- This topic has 5 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 14 years, 7 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
July 8, 2009 at 1:36 am #1710AnonymousInactive
Our male erectus has had a whitish film on him for the last couple days. He has a bright white patch on his face and a portion on his tail. We\’re not sure if that is something to be worried about, if it is skin rot, or a bacteria, or if it is just stress. He has been eating fine, swimming around, and hitching properly. He spent most of the last week courting with the female. He is, however, the only one of the seahorses in our tank that has gotten stuck to the overflow multiple times. Hopefully you can help us with what might be wrong.
Thanks in advance
Lisa&AndrewJuly 8, 2009 at 4:17 am #4896Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Lisa & Andrew:
It’s very difficult to determine whether the suspicious white patches you are worried about are a normal color phase the black seahorses may be exhibiting or whether they are problematic without at least seeing the picture of the ponies to go by. I can certainly understand why you would be concerned, since suspicious white patches and localized areas of depigmentation are often an early indication of incipient bacterial infections and certain parasites that attack the skin such as Costia or Uronema.
Black seahorses certainly can develop white saddles, blotches, and markings at times that are normal changes in coloration. For example, the two photographs below show the same seahorse, named Oreo, exhibiting normal color changes. As you can see, in the first photograph, Oreo is a black seahorse with a few white blazes and markings, and in the second photograph, taking just one day later, he has turned almost entirely white. The change in coloration is so dramatic that if you didn’t know better, you would think you were looking at two different seahorses. Oreo is perfectly healthy and normal in both the photographs, but has simply decided to chang his coloration as seahorses are sometimes wont to do.
Photos by Leslie Leddo
On the other hand, here are some photographs of seahorses with suspicious white patches that are the result of diseases. In the first two pictures below we see discrete white oblong markings on the tails of seahorses which are due to bacterial lesions:
Photos by Leslie Leddo
In the following picture, the pale white patches seen on this Hippocampus kuda are the result of a parasitic skin infection caused by flagellates (Costia sp.) with secondary bacterial infection:
And in the following photograph, the white saddles and blotches on the yellow seahorse on the left are normal markings, but the white patch on the flank of the dark-colored seahorse on the right is due to marine ulcer disease (vibriosis) and you can already see some tissue erosion occurring at the site of the bacterial lesion:
Photo by Leslie Leddo
Marine ulcer disease is a very serious bacterial infection that requires aggressive treatment with powerful broad-spectrum antibiotics in isolation, but I think that is unlikely in your case because Vibrio is highly contagious and if you are having an outbreak you will need to isolate the affected individual in your hospital tank and treat him with broad-spectrum antibiotics
In your case, if the male erectus with the suspicious white patches has had several encounters with the overflow for your aquarium, getting sucked up against the overflow certainly would be a stressful experience, and stress can often leave the seahorse vulnerable to opportunistic infections. Or a skin infection could have set in as a secondary infection at the site of a minor scrape or injury from getting stuck against the overflow.
Examine the photographs above and let me know how the white spots on your male erectus compare to the photographs, and if you think your seahorse may be developing a skin infection, I will be happy to go over the appropriate treatments for such a problem.
Best of luck with all of your seahorses, Lisa and Andrew! Here’s hoping that the new white markings are simply a color phase that your seahorse is going through and not a symptom of a health problem.
Pete GiwojnaJuly 8, 2009 at 4:31 am #4897365seasonsGuest
Thanks so much Pete.
Been keeping an eye on him all morning, and the patches on his tail have dissipated, but the ones on his face are still there. It’s not the creamy color that they go when they seem to court, as he does go a creamy yellow when he is around the female. They aren’t quite as white as the infection photos you’ve shown, but does kind of look like that could be the case.
Here is a photo of him. Sorry for the poor quality, he was being tricky. Hopefully that can help you distinguish if he does, indeed, have an infection.
Hoping he doesn’t! /fingers crossed
LisaJuly 8, 2009 at 7:21 am #4898Pete GiwojnaGuest
Unfortunately, the photo of your male erectus did not come through with your post and I have not been able to examine the picture yet in order to offer an opinion.
If you want to try posting the photograph on this forum again, Lisa, this is how to proceed:
First you have to host the photographs(s) you would like to post somewhere like photobucket or AOLmyspace, but you must make it small as the board will only take a small photo. (It looks like you’re all set in that regard, Lisa, since I can see that your photograph is on photobucket.)
Next go-ahead and type the text of your message as usual, and then, when the message is ready, place your cursor exactly where you would like they image of the photograph to appear in the message. Then click on the orange Img tag in the reply window. The following block of text will appear where you had placed the cursor:
Now all you have to do is add the address of the hosted picture directly behind the final bracket in the block of text above. For Photobucket, Lisa, just place your cursor on the photograph you want to use, and a drop-down menu will appear — go to "Copy IMG" at the bottom of the drop-down menu and it will automatically copy the address of your picture. All you have to do is to go back to your post, place the cursor of the mouse directly behind the final bracket in the block of text I pointed out above, and paste the photo book address for your image right there.
Then just make sure they hit the "close all tags" tab just above your message, and submit your post as usual.
Or, if you prefer, you can insert the photograph in an e-mail and send it to me off list ([email protected]), Lisa. Either way, as soon as I received picture, I will examine it closely and try my best to determine if the white patches indicate the initial stages of an infection. If so, I will reply with the appropriate treatment for such an infection.
Best wishes with all your fishes, Lisa!
Pete GiwojnaJuly 8, 2009 at 1:53 pm #4899365seasonsGuest
Sent you a couple emails. Hope to hear from you soon.
LisaJuly 8, 2009 at 8:48 pm #4900Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Lisa & Andrew:
Okay, I have received the photographs of your Hippocampus erectus and examined them closely. The whitish patches do not appear like the discrete areas of depigmentation associated with marine ulcer disease or Vibrio infections, but neither are they normal markings or a color phase that the seahorse is undergoing. Rather, they appear as a milky film clouding certain areas of the seahorse’s body. This could be due either to certain protozoan parasites that attack the skin and gills of the seahorse, and cause excess mucous production in response to the irritation (this build up of mucous or body slime causes the cloudy film), or it could be due to a condition known as "bacterial fungus" or marine Columnaris, which is typically caused by gram-positive bacteria (Myxobacteria) and often appears around the head, gills, and eyes of the affected fish initially. Both of these problems (protozoans causing excess mucous to build up or bacterial fungus) can cause respiratory distress and heavy breathing when they involve the gills, which are often the first site to be affected. I would recommend a treatment regimen consisting of antibiotic therapy combined with formalin baths for treating this problem, Lisa and Andrew, which should be effective against either problem, as discussed below:
A white, slimy coating is very characteristic of this sort of infection. It is sometimes referred to as marine columnaris or "bacterial fungus," and indeed Myxobacteria infections are often confused with fungus although they are caused by gram-positive bacteria. Unless treated promptly, it is a fatal condition. Here is some information about this affliction from my new book on seahorses (Complete Guide to the Greater Seahorses in the Aquarium, unpublished):
BACTERIAL FUNGUS: MYXOBACTERIA (MARINE COLUMNARIS)
Bacterial fungus is a highly contagious disease caused by a Myxobacterium (Flexibacter sp.) that corresponds to the columnaris infections so commonly seen in freshwater fish (Basleer, 2000). The bacterium Flexibacter is a long, slender rod-shaped organism (0.5- 1.0 microns in diameter, and some 4-10 microns long) that is easily identified under the microscope by its characteristic gliding motion (Dixon, 1999). They are unusually mobile bacteria. They are very active when observed microscopically, gliding rapidly across the viewing field (Dixon, 1999). This family of bacteria (Cytophaga or Myxobacteria) causes a condition commonly known as columnaris because of their tendency to stack up in columns (Prescott, 2001b). When large numbers of the bacteria pile up, they form distinctive haystacks several layers thick where the infection is heaviest (Dixon, 1999).
These bacteria are typically associated with stress, and columnaris is very often associated with a sudden rise in temperature. It is frequently seen in temperate seahorses suffering from heat stress or among tropical seahorses that have been subjected to a temperature spike during a summertime heat wave or other stressors (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
This is primarily an epithelial disease that often presents as a grayish white film that spreads over the fish’s skin, particularly on the head region (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). The whitish plaques spread by radial expansion and may penetrate into deeper tissues, becoming yellow or orange due to masses of pigmented bacteria that stack up in columns forming the haystacks that are characteristic of the condition (Basleer, 2000).
Columnaris is often described as a milky, slime-like film that can be observed with the naked eye (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). The bacteria are actually pale yellow, and the whitish skin lesions may become yellowish or even orange as the bacteria pile up (Prescott, 2001b). Depending on how many layers of Myxobacteria are stacked up in any given area, this gives the fish a patchy white to yellowish appearance (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). These bacteria produce enzymes that can dissolve the skin and decay the underlying musculature.
Hobbyists most often refer to marine columnaris as white patch disease and it is often mistaken for a fungal infection (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Although the head and eyes are most often infected, the slimy white patches or webbing can appear anywhere on the body and, in seahorses, the tail is also often affected.
Myxobacterial infections vary greatly in virulence depending on the strain involved and the conditions that contribute to the disease (most notably water temperature), and the symptoms of the disease can vary accordingly (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). There is an acute form of the disease that may kill very quickly when the head is involved, often within 24 hours of the first symptoms.
Less virulent forms of columnaris allow time for the symptoms to be recognized and treated. For example, milder strains may produce localized shallow ulcers where the white patches first appeared that respond very well to prompt treatment with the proper antibiotics (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). The gills are another common site of infection and are sometimes the only affected area. Respiratory distress may be the only symptom in such cases, and if the gills are examined, excessive amounts of mucous are to be expected (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Damage to the gills from these bacteria is evident as brownish dead patches of tissue that are often attacked by secondary fungal infections (i.e., Saprolegnia; Prescott, 2001b). Cases of columnaris involving the gills typically respond favorably to nifurpirinol (brand name Furanase).
Affected fish will become very listless and lethargic in the later stages, with reduced eye movement in seahorses (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Reluctance to feed is very typical and the fish will often exhibit labored breathing due to the involvement of the gills (Prescott, 2001b).
If caught early and treated promptly, antibacterial compounds are often effective, especially when accompanied by a decrease in water temperature. Some of the effective medications for treating columnaris include oxytetracycline (only if administered orally) and especially combination sulfa drugs that include trimethoprim (i.e., TMP Sulfa or 4 Sulfa TMP), doxycycline, or neomycin and/or kanamycin combined with various sulfa compounds (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
Myxobacteria are often associated with temperatures that are elevated beyond what is normal, or exposure to a sudden rise in temperature, and both the mortality and acuteness of the disease will increase at higher water temperatures (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). As with other bacterial infections, stress plays a critical role in the initiation of columnaris disease. Aside from heat stress, other risk factors for columnaris include physical injury, low dissolved oxygen levels, crowding, organic pollution, parasites, and high nitrite levels (Prescott, 2001b).
At the first sign of bacterial fungus or Marine Columnaris, I recommend treating the affecting seahorse(s) immediately in a hospital tank using using broad-spectrum antibiotics in conjunction with formalin baths (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Drop the temperature in the hospital tank during the course of the treatments. Reducing the water temperature will slow the metabolism and reproductive rate of bacteria in general, making them easier to control, and the virulence of columnaris, in particular, is markedly reduced at lower temperatures (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
As with marine ulcer disease, there are a number of parasitic infections that can easily be mistaken for columnaris. Brooklynella, Costia and Uronema parasites all cause cloudiness or turbidity of the skin accompanied by heavy mucous production in their initial stages, which are similar to the white patches and filmy appearance of a columnaris infection (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). In their later stages, these parasitic infections result in respiratory distress and ulcers or open sores that are very like the symptoms of columnaris when the enzymes the bacteria produce erode away the skin and the gills are involved (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Parasitic infections are often followed by secondary bacterial/fungal infections, and such parasites are one of the stressors that can result in a columnaris infection. This can make it difficult to determine whether you are dealing with columnaris, a parasite problem, or a mixed infection (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
For that reason, I recommend that you treat for parasites at the same time you are administering broad-spectrum antibiotics to combat columnaris. Two good ways to accomplish this are to either administer the antibiotics in the hospital tank in conjunction with a series of formalin baths, or to treat the seahorses with Forma-Green (a combination of formalin and malachite green) in the hospital tank while you administer the antibiotics orally via gut-loaded shrimp.
The antibiotics I recommend are either doxycycline (alone or in combination with kanamycin), oxytetracycline or tetracycline (only if administered orally), or various sulfa drugs containing trimethoprim, such as Trimethoprim and Sulfathiazole Sodium (TMP-Sulfa) or 4 Sulfa TMP:
TMP Sulfa (Trimethoprim and Sulfathiazole Sodium)
USE: Treatment of bacterial infections, both gram-negative and gram-positive. This combination retards resistant strains from developing. It exerts its antimicrobial effect by blocking two consecutive steps in the biosynthesis of nucleic acids and proteins essential for many bacteria.
DOSAGE: 1/4 teaspoon per 10 gallons every 24 hours, with a 25% water change before each treatment.
4 Sulfa TMP
USE: This is a special blend of four different sulfas that all have different absorption rates and solubility. These selfless are combined with trimethoprim, which potentiate each other’s ability to kill bacteria, thus becoming a wide spectrum antibiotic with less chance of resistant strains developing.
DOSAGE: 1/2 teaspoon per 20 gallons of water.
Oxytetracycline or tetracycline also work well but only if they are administered orally (they are deactivated in saltwater and totally ineffective if used for prolonged immersion or as a bath).
In a pinch, some hobbyists also use a combination of Maracyn and Maracyn-Two, if the other medications are unavailable, but that’s a last resort and less effective than the other medications listed above.
The formalin baths should be administered at a dosage of 250 mg/L. This would equal 1 ml (cc) of 37% formalin per 1 gallon of water. This should be for a bath of about 45 minutes to an hour, repeated as necessary. (See the complete instructions for administering formalin baths below.)
Once it’s established in the aquarium, columnaris is highly communicable, as are parasitic infections, and it is very advisable to clean up and sterilize the main tank as best you can while the affected seahorses are undergoing treatment in the hospital ward (Giwojna, Nov. 2003). Combine a 25%-50% water change in your main tank with a thorough system cleaning (Giwojna, Nov. 2003).
Okay, Lisa and Andrew, that’s the quick rundown on Myxobacteria or bacterial fungus. All of the medications mentioned above can be obtained online from National Fish Pharmaceuticals at the following URL, if you cannot find them at your local fish store:
Click here: Fish Medications
Formalin baths used in conjunction with these antibiotics will help eliminate any ectoparasites or secondary fungal infections that may be involved.
Formalin (HCHO) is basically a 37% solution of formaldehyde and water. It is a potent external fungicide, external protozoacide, and antiparasitic, and is thus an effective medication for eradicating external parasites, treating fungal lesions, and reducing the swelling from such infections. It is a wonder drug for treating cases of Popeye caused by trematodes, and also eradicates external nematodes.
Formalin can be useful in treating fish with the following clinical symptoms:
Increased respiration; loss of normal body color; presence of discrete white spots (freshwater or saltwater "ich"); white areas on the body with circumscribed, reddish perimeter (Epistylis and/or bacterial infection); scratching on tank bottom or objects, lethargy, white cottony tufts or strands on body (fungus); dust-like, "peppered", yellowish spots on body surface (Oodinium); whitish skin slime or filmy body covering or patches (columnaris disease); disintegrating fins or fin edges (fin rot); mouth "fungus" (bacterial infection); pustules, furuncules or ulcers.
In my experience, provided it is administered properly, seahorses tolerate treatment with formalin very well at therapeutic dosages. For a long term bath the correct dose is 15 to 25 mg/L. [Note: 25 mg/L equals 1 ml (cc) of 37% formalin per 10 gallons of water.] This is done every other day for 3 treatments.
For a short term bath (dip) the correct dose is 250 mg/L. This would equal 1 ml (cc) of 37% formalin per 1 gallon of water. This should be for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. In my opinion, formalin is a safe, effective treatment for parasitic infections in seahorses providing you don’t exceed these dosages and observe the following precautions for administering the medication properly:
Many commercial formalin products are readily available to hobbyists, such as Kordon’s Formalin 3, Formalin-F sold by Natchez Animal Supply, and Paracide-F, sold by Argent go to top Chemical Laboratories. Or whatever brand of formalin is available at your fish store should work fine, Lisa and Andrew.
A formalin bath simply involves immersing the seahorse in a container of saltwater which contains the proper dosage of formalin for a period of 30-60 minutes before transferring it to your hospital tank. Include a hitching post of some sort in the container and follow these instructions: place the fish in a three-gallon bucket or a similar clean, inert container containing precisely one gallon of siphoned, aerated tank water. Medicate the bucket of water with with the appropriate amount of formalin for a concentrated bath according to the directions on the label. Place an airstone or two in the bucket and leave the fish in the bath for up to 60 minutes. If at any time the fish becomes listless, exhausted or loses its balance, immediately place the fish in clean, untreated water in your hospital tank.
I want you to be aware of these precautions when administering the formalin bath:
Formalin has limited shelf life and degrades to the highly toxic substance paraformaldehyde (identified as a white precipitate on the bottom of the solution); avoid using any formalin product which has such a precipitate at the bottom of the bottle.
Formalin basically consumes oxygen so vigorous aeration must be provided during treatment.
Time the bath closely and never exceed one hour of chemical exposure at this concentration.
Observe the seahorse closely during the bath at all times, and it show signs of distress before the allotted time has elapsed, remove it from the treatment immediately.
If you can obtain Formalin 3 from Kordon at your LFS, Lisa and Andrew, which is only 3% formaldehyde rather than the usual 37% formaldehyde, you must adjust the dosage accordingly and these are the instructions you should follow for your formalin dip:
METHOD 2 (DIP) FOR THE PREVENTION OR TREATMENT OF FISH DISEASES
(a) To a clean, non-metallic container (i.e., a plastic bucket), add one or more gallons of fresh tap water treated with Kordon’s AmQuel . For marine fish use freshly prepared saltwater adjusted to the same specific gravity (or salinity) as in the original tank. Make sure the temperature in the container is identical to that in the aquarium
(b) Add 1 teaspoons of Formalin·3. This produces a concentration of 100 ppm. formaldehyde.
(c) Agitate the solution with an airstone and adjust for a moderately strong flow of air.
(d) Remove the fishes to be treated and deposit them in the container for a treatment period of not more than 50 minutes. Immediately after the treatment period, or if signs of distress are noted, remove the fishes to a previously prepared recovery tank. The fishes may be returned to their original tank, but the presence of the original disease-causing agents in the tank water may result in a reoccurrence of the disease condition.
(e) Observe recovering fishes. Make sure that tankmates do not molest them during recovery.
(f) Repeat treatment as needed, every week. Each treatment is very stressful to the treated fishes. Do not reuse the dip solution.
For additional information on treating fishes with Formalin 3 by Kordon, see the following web page:
Click here: KPD-54 Formalin-3
If you get another brand of formalin, just follow the instructions that it comes with for a concentrated bath or dip (not prolonged immersion or a long-term bath). As long as they seahorse is in good condition, you can repeat the formalin baths every other day, as needed.
Be sure to observe the following precautions when handling your seahorses for the formalin baths:
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.
In short, I feel that antibiotic therapy combined with a series of formalin baths is your best hope for a good outcome with this problem, Lisa and Andrew. The earlier the treatment is begun, the better the outlook will be.
Best of luck resolving this problem and getting your Hippocampus erectus back to normal again.
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support
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