- This topic has 8 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 15 years, 1 month ago by Pete Giwojna.
December 14, 2008 at 1:28 am #1578KeyEquineMember
I am new to the world of marine tanks, I have always had a freshwater but am very interested in getting into marine and specifically seahorse life… I am just wondering if there is a specific type of filter that you recommend? I currently have a Rena Filstar xP2 and it says it can be used for saltwater setups. Would it work okay? I have a 45 gallon tank.
Is all the equipment generally the same between fresh and salt water?
Thank you!December 14, 2008 at 6:35 am #4544Pete GiwojnaGuest
Yes, sir, the Rena Filstar XP2 is a useful filter that will work just as well for saltwater as it will for a freshwater aquarium. For a seahorse setup, I would recommend arranging the filtration media as follows:
The foam pads should be in the bottom basket, larger hole foam first (20ppi) and then the smaller hole foam (30ppi) in order to provide efficient mechanical filtration. Next should come the biological filtration media — ceramic rings or biochem stars or mini bioballs or some such thing that will provide a large surface area and good flow through for the beneficial nitrifying bacteria to populate. Next you’ll want to include a good grade of activated carbon (e.g., low ash carbon that is free of phosphates) for chemical filtration. Finally, you’ll want to include the micro-filter pad at the very top. This is a white pad that is very fine mesh and will "polish" water by removing very fine particles not trapped by any of the other filtration media.
That can be the start of a good filtration system for a seahorse tank, equine. However, there are a couple of things that you’ll be doing differently to filter the water in your seahorse system than you are accustomed to doing with your freshwater aquarium. First of all, you’ll want to include some decorative live rock to provide stability and additional nitrification, but especially for the denitrification the live rock provides, which will help to keep your nitrate levels nice and low. Secondly, you’ll want to add a hang-on-the-back protein skimmer to your 45-gallon aquarium for supplemental filtration. And many seahorse keepers also equip their aquariums with ultraviolet sterilizers, particularly if they are keeping delicate wild-caught seahorses.
The type of setup I prefer for seahorses is discussed in more detail below, including more information about live rock, protein skimmers, UV, external filters and the proper amount of circulation in a seahorse setup.
Establishing the Aquarium.
Rather than discussing all of the different filtration options and systems that are commonly used to keep the greater seahorses, I am going to focus on one particular method that I have found produces the best results for me and describe how to set up such a system in detail. One reason I prefer this method is that it is very versatile and can easily be adapted to suit almost anyone’s needs and interests.
The setup for greater seahorses I prefer, and which most hobbyists favor at this time, is know as a "Sea-Horses-Only-With-Live-Rock" system, or a SHOWLR tank for short. It is simplicity itself, extremely effective for seahorses, and endlessly adaptable. It is suitable for tanks from 5 gallons to 500 gallons, and can be adapted successfully to suit the simplest setups or the most complex, high-tech systems. The primary components of the SHOWLR tank include:
(1) a thin layer of live sand (1/2" to no more than 1" deep) for the substrate;
(2) as much as 1-2 pounds of well-cured live rock per gallon of water;
(3) a quality protein skimmer;
(4) and an external power filter to provide water movement and supplemental filtration; power heads can be added as needed to increase circulation and eliminate dead spots.
The one indispensable part of a SHOWLR system is the foundation of live rock. The live rock is the living, breathing, heart and soul of the system, which provides the bulk of the biological filtration as well as some denitrification ability and shelter and habitat for countless critters and microfauna. The porous interior of the rock supports large populations of the beneficial oxygen-loving Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria that breakdown deadly ammonia and nitrite into less toxic substances (primarily nitrate). Deeper inside the live rock, where oxygen levels are nil, anaerobic denitrifying bacteria take hold and complete the nitrogen cycle, breaking down nitrate into harmless nitrogen. This helps keep the nitrate levels in the seahorse tank low. As a result, live rock is superior to most other forms of biofiltration, which lack this final anaerobic step and cannot carry out denitrification. This makes live rock doubly good at maintaining optimum water quality.
Equally important, the rockwork provides cover for the seahorses. By this, I mean the rock allows the seahorses to hide and conceal themselves completely whenever they feel the need. Seahorses are shy, secretive creatures that rely on camouflage as their primary means of protection, and if they feel too exposed and vulnerable, it can be stressful for them.
As much as 1-2 pounds of live rock per gallon is recommended if the live rock will be the primary means of biological filtration in the aquarium. That amount of live rock will provide adequate levels of both nitrification and denitrification for the tank. (However, if you will have an additional means of biological filtration on the aquarium, then you won’t be nearly that much live rock and you can get by with a fraction of that amount. That’s the case with your Rena Filstar XP2, equine. If used properly, as we discussed at the top of this post, it will provide efficient biological filtration, allowing you to use much less live rock. In your case, you can use just enough live rock for decorative purposes and to provide additional stability and denitrification.) You can simply select the precured live rock you find most attractive at your LFS and add enough of it to create interesting rock formations that are aesthetically pleasing to your eye. Use enough rock to create some interesting caves, arches, ledges and overhangs.
Despite its beauty, natural appearance and the many benefits it provides, some hobbyists avoid live rock like the plague for fear that they may introduce harmful pests to their aquarium along with the live rock. This is a valid concern since potentially harmful hitchhikers like mantis shrimp, fireworms, aggressive crabs, hydroids and Aiptasia rock anemones are very often unseen and unwanted tenants of live rock. They insinuate themselves throughout the live rock in nooks and crannies, and multitudes of these squatters may have taken up housekeeping in a good-sized piece of rock unbeknownst to the unsuspecting aquarist. They conceal themselves within the labyrinth of rock and often escape even the closest scrutiny undetected.
But with a little care this is one time when aquarists can have their cake and eat it too. There are a number of ways to take advantage of all the benefits live rock provides without risking unleashing an epidemic of tenacious rock anemones or turning Jack-the-Ripper loose in your tank reincarnated in the form of a thumb-splitting Stomatopod.
By and large, bristleworms are beneficial scavengers and sand sifters unless their numbers get out of hand, so a good option for many seahorse keepers is to keep the Aiptasia and bristleworm population in check using some means of biological control. Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) love to dine on Aiptasia rock anemones and several of these attractive shrimp will do a fine job of eradicating them from the aquarium. Certain nudibranchs (Berghia sp.) also feed on Aiptasia. Likewise, small Arrow Crabs (Stenorhynchus sp.) will keep the bristleworm population at a manageable number. Any mantis shrimp or aggressive crabs that happen to slip by are generally fairly easy to trap and remove, and commercially made traps are available for that very purpose.
Treating the live rock with a hypersaline dip is another excellent technique for ridding it of unwanted pests. This method doesn’t kill the critters outright but merely drives them out of the rockwork so you can selectively cull through them. Another advantage of this method is that leaves all the desirable life on the rocks intact and unharmed.
To use this technique, simply place your newly arrived live rock in an inert container filled with saltwater at a specific gravity of at least 1.045 to 1.050 for several minutes before you introduce it to the aquarium. These saltier the water, the shorter the length of time you need to soak the live rock and the more effective it will be in driving out unwanted hitchhikers. Invertebrates cannot tolerate rapid changes in salinity, so all the mobile inverts in the rock will immediately abandon there hidey-holes and bale out of the rock like rats deserting a sinking ship. After several minutes in this extra-salty bath, the evacuation will be complete, and you can remove the now pest-free live rock and sort your catch. Cull the invertebrates left behind in dipping container, discarding the pests you don’t want while retrieving any of the refugees you might like to add to your system. Several minutes in the hypersalinity is usually enough to drive out all the active invertebrates such as mantis shrimp (Stomatopods), crabs, and assorted worms of every description, yet this brief period of immersion will not harm encrusting organisms or sessile life.
The best way to obtain live rock is from an aquarium store in your area that caters to reef keepers. They will have pre-cured live rock available and you can handpick interesting rock formations that are heavily infested with pinkish-purple coralline algae for your aquarium. That will also save you the cost of having the live rock shipped to you, which can be considerable because of the weight of the rocks.
Although seahorses can certainly be kept successfully without the use of a protein skimmer, I recommend including a good skimmer for best results. As a rule, seahorses are messy feeders, particularly when scarfing down enriched frozen Mysis. Ample evidence of this is revealed every time they scarf one up. As they snick up a shrimp with their slurp-gun snouts, water is passed over their gills and expelled forcibly (it is this very process that generates the powerful suction they use to slurp up their prey). As the jet of water is ejected through their gills, it carries a cloud of macerated particles and debris with it. It is a startling sight the first time you observe this phenomenon, for it brings a fire-breathing dragon to mind. As one young hobbyist matter-of-factly described it, "My seahorse blows smoke out of its ears when he eats." I’ll be darned if that’s not exactly what it looks like, too!
The majority of the undesirable metabolites, organic wastes and excess nutrients that accumulate in our aquariums and degrade water quality are "surface-active," meaning they are attracted to and collect near the surface of a gas-liquid interface (Fenner, 2003). Skimmers take advantage of this fact by using a column of very fine air bubbles mixed with aquarium water to trap dissolved organics and remove them from our systems. This air-water mixture is lighter than the surrounding aquarium and rises up the column of the skimmer until the foam eventually spills into a special collection cup atop the skimmer, which can be removed and emptied as needed. Proteins and other organic molecules, waste products, uneaten food and excess nutrients, and a host of other undesirable compounds stick to the surface of the bubbles and are carried away along with the foam and removed from the aquarium (Fenner, 2003a). As a result of this process, these purification devices are typically known as foam separators, foam fractionators, air-strippers, or simply protein skimmers.
In my experience, nothing improves water quality like a good protein skimmer. They provides many benefits for a seahorse setup, including efficient nutrient export, reducing the effective bioload, and increasing both the Redox potential and dissolved oxygen levels in the water (Fenner, 2003a). They do a tremendous job of removing excess organics from the aquarium, including phenols, albumin, dissolved organic acids, and chromophoric (color causing) compounds (Fenner, 2003a). Their ability to remove dissolved wastes BEFORE they have a chance to break down and degrade water quality makes them indispensable for controlling nuisance algae. A good protein skimmer is an invaluable piece of equipment for keeping your nitrates low and your water quality high when feeding a whole herd of these sloppy eaters in a closed-system aquarium.
When it comes to skimmers, both the AquaC Remora and Euro-Reef series of protein skimmers are first-rate units that will serve you well. You can’t go far wrong if you select a quality AquaC or Euro-Reef skimmer rated for an aquarium of at least 40 gallons. I’ve also heard good things about the H.O.T protein skimmers. I believe Premium Aquatics (http://www.premiumaquatics.com) carries all of those brands of hang-on-the-back protein skimmers, and I would select one of the above if I was you.
If space is at a premium as far as installing a protein skimmer goes, a lot of hobbyists like the Red Sea Prizm protein skimmers because of their sleek compact design.
I’m generally pro-UV for most conventional seahorse setups. I would say UV sterilization is a must for anyone who’s keeping delicate wild-caught seahorses or seahorses obtained from your LFS. If you’re keeping captive-bred-and-raised seahorses obtained directly from the breeder — particularly a High-Health aquaculture facility such as Ocean Rider — then an ultraviolet sterilizer becomes an option rather than a prerequisite. If you can afford it and your aquarium system allows for easy installation and maintenance, it’s still a nice addition to a seahorse tank that can help minimize any potential problems with certain microbes and free-swimming parasites and which does a great job of helping to control nuisance algae. It can be especially helpful for controlling the incidence and spread of disease in crowded nursery tanks and grow-out tanks.
When it comes to disease control and algae control, ultraviolet sterilizers produce best results when they are operated continuously. In an established aquarium, they don’t have any significant impact whatsoever on the good bacteria, since the beneficial nitrifying bacteria and denitrifying bacteria require attachment sites in order to grow and thrive. They will proliferate within the substrate and the porous interior of live rock for example, or build up a large population within bio-balls or a sponge filter or similar filtration media, where they cannot be affected in the least by ultraviolet sterilization. An ultraviolet sterilizer can only kill free-swimming bacteria and parasites that pass directly under the UV lamp with sufficient contact time to do the job.
Having said that, neither your protein skimmer nor an ultraviolet sterilizer should be operated on a new aquarium that is still in the process of cycling. You want the "seed" bacteria to be able to freely colonize any suitable substrates at first, and you don’t want the sterilizer or skimmer removing any of the nitrogenous wastes that the nitrifying bacteria feed upon (UV radiation in the proper range of 295-400 nanometers is known to help oxidize phosphates, metabolites, organic molecules and nitrogenous compounds through the incidental production of ozone).
Under normal circumstances, however, ultraviolet sterilization should be operated continuously. Ultraviolet radiation can be very effective in reducing free-floating algae, bacteria and microbes in general, certain parasites while in the free-swimming stages of development, and other suspended microscopic organisms (Fenner, 2003a). Seahorses are prone to a number of serious bacterial problems such as Vibriosis and mycobacteriosis, and a properly installed and maintained UV sterilizer can be invaluable in reducing the incidence and spread of such infections. When properly used, UV sterilization can reduce microbial levels in the aquarium to the low levels normally found in the wild or below (Fenner, 2003a).
For best results, the UV sterilizer must be properly sized, operated, and maintained. In order to provide a good kill rate per pass, the effective dwell time (the length of time the water is exposed to UV radiation while passing through the sterilizer) should be maintained at or above roughly twenty gallons per hour flow per watt of UV (Fenner, 2003a). This sounds complicated, but selecting the right sterilizer for your needs is actually very easy. Every manufacturer provides guidelines to help the hobbyist choose a unit and a pump that provide the proper wattage, flow rate and exposure time for any given application.
To assure efficient transmission of the proper wavelengths, sleeves (i.e., the quartz jacket that shields the lamp) must be kept clean and UV bulbs must be replaced at regular intervals. Equally important, the aquarium water should be filtered before it passes through the sterilizer. For maximum efficiency, make the UV sterilizer the final component of an in-line filtration system, so that the water has already passed through your mechanical, biological and chemical filtration media before it flows through the sterilizer (Fenner, 2003a). And, as I mentioned, do not operate your UV sterilizer during the break-in period when a new aquarium is being cycled and the biological filtration is becoming established. It is counterproductive to reduce microbe levels and nutrient levels when the aquarium is cycling.
Reef keepers tend to avoid UV because it reduces the population of microscopic planktonic organisms filter-feeding invertebrates require, but that’s mainly a consideration for reefers who will be keeping a lot of filter feeders or live corals that need supplemental feedings rather than obtaining most of their food and directly from the zooanthellae in their tissues through the process of photosynthesis. And if your aquarium will employ micron filtration or an ozonizer to help regulate ORP, those will provide many of the same benefits as an ultraviolet sterilizer, reducing the need for UV.
Obviously, ultraviolet sterilization is a bit superfluous in an aquarium system with an ozonizer or ozone generator, but otherwise, it can be a very worthwhile investment for the seahorse keeper.
Those are just some of the things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not an ultraviolet sterilizer is a good option for your particular needs and aquarium system. In your case, equine, if you will be keeping captive-bred-and-raised seahorses, a UV sterilizer is not necessary and you can certainly do without one unless you feel the extra protection is worth the investment.
A simple external power filter is a valuable addition to a SHOWLR setup for several reasons. It will provide added water movement and circulation for your aquarium, as well as accommodating any mechanical or chemical filtration you may desire. Nothing fancy is needed here, since it’s primary purpose is to provide adjustable water movement and circulation that can be switched off during feedings if needed.
If you will be using 1-2 pounds of live rock per gallon as your primary biofilter, then a basic canister filter or hang-on-the-back filter is all you need to provide mechanical/chemical filtration and additional water movement. Otherwise, you’ll need to include a filter that can provide biological filtration.
In that case, wet/dry trickle filters are probably the most desirable units for the seahorse keeper if the aquarium has adequate space (behind or beneath it) to accommodate such a unit and the hobbyist can afford one. They are top-of-the-line units that feature a thin film of water trickling over filter media with an ultra-large surface area, thereby allowing maximum air-water contact. This provides excellent oxygenation with efficient offgassing, which is very important for seahorses. It helps keep dissolved oxygen levels high, CO2 low, and effectively prevents gas supersaturation, which can sometimes contribute to serious problems for our aquatic equines. As a added benefit, wet/dry trickle filters can also provide remarkable biological filtration, which can give you a real nice edge by further increasing your carrying capacity and boosting your margin for error accordingly. One drawback is that wet/dry trickle filters can be costly and require substantial space behind the aquarium in order to install.
The new biowheel external filters accomplish many of the same benefits as a wet/dry trickle filter and are generally much more economical, so you can also consider a biowheel design. Make sure you get a good unit, however, since some of the bio wheels have a tendency to stop turning when they are switched on and off, or they may not restart automatically if there has been a power outage.
A hang-on-the-back filter with bioballs or other biological filtration media, or a good canister filter that includes biological filtration media, would also be good options and allow you to use considerably less live rock. (Your Rena Filstar XP2 filter falls in this category, equine, and should work nicely for your seahorse tank.)
The type or brand of supplemental filter you choose for your SHOWLR tank is therefore not critical, but there are certain desirable features you want to look for in any filter that will be used for seahorses. For example, it should provide good surface agitation and water movement with adjustable flow to promote gas exchange at the air/water interface. The intake tubes should reach all the way to the substrate (add extenders if they do not) and be screened off or otherwise shielded so they cannot "eat" a curious seahorse. The filter must provide efficient oxygenation and gas exchange and be able to accommodate mechanical and chemical filtration media such as activated carbon and polyfilter pads. A prefilter is very desirable, as is a "waterfall" return or a spray bar return.
And you will want to filter to be able to turn over the entire volume of the aquarium about five times every hour in order to provide adequate circulation throughout the whole tank. So for a 45-gallon aquarium, you’ll want to an external filter that can pump out around 230 gallons per hour.
A thin layer of live sand, preferably black, is the ideal substrate for a SHOWLR tank. It is bioactive, aesthetically pleasing, and is a fine-grained sand well suited for the various snails that form an essential part of the cleanup crew for a seahorse tank. I find the dark color shows off my seahorses and macroalgae to great effect and enhances the appearance of tank in general.
The depth of a shallow sand bed like this is a crucial factor. Too deep, and you risk anaerobic dead spots where deadly hydrogen sulfide gas can form. Too shallow, and there will be less surface area to support beneficial nitrifying bacteria and Nassarius snails and other beneficial burrowers may feel vulnerable and exposed. A bed of live sand 3/4-inch to 1-inch deep is just right for the main tank. A properly layered Deep Live Sand Bed (DLSB) 3-6 inches deep with a full complement of sand shifters also works well with seahorses, but is best confined to a sump rather than the display tank due to the seahorse’s heavy waste production.
The type of sand I usually prefer for this is Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Black Beach sand. A thin layer of the sand should make the ideal substrate for your aquarium, and you can order it online from the following site:
Otherwise, either the Arag-Alive Indo-Pacific Black Sand by CaribSea or else the CaribSea Tropical Isle Tahitian Moon Black Sand would be good alternatives. You can obtain them online from Premium Aquatics and a number of other sources, and either of them should also work well for the substrate in a seahorse tank.
Water Circulation for the Seahorse tank
Many seahorse keepers are overly conscious of the inactive life style and limited swimming ability of Hippocampus, and have adjusted their flow rates accordingly, resulting in undercirculated tanks with too little water movement. That’s a serious mistake for a small, close-system aquarium.
In actuality, seahorses prefer moderate water movement, including some areas of brisk current, providing there are also sheltered spots and some areas of relatively slack water they can move to when desired. Slack water means comparatively low flow, NOT stagnant conditions! As with any aquarium, avoid dead spots and stagnant areas in the seahorse tank at all costs (Giwojna, unpublished text).
Contrary to popular opinion, seahorses are quite effective swimmers that can hold their own in strong currents as long as sheltered areas are available (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). I have often discussed this matter with professional divers and collectors who regularly encounter seahorses in the ocean, and they report that the horses are often found where you would least expect them — well offshore and thriving in areas with powerful currents. For example, here is how Paul Baldassano, a commercial diver in New York who makes his living collecting sea urchins, describes the behavior of his local seahorses:
"In regard to seahorses in the wild, I occasionally see Hippocampus erectus in the wild while SCUBA diving but never in the places where they are supposed to be. I see them in the open sea far from shore and also in areas with large rocks and very strong currents. The last one I saw was in a channel off the south shore of Long Island New York in water about 12 feet deep. The current was so strong that I had to hold on to the rocks so as not to be swept away. This Hippocampus erectus was having no trouble staying there munching on the abundant plankton. Apparently they find places near the rocks where there is no current because as you know they are lousy swimmers. There is also a large population of seahorses in a similar area in another part of the New York shore, but I think it is best not to divulge that location for obvious reasons (Baldassano, pers. com.)."
Neil Garrick-Maidment, a very successful seahorse breeder in the UK, reports much the same thing, noting that seahorses in the wild seem to thrive amid strong currents:
"Whenever I have dived on Seahorse sites I have always been amazed by the currents and tides that this very fragile looking Seahorse lives in. We often find Seahorses in flat muddy/silt areas nowhere near rocks or weed. These areas are often scoured by strong currents and the Seahorses do well in them and seem completely unperturbed by the current (Garrick-Maidment, pers. com.). In setting up a tank for them I try to remember the feeling I had in those areas and replicate them. I have now started to use wave surge devices, so that the current in the tank, although strong (they seem to thrive in strong currents) varies in its direction (Garrick-Maidment, Jun. 2002)."
Kirk Strawn, who earned his Master of Science thesis studying Hippocampus zosterae in the field, echoes Neil’s thoughts on the matter:
"The aquarist is not giving his seahorses natural conditions when he keeps them in a still-water aquarium. In nature tidal currents, wind, and waves are usually mixing the well aerated surface film water with the deeper water."
Likewise, David Warland, a fish farmer and commercial seahorse breeder in Port Lincoln, Australia, reports he often finds Hippocampus abdominalis perching on the tuna net enclosures at the farm in deep water:
"The Horses that are around the farms have traveled vast distances over plain sand/mud to get to the farms, which are in at least 20 meters of water, and are miles from the nearest land or shallow water (Warland, pers. com.)."
And Jorge Gomezjurado, the Senior Aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, recommends the following when it comes to water movement:
"I personally believe that current and water dynamics are very important for Syngnathids. In nature they live in areas with active water movement.(i.e., tides in mangrove lagoons and estuaries, coral reefs, kelp forests, etc.). Why don’t we give them the same environmental conditions in captivity? Our small tanks (90 gallons) have large turnovers on an average of 5 gpm (or 300 gph). It is very important that the current is steady and directionally constant, which allows the animals to find a good spot to hold and they will not be pulling in different directions all the time."
Most seahorse keepers feel it’s best to keep the current steady and nonvarying so they can find slack-water areas and sheltered spots downcurrent to hold in when they want to get out of the current. The more brisk the water flow, the more important this becomes. However, in a large aquarium with low to moderate water movement, alternating currents should not present much of a problem, and would help to provide good circulation throughout the tank.
The point is that, as long as slack-water retreats are available, the greater seahorses can tolerate far more current than most folks suspect and good circulation is as important for a seahorse setup as any other aquarium. What seahorses lack as swimmers is not agility, but rather stamina (Evans, 1998). They can hold their own against strong currents, but not indefinitely, so low flow areas where they can move out of the current and hold when they want to rest must be provided in addition to good circulation.
For example, along with an external power filter, my seahorse setup also has a 200 gph powerhead with a sponge pre-filter positioned right near the top for surface agitation and extra water movement, with additional small powerheads used as needed to eliminate any dead spots along the substrate or behind the rockwork. I like to give my seahorses as much current as they can handle without getting blown around.
In short, if your filtration is not turning over the entire volume of the aquarium a MINIMUM of 5 times per hour, your seahorse setup is undercirculated. With a spray bar return raised above the surface of the water to diffuse the outflow, you can safely achieved much higher turnover rates without producing too much turbulence or current for seahorses. A waterfall return is another good way to diffuse the output from your filter, and also works well for seahorses. There will be an area of relatively vigorous water movement at one end of the aquarium underneath and nearby the waterfall, while the other end of the tank is a relatively low flow area.
But as with anything, too much of even a good thing can be undesirable, and too much current can overwhelm the limited swimming ability of Hippocampus. One indication that you may have too much water movement in your seahorse tank is if the seahorses are getting buffeted around by the currents, and whisked away uncontrollably when they tire of fighting the current. Or alternatively, they may stay perched in one place all the time and refuse to swim around and explore their tank for fear of getting swept away by the current if they relax their grip on their hitching posts. So you can get a pretty good gauge of how well the seahorses are able to cope with the water movement than their tank by observing how the current affects the swimming ability.
Likewise, if a mated pair of seahorses is consistently spilling eggs during the copulatory rise, that’s another pretty good indication that there may be too much turbulence or water movement in the upper reaches of their aquarium.
If the seahorses are having difficulty tracking their prey and eating because the current whisks the frozen Mysis past them too quickly to target it accurately and slurp it up, that’s another red flag. Often that situation can be corrected simply by adjusting the output from your filter to reduce the current during feeding time or turning it off altogether while the seahorses are eating.
But as long as your seahorses aren’t getting buffeted around, aren’t routinely dropping eggs during disrupted mating attempts, and aren’t having difficulty targeting their prey and eating, there’s really no such thing as too much water movement. In general, the stronger the water flow, the more important it is to keep the water currents steady and unvarying so the seahorses can establish holding areas in the sheltered spots and low-flow zones without getting blindsided by unpredictable currents. Just make sure your seahorses are not getting trapped against overflows and be sure to screen off the intakes for any powerheads. Powerheads can be switched off at feeding time, if necessary.
Finally, sir, for best results with seahorses, when you set up the aquarium strive to maintain stable water conditions within the following aquarium parameters at all times:
Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026; optimum 1.0245
pH = range 8.0 – 8.4; optimum ~8.2
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = range 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm
Best wishes with all your fishes, equine! Best of luck converting your 45-gallon aquarium into a suitable seahorse tank, sir. If you contact me off list ([email protected]), I would be happy to provide you with lots of additional information explaining how to optimize your tank to create an ideal environment for seahorses.
Pete GiwojnaDecember 18, 2008 at 11:52 am #4550KeyEquineGuest
Thank you so much for the info!
I am actually located in Alberta, Canada… I originally thought that I could have the seahorses shipped to a friend in the US and then have them bring them up here by car, but it sounds like that might not be a good idea. Do you have any suggestions? Are there any reputable captive seahorse farms in Canada??
Thanks in advance!
ClaireDecember 19, 2008 at 2:47 am #4551Pete GiwojnaGuest
You’re very welcome!
Unfortunately, it do not know of any breeders or seahorse farms in Canada that can provide captive-bred-and-raised seahorses. As you know, Ocean Rider only ships their livestock within the Continental US, but I have heard of one fish store in Ontario with a good reputation that regularly receives shipments of seahorses from other sources.
The store’s name is Sea-U Marine, located in Markham, Ontario, Canada. I understand the store gets in Prickly seahorses (Hippocampus barbouri), Brazilian seahorses (H. reidi) and West Australian Tigersnout seahorses (H. angustus) from time to time. I know that’s a long way from Alberta, but it might be worth checking into to see if Sea-U is willing to ship seahorses to your area. You can contact them at the following address and phone number:
Sea U Marine
10 Apple Creek Boulevard, Markham, ON L3R 5Z1
Telephone : 905-475-1089
Otherwise, I believed that your other plan is probably feasible as far as the seahorses are concerned. If you could have seahorses delivered to a friend in the US who was willing to drive them up to you in Alberta, and you have worked out all the details in advance so there were no delays, the seahorses would in all probability survive the extra trip to Alberta in good shape without any difficulties providing they could be transported to you on the same day that they arrive in the states. As long as your friend leaves them sealed in their oxygenated shipping bags and does not open the shipping carton, and can drive them up to you as soon as they arrive, they should tolerate the additional travel time very well. Opening the shipping bags at any point before they reach you and Alberta, however, would be very stressful for the seahorses, as explained in the following acclimation instructions:
Acclimating New Arrivals
Acclimating newly arrived seahorses properly after their transoceanic, cross-country journey is absolutely vital. It’s not like acclimating the new specimens you bring home after a quick trip back from your local fish store. The long distances and prolonged transit times involved make proper care of the new arrivals once they finally reach you a far more urgent matter. The reason for this is that all the while the seahorses are en route, they are excreting wastes and respiring in the dark shipping box — consuming oxygen (O2) and giving off carbon dioxide (CO2). That means two things: deadly ammonia is steadily building up in the shipping bag and the pH is steadily dropping, making the water more acidic.
This downward pH shift is actually helpful in that ammonia is less toxic at low pH and becomes much more toxic at higher pH. This is because ammonia exists in water in an equilibrium between two different forms — a nontoxic ionized form usually referred to as ammonium (NH4+) and an un-ionized form (NH3), which is highly toxic. Ammonium (NH4+) is completely harmless to fishes since the ionized ammonia molecule cannot cross the cell membrane and enter their cells. Note that only difference between harmless NH4+ and deadly NH3 is the addition of a hydrogen ion (H+), which converts toxic ammonia to nontoxic ammonium. At low pH, the extra hydrogen ions (H+) of acidic water are readily available to attach to the ammonia molecule, converting most of the ammonia to ammonium: NH3 + H+ —> NH4+. But at high pH, under alkaline conditions, exactly the opposite occurs. At high pH, the abundance of hydroxide ions (OH-) in alkaline water strips the extra hydrogen ion (H+) away from ammonium, rapidly converting most of it to deadly ammonia: OH- + NH4+ —> NH3 + H20. In other words, the higher (more alkaline) the pH, the more ammonia is present in the dangerous un-ionized form (NH3), which easily crosses cell membranes and enters the body.
This should make it easier to understand exactly what is happening in the shipping bag. As the seahorses breathe, consuming O2 and giving off CO2, the pH of the water drops and more of the ammonia (NH3) they produce is assimilated into harmless ammonium (NH4+). So the decrease in pH that occurs during long-distance shipping is actually protecting the new arrivals somewhat — until we open the shipping bag! Once the shipping bag is opened, CO2 begins offgassing from the bag water and fresh O2 begins entering the water, and as the pH begins to rise in response and return to normal, the ammonia in the water becomes increasingly poisonous. And when we begin to add alkaline water with a pH of 8.0-8.4 from the main tank to the shipping bag, we are accelerating the pH shift and converting ever more of the ammonium (NH4+) to deadly ammonia (NH3). The suddenly high concentration of ammonia in the water quickly diffuses into the seahorse’s cells, and acclimating the new arrivals becomes a race against ammonia poisoning just that quickly.
Acclimating farm-raised seahorses properly is therefore the art of achieving the proper balance between two conflicting needs: the need to get them out of the toxic shipping water as quickly as possible and the need to allow them to adjust to tank conditions as gradually as is practical. Drip acclimating the seahorses over a period of hours would expose them to dangerous ammonia levels for an extended period with harmful results, and adding an airline or otherwise aerating the seahorses in the shipping bag while they are acclimating, would likewise increase the levels of ammonia they were exposed to. If all goes well, it’s therefore important for the acclimation process to take no more than 20-30 minutes before your Ocean Riders are released into the main tank.
Whereas drip acclimating is definitely the way to go when you bring home delicate invertebrates that are highly sensitive to water quality from your LFS, such as live corals, starfish, and decorative shrimp, it would actually be quite counterproductive for seahorses that have just arrived all the way from Hawaii.
Here’s how to proceed:
1) Open the shipping box away from any bright lights. Remember that seahorses don’t have eyelids — removing them from total darkness and suddenly plunging them in bright light can be very stressful! Darken the room lights and turn off the aquarium lights before you remove the shipping bags from the box.
2) Float the unopened shipping bag(s) in your tank, or better yet in a clean container filled 2/3 of the way with water from the aquarium, for as long as necessary to equalize temperatures. (Those shipping bags can be dirty and germ laden!) In most cases, 10-15 minutes is all that’s necessary for the temperature adjustment, but during summertime heat waves or winter cold snaps it may take longer than that to equalize the temperature in the shipping bag with the aquarium water. As long as the shipping bags are unopened, you can take as much time as needed for this step of the acclimation process.
3) Once the temperature has been equalized, partially open the shipping bag and check the parameters of the shipping water (temperature, salinity or specific gravity, and especially the pH). Compare those readings to the conditions in the destination tank. That will tell how you quickly you can proceed with the acclimation process. The specific gravity is not that critical at all. Seahorses tolerate a wide range of salinities and are very adaptable in that regard. If the water in the shipping bag and the water in the destination tank are equal in temperature, and within 0.1-0.2 of each other in pH, you may introduce the seahorses to the tank right away without the need for any further acclimation. If the temp or pH are slightly off, you can acclimate the seahorses to tank conditions in one or two steps, as described below. And if the temp, pH, or specific gravity is off considerably, you will need to adjust the seahorses to tank conditions carefully in three or more steps.
4) The first of these steps is to add 1 cup of tank water to the shipping bag. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust to any differences in tank water you just added.
5) Do NOT aerate the shipping bag while you are waiting. I know it seems a helpful thing to do, and your first inclination will be to add an airstone or airline to the shipping bag, but that can have disastrous consequences! Aerating the shipping water will accelerate the upward shift in pH and hasten the conversion of harmless ammonium (NH4+) to toxic ammonia (NH3). Aerating the shipping bag during acclimation will thus put the new arrivals at grave risk from ammonia poisoning! Don’t do it.
6) After 10 minutes have elapsed, remove 1 cup of water from the shipping bag and add another cup of water from the tank. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust, and if they remain undistressed, repeat this procedure again. Judging from how great the initial discrepancy was in water quality parameters, this procedure can be repeated as often as necessary to adjust the seahorses to the tank conditions gradually, but try to complete the acclimation process within 30 minutes after the shipping bag was opened, if at all possible. In general, seahorses tolerate an accelerated acclimation procedure much better than prolonged exposure to ammonia in the shipping bag.
7) Observe the new arrivals closely for any signs of ammonia poisoning throughout the acclimation process. The symptoms to look are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom. Don’t panic at the first sign of rapid breathing, but if you detect any of the more serious symptoms of ammonia toxicity, stop acclimating and get the seahorses into the destination tank immediately! Don’t hesitate! Your seahorses will tolerate an emergency transfer far better than they can withstand prolonged exposure to high levels of deadly ammonia in the shipping bag.
8) If all goes well, you can release the seahorses into the destination tank at your leisure following a 2- or 3-step acclimation process. I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer 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. Take care to get as little of the noxious water from the shipping bags as possible into the aquarium when you transfer the seahorses. Discard the impure shipping water when you are finished.
9) Leave the aquarium light off and let the seahorses settle down and adjust to their strange new surroundings at their own speed. Don’t attempt to feed them for the first day. Just give them plenty of room and allow them to settle in and investigate their new home in peace and quiet. Admire them from afar. The next morning you can turn on the aquarium light at the usual time and offer them their first meal.
Don’t let the discussion of ammonia poisoning and shipping stress above worry you. It’s not meant to alarm you in the least, only to explain why it’s important to complete the acclimation procedure quickly (which is why drip acclimating the seahorses is counterproductive and could even be harmful) and what to do in the extremely unlikely event an emergency should arise during acclimation. Ocean Rider stresses the proper acclimation procedure because they have occasionally had a problem in the past with experienced aquarists who felt they knew better and disregarded the acclimation instructions in favor of drip acclimation or a more prolonged process, to the detriment of their new arrivals. In all probability, your seahorses will arrive in excellent condition and not stressed out in the least, and even when shipping stress is a factor, the seahorses typically recover quickly and are back to normal by the following day.
Best of luck finding a good source for captive-bred-and-raised seahorses in Alberta, Claire!
Happy Holidays & Happy Trails!
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 14, 2009 at 7:19 am #4592KeyEquineGuest
Well, I am still working on finding a good source for seahorses in Calgary. I was at a place called Riverfront Aquariums. I was wondering if you have heard of it by chance? I have gotten tropical fish there over the years and have had pretty good luck. The seahorses they have are smaller dark ones, I forgot to ask what variety they are, and the owner says they are captive-raised and love frozen mysis. How do I tell whether they’ve come from a good breeder? They are $85/seahorse.
Any input would be helpful! I am struggling because I really want to get seahorses that are from a reputable breeder who is interested in conservation and also to get the healthiest happiest seahorses I can!!
Thanks so much!
ClaireJanuary 15, 2009 at 1:06 am #4595Pete GiwojnaGuest
No, I am not familiar with Riverfront Aquariums, but I have become aware of another possible source for captive-bred-and-raised seahorses for Canadian hobbyists since the last time we corresponded. It is called Canada Seahorse and it currently offers the following species of CBs seaorses, which are imported from Seahorse Australia:
Southern Knights (Hippocampus abdominalis/bleekeri)
Southern Champions (Hippocampus breviceps) — short-headed seahorses
Chargers (Hippocampus barbouri) — zebra-snout seahorses
Asian Emperors (Hippocampus kuda) — yellow seahorse
You may want to check out their online site (http://canadaseahorse.com/Seahorses.html) and see if they can ship their specimens to you in Calgary before you decide which ponies to purchase.
There are a couple of good ways to tell if the seahorses available from Riverfront Aquariums come from a good breeder. First of all, if they were born and raised in captivity, the pet shop or fish store should be able to tell you which species of seahorse they are (if the staff at Riverfront Aquariums isn’t sure, they should be able to easily find out from the breeder that provides them with the seahorses). If they cannot identify the species of seahorse they are selling, then it’s very likely that the seahorses are wild-caught specimens and you should pass them by. Likewise, if the seahorses turn out to be Hippocampus kelloggi, you should avoid them. H. kelloggi seahorses are being imported in large numbers from fish farmers in Southeast Asia and Vietnam these days, and they have proven to be very delicate specimens that are extremely demanding to keep. Nobody has been having any long-term success with the H. kelloggi seahorses.
The second thing you can do to confirm that they are quality seahorses is to ask the shopkeeper to feed them. If they are indeed eating the frozen Mysis readily, that’s a good sign that they are captive-bred-and-raised seahorses that will be easy to feed in your aquarium. If not — if they refuse to eat the frozen Mysis, you should cross them off your list — very likely they are either ailing or wild caught specimens dependent on live foods, or both.
Finally, the seahorses from Riverfront Aquariums should be given a close visual examination to verify that they are in good health before you consider making a purchase. Here are the warning signs and symptoms to check for when you’re giving a seahorse at your LFS a visual inspection or screening, Claire, as outlined in "Syngnathid Husbandry for Public Aquariums:"
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 seahorses pass this visual examination, and are eating well and behaving normally, with none of the red flags or warning signs discussed above, only then should you consider taking them home with you, Claire. That’s a quick checklist you can use to determine if the seahorses at your LFS appeared to be healthy or not before you make a purchase.
Best of luck finding the perfect captive-bred-and-raised seahorses for your needs and interests, Claire!
Pete GiwojnaJanuary 15, 2009 at 3:07 am #4597KeyEquineGuest
Thank you so much, Pete. The list of physical things to look for is especially helpful… I will keep you posted!
ClaireJanuary 20, 2009 at 9:27 am #4611KeyEquineGuest
Okay, I’m getting closer to getting set up for my seahorses. Haven’t gotten any reply from the Canada Seahorse people yet, but fingers crossed!
I have a question about the setup for my 45 gallon. I am wanting to keep things simple to start with, and I’m thinking I’ll only have 2 or 4 seahorses in the tank to start with, as well as the cleaning crew you recommend. What I’m wondering is, if I have live sand, live rock, and the Rena filter, is it necessary to have the protein skimmer? I was already thinking I wouldn’t need the UV Sterilizer for my setup. However, I don’t want to go short on gear to start with and regret it later… What would you say? Also (if I do need the skimmer) I like the idea of the HOT skimmers, but am concerned about the noise factor. Thoughts?
ClaireJanuary 21, 2009 at 7:01 am #4612Pete GiwojnaGuest
Oh, sure — your seahorse setup can be as simple or as complex as your own personal preferences and aquarium budget allow. Personally, I prefer a setup similar to what you describe, with live rock, live sand, and an external filter to provide water movement as well as mechanical and chemical filtration, all supplemented with a good protein skimmer — in other words, the seahorse keeper’s version of a FOWLR tank. But if you’ve never had a marine aquarium with live sand and live rock before, but have lots of experience working with undergravel filters, you might prefer a much more basic setup based on UGs for the biological filtration that does without live rock or a protein skimmer.
If you want to start out with a low budget set up for keeping a pair or two of Mustangs, perhaps the most basic aquarium system I could suggest would be to obtain a 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"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 reerse 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 small powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement (depending on the size of the aquarium and the amount of current or water full powerheads produce).
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 still 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 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 rather unforgiving.
So a protein skimmer is an optional piece of equipment for the seahorse keeper and not a prerequisite, Claire. However, if noise is your major concern when it comes to installing a Hang-On-Tank (H.O.T.) protein skimmer, remember that some of the skimmers are much quieter than the others. For instance, noise is an issue with all H.O.T. skimmers but the Venturi-driven models are notoriously loud. So if you select a Remora AquaC or Remora AquaC Pro H.O.T. protein skimmer, which employ a spray injection method rather than a Venturi, you will find that it is on the low end of the noise spectrum for these skimmers.
Also, bear in mind that new protein skimmers are the noisiest during their break-in period, and normally become noticeably quieter after a week or two of use. This is true of the Remora AquaC H.O.T. skimmers mentioned above — the splashing sound they make at first will be reduced to a muffled hissing sound after they are broken in.
Best of luck finding the perfect seahorses and equipment for your new seahorse tank, Claire!
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