How to set up a SEAHORSE TANK revisited!
Seahorses are NOT as difficult as many people believe. Their needs are very different than other fish, and achieving success can be difficult if a person doesn’t understand the basics before they actually buy their first pair. Seahoses DO require more time and commitment than a typical fur-baby pet, but as long as the basic guidelines are followed, captive breeders have taken the word “difficult” out of seahorse keeping description. A lot of the online information about keeping seahorses is outdated, so I wanted to provide my own set of guidelines, based on 5 years of personal experiences in breeding and raising multiple species of seahorses.
These guidelines will be extremely close to those found on the successful, established breeders’ websites, as most of them have been my mentors throughout my journey with seahorses. While I do not consider myself a professional, nor expert in the subject, my opinions in this particular case are backed up by those seahorse gurus with 5 times my 5 years of experience.
Realizing how many new seahorse keepers are getting incorrect advice from social media outlets and “pretend experts”, and never doing any follow up research or asking a professional to verify the information, the need to get solid, proven advice posted on my site became clear. Some advice on how to research information before accepting it as truth can be found in my “Everyone’s an expert” article, and while I do hope the guidelines below help many, I also hope that time is taken to look at more than just one article. That’s right, I’m actually telling you to research further versus just believing my words. While I AM right :), I want you to know without a doubt!
All of this information will all be based on the instructions found within my YouTube video “How to set up a seahorse tank (excluding dwarfs) guidelines“, for anyone who might prefer watching a video to reading my article. There are many methods and ways to be successful with seahorses, and each keeper’s journey is always slightly different from the next. My goal is not to tell people what to do, but instead provide guidelines that have worked for many, for a very long time, so that new keepers’ can use the basics to build their own adventure upon.
THE TANK: 30g minimum per pair of seahorses. 15g per additional
The basic guideline is to choose a tank that is over 30 gallons for a pair of seahorses, and an additional 15 gallons per additional pair. There are many reason’s that providing a large enough tank is important, but they all boil down to more water volume equaling more room for errors, that do not end in tragedy.
- Ease of maintenance – Seahorses create a big mess! They need to be fed 2-4 times a day, with foods high in unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAS) like mysis shrimp, because their stomachs are not like other fish. With an unusal digestive system that doesn’t store food well, combined with the process of excreting particles of food out of their gills, the small amount of food that does get consumed is turned into waste much more quickly than regular fish, and they need constant nourishment to stay healthy. We’ll discuss keeping them fed properly later in the article, but the large amounts of waste and any left over foods are what deem a seahorse tank “dirty” and/or high maintenance. Removing any left over food immediately after each feeding can help tremendously, but the seahorse waste alone can be enough to create nutrient issues in a smaller tank, and make keeping it clean almost impossible. 30g per pair was the size agreed upon as “safe”, when looking at the average keeper’s water change and maintenance schedules.
- Less organic build up is the extended benefit of having more water volume. Keeping the organic levels low in a seahorse tank is extremely important, so that opportunistic bacteria and pathogens are not able to build up to a level that can hurt the seahorses. There is a direct relationship between organic build up and many seahorse illnesses, and trying to maintain lower levels in a smaller tank is a very risky venture.
- Extended time to stop transfer of disease – When seahorses are basically on top of each other constantly in a smaller tank, if one of them gets sick or has an issue, the other is much more likely to get sick too. Before a keeper has time to notice that the first seahorse is having problems, and put him or her in quarantine tank for treatment, the other seahorse in close proximity will start to display the same symptoms. The more room between them, the more time before a transfer of illness will occur.
- Territories – In the wild, seahorses claim territories and will fight other seahorses who try to dwell within their boarders. Even mated pairs have their own “space” and while they come together to mate, they spend most of their time in solidarity. In a smaller tank, it’s difficult for them not to cross each others’ boundaries, and more fighting will occur, which can lead to issues with stress and disease.
- the height of an adult in the species is recommended, due to seahorses being vertical swimmers. This becomes more important if breeding is a goal, as the beautiful spinning dance toward the surface during an egg exchange is made difficult by a low water line.
Many people buying seahorses for the first time also do not realize how tall they can quickly grow. Seahorses do not stay the A shorter tank is not a deal breaker, and I’ve actually seen many seahorses mate in shallow water. If the goal is to provide the best conditions possible, then choose a taller tank.
- Better water movement – seahorses do NOT need “low flow conditions”. This is a good example of outdated information. My seahorses sleep hitched to covered wavemakers, and make a game of swimming directly into a powerhead’s stream, being thrown back, and then repeating. However, flow should not be so high that they can not swim. In a smaller tank, keeping the flow at a speed capable of leaving no dead spots, and providing good oxygen exchange, while also allowing the seahorses to swim can be difficult.
- Space to hang equipment – In my opinion, a sump is the best way to provide the needed equipment and media in an area that doesn’t clog the tank, provides more water volume (room for errors) and allows more filtration options. But, if someone is just starting out and plans to add a sump later, a hang on skimmer is needed in the very least. The skimmer needs to be rated 2x the size of the tank (so a 30 gallon tank would require a skimmer rated for 60+ gallons), and finding a place to hang this large piece of equipment becomes more difficult in a tank the smaller the tank.
- I’m going to take this advice of experts a step further and recommend an even bigger tank. My suggestion would be 55 gallon tank or larger. If you multiply all the reasons above by 2 (more water volume = more room for error), and add that most people want MORE seahorses after they fall in love with their first pair, a larger tank is just a better idea. As we’ll discuss later, avoiding stress is a major key to being successful with seahorses. Therefore, it’s much easier to add additional seahorses (after quarantine) to an already established larger tank, versus moving the original seahorses AND new seahorses to a bigger tank.
Starting with RODI water can be extremely helpful in a seahorse tank. Some people are fortunate enough to live in an area with quite clean water, but even they will typically find traces of chlorine in their tap water system. My town’s water is absolutely terrible, with a TDS (total dissolved solids) reading of 430, and a nitrate reading of 20. Considering that the recommended nitrate level for a seahorse tank is less than 10, I would be starting out with water that was too high in nutrients.
- An RODI system contains a sediment filter to remove free floating particles, a carbon block to remove pesticides, chlorine and chloramine, an RO membrane (“which uses a TFC technique utilizing pressure to force water through the membrane so all the contaminants cannot follow”), and then a DI (deionization) filter to remove any ions or contaminants left after the first 3 stages of filtration. Some RODI filters are better than others, and it is important to check the micron level to which the system filters. Each filter also needs to be replaced as it is exhausted. My water goes from ridiculously high levels to 0 TDS by using an RODI system, and I don’t begin my tank g The following link describes some of the possible contaminants in tap water: Water contaminants. And here are some facts about RODI systems in general from reefcentral.com
- Once the tank has been set up, cycled, and houses seahorses, the RODI system will continue to be used on a weekly basis making daily top off and replacement water for the tank after water changes. The extent of water removed depends a lot on where the tank sits in the “maturity cycle”. A newer tank might need more water removed because there is nuisance algae, or the keeper fed a lot more food in the beginning to get the seahorse eating. Once the tank is stable and functioning at a predictable level (meaning that the parameter testing at the end of each week remain close to the week prior), a 10 – 20% weekly water change is typically enough to remove any excess organics and add back any trace minerals depleted by the skimmer and other functions.
- Salt should be added AFTER the container is full of replacement water, and the mixed water needs to be tested before the water change. If salt is added to a container first, with RODI water run on top of it, the really high levels of salt create hyper-salinity, which can result in precipitation (the calcium and alkalinity are too high, creating the white snow flakes that never dissolve). Once the container is full, the precipitation creates a situation in which salinity is right, but all other parameters are too low. Filling the bucket first, and then adding salt and a powerhead to quickly mix and aerate the water, will result in water that tests exactly as desired.
So many different substrate options have appeared on the reef “scene” in recent years, all promising a rich environment for good bacteria and secret ingredients to hold parameter levels (ph/alkalinity). Multiple different particle sizes and colors only add to the confusion. Most are truly just silica sand, crushed coral or aragonite, with the exception of specialty substrates such as miracle mud. Miracle mud is NOT the typical substrate because it actually does contain and release multiple trace elements, and I’m actually in the process of building and testing a set up with a miracle mud substrate, hoping to provide a more complete eco-system. I’ve seen the mud work miracles in my reef’s refugium, but we’ll talk more about that in a later article. For the basic first seahorse tank, substrate does not need to be complex, and using no substrate is far superior to using a deep sand bed that can become a nutrient sink. The term “nutrient sink” refers to the deep substrate taking in nutrients for only so long, and releasing the nutrients back into the water once full. Anaerobic dead spots, in which deadly hydrogen sulfide gas can form are also a big risk associated with a deep sand bed.
- A bare bottom or thin sand substrate is recommended for ease of maintenance. Seeing left over foods can become difficult if they are pulled into a deep substrate. With a barebottom or thin substrate, this does mean more media filled with beneficial bacteria will be needed to keep the tank cycled and running properly. But there are many to accomplish this, without a deep sand bed that can harbor bad bacteria too, and/or become a nutrient sink.
- No crushed coral or larger gravel – These hide those pieces of food that a seahorse misses, building up to cause bacterial and organic issues.
Adequate filtration in a seahorse tank is vital. The three forms of filtration are biological, mechanical and chemical. The biological filtration is not a machine, but actually the organisms that break down waste and uneaten foods, and keep the water free of toxic compounds that are a result of respiration by the aquarium inhabitants. Bacteria which perform the nitrogen cycle and macroalgae are included in the biological filtration. Mechanical filtration helps the biological filtration by eliminating larger particles and waste, so the bacteria can concentrate on the smaller. Chemical filtration removes organic pollutants, which the biological and chemical filterers cannot handle. Chemical filters such as activated carbon can be very helpful in removing medication or in a crisis, but during the initial cycling and set up, can become a problem by removing too much, and not allowing the biological filtration to reach it’s full potential. Therefore, we’ll concentrate on the first two types:
- Biological – If you are not familiar with the nitrogen cycle, please educate yourself before attempting a seahorse tank. This cycle describes how the nitrifying bacteria convert ammonia into nitrite, and then nitrate so quickly, that these are never felt by the seahorses. The bacteria will do the actual filtering, but a person needs provide enough media housing for the larger amount of bacteria needed to compensate for a high bio-load seahorse tank. Included in this category are live rock, any porous media like marinepure blocks, ceramic noodles, bioballs, K1, and etc. (One thing to note is that seahorses actually prefer a more open tank, with a lot of hitching posts for stability, but less of the rock formations found in a typical reef. This is another reason I suggest a sump to hold media, to provide more room in the tank for seahorse fun!) The type and/or way a person chooses to house their nitrifying bacteria is not what is important. PROVIDING ENOUGH places for the good bacteria to grow, in order to keep up with the heavy bioload of seahorses is the key. Making sure that the tank is fully cycled before adding seahorses is probably the most important step in setting up properly for success. Luckily, there are ways to test your water that will determine whether the cycling has completed, and whether the bacteria will be able to keep up once seahorses are added to the tank. Many new seahorse keepers have trouble with an ammonia or nitrate spike after adding seahorses, even though they “cycled” for a full month or two. This is caused by the person either forgetting to add an ammonia source to feed the bacteria, or because the method used to cycle caused enough bacteria to grow to convert the ammonia and nitrite CURRENTLY within the tank. The ammonia added by actual seahorses ends up much greater than whatever ammonia source was used to cycle
- – The ammonia test – more information about using ammonium chloride to cycle can be found on Dr. Tim’s website: Fishless Cycling. Whichever method is used to cycle (dead shrimp providing an ammonia source, adding live rock and letting the decomposition within the rock to feed new bacteria and that which survived, or using dry rock and adding bacteria and ammonia), doing the ammonia test after the tank “seems” to be cycled is a great way to determine if the tank is cycled ENOUGH! The test is quite simple: after the tank is believed to be fully cycled, add 2ppm of ammonia, or ammonia chloride (see the Dr. Tim’s website for exact amounts). 24 hours later, test the ammonia and nitrite parameters. If all the readings are zero, meaning the bacteria within the tank is able to convert 2ppm of ammonia to nitrate in one day, the tank has enough bacteria to handle a pair of seahorses. If an ammonia or nitrite reading is found (any at all), then more bacteria needs to be grown. This small step can help avoid a lot of heartache. Keeping a neutralizer on hand (like seachem prime, which will convert ammonia and nitrite to non-toxic forms that will not be felt by the seahorses), is also a good idea just in case anything goes wrong.
- Mechanical – There are 2 parts of mechanical filtration that a seahorse keeper should be concerned with.
- Suspended – This includes floss in a hob filter, or a sock at the entrance to a sump. Anything that catches the big pieces of floating debris and waste, only allowing water with particulate matter through.
- Particulate – After the suspended type of mechanical filter has removed the big pieces of waste, and the biological filtration is adequate to convert micro waste, many people think they have covered their bases. However, the particulate matter that we cannot see can easily build up to a point that can’t be reversed, before we even notice. A skimmer is an absolutely necessary piece of equipment, that should be running on every seahorse tank. Not only does the skimmer oxygenate the water, and remove the particulate matter that the suspended mechanical filters missed, but it also removes organic phosphates, that even good bacteria can’t touch until they are converted to an inorganic state. The mechanical filtration helps the biological filtration to complete the picture.
Too much flow will stress the seahorses. Too little flow will waste to accumulate in dead spots leading to organic build up. Seahorses are also much less active in lower flow situations, and get fat when there is no flow to play or exercise in, haha. Breaking up the flow to reach all areas of the aquarium using a combined method makes a more healthy environment. As an example, picture food in your kitchen sink. If you just turn the faucet up really high, it merely makes a bigger mess and doesn’t solve the issue. Using a combined means, like the faucet and the spray bar to guide food to the drain works much better. An aquarium’s flow is best handled in exactly the same way. The bad information seen all over the internet that “seahorses need low flow” leads to many seahorse keepers not providing adequate circulation.
- Hurricane conditions aren’t the goal, but using a filter or pump in combination with powerheads and/or spray bars provide just the right amount of flow to prevent dead spots and still allow seahoses to swim with ease.
- The old guideline was 10x-20x turnover rate, which is the amount of times that the water in the tank is run through the filtration methods each hour. Now, the advice is still 10-20x turnover, but using a combined means. For instance, in a 55 gallon tank, a pump or filter rated 550 gph combined with a 350 gph COVERED powerhead (or better yet, 2 powerheads rated 150 gph) will provide the almost 20x turnover.
To give you an idea of the amount of flow that seahorses can actually handle, I run a DCS5000 on my 65 gallon tank, with (2) RW4 wavemakers at half speed. My pump does feed into a UV also, but there are not many calm areas in my tank, and the seahorses love it!
The basic equipment needed in all seahorse tanks include :
- Sump, HOB filter, or canister – to house media holding biological filtration, and floss, socks, etc being used as mechanical filtration.
- If a sump is chosen, plumbing will be required on a drilled tank, and a tank that’s not drilled will need an overflow box is needed to lead water from the display to the sump, and a ‘to carry the water back to the tank.
- Powerhead, wavemaker, or some type of COVERED equipment that will circulate the water
- SKIMMER!!! – The most important piece of equipment in my opinion. Also keep in mind that you get what you pay for. The extreme differences I’ve seen between a tank that I ran a cheap skimmer on and that of the erectus display with an ASM G3 were beyond obvious. I’ll invest in good skimmers above all else!
- Hitches – Whether using live rock, fake plants or macroalgae, hitches need to be added for the seahorses to feel safe and secure. Their extremely strong, vice-like tails are their
- Chiller – if you can’t keep the tank’s temp under 74 degrees, a chiller must be added.
The following equipment are not necessities, but the benefits they provide make them worth mentioning
- UV Sterilizer: A ultraviolet sterilizer uses a germicidal fluorescent lamp that produces light at a wavelength of approximately 254nm. This wavelength will irradiate bacteria and anlage that pass through the sleeze and mutate the DNA preventing growth/multiplication. It cannot help with any algae or bacteria within the tank that never passes through the machine. However, when running an algae scrubber in a sump, a UV is perfect for stopping spores from reaching the display
- Macroalgae – Macros are being listed as equipment, because of their ability to reduce nutrients through trimming. Using filtering algae on a scrubber or in a refugium within a sump can be of great assistance in keeping nitrate and phosphate low, and also take up any ammonia that creeps its way into a tank, in addition to outcompeting any nuisance algae in the display tank. The display type macros are extremely pretty in a seahorse tank. They don’t help quite as much as the filtering types with nutrient removal, but they also don’t need trimmed as often. They house pods and other seahorse treats, provide a unique, colorful design to the display, provide posting options that do not die when a seahorse hitches, and don’t hurt the seahorses by stinging. Like anything else added to a seahorse tank, they will need to be quarantined, but the many benefits they provide certainly are worth it!
Any lighting is fine for a seahorse tank, but the stronger and brighter the light, the more likely nuisance algae will grow. Lighting only matters if an issue with the color of the seahorses is noticed, nuisance algae begins growing, or macroagle or coral are included in the aquascape.
- If a person chooses to use macroalgae, coral or etc in the tank, the light needs to provide whatever the inhabitants require. Display macro algae need cool white light, whereas filtering sump algae need warm white light. Gorgonians or soft coral will need extra blue light, easily added later on.
- The other consideration when choosing a light is heat. We’ll discuss the proper temp for a seahorse tank in a moment, but if a person is trying to avoid spending a lot of money on a chiller, they should consider the heat put off by the light they choose.
Bacterial issues are the number one seahorse killer. Bacteria is temperature dependent, meaning it grows differently in different temps. 74 degrees is the point that bacteria is slowed down to a level that keeps it in check.
- There are multiple strains of good and bad bacteria in every body of water. Keeping the opportunistic types from growing strong enough to hurt the seahorses is the goal. Keeping the temperature below 74, keeping organics low so the bad bacteria have no fuel, and providing good bacteria and/or probiotics that will outcompete bad bacteria for nutrients, will allow seahorses to stay healthy for many years.
- A fan, chiller, or home temperature control can all achieve this goal, but fluctuations are even worse than a high temperature. The stress a seahorse endures when parameters or temperature change drastically and quickly are a welcome sign to opportunistic pathogens.
- In locations that are very cool, in which a heater would actually be required to keep them temperature above close to 70 degrees, be sure to use a heater cover or guard. Seahorses can and will hitch onto a heater and burn themselves severely.
FEEDING AND HEALTH –
A well taken care of seahorse can live for up to 12 years. Part of keeping them healthy is ensuring that they are provided enough food to keep up with their odd digestive system, and the providing foods with the HUFAS that they require. The food best suited to the main diet of a seahorse is Mysis shrimp. These can be purchased online at Sach’s, but are very difficult to keep alive long term in a home setting. Frozen mysis is an easy substitute, but ensuring quality becomes even more important with frozen foods. There are many “snack” crustaceans that can provide variety and allow enrichment of specific supplements, which is the best most keepers can do without access to live feeds.
- One mistake many new seahorse keepers make is feeding only brine shrimp, which is fine as a snack, but not going to sustain the seahorse as a main meal because they lack the fatty acids, lipids and DHA. Artemia (Brine shrimp) are actually a fresh water crustacean, and were never meant to feed marine animals. We use them as a snack for seahorses and a first food for fry because they are easy to culture in a home. However, they must be enriched before being fed.
- Enriching artemia with vitamins and a supplement provide variety in the seahorse diet, and allows a keeper to fulfill all the seahorses dietary needs. My preferred enrichment is Dan’s Feed with Probiotics, because it contains everything from AlgaMac 3050 to astaxanthin, and adds 3 strains of probiotics. When the probiotics are consumed by artemia, and then seahorses, the seahorses gain good bacteria fighting off bad from the inside out.
- Copepods are a great marine crustacean that contains everything a seahorse needs, but they are very small. Another good snack for the seahorses to hunt between meals, but not a good main course, as seahorses would need to eat 3000+ copepods a day, and they would be difficult to culture at that quantity in a home. Providing variety in the diet is very important in overcoming this obstacle of feeding a seahorse properly, and having a decent company ready to ship healthy copepods (or a home culture going) can be a huge step in the right direction. Reed mariculture is an excellent supplier with high biosecurity standards and years of experience, who provide copepods, culturing equipment, rotifers, phytoplankton, and so much more that can help any new keeper in their quest to provide a quality diet to seahorses. Coral Reefing, Inc is another favorite vendor, as their quality surpasses my expectations every time.
- When buying the staple food- frozen mysis, be sure to check expiration dates, look for signs that it has been re-frozen, and only feed quality shrimp. Qualilty is another very important point that is often overlooked. Fusedjaw.com has two excellent articles about this: Mysis article 1and Mysis article 2. So I will merely make the point that if food looks refrozen, do not buy it. Frozen foods not only have a shelf life and actually start losing nutritional value even if they stay frozen, but there are many points along the journey frozen foods make from a distributor, to a store, and finally to a home, in which the food can thaw, start degrading quickly, allow bacteria to attack, and become further degraded while refreezing.
- Rinse frozen foods prior to feeding. Even the packaged frozen foods that claim no additives typically use some sort of preservative or filler. Rinsing frozen foods in a brine shrimp net, sieve, or strainer ensures that the food is cleared of any extra phosphate or nitrate causing ingredients, and also look more like actual shrimp! I personally rinse foods in hot water, and then in cold, hoping to get rid of anything except the actual shrimp!
- Names do make a difference sometimes! Hikari Biopure use biosecurity measures and practices that make their foods a better option than most. PE Mysis use a flash freezing process right on the docks to avoid as much of the problems associated with frozen foods lacking quality. Be sure to read about the processes and ingredients associated with any food chosen for seahorses, as the smallest details can make a huge difference in health.
TANK MATES – UGH.
Tank mates are a very touchy topic and many disagree. Since this is my blog, I’m going to cover my opinion, that I base on my limited scientific research. However, I encourage anyone reading to do further research (and I do not mean ask on social media, lol) to make up their own mind. Everything added to a seahorse tank, besides the actual seahorses, depends on the RISK TOLERANCE LEVEL of the seahorse keeper. This level is the amount of risk a keeper is willing to take withe their seahorses, and their tolerance to dealing with the consequesnces. To be clear, my risk tolerance level is ZERO. These seahorses are my babies, and I literally cry if they are sick. Therefore, I do not risk anything that might hurt them. While some might find a seahorse only tank “boring”, I am so completely in love with these magnificent creatures that all I want is to watch them exist, and can’t imagine needing anything else to “complete the tank”.
The seahorse immune system is not as efficient as other fish, and while they do have innate immunity, there isn’t enough research regarding their adaptable immunity to actually know if they are able to develop immunity to new pathogens (and if they ARE able to, how quickly is another problem). Either way, there are too many cases in which seahorses who remained healthy for a long period of time, became sick after other fish were added to the aquarium. This is likely due to their upbringing, and what they’ve been exposed to during their lives. Buying captive bred seahorses from a reliable breeder provides multiple benefits, which are discussed in a moment. The reason these CB seahorses are so healthy is that they were raised in bio secure facilities, and never exposed to the pathogens found in wild caught fish. It stands to reason then, that if you put a CB seahorse in the same water with a wild caught fish, the fish might very well be an asymptomatic carrier of some parasite or disease, that the CB seahorse will not be equipped to handle. An asymptomatic carrier is one that shows no symptoms, but can carry around a pathogen that they themselves have immunity to fight off. The CB seahorse has little defense against anything that a wild caught fish might bring into the water, and typically has problems soon after they are mixed together. In many other cases, the issues develop slowly, allowing the keeper to blame something else for the death of their seahorses, while the truth was just that the pathogen took over more slowly than others.
- This is not always the case, and I’ve known many people mix different species of seahorses, and/or fish and coral in a seahorse tank successfully. This is why it boils down to risk tolerance level. If a person desires more than just seahorses, they should just be aware of the likely consequences in mixing them in with other fish or different seahorses, and make their decision based on how much they are willing to risk.
- Many people choose to take a prophylactic measure, treating any new additions for parasites, worms and bacterial issues before adding them to the seahorse tank.
- Some people choose to just quarantine and hope that eliminating as much stress as possible to all fish and seahorses will be enough, and their immunities will fight off anything added by newcomers after the QT period.
- Still others use a tank transfer method, in which new additions are moved from one tank to another, disrupting the life cycle of pathogens. A person must decide for themselves what they are willing to risk, but should always research BEFORE making changes to a seahorse tank.
The other reason that many choose to keep seahorse only tanks is due to the differences in eating methods. The act of snicking up a shrimp is very quick, but the seahorse is known to sit very still, hoping to “surprise attack” their food, even when it’s not alive, (haha, they’re so silly). With other fish in the tank that eat more quickly, a seahorse could easily starve because he or she does not eat as aggressively. Fast moving fish can also stress the seahorse, which lowers their immunity and leads to disease.
Most coral can be an issue in a seahorse tank also. Seahorses have eyes that can move independently, to look in many different directions at the same time. However, many do not realize that they can not turn their heads from side to side. Looking behind themselves at the location in which their tail is about to hitch can become an issue if it happens to be where an anemone or other stinging coral resides.
- If the seahorse hitches to a coral that can sting them, the sting not only hurts, but can lead to a bacterial infection due to injury and stress.
- If the coral has polyps, the seahorse might damage them with their huge tail that contains most of their strength.
- Gorgonians and soft coral should be chosen, if any, as coral within a seahorse tank.
- The issue of adding anything from the ocean should be factored in to any decision. Coral can carry parasites and bad bacteria just as easily as a fish.
Another hot topic for debate. This was basically covered in “tank mates”, but to be clear, these risks of mixing extend beyond just “other fish”, to other species of seahorses also. Different species of seahorses have different behaviors, and not all will get along fabulously.
- Hippocampus erectus are big, bulky seahorses who like to jump all over each other, beg at the glass for food, and basically act like water puppy dogs, haha. Hippocampus barbouri are much more slower, making deliberate moves when they decide the time is right, and will strike a “statue pose” if they feel threatened by too much movement. While two species of seahorses might learn to live with each other, and the individual personality of each seahorse makes a big difference, the stress of acclimating them to a situation in which they are mixed might cause problems.
- The other point to consider is where the two species were born. Hippocampus abdominalis (pot-belly seahorses) are a really large species of seahorse who require a larger tank, and a much lower temperature that most other species. Not only do they need a different temperature to live happily, the seahorses would not have immunity to pathogens that thrive in different temperatures. A parasite that could live on a cold-water seahorse without ever really hurting him or her, would do major damage to a warm-water seahorse, and vice versa. This is more true when discussing wild caught seahorses, but even captive bred seahorses come from different conditions in different breeding operations. Again, it is a decision that must be made by an individual keeper, but knowing the risks at least allows informed decisions.
PARAMETERS: The following are the basic parameters recommended for tropical seahorse tanks:
A quarantine tank can be defined in many different ways, but the basic idea is a tank that is completely separate from the display tank, in which new arrivals can be observed for any issues. Some have included treatment of sick fish, prophylactic treatment of new arrivals and separation of problematic fish into this category. Others, will use separate tanks for quarantine, treatment and hospital situations. No matter which ways a person chooses to set up and run their QT, it is ALWAYS a good idea to have one ready. In the very least, keeping new seahorses or fish that are stressed from shipping and/or changing environments in a separate location while they calm down can help avoid a lot of problems.
- A quarantine tank in which observation of new fish for any problems before adding them to a display is the goal helps to eliminate the stress factor and can alert a keeper to any problems before they affect their current tank.
- A quarantine hospital tank is used to treat a new arrival for parasites, bacterial issues, worms, and/or other issues before adding them to a display. This can also be used in the future for treatments of sick fish, but must be decontaminated between uses.
- STRESS is what causes a fish or seahorse’s immune system to weaken, allowing pathogens to attack. No matter which quarantine method is used, in the very least the stress factor is lessoned and risk is not as great.
Unfortunately, the definition of a captive bred seahorse is one that was born and raised in a captive environment. The problem with this is that there are no restrictions on the “captive” environment. Many overseas facilities sell “captive bred seahorses” that were raised in pens within the ocean. Without getting into the NSW debate (that’s coming in another article :)), let’s merely look at the thoughts attached to a captive bred seahorse, and why an ocean raised (or unfiltered NSW raised) might not be equal.
- Seahorses bred in captivity by a respectable breeder:
- are weaned on frozen foods
- assist in conservation by providing seahorses that were not taken from the ocean
- have never been exposed to the parasites, worms, and other pathogens found in the ocean (and found in ocean raised fish).
- are used to living in a tank. There is no “sadness” that they will never know their great big ocean home that they were pulled from, because the ocean was never their home.
- fear humans less because a human fed them from day 1
- do not become stressed if there is a lot of activity near their tank, because they are used to humans passing by often.
- do not have territory issues, as they are accustomed to living with a group of other seahorses.
- were raised in sterile conditions, were provided enriched foods from the time they were young, never went hungry because a shrimp didn’t pass them, never was affected by pollution or high organics due to runoff, never experienced the disgusting atmosphere that lives beneath our ocean’s waves, never had to hide from a predator, and never ate as much as they could, but stayed hungry because of the worms within their stomach (as happens often with wild caught seahorses).
- A pen raised seahorse, or one bred in unfiltered NSW:
- is weaned on frozen foods.
- if actually raised in a tank, might be used to the tank atmosphere and human interaction.
- help conservation efforts by offering an alternative to diving for seahorses
- HAVE BEEN EXPOSED to all of the run off, parasites, worms, pollution, and etc.
- could still never be released successfully back into the wild, because the domestication (even at this much lower level) has affected their fear levels and ability to avoid prey.
- cannot be mixed with CB seahorses from a breeder, as they are equivalent to a wild caught seahorse in too many ways that matter. The bottom line is that they have been exposed and probably carry ocean borne pathogens, whereas the true ASW or filtered NSW raised have been exposed and are probably carrying tank borne pathogens. Without going into which is better or worse, the fact remains that there is greater risk in mixing them in the same tank.
In my goal to inform, educate, and then allow others to decide what is best for their own situations, I merely want to show the differences and truth. If a keeper chooses to rescue seahorses from pens, or buy seahorses raised in unfiltered NSW, I admire them greatly for taking on the additional challenges and providing the deworming and treatments that theses seahorses will require. I’m not saying that either seahorse (or keeper) is “bad”, but I do advise anyone new to avoid mixing the two different types. I will still continue to advise new seahorse keepers to buy seahorses that were raised in better conditions, by dedicated breeders, to make the experience much easier, but all captive breeding efforts deserve an applause.
Seahorse Source. Underwood, Dan. Introduction: http://seahorsesource.com/?page_id=821
Dan’s Feed with Probiotics: http://seahorsesource.com/?wpsc-product=dans-feed-with-probiotics
Water Contaminants: Sam. “Water filter and Water Softener Reviews”. Soft Water Filtration 2017. http://www.softwaterfiltration.com/water-contaminants/
RODI FAQ: http://reefcentral.com/index.php/rodi-faq
Dr. Tim’s aquatics, LLC. A quick guide to fishless cycling: http://www.drtimsaquatics.com/resources/fishless-cycling 2013
Sach’s mysis: http://www.aquaculturestore.com/Mysid-Shrimp.htm
Reed Mariculture – Ensuring hatchery success (copepods and more): http://www.reedmariculture.com/
Weiss, Tami. Fusedjaw.com -Dive Into The World Of Seahorses, Pipefish & Seadragons. https://fusedjaw.com/food-and-nutrition/frozen-mysis-part-1-the-quest-for-quality-mysis/ 05/11/2014
Photo credit: Lorenzo white