Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › Whats the best way to start out?
- This topic has 7 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 13 years, 1 month ago by Pete Giwojna.
April 19, 2010 at 8:38 am #1809timbrownMember
I am Tim Brown and I have had one saltwater aquarium before. I am really interested in getting sea horses and I was wondering about how the best way to start out was. Will i need live rock, live sand, and could I run the system on entirely the biological filtration, and use a mangrove for reducing nitrates? What is the best seahorse to start out with, and is small? How do keep the water crystal clear? How do you prevent algae blooms? And lastly, how do you know the tank is completely ready for animals and invertebrates?
Thank you ahead of time for helping out.April 21, 2010 at 4:17 am #5101Pete GiwojnaGuest
If you’re interested in seahorses, sir, the best way to start out is to complete the free Ocean Rider seahorse training program, as described in the pinned topic at the top of this forum. It is a comprehensive correspondence course that will teach you everything you need to know about the care and keeping of seahorses in considerable detail — much better and much more informed than any of the seahorse guidebooks that are available and much more thoroughly than we can cover it a simple discussion group such as this. I was very pleased to see that you have enrolled in the training program, Tim, so you are already discovering the answers to most of your questions.
Providing efficient biological filtration and using mangrove seedlings to help control nitrates is one way of establishing a suitable seahorse setup, Tim, and I imagine that such an arrangement would include live sand and live rock, which would provide the bulk of the biological filtration by virtue of the dense population of beneficial nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria they support. You can certainly keep seahorses successfully without live rock or live sand if you provide another means of biological filtration, such as undergravel filters, sponge filters, a wet/dry trickle filter or an external filter with biological filtration media, so you can use whatever means of biological filtration you prefer.
In my opinion, the two species of small tropical seahorses that are best suited for beginners are Pixies or dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae) or the Black Seapony (Hippocampus fuscus). The dwarf seahorses are tiny — only about the size of your thumbnail when fully grown — and require live food in the form of newly hatched brine shrimp as their staple diet, whereas Hippocampus fuscus is one of the medium-sized "Shetland pony" class of seahorses and is large enough to eat frozen Mysis as a staple diet. Both dwarf seahorses and the Black Seaponies are considered to be very easy to breed and raise.
Here is some additional information that discusses the pros and cons of dwarf seahorses so you can determine if they would be the best choice for you, Tim:
Pixies or Dwarf Seahorses (Hippocampus zostrae)
The first species you might want to consider are Pixies, which are Ocean Rider’s strain of domesticated dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae). Dwarf seahorses are the smallest of all the cultured seahorses and a whole colony of them can live happily in a 12-gallon aquarium. They are the easiest of all the seahorses to breed and raise, and they are the least expensive ponies, which makes them affordable in groups.
However, three factors make Pixies or dwarf seahorses (H. zosterae) somewhat more demanding to keep than the larger breeds of seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) or the Black Seapony (H. fuscus):
(1) Their need for live foods.
(2) The small water volume of typical dwarf seahorse setups.
(3) Their susceptibility to aquarium hitchhikers and stinging animals (e.g., hydroids, Aiptasia).
Because of their small size and sedentary lifestyle, dwarf seahorses cannot be consistently trained to eat frozen foods without risking polluting the aquarium with uneaten food. As a result, the adults must be provided with copious amounts of newly-hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) at least twice a day and the fry must have access to bbs throughout the day.
This means maintaining a battery of brine shrimp hatcheries and hatching out large quantities of brine shrimp on a daily basis. If you are not proficient at hatching out brine shrimp or consider that to be too much of a hassle, then dwarf seahorses are not for you!
Because they are so terribly tiny — adult H. zosterae are only about the size of your thumbnail and half of that is tail — dwarf seahorses do best in small aquaria of 2 to 10 gallons to facilitate maintaining an adequate feeding density of bbs. Such a small volume of water is more susceptible to fluctuations in temperature, pH, and specific gravity than larger aquariums, and the water quality can also go downhill much faster in such small tanks than in large setups.
This means that dwarf seahorse keepers must practice diligent aquarium practices and an accelerated maintenance schedule in order to stay on top of water quality. As an example, water changes should be made weekly or biweekly, rather than monthly or bimonthly. This is not really onerous at all, since the water changes are so small (a fraction of a gallon to 1 or 2 gallons at most, depending on the size of the dwarf tank). It’s an easy matter to prepare and store a month’s worth of freshly mixed saltwater in advance, and I then find that I can perform a water change, vacuum of the bottom of my dwarf seahorse tank, and clean the sponge filters in no more than 5-10 minutes tops. But if the aquarist is not diligent about water changes and aquarium maintenance, dwarf seahorse setups can "crash" more easily than bigger, more stable aquariums with a larger volume of water.
The need for an accelerated maintenance schedule and daily feedings of live foods thus makes dwarf seahorses a bit more demanding to keep than the greater seahorses.
In addition, because of their diminutive dimensions, dwarf seahorses are susceptible to the stings from hydroids and Aiptasia rock anemones, which normally do not present a risk to the larger breeds of seahorses. Hydroids in particular are especially problematic for dwarves because once they find their way into a dwarf seahorse setup or nursery tank, the dreaded droids can explode to plague proportions very quickly because conditions are ideal for their growth: perfect temperatures, an abundance of planktonic prey that is renewed every few hours, and a complete absence of predators. As they proliferate and spread, they will soon begin to take a toll on the seahorse fry and even adult dwarfs can succumb to multiple stings or secondary infections that can set in at the site of a sting (Abbott, 2003).
The type of substrate — aragonite, black sand, crushed shell, coral sand, or a bare glass bottom — doesn’t seem to make much difference at all. It’s just that nursery tanks and dwarf seahorse tanks are perfect environments for culturing hydroids, and once they find their way into such a system they go forth and multiply with a vengeance. So unless dwarf seahorse keepers take special precautions, they can find themselves waging a losing battle with an infestation of hydroids, and that’s something that hobbyists who keep larger seahorses simply never need to be concerned about.
However, dwarf seahorses are widely considered by far the easiest seahorses of all to raise. They are prolific, breed readily in groups, and produce large, benthic fry that accept newly-hatched brine shrimp as their first food and reach maturity in as little as three months. They are the least expensive of all the seahorses to own and a dwarf seahorse aquarium can be set up far more economically than a system for keeping the larger seahorse species.
Dwarf seahorses are therefore ideal for breeders and anyone operating on a shoestring budget. Pint-sized and prolific, these pigmy ponies are the perfect pick for anyone primarily interested in rearing or for any seahorse keepers who can’t afford to devote too much money or space to their hobby. Hippocampus zosterae is the best choice for the novice who wants to learn more about keeping and breeding seahorses before moving on to the big boys. More budding seahorse keepers have cut their teeth on dwarves than all the other seahorses put together. H. zosterae is the right pick for newbies who would like to try their hand with seahorses for a modest investment, or for hobbyists with a tight budget, or aquarists looking for captive-bred seahorses that are a snap to breed and a breeze to raise, or anyone captivated by keeping tiny elfin creatures no bigger than your thumbnail.
All things considered, I feel that the many advantages of keeping dwarf seahorses far outweigh the drawbacks we have outlined above.
If you would like to know some more information about the care and keeping of either the dwarf seahorses or Hippocampus fuscus, just contact me off list ([email protected]), Tim, and I will provide you with the species summaries for them, which are quite comprehensive.
Good filtration will keep a well-maintained marine aquarium crystal clear, Tim. The right combination of biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration will keep the tank as clear as glass. The mechanical filtration removes suspended solids and particulate matter that can cloud an aquarium, whereas chemical filtration will prevent yellowing and discoloration of the aquarium water as it ages, and efficient biological filtration will help to maintain optimum water quality and prevent bacterial blooms or algae blooms.
The best way to prevent algae blooms is to maintain good water quality and eliminate the excess phosphate and nitrate that fuel the growth of nuisance algae, sir. Some of the measures that will help control nitrates and phosphates (and excess nutrients in general), or otherwise help control nuisance algae in the aquarium are the following:
1) Make sure your protein skimmer is working correctly. A protein skimmer works 24 hours a day to remove excess waste and nutrients from a tank. If the venturi is clogged on a venturi skimmer or there is another problem with other skimmer designs, waste will not be exported from your tank and algae will take advantage of the waste.
2) Perform regular water changes. Regular water changes will decrease the level of wastes and nutrients in the water. But the water changes won’t do much good if your tap water itself contains phosphates and amines. Depending on how high the nitrate levels become, increasingthe proportion of water that you change each time may be necessary to help reduce those nitrates. There is an article about nitrate reduction at <<http://www.about.com/>> in the saltwater section that really explains water changes (gives you the math), on actually how little you are reducing nitrates with small water changes when you have high nitrates.
3) Make sure makeup water is pure. Phosphates and nitrates often found in tap water. Phosphate and nitrate test kits will show if your tap water is contributing to your algae problem. If phosphate and nitrate levels are more than 0 ppm (some tap water measures out at over 50 ppm nitrate), filter the water through a RO/DI unit before using it as makeup freshwater or as source water for saltwater changes, or purchase RO water from a vendor.
4) Add additional detritivores to your cleanup crew. If excess food isn’t eaten, it will decay and add to the nutrients and waste in the tank. More microhermit crabs, Nassarius snails and cleaner shrimp will help ferret out any uneaten Mysis before it breaks down and enters the nitrogen cycle to eventually end up as excess nitrate.
So if you’re having a problem with nuisance algae, consider bolstering your cleanup crew with additional snails and/or micro-hermit crabs that eat slime algae and other types of nuisance algae. Astrea snails, red foot moon snails, and Scarlet reef hermit crabs (Paguristes cadenati) all fit the bill and would be good additions in that regard.
Introduced as soon as possible to a new aquarium, as soon as the ammonia and nitrite levels are safe, Astrea snails effectively limit the development of all microalgae. In other words, they are good at eating diatoms, but will consume red slime and green hair algae as well. The Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab (Paguristes cadenati) is a colorful micro-hermit that’s a harmless herbivore. So cannibalism isn’t a concern at all for these fellows, nor are they likely to develop a taste for escargot. As hermits go, most of the time the Scarlet Reefs are perfect little gentleman and attractive to boot. I even use them in my dwarf seahorse tanks. Best of all, they eat all kinds of algae, including nuisance algae such as red, green and brown slimes, as well as green hair algae.
In addition, Garf (http://www.garf.org/redslime.html) offers a Reef Janitors package with hermits (chibanarius or clibanarious digueti, mexican dwarf hermit) and the snail (Cerithium strercusmuscarum), which are said to do an excellent job of cleaning up red slime algae.
5) Introduce macroalgae to consume excess nutrients and nitrates. If regular pruning is done, fast-growing Caulerpa will maintain its color and high growth rates without going sexual. Better yet, an algal filter or "algae scrubber" can be established in a sump or refugium.
6) Chemical controls. Phosphate absorbers can remove excess phosphates, and Poly Filter pads can help absorb excess nitrates, changing color as they do so, which helps indicate= when the Poly Filter needs to be changed. Low ash activated carbon that is free of phosphates will also help remove such nutrients if it is change religiously and replaced with new carbon.
7) Controlled addition of food to tank. Don’t broadcast feed, scattering Mysis throughout the tank. Instead, target feed your seahorses or use a feeding station. Don’t overfeed, cleanup leftovers promptly, and observe fast days religiously. Thoroughly rinse your frozen Mysis before enriching it, since these shrimp juices that accumulate when the Mysis thaws can be rocket fuel for nuisance algae.
8) Eliminate dead spots and increase the water flow in areas where the nuisance algae tends to grow.
9) Maintain the pH in total alkalinity of the aquarium in the proper range. Monitor alkalinity or carbonate hardness and the calcium levels in the tank as well as the pH.
10) Replace your aquarium lamps regularly to assure that the spectrum of light they put out favors the growth of coralline algae and macroalgae. (Over time, as bulbs age, they begin to put out light shifted more towards the red-end of the spectrum, which encourages the growth of hair algae.)
11) Reduce the photoperiod in your aquarium is much as possible to cut down on the light that’s available for photosynthesis.
12) Increase the circulation in the aquarium to eliminate dead spots, particularly in the areas where the hair algae tends to grow.
13) Physically remove as much of the nuisance algae as possible. Some aquarists go as far as to remove all of the live rock from the aquarium and painstakingly scrub it free of the hair algae or even boil it to rid it of the nuisance algae, but boiling it also destroys the beneficial nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria it houses.
For more information, check out the following online articles which are loaded with additional tips and suggestions for controlling outbreaks of nuisance algae. Please read these carefully, since they’ll give you many more good ideas for combating your problem with hair algae:
Click here: GreenAlgContFAQs
Click here: Reeftank.com – Articles – Reeftank Maintenance – Algae Control FAQ
If the tap water or well water in your area is of dubious quality, and you don’t mind lugging containers of water home from the pet store, then purchasing pre-mixed saltwater from your local fish store is often a good option. Many seahorse keepers purchase reverse osmosis/deinonized water (RO/DI) for their water changes. Most well-stocked pet shops that handle marine fish sell RO/DI water as a service for their customers for between 25 and 50 cents a gallon. For example, WalMart sell RO/DI water by the gallon for around 60 cents.
Natural seawater is another good option for a seahorse setup. Like RO/DI water, natural seawater can often be purchased at fish stores for around $1.00 a gallon, depending on where you live. It sounds expensive, but when you consider the alternative — paying for artificial salt mix and RO/DI water and mixing your own saltwater — then natural seawater is not a bad bargain at all. It has unsurpassed water quality and seahorses thrive in it.
Strive to maintain the following water quality parameters at all times for best results:
Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific gravity or salinity = range 1.022 – 1.026, optimum 1.0245
pH = 8.2 – 8.4
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm
You will know when a new aquarium is completely ready for fish and invertebrates by monitoring the cycling process with your test kits. You will find detailed, step-by-step instructions for cycling a new aquarium and monitoring the cycling process in Lesson 2 of the seahorse training program. When you are cycling your tank, you will be adding a source of ammonia to feed the beneficial nitrifying bacteria that carry out biological filtration, Tim, and when both the ammonia and nitrite levels remain at zero, meaning that all of the ammonia is being broken down into nitrite as fast as it is being produced, and all of the nitrite is being converted into nitrate as fast as the nitrite is being produced, that is the first indication that the new tank has cycled and is ready to be stocked gradually.
Best of luck with your ongoing research into seahorses, Tim. Going over the lessons from the training program with me off list will assure that you get started off on the right foot, sir.
Pete GiwojnaApril 21, 2010 at 6:44 am #5102timbrownGuest
Thank you so much!
I still have some questions:
Can you replace protein skimmers with mangroves?
Could I have some information about the H. fuscus? How big are they? What are their needs?April 22, 2010 at 2:11 am #5103Pete GiwojnaGuest
You’re very welcome, sir!
I will do my best to answer your remaining questions one-by-one below:
Can you replace protein skimmers with mangroves?
the mangroves seedlings do a good job of exporting nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate from the aquarium water, and can therefore be very beneficial and maintaining good water quality, Tim, but they won’t take the place of a good protein skimmer all by themselves. However, if you use sufficient live rock and live sand in the aquarium to provide efficient biological filtration along with the mangroves seedlings, then you can have an aquarium system that does not require a protein skimmer in order to maintain good water quality.
The live rock and live sand would provide sufficient biological filtration if you use at least 1 pound of live rock per gallon, and the mangrove seedlings would indeed help to keep the nitrates and phosphates in the aquarium under control. If you can provide suitable conditions for the mangroves seedlings, then a protein skimmer is optional and you could do without one if you wish.
Could I have some information about the H. fuscus? How big are they? What are their needs?
Hippocampus fuscus are medium-sized seahorses with an adult height of 3 to 4-3/4 inches (8-12cm), Tim.
The Sea Pony (H. fuscus) has no special care requirements and is generally quite tolerant regarding aquarium parameters. These hardy little seahorses should thrive in a standard SHOWLR tank equipped with a good protein skimmer and heavily planted with Caulerpa and other macroalgae to simulate its natural eelgrass habitat.
Temperature = range 72F to 78F (22C-26C), optimum 75F (24C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026, optimum 1.0245
pH = 8.2 – 8.4
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = 0-20 ppm
Suggested Stocking Density: 1 pair per 5 gallons (20 liters) with a minimum aquarium size of 20 gallons (~40 L).
H. fuscus is very similar to the charming Cape Seahorse (H. capensis) in appearance and behavior. Both species are closely related to H. kuda and are likely offshoots of the kuda complex. It may be helpful for hobbyists to think of H. fuscus as a warm-water version of H. capensis that shares its many desirable traits.
As such, this is the perfect seahorse for the aquarium. Even wild-caught H. fuscus are very hardy (Garrick-Maidment 1997). Once they have been captive-bred for a few generations, these sea ponies will be all but bulletproof. Wild specimens are very easy to wean onto to a diet of nonliving foods and captive-bred H. fuscus thrive on a staple diet of frozen Mysis (Garrick-Maidment 1997).
Nearly indestructible when farm-raised, H. fuscus is the ideal “starter” seahorse, and is highly recommended for beginners. A great choice for breeding projects.
Together with H. erectus and H. zosterae, the Sea Pony (H. fuscus) gets my top recommendation. If you ever have a chance to acquire captive-bred fuscus, snap them up!
I have e-mailed the complete species summary for Hippocampus fuscus to you off list, Tim, so that should answer any remaining questions you may have about the care and keeping of the black Seapony.
Best wishes with all your fishes, sir!
Pete GiwojnaApril 22, 2010 at 9:12 am #5106timbrownGuest
When I finish the training course, I will make sure to look for the H. fuscus. However, I notice that there are none on Seahorse.com. If I can’t find them in the local fish stores, what is your opinion of the best beginner seahorse from Seahorse.com?
I am particularly fond of the Hippocampus whitei, the Hippocampus capensis, and the Hippocampus erectus.April 24, 2010 at 4:24 am #5108Pete GiwojnaGuest
Yes, sir, I agree — Hippocampus fuscus should be ideal for your needs and interests.
However, if you are having any difficulty obtaining H. fuscus, then you are correct — ZuluLulus or Cape seahorses (H. capensis) and the Sydney seahorse (H. whitei) are two other small seahorse species that are also very well suited for beginners. However, you would need an aquarium chiller in order to keep either H. capensis or H. whitei seahorses comfortable in a home aquarium, and both of those species are even more difficult to obtain here in the United States than the black Seapony (H. fuscus). Be advised that H. capensis is endemic to only a few estuaries in South Africa and is strictly a temperate seahorse and therefore needs cool water in order to thrive, whereas H. whitei is native to Australia and does best at a water temperature of 70°F-73°F, which will also likely require an aquarium chiller to maintain.
Both the Cape seahorse (H. capensis) or ZuluLulu and the Sydney seahorse (H. whitei) would be terrific seahorses for you if you could obtain them and if you can equip your aquarium with a chiller to keep them in their comfort zone. Although Ocean Rider (seahorse.com) continues to work with both of these species, Tim, they are not making them available to the general public at this time.
Allow me to elaborate: Ocean Rider is still working all of their lines of captive-bred-and-raised seahorses, which includes more species than ever (several varieties of Hippocampus erectus, as well as H. reidi, H. barbouri, H. ingens, H. fisheri, H. zosterae, H. capensis, H. whitei, H. procerus, etc.), but most of their strains are no longer being raised in commercial numbers for the aquarium market consistently. Rather, they are merely raising enough of the most of the species to maintain their broodstock and to eliminate any concerns about inbreeding, and to provide display animals for the aquaculture facility and the ever-popular tours, but they aren’t raising enough surplus specimens to offer them to hobbyists at all times anymore. The lines for all of these species are being improved and maintained nonstop, but they are listed as "out of stock" on their website for hobbyists purposes.
For the home hobbyist, they are instead concentrating on raising lots and lots of their various strains of H. erectus, which are there bread-and-butter items. They made a conscious decision in that regard and feel that the H. erectus are by far the hardiest seahorse species for the home hobbyists, particularly first-time seahorse keepers, so those are the seahorses they now make available to home aquarists, primarily. Mustangs and Sunbursts are always in stock, and Pintos and Fire Reds are also provided for those who can afford them. But other than their H. erectus morphs, nowadays they only make the other seahorse species available to hobbyists very sporadically, when their numbers build up enough that they need to reduce their surplus.
In addition, the spectacular seadragons are demanding more of their time these days as they work to develop and maintain the Seadragon exhibit at the aquaculture facility. Ocean Rider is working very hard at this time to develop captive-bred-and-raised strains of both the leafy seadragons and the weedy seadragons, Tim. As you can imagine, the seadragons are challenging to work with and that means less time for raising all of the other seahorse species in mass quantities.
In short, Tim, if you cannot obtain Hippocampus fuscus ponies, then I would say that the hardy, highly domesticated Mustangs and/or Sunbursts (H. erectus) are your best bet for a beginner. You will need a somewhat larger aquarium to accommodate them than the H. fuscus seaponies, but as we discussed off list, either a 20-gallon extra high or a 30-gallon Extra High All-Glass Aquarium would do very nicely.
If you want to start out with a low budget set up for keeping a single pair of Mustangs, Tim, perhaps the most basic aquarium system I could suggest would be to obtain a 20 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (20"L x 10"W x 24"H), equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an off-the-shelf strip reflector with a florescent bulb, and then fit it with a full set of undergravel filters that completely cover the bottom of the aquarium, as described below.
The filtration system for the tank could thus be as basic as a set of well-maintained undergravels (preferably the new reverse flow designs) that covers the bottom of the tank completely. I know undergravel filters are considered old-fashioned technology nowadays, but they are inexpensive, utterly reliable and foolproof (no moving parts), easy to install, require no modification whatsoever, and work extremely well for seahorses within their limitations. An inexpensive diaphragm air pump will operate the filter and provide all the aeration you need, or you can upgrade to powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement.
For the substrate with your undergravel filters, use a coarse bed of good calcareous aquarium gravel such as dolomite, aragonite, or crushed oyster shell 2-3 inches deep, since the buffering ability of such substrates will help maintain good pH.
It is a good idea to supplement the undergravels with an inexpensive hang-on-back filter or canister to provide better circulation and accommodate chemical filtration media. This is a very simple, inexpensive aquarium that’s extremely easy and economical to set up and operate, yet it can be very successful if used within its limitations. For instance, undergravel filters are notorious nitrate factories and the hobbyist must take measures to compensate for this fact. This simple system relies totally on water changes to control nitrates. There is no live rock or live sand bed to provide denitrification, no algal filter or denitrator in a sump, and no protein skimmer to remove organics before they enter the nitrogen cycle. This limits the carrying capacity of the tank and makes an accelerated maintenance schedule and more frequent water changes an absolute necessity. For this reason, reverse flow undergravels often work best with seahorses; they help prevent detritus from accumulating in the gravel bed.
I recommend biweekly water changes of 10%-15% or weekly water changes of a least 25% for such a system. Use a gravel washer to clean a different portion of the gravel bed (no more than 25%) each week and keep the tank under stocked. If you are diligent about aquarium maintenance, perform water changes religiously, and limit yourself to fewer seahorses that you feed carefully, you will find that a simple system featuring undergravel filters can be very successful. But if you are negligent with regard to maintenance, skimp on water changes, or tend to overcrowd or overfeed your tanks, this system will be very unforgiving.
If you’re new to seahorses, Tim, it’s generally best to start out with the largest tank you can reasonably afford and maintain, the taller the better, in order to provide yourself with a comfortable margin for error. The 20-gallon Extra-High All Glass Aquarium we have already discussed is the smallest tank I would consider using for it pair of Mustangs, but if you can afford to spend just a little more than I would suggest the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H), which won’t cost much more but which will provide you with a bigger margin for error. Any local fish store can order one for you from the All-Glass Aquarium company and it’s an economical tank with excellent height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it the same as the 20-gallon tank, using a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an ordinary off-the-shelf strip reflector with a daylight florescent bulb, and that can form the basis of an inexpensive yet very solid seahorse setup.
If you can afford to upgrade the filtration system a notch above undergravels, many seahorse keepers prefer well-cured, "debugged" live rock to provide all or most of the biofiltration for their aquariums. A simple external hang-on-the-back filter or an efficient canister filter instead that is rated for an aquarium of the size you have chosen could then be added on to provide water circulation, surface agitation for good oxygenation, and the means for providing mechanical and chemical filtration.
If you are able to get an extra-high aquarium in the 20 to 30 gallon range, Erin, then I agree that Mustangs (H. erectus) would be an excellent choice for you. They are ideal for beginners. Commonly known as the Lined Seahorse or the Florida Giant, Hippocampus erectus was the first seahorse to be commercially raised for the aquarium hobby. Mustangs have been captive-bred and raised for more generations than any other seahorse, and have now achieved a level of domestication that makes them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The Ocean Rider aquaculture facility in Hawaii that raises H. erectus selects them for traits such as adaptability, vigor, disease resistance, fast growth and aggressive feeding habits — traits that increase the fitness of each line over time. After numerous generations of strengthening and improvement, the current breeds of farm-raised erectus are tough as nails. Very hardy and very impressive, yet affordable, Mustangs are great choices for a novice seahorse keeper who is still learning the ropes. They are very adaptable and have led the on-going trend toward keeping captive-bred seahorses only. Simply put, more hobbyists keep CB erectus than any of the other greater seahorses, and rightly so.
Mustangs are impressive animals, Tim. They are large, robust, deep-chested seahorses that can reach well in excess of 7 inches in length when fully grown. They tend to be cryptically colored, and often show earth tones such as beige, russet, charcoal black, gray, brown, ochre or olive over an underlying pattern of fine parallel lines that run down their necks and across their chest (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). White blazes, blotches, saddles, triangles, and diamonds are common markings for captive-bred erectus (Giwojna, Jun. 2002).
The lighter specimens that show their stripes boldly can be very striking, and they are apt to express a wide range of color phases as time passes. Like all seahorses, the coloration expressed by Lined seahorses can vary with their mood, environment, and social activities.
Seahorses are one fish that can become a true pet, and I’m convinced this is because they are more intelligent than most fishes. The highly domesticated Mustangs are real personality fish and many of them actually enjoy being handled. Unlike most other fish that back off when you approach the aquarium and flee in terror if you place your hand in the tank, seahorses soon learn to recognize their keeper and will come out to meet you. They quickly learn to take food from your fingers, and as you will discover, having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. When one of these shy, enchanting creatures — whose very survival in the wild depends on concealing itself from predators at all times — comes trustingly up to the surface to eat right out of your palm, it’s a thrill you won’t soon forget. The training sessions and daily feedings required for this tend to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets. Many times they will even include you in their daily greeting, flashing their recognition colors and parading back and forth and at the front of the tank, performing their dancelike displays for your benefit.
The first pair of captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my ‘stangs quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder, whereupon they would often interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors. My original pair are still going strong several years later, and I have watched them go through a number of color phases from month to month. One has settled on gray-green as its base coloration for the moment, and the other ranges between rust, burnt umber, and orange, but always with contrasting beige bands (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). Last season, the male adopted a rich ochre yellow as his everyday attire (still with the same beige bands, though), while the female displayed a dark purplish ensemble with definite greenish highlights. When courting, they consistently brighten to a pearly white and a creamy yellow respectively (Giwojna, Jun. 2002). They make a handsome couple, and I find my erectus to be very attractive specimens in all their guises.
I set up my pair of these spirited steeds in a brand-new 30 gallon (tall) aquarium all their own, and that tank has been my most entertaining, trouble-free exhibit ever since. With a simple setup like theirs, I prefer to target feed my seahorses. That allows me to observe them closely on a daily basis, monitor their health, keep track of exactly how much each specimen is eating, and remove any leftovers immediately.
Led by the female-by far the bolder and most outgoing of the two-the Mustangs were soon literally eating right out of my hands. (I know, I know-sensible aquarists should always strive to keep their mitts out the aquarium as much as possible, but handfeeding is a thrill I find difficult to resist, and hey — nobody ever said I was sensible!) Of course, I’m very well aware of the risks involved and extremely diligent about taking all the necessary precautions beforehand. And besides, there are major advantages to handfeeding that more than offset any minor risks.
For one thing, the seahorses seem to enjoy the experience every bit as much as I do. They head for the feeding station as soon as I approach the tank, a series of color changes betraying their excitement, and queue up at the dinner table looking their best and brightest. Of course, they both try to snap up the first morsel – even pair-bonded ponies are not big on sharing or waiting turns – so I no longer offer them one mysid at a time. I offer them a handful of individually thawed Mysis in my upturned palm instead. They know the drill and happily perch on my fingers while snicking up the shrimp as fast as they can.
Secondly, feeding your seahorses by hand permits the aquarist to conduct a close-up, daily inspection of every specimen in his tank, and I like to use the opportunity to give ’em a good once over. These detailed examinations make it difficult not to notice any subtle changes in my seahorse’s appearance or behavior that might signal impending problems with disease or the water chemistry. That’s a big advantage, since the sooner such potential problems are detected, the easier they are to cure or prevent, and I recommend other hobbyists do
Take a moment to enjoy the show when feeding your seahorses. Make sure they’re all eating well, and use this opportunity to look them over closely for wounds, injuries, or signs of disease. Seahorses are natural-born gluttons. Ordinarily, these galloping gourmets are ALWAYS hungry, so when a seahorse is off its feed, that’s often an excellent early indicator that something’s amiss in the aquarium.. 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. Handfeeding makes it hard to miss when one these chow hounds is off its feed, tipping off the alert aquarist to a potential problem.
Best of all, handfeeding is pure, sure-fire, 100% unadulterated fish-keeping fun! Feeding time for my seahorses is always a high point in my day. Having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. These daily feedings tends to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets.
As much as feeding time brightens up my day, I have no doubt it livens things up for my seahorses even more. They genuinely appear to enjoy interacting with me, and I believe in enriching their captive environment as much as possible. No doubt it’s the food they’re looking forward to, not the food giver, but our daily encounters are always eagerly awaited and they like to linger on my hand long after all the food is gone. They would allow me to lift them out of the water when I withdraw my hand if I didn’t gently shoo them away first.
Okay, Tim, those are my thoughts on the seahorses that are best suited for beginners.
Best of luck finding the perfect ponies for your needs and interests, sir!
Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2010/04/27 22:03April 24, 2010 at 9:18 am #5110timbrownGuest
i am sorry for so much questioning, but these questions came to me after reading about H. erectus.
What is the lowest height for an aquarium where seahorses can still thrive?
What kind of dimensions of the aquarium are required for the H. fuscus.?April 27, 2010 at 10:00 pm #5112Pete GiwojnaGuest
Well, sir, it is difficult to answer your question about the lowest height or shallowest aquarium in which seahorses would thrive because that depends largely on the type of seahorses you will be keeping and how large they grow. For instance, the diminutive dwarf seahorses (Hippocampus zosterae), which are no bigger than your thumbnail when fully grown, typically do very well in small aquariums ranging from 2-10 gallons, which may be no more than 10 inches tall. On the other hand, the giant breeds such as Hippocampus abdominalis required tanks at least 30 inches tall in order to mate comfortably and successfully accomplish the transfer of eggs during mating.
But generally speaking, I would not recommend keeping any of the commonly kept seahorses (e.g., Hippocampus erectus, H. reidi, H. kuda, H. barbouri, H. comes, H. angustus, H. subelongatus, etc.) in aquariums that are not at least 20 inches tall, and tanks that are at least 24 inches tall are preferable for these species. To give you an idea of why this is important, Mic Payne, a professional aquaculturist who operates the Seahorse Sanctuary, found that maintaining a population of Hippocampus subelongatus in shallow tanks only 16-inches (40 cm) deep resulted in chronic problems with various forms of gas bubble disease.
For best results, I would look for an aquarium no lower than 20 inches high for keeping medium-sized seahorses such as H. fuscus, Tim.
Best of luck finding the perfect ponies and just the right aquarium for your needs and interests, sir.
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