This is a question I see asked often by people thinking about starting a seahorse tank. As always, the answer isn’t simple. My first response to this question will always be “Erecus are the species a beginner should buy first”. I’ll explain my reasons for this recommendation in a moment but wanted to point out that a person starting their first seahorse tank should consider much more than just “which seahorse is easiest”. Without deciding what the goal is in keeping seahorses, a person could easily end up disappointed. Considering the expense of starting up a saltwater tank in general, it might be a good idea to have a clear vision of the end result in mind before buying the crew.
Do you want seahorses who merely look like a pretty picture? Or would you prefer seahorses who will interact and entertain? Are you interested in breeding seahorses someday, or at least want to see the magical courting behaviors that seahorses are so famous for? Or will you buy all same sex seahorses to avoid ever having to deal with little pony fry? Are you going to dedicate a tank to seahorses, or will they be mere inhabitants in your display? There are no wrong answers to these questions but asking them will help determine which species of seahorses a person should buy.
Now let’s look at the reasons that Hippocampus erectus are recommended for “beginners”:
1. THEY ARE HARDY AND DON’T GET SICK AS EASILY AS OTHER SPECIES
Erectus are considered the most “forgiving” of a new keeper’s inevitable errors. If a person has a lot of time and experience under their belt in dealing with other saltwater applications (for example keeping a reef for many years), he or she might not have as great a learning curve to overcome. But even the more experienced hobbyists will take time to understand the different parameters and needs of a seahorse tank. Seahorses in general have less than great immune systems, which will be taxed by the stress of adapting to their new environment. So, a hardier species like erectus, will be able to handle the ups and downs that might occur in a new keepers’ system.
2. THEY ARE FRIENDLY AND INTERACT WITH AN OWNER MORE THAN OTHER SPECIES.
All new seahorses will be shy for the first week or so, but in my experience, erectus become much more interactive than other species after the initial stress wears off. I often refer to erectus as “water puppies”, because they really do have many of the same qualities. When they see that their “owner” has come home, they are up front at the glass, begging for attention and food. They are not shy (unless illness, bullying or a parameter issue is causing them discomfort) about communicating their needs (usually “feed me”).
3. THEY INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER MORE THAN OTHER SPECIES.
All seahorse like to have their own territories. I completely understand this, as I require a lot of “me time” too and can’t stand when others try to invade my personal space. However, erectus are extremely active and like to….well, they basically jump all over each other. Especially the boys, lol. Whether they’re competing for the newest female or trying to get that delicious piece of food before anyone else can snatch it up, they spend a lot of time with (or on top of) each other. If a person is looking for seahorses that will be entertaining, erectus will fill the bill.
4. THEIR FRY ARE THE EASIEST TO RAISE.
If breeding the seahorses is something you might want to try someday, erectus are definitely the species to choose as your stock. Their fry are larger than that of other species, and will typically take artemia as a first food. This is important because artemia are the easiest live food to culture and enrich. There are enough learning experiences with baby seahorses without adding the need to keep multiple foods alive and enriched for them. Most erectus also do not go through a palegic phase and will hitch right from birth. This makes things easier on a new breeder, because they don’t have to learn how to set up a tank that will prevent seahorses from gulping air at the surface.
5. THEY ARE THE LEAST EXPENSIVE AND EASIEST TO FIND FOR SALE.
I mentioned that erectus are the hardiest species and easiest to breed already. This is exactly why they are the least expensive and most readily available. They are the easiest for breeders to grow out in mass quantities, and therefore breeders can spend less to raise them and can offer them at lower prices. The large-scale captive breeding facilities will offer different species occasionally, but they will almost always have erectus for sale.
6. THEY CHANGE COLOR OFTEN
I’ve watched my erectus turn different colors in 5 seconds flat. If a person WANTS their seahorses to stay a certain color, erectus are easy to manipulate by putting objects in the tank that are the preferred color. This species in particular will go to extremes to blend into their environment. Some erectus are genetically bred for color, but most will at least slightly shift their hue depending on their mood. I find it very cool to know how they are feeling based on the color they display. Watching a female turn ghost white to impress her latest conquest, or a male brightening and sticking out his chest to show off for the boys, makes me smile every time. Erectus have huge personalities and are not afraid to show it!
Each seahorse is unique. It is important to understand that the individual seahorse might not fit the description of the species in general. I have owned erecus that were extremely shy, and would hang back when the others rushed the glass to greet me. I have also had Hippocampus Barbouri who bothered all of their tank mates with rambunctious playing. While most seahorse in a species will act similarly, there are just no guarantees when dealing with living creatures.
Any captive bred seahorse is more likely to be healthy, will be weaned on frozen foods and will make the transition to a new tank much easier than a wild caught seahorse. Because they were born and raised in captivity, CB seahorses are much less likely to be stressed out in general, which will mean a better experience for everyone. They will not need to be de-wormed, treated for parasites and trained onto frozen food the way that their wild relatives will require.
All new seahorses should be put into a quarantine tank when they first arrive. This will allow the seahorse to calm down from the stress of shipping or adjustment to a new environment and give the keeper a chance to observe any issues. If the seahorse does have a problem, it is much easier to diagnose and treat if the seahorse is not already in the display tank. This also prevents anything that does come with the new seahorse (like a parasite or bacterial issue) to infect the display tank or other inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin was absolutely right to say that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
I personally love every species of seahorse and intend to work with as many different types possible. In my next article, I will discuss some of the unique characteristics and differences between some of the more popular seahorse species available within the hobby. All seahorses are awesome, but I am very glad that I started out with erectus. I made MANY, MANY mistakes in the beginning and have kept multiple species since. However, my first 4 seahorses (erectus) are still in one of my display tanks, happily breeding and playing pony games. While the goals of a new keeper should dictate which species they start with, I will always suggest the hardy, friendly Hippocampus erectus species (water puppies) to new keepers.