium), so the telltale white spots that characterize those conditions may never show up (or may be visible only on the unarmored fins). So those particular diseases are relatively uncommon in seahorses, although when they do occur, the parasites can still freely invade the seahorse’s gills, with deadly results.
Ocean Rider seahorses come to you direct from a High-Health aquaculture facility and are certified to be free of pathogens and parasites when they arrive, so if you can provide them with a stress-free environment and proper care, you should find them to be quite hardy and relatively disease resistant.
Nevertheless, seahorses that are subjected to chronic stress, which alters their blood chemistry, affects key hormones, and suppresses their immune system, become vulnerable to diseases and health problems just like any other fish. So the best thing you can do for your seahorses is to create a stress-free environment for them in which they feel right at home. We will discuss how to accomplish that and eliminate many of the common aquarium stressors later in this message, but first let me review some of the obvious signs of stress or illness you should be aware of.
Respiratory distress is one such sign. Seahorses that are stressed or suffering from gill disease or parasites that attack the gills will exhibit rapid respiration, labored breathing, huffing, panting, yawning or coughing behavior, and other indications of respiratory distress. So familiarize yourself with your seahorse’s normal respiration rate, which will vary somewhat with water temperature and their activity level or degree of arousal/excitement, and subsequent changes in their normal breathing pattern can alert you to a possible problem.
Your seahorses’ respiration rate may increase naturally when they are feeding, actively courting, being handled, or excited in general, and then return to their normal resting respiratory rate afterwards. That’s natural and nothing to be concerned about. Symptoms of respiratory distress are ordinarily pretty obvious and you should have no trouble determining when your seahorse is laboring or struggling to breathe.
Seahorses that are stressed may also go off their feed, which is another obvious symptom that’s easy for the diligent aquarist to detect. 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 one of these chow hounds is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s wrong. 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.
Abnormal changes in coloration are another indicator of stress and certain disease problems. For example, seahorses will often darken over their entire bodies in response to stress, and pallor can be a sign of low dissolved oxygen levels or high CO2 levels since seahorses may blanch when subjected to hypoxic conditions. Skin infections and parasites that attack the skin will often cause a localized loss of pigmentation or discoloration, so be on the lookout for pale patches or white blotches that appear on your seahorse suddenly, particularly if these pale spots are not symmetrical (that is, they don’t appear in the same place on both sides of the seahorse’s body).
However, it’s important to distinguish between normal color changes and transitory color phases that all seahorses go through, and the type of abnormal changes in coloration we have been discussing above. Seahorses are truly the chameleons of the sea with a propensity for changing color in response to a wide range of environmental factors, hormonal influences, and behavioral interactions, or simply to better blend into their background.
With a little experience, you will become familiar with their normal color pattern and the transitory color phases they occasionally go through, which will make it easy to determine if an unnatural marking or suspicious pale blotches suddenly appears.
The hobbyist should also be aware that there are any number of environmental conditions that can affect the coloration of their seahorses, often by affecting the ability of chromatophores to contract and expand. These include the following factors:
Stress — seahorses often respond to stress by darkening.
Emotional state — when excited, seahorses typically brighten in coloration, reflecting a state of high arousal.
Competion for mates — dominant individuals brighten; subordinate seahorses darken in submission.
Poor water quality — high levels of nitrogenous wastes (e.g., ammonia, nitrite or nitrate) can cause chromatophores to contract and colors to fade, or the seahorse may darken when the levels become stressful.
O2/CO2 — low oxygen levels (or high CO2 levels) can cause colorful seahorses to fade and they will blanch when subjected to hypoxic conditions.
Background colors — seahorses will often change color in order to blend in with their immediate surroundings.
Medications — some antibiotics and malachite-green-based remedies negatively affect color.
Tankmates — seahorses may change their base coloration to blend in with the rest of the herd or to match their mate (or a potential partner).
Temperature — chromatophores tend to contract at high temperatures, causing colors to fade; cooler temps can make pigment cells expand, keeping colors bright.
Disease — skin infections (bacterial, fungal, or parasitic) can cause localized loss of pigmentation or discoloration of the affected areas.
Diet — seahorses cannot synthesize the pigments used in their chromatophores. It is therefore important to enrich their food with pigments such as carotenoids in a form that’s easy for them to absorb. If color additives are not provided, the chromatophores will gradually lose their pigments and the seahorse’s color can fade. Vibrance, for example, is exceptionally rich in Vitamins A and C as well as natural carotenoids, which are not found in Mysis relicta. This is important because the carotenoids are a class of yellow to red pigments, which include the carotenes and the xanthophylls. Like all cells, individual pigment cells have a limited life expectancy in the body and must be regularly renewed. Marine organisms cannot synthesize carotenoids, so if they do receive adequate amounts in their diet, they will have difficulty replenishing their red and yellow pigments. This means that the colors of bright yellow, orange, and red seahorses will gradually fade over time if their daily diet is lacking in carotenoids. So don’t neglect the enrichment step in your daily feeding regimen! If seahorses are fed a strict diet of Mysis relicta without additional enrichment, they may begin to develop dietary deficiencies over time, and both their health and coloration will eventually suffer.
Beware of tenderness and especially a loss of color or prehensility in your seahorse’s tail. Tail rot and white tail disease typically begin with a loss of prehensility in the very tip of the tail (Giwojna, Oct. 2003). At this stage, the seahorses can grasp large objects just fine, but cannot take hold of slender objects with a small diameter (Leslie Leddo, pers. com.). Next the loss of grasping ability spreads further up the tail and the seahorses begin to act as if their tails are very tender and sensitive. They will drape their tails over objects rather than grasping onto them and begin to drag their tails behind themselves, often arching the end of their tail upward in the shape of "U" (rather than the usual "J" or tight coil) as if to lift it off the ground and keep it from touching anything (Leddo, pers. com.).
Scratching and the erratic behavior are often an indication of the irritation ectoparasites cause. So when a seahorse attempts to scratch itself with its tail, or repeatedly attempts to scratch itself by rubbing against various objects, it’s often a sign of a parasitic infestation. If such symptoms persist, you’ll need to treat the seahorses with a good antiparasitic.
Buoyancy problems are another obvious sign of a health problem. Positive buoyancy — the tendency to float — can result from a number of causes such as hyperinflation of the swimbladder, pouch gas, or various forms of Gas Bubble Syndrome (GBS). Negative buoyancy — the tendency to sink — can be an indication of generalized weakness, and underinflated gas bladder, or fluid (ascites) building up within the abdomen or coelomic cavity.
Those are some of the signs of stress and early symptoms of health problems the diligent seahorse keeper should be aware of, Carianne. One of the best ways to prevent bacterial infections, outbreaks of parasites, and other disease problems is to provide them with a stress-free environment. Many of the parasites and pathogens that plague our pampered ponies are ubiquitous — present in low numbers in most everyone’s systems or within the seahorse’s body itself (Indiviglio, 2002) as normal flora. As a rule, healthy fish resist such microorganisms easily, and they only become a problem when seahorse’s immune system has been impaired, leaving it susceptible to disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Chronic low-level stress is one of the primary factors that suppresses the immune system and weakens the immune response, opening the way to infection and disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Long-term exposure to stressful conditions is very debilitating. Among other effects, it results in the build up of lactic acid and lowers the pH of the blood, which can have dire consequences for seahorses for reasons we’ll discuss later.
When disease breaks out in an established aquarium it is therefore generally an indication that something is amiss with your aquarium conditions. A gradual decline in water quality is often a precursor of disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Poor water quality is stressful to seahorses. Prolonged stress weakens their immune system. And an impaired immune system leaves the seahorse vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections to which healthy, unstressed seahorses are immune. As if that weren’t bad enough, there are a number of environmental diseases that are caused directly by water quality problems.
With this in mind, it’s important to review the most common stressors of captive seahorses. These include the design of the aquarium itself. A poorly designed seahorse setup that lacks adequate cover and shelter, or has too few hitching posts, will be stressful to the occupants (Topps, 1999). Seahorses are shy, secretive animals that rely on camouflage and the ability to conceal themselves for their safety and survival. A sparsely decorated tank that leaves them feeling vulnerable and exposed will be a source of constant stress (Topps, 1999). The seahorse setup should have plenty of secure hiding places so they can conceal themselves from view completely whenever they feel the need for privacy. It should be located in a low traffic area away from external sources of shock and vibration.
Needless to say, rapid fluctuations in temperature, pH, salinity and other aquarium parameters must also be avoided. A large aquarium of 40 gallons or more provides much greater stability in that regard than does a smaller setup. The greater the water volume in the aquarium and sump, the more stable the system will be.
Heat stress is especially debilitating and dangerous for seahorses due to a number of reasons (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). For one thing, elevated temperatures can have a very detrimental effect on the immune system of fishes. This is because many of the enzymes and proteins involved in their immune response are extremely temperature sensitive (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). Some of these protective enzymes can be denatured and inactivated by an increase of just a few degrees in water temperature (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). So when seahorses are kept at temperatures above their comfort zone, their immune system is compromised and they are unable to fend off diseases they would normally shrug off. (Heat stress may have been a factor in the loss of your male H. kelloggi since they are said to fare much better under temperate conditions than they do in tropical tanks.)
At the same time heat stress is weakening the seahorse’s immune response, the elevated temperatures are increasing the growth rate of microbes and making disease organisms all the more deadly. Research indicates that temperature plays a major role in the regulation of virulence genes (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.). As the temperature increases, virulence genes are switched on, so microorganisms that are completely harmless at cooler temperatures suddenly become pathogenic once the water warms up past a certain point. Thus both the population and virulence of the pathogens are dramatically increased at higher temperatures (Olin Feuerbacher, pers. com.).
This is true of Columnaris and certain types of Vibrio. At cool temperatures these bacteria are relatively harmless, but at elevated temperatures they become highly contagious, virulent pathogens that kill quickly.
In short, it’s doubly important to keep seahorses at the proper temperature. Because of the reasons mentioned above and the fact that water holds less and less dissolved oxygen as it warms up, seahorses generally tolerate temps at the lower end of their preferred range much better than they handle temperatures at the upper limit of their range.
Incompatible tankmates are also stressful for seahorses. This includes not only aggressive, territorial fishes and potential predators but also inoffensive species that are restless, active fishes. Seahorses may be uneasy around fishes that are always on the go, swimming tirelessly back and forth.
Other common stressors for seahorses include overcrowding, overfeeding, stray voltage, and a host of issues related to water quality: ammonia or nitrite spikes, high nitrate levels, inadequate circulation and oxygenation, high CO2 levels and low 02 levels, low pH, etc., etc., etc (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).
In short, if hobbyists provide their seahorses with a stress-free environment, optimum water quality, and a nutritious diet, they will thrive and your aquarium will flourish with a minimum of problems. Preventing disease in the first place is infinitely preferable to trying to treat health problems after the fact.
When disease breaks out in an established aquarium it is therefore generally an indication that something is amiss with your aquarium conditions. A gradual decline in water quality is often a precursor of disease (Indiviglio, 2002). Poor water quality is stressful to seahorses. Prolonged stress weakens their immune system. And, as we have been discussing, an impaired immune system leaves the seahorse vulnerable to bacterial, parasitic, viral, and fungal infections which healthy, unstressed seahorses easily fend off.
At the first sign of a health problem:
Because diseases are so often directly related to water quality, or due to stress resulting from a decline in water quality, when trouble arises the first thing you should do is to break out your test kits and check your water chemistry. Very often that will provide a clue to the problem. Make sure the aquarium temperature is within the acceptable range and check for ammonia and/or nitrite spikes first. See if your nitrate levels have risen to harmful levels and look for a drop in pH.
Be sure to check your dissolved oxygen (O2) level too. A significant drop in O2 levels (6 – 7 ppm is optimal) is very stressful yet easily corrected by increasing surface agitation and circulation to promote better oxygenation and gas exchange. At the other extreme, oxygen supersaturation is a red flag indicating a potentially deadly problem with gas embolisms (Gas Bubble Syndrome).
If any of your water quality parameters are off significantly, that may well be the cause of the problem or at least the source of the stress that weakened your seahorses and made them susceptible to disease. And correcting your water chemistry may well nip the problem in the bud, particularly if it is environmental, without the need for any further treatment.
Clean Up & Perform a Water Change
After a quick check of the water chemistry to assess the situation, it’s time to change water and clean up. In most cases, the surest way to improve your water quality and correct the water chemistry is to combine a 25%-50% water change with a thorough aquarium clean up. Siphon around the base of your rockwork and decorations, vacuum the top 1/2 inch of the sand or gravel, rinse or replace your prefilter, and administer a general system cleaning. The idea is to remove any accumulated excess organic material in the sand/gravel bed, top of the filter, or tank that could degrade your water quality, serve as a breeding ground for bacteria or a reservoir for disease, or otherwise be stressing your seahorses. [Note: when cleaning the filter and vacuuming the substrate, your goal is to remove excess organic wastes WITHOUT disturbing the balance of the nitrifying bacteria. Do not dismantle the entire filter, overhaul your entire filter system in one fell swoop, or clean your primary filtration system too zealously or you may impair your biological filtration.]
At first glance your aquarium parameters may look great, but there are some water quality issues that are difficult to detect with standard tests, such as a decrease in dissolved 02, transitory ammonia/nitrite spikes following a heavy feeding, pH drift, or the gradual accumulation of detritus. A water change and cleanup is a simple preventative measure that can help defuse those kinds of hidden factors before they become a problem and stress out your seahorses. These simple measures may restore your water quality and correct the source of the stress before your seahorse becomes seriously ill and requires treatment.
Proper quarantine procedures for new arrivals obtained from your LFS are also very important for avoiding health problems. All fishes that are intended as tankmates for seahorses MUST be quarantined first without exception. Any fish you bring home from your LFS is a potential disease vector for all manner of nasty pathogens and parasites, and you need to take every possible precaution to prevent these from being introduced to your display tank.
Okay, Carianne, that’s a quick rundown on some of the things the home hobbyist can do to help prevent disease problems with seahorses. In your case, the best thing you can do to make sure that your 55-gallon aquarium is a healthy environment for the new seahorses that are on their way is to correct the problem with the water circulation, as we’ve already discussed, and to maintain optimum water quality. (I should mention that it’s not a good idea to remove one of the powerheads from your undergravels in order to reduce the water flow — that will impair the biological filtration provided by one half of the aquarium substrate, which can be detrimental. It’s better to keep all of the powerheads in place, but to downsize them and baffled the output to help defuse the water flow.)
It would be better if you can postpone the introduction of the new seahorses until you’ve had a chance to see how your female H. kelloggi fares and you can tone down the water circulation in your seahorse take somewhat (maybe the guys at your LFS will be willing to hold a pair of the seahorses for you until you can make sure that your tank is good to go again), but if that’s not possible, then you’ll just have to make do as best you can for the meantime. And, hopefully the new seahorses will be a species other than H. kelloggi that is better adapted for tropical conditions in a home aquarium. If it turns out that the new seahorses are also H. kelloggi, concentrate on gradually reducing the water temperature in your 55-gallon aquarium as much as is practical.
Regardless of what kind of seahorses the new specimens are, you needn’t be concerned about replacing your male H. kelloggi — the female will not be at all lonely as long as there are other seahorses nearby, regardless of their species. Keep a close eye on the female H. kelloggi for any signs that indicate she is having a problem or beginning to go downhill, and we’ll go from there…
Best of luck adjusting the water currents in your seahorse tank and preparing it for the new specimens, Carianne.
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 19, 2009 at 11:03 am #4609CarianneGuest
Alright, our other horse has been severely injured and has a sore on the left side of her head, her fin is also missing. We have two peppermint shrimp in the tank, could one of them have attacked her? She is really struggling. Once bitten, twice shy, having lost one horse and now possibly losing another I am VERY scared to buy any more sea horses. I cannot stand to watch any more die. Thankfully our local pet store didn’t get our sea horses in, so we asked them to please cancel our order. Currently in the tank there is one horse, a choc chip starfish, a sea hare and two peppermint shrimp. Is one of these dangerous? And if I want to purchase sea horses again what do I need to do differently to ensure that they live happily? Or should I just stay away from them completely? Levels in our tank are still good, and I’ve put very tall plants in our tank to help diffuse the current (it’s helping), but we haven’t been able to find a less powerful system yet. There are plenty of hiding places where she can feel safe, which also protects her from the current. Thanks so much for all your help so far.
Post edited by: Carianne, at: 2009/01/19 06:15January 20, 2009 at 12:45 am #4610Pete GiwojnaGuest
I am terribly sorry to hear about your ongoing problems.
I don’t think your female seahorse has been attacked by any of her tankmates. Neither harmless pepperment shrimp, a seahare or a starfish are incapable of doing the type of damage you describe. Rather, I believe your female Hippocampus kelloggi has been ravaged by a bacterial infection. I am pretty sure the open sore or ulcer on the side of her head is a bacterial lesion. Such sores are characteristic of marine ulcer disease, a serious bacterial infection most often associated with pathogenic Vibrio or Pseudomonas bacteria. Likewise, her missing fin has likely been lost to a bacterial infection commonly known as fin rot. Unfortunately, H. kelloggi are delicate seahorses that are very prone to such problems, especially when they are being kept under tropical conditions. In fact, I have been half expecting a development like this ever since you lost the male H. kelloggi to what I suspect was an acute bacterial infection, Carianne.
If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. This is typical of what hobbyists experience with the H. kelloggi seahorses, which are very disease prone and suffer from heat stress unless kept under temperate conditions. Sadly, the H. kelloggi that are showing up here in the US currently all appear to be destined for much the same fate as yours.
There is nothing wrong with your basic seahorse set up, Carianne, except that you need to adjust the water current. Otherwise, it is a fine seahorse tank with very nice water volume and the superior height that seahorses require. But you never really had a chance for success with the H. kelloggi. When you are ready to try again, I am confident that you will do very well if you stick with hardy, captive-bred-and-raised seahorses that you purchase directly from the breeder, rather than from your LFS. In general, a highly domesticated strain of seahorses that have been born and raised in captivity for many generations and are therefore very well adapted to aquarium conditions, such as Mustangs (Hippocampus erectus), are the best choice for a first-time seahorse keeper.
Right now, your female H. kelloggi needs to be treated with powerful broad spectrum antibiotics for at least 10 days as soon as possible, but I must warn you that the prognosis is very poor once a bacterial infection like fin rot has eaten away the dorsal fin entirely, or once marine ulcer disease has progressed to the point that tissue erosion leaves open sores. The medications that are most useful in resolving Vibrio infections are chloramphenicol (i.e., Chloromycetin), which you probably will not be able to obtain, or a combination of doxycycline + kanamycin, both of which can be obtained from National Fish Pharmaceuticals without a prescription. I will provide you with instructions for using these antibiotics later in this message.
Here is some additional information regarding marine ulcer disease to give you a better idea of how these bacterial infections manifest themselves and why they are so dangerous:
MARINE ULCER DISEASE, A.K.A. ULCERATIVE DERMATITIS, A.K.A. HEMORRHAGIC SEPTICEMIA, A.K.A. "FLESH-EATING BACTERIA"
Marine ulcer disease is a particularly nasty type of infection that most hobbyists have come to know as "flesh-eating bacteria," and indeed it can often be attributed to bacteria, most notably Vibrio or Pseudomonas species (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Vibrio in marine fish is the equivalent of the Aeromonas bacteria that plague freshwater fishes (Dixon 1999; Basleer 2000), causing external hemorrhagic ulcers (bloody lesions). Vibriosis is probably the most common bacterial infection of captive seahorses and one of the most difficult to eradicate from your system. Vibrio bacteria are motile gram negative rods, which measure about 0.5 X 1.5 micrometers (Prescott, 2001). When grown on suitable media they appear as shiny, creamy colored colonies (Prescott, 2001).
Marine ulcer disease or hemorrhagic septicemia can manifest itself in a number of forms. The most common of these are the external hemorrhagic (bloody) ulcers, which appear as localized open wounds on the body (Dixon, 1999). It may be helpful to think of this condition as a form of skin rot. The first symptoms are usually small, discolored areas of skin that often become red and inflamed (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). These may become large bloody spots or lesions (the characteristic ulcers) as the disease progresses, leading to sloughing of the skin and localized swelling (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). (I have found that many times hobbyists have a tendency to dismiss these ulcers as "heater burns," especially when they appear on the flanks or pouch of the seahorse, and to delay appropriate treatment on the basis of this misdiagnosis. Avoid this all-to-common mistake!) In severe cases, the underlying musculature also becomes infected, and the rapid tissue erosion that can result is one of the most alarming aspects of ulcer disease. At this advanced stage, the infected fish can longer be saved (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
Badly infected fishes may develop a distended, fluid-filled abdomen due to internal bacterial infection (septicemia) of the kidneys, liver or intestinal tract (Dixon, 1999). This disrupts the normal circulation of the blood and lymph, causing fluids to accumulate in the intestine and abdominal cavity (Dixon, 1999).
The most dangerous form of hemorrhagic septicemia occurs when the bacteria spread internally and become septic, infecting the blood (Dixon, 1999). The bacteria release toxins into the bloodstream, making it the most virulent of these infections (Dixon, 1999). This insidious form of the disease does not produce the telltale external ulcers, and acute infections can kill quickly with little warning due to the lack of outward signs (Dixon, 1999). Affected fish become listless and lethargic (Dixon, 1999), which may be hard to pick up on with seahorses. Respiration is rapid and seahorses usually darken in color and go off their feed. These behavioral indicators are especially difficult to detect in seahorses due to their lazy lifestyle and habit of changing colors frequently. Seahorses may succumb to the acute form of this disease before the aquarist realizes anything is amiss, and hobbyist often ascribe such mysterious losses to Sudden Death Syndrome.
In seahorses, this disease sometimes takes the form of bilateral edema of the periorbital tissue (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p19). The eyes themselves are not affected, as in popeye or Exopthalmia; rather, the tissue around both eyes swells up. The eyes are thus unaffected but are encircled by rings of swollen tissue. Hobbyists have described this condition to me by saying that their seahorse had developed "doughnut eyes." These characteristic doughnut eyes are often accompanied by swelling of the soft tissue around the tube snout (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p19). Some cases develop this peculiar facial edema as well as the usual skin ulcers and tissue erosion (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p19).
Hemorrhagic septicemia or marine ulcer disease can be a very stubborn and difficult infection to treat, especially when it is due to Vibrio and the disease is acute or advanced. However, if the condition is detected early and treatment is begun when the discolored patches of skin or other symptoms are first noticed, antibacterial agents are often helpful (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). The professional aquarists treat this disease aggressively, using bivalent Vibrio vaccines, immunostimulants such as a beta-glucan, and injections of antibiotics (Bull and Mitchell, 2002, p19).
Aside from administering beta glucan (a primary ingredient in Vibrance) orally, such measures are beyond the grasp of we home hobbyists. We must make do by treating the affected specimens in isolation using wide spectrum antibiotics such as chloramphenicol, doxycycline, kanamycin, oxytetracycline (orally), neomycin sulfate, sulfonamide or streptomycin, or Furan2. As with other bacterial infections, lowering the water temperature during the course of treatment can help a great deal. This is your best course of action when you are confident that the problem is due to a bacterial infection, such as Pseudomonas or Vibriosis (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
Chloramphenicol is the treatment of choice. It can be given orally or used as a bath (Prescott, 2001c). Therapeutic baths lasting 10-20 hours are administered in a chloramphenicol solution consisting of 40 mg per liter of water (Prescott, 2001c). If the seahorse is still eating, the chloramphenicol can also be bioencapsulated by gut loading feeder shrimp or ghost shrimp with flake food soaked in the antibiotic solution. Even if the affected seahorses does not eat, feeding medicated shrimp to its tankmates is a good way to help prevent this contagious disease from spreading to the healthy seahorses (Prescott, 2001c).
All things considered, Carianne’s, I would say that chloramphenicol (i.e. Chloromycetin) is the best choice for treating marine ulcer disease (i.e., flesh-eating bacteria) and most Vibrio infections, in general. It is effective both as a bath for prolonged immersion or when administered orally. If the affected seahorses are no longer eating, then administering the chloramphenicol to the treatment tank would be a good option for you if your other seahorses develop any symptoms of this disease.
The treatment protocol for Chloramphenicol or Chloromycetin is as follows:
Chloramphenicol can be used to treat Vibriosis at 40 mg/ litre of water (which comes out to about 150 milligrams per gallon) in a bath for 10-20 hours. It is important to watch the quality of the water, and if it starts to become turbid, the water must be changed. It is best to treat in a separate tank. In stubborn cases, a series of such baths may be necessary to resolve the problem, in which case a complete water change should be performed before the medication is redosed.
Chloramphenicol can also be used as an additive to the feed, if the fish are still eating (all to often in a major infection they will refuse to eat, but this treatment may be most useful in preventing the horizontal spread of the infection). When used as an addition to the feed use 500 mg per 100 gram of feed. (In the case of seahorses, the flake food medicated with chloramphenicol in this way would first be bio-encapsulated in live feeder shrimp, which would then in turn be fed to the seahorses.)
If you do obtain the chloramphenicol, be sure to be very careful when handling it. Remember, in a few rare individuals exposure to chloramphenicol can cause a potentially fatal side effect (aplastic anemia). These are rare cases and almost always involve patients who were being treated with the medication, but I would use gloves when handling it as a precaution and if you crush crush up tablets of chloramphenicol, be very careful not to inhale any of the power.
Because of this side effect, which affects one in 100,000 humans, chloramphenicol is no longer available as a medication for fishes and can therefore be difficult to obtain. If you find that is the case, your next best alternative is to obtain doxycycline and kanamycin from National Fish Pharmaceuticals and use them together to form a synergistic combination of antibiotics that is often very effective in treating Vibrio infections.
USE: broad spectrum antibiotic derived from oxytetracycline. Use for both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial disorders, including fin and tail rot, septicemia, and mouth rot. Unlike tetracycline antibiotics, it will not be deactivated by the high pH levels found in marine aquaria. Works in a similar manner to chloramphenicol.
DOSAGE: add 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gallons, every 24 hours for 10 days. Do a 25% water change before each treatment.
This is a potent broad-spectrum, gram+/gram- aminogylcoside antibiotic. It is wonderfully effective for aquarium use because it is one of the few antibiotics that dissolves well in saltwater and that is readily absorbed through the skin of the fish. That makes it the treatment of choice for treating many bacterial infections in seahorses. Kanamycin can be combined safely with certain other antibiotics such as doxycycline or neomycin (as well as metronidazole) to further increase its efficacy. Like other gram-negative antibiotics, it will destroy your biofiltration and should be used in a hospital tank only.
USE: gram-negative bacterial infections and resistant forms of piscine tuberculosis (mycobacteria). Works especially well in saltwater aquariums.
DOSAGE: add 1/4 teaspoon per 20 gallons. Treat every 24 hours and perform a 25% water change before each treatment. Treat for 10 days. (When treating piscine tuberculosis, treat for 30 days.)
Both the doxycycline and kanamycin can be obtained online from National Fish Pharmaceuticals at the following URL:
In summation, Carianne, if you lose the female H. kelloggi, I do not think that you should just give up on seahorses at all. Rather, I think you should give up on the H. kelloggi seahorses and avoid them like the plague. If your female dies, I would rehab your seahorse tank and then try again once you know the aquarium is safe. Only next time, I would start out with a highly domesticated strain of seahorses that have proven to be very hardy in the aquarium and I would order them directly from the breeder in order to assure that they reach you at the peak of health.
Best of luck restoring your 55-gallon aquarium to normal again, Carianne!
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