Off to the (sea)horse races

It is always amazing to see someone’s expression when they first ‘meet’ a seahorse in person.  One of the most common questions I get is ‘ is this real?’.  For which I reply ‘absolutely!’.

Seahorses are actually fish, contrary to popular myth.  Their closest relative is the elongated pipefish, and both seahorses and pipefish belong to the sygnathiformes family of fish.  If you look closely at the mouth of both a seahorse and pipefish, you will see the similarities.

Seahorses come in many shapes, sizes and colors  Some like the Hippocampus rosterae, the Florida Dwarf seahorse are only 3/4 of an inch long as adults  Yet others like the Brazilian seahorse, Hippocampus reidi can be almost 16 inches.  Some are yellow, others red, they might be black, or even stripped.  None can match the myriad of shape and color the searagons of Australia posses.  These seahorses have adpated to life in the weedy seagrasses and alages and look much like a scrap of sargassum alage than any resemblence to a fish.  These beautiful and majectic creatures are considered a rarity and are not common, and should best be enjoyed in public aquairums or SCUBA diving.

Some seahorses can be kept in captivity, although only experience aquairists with the time and experience should try.  You see, seahorses require regular feedings of specialized foods.  Mnay will be rather finicky and eat only live Artemia (brine shrimp), Mysis ( a type of small shrimp), or baby fry (from guppies or Mollies).  Most aquairsts will only doom themselves to endless frustartion, an their seahorse to detah by keeping them in aquairua.  If I have not yet convinced you, consider the fact that that many seahorse must be fed these foods live.  So you must have a culture of Artemia, and / or Mysis handy for multiple daily feedings.  Eventually with patience and a bit of luck, you can train the seahorses to take frozen prepared foods. But never anticipate this when you purchase a seahorse.  Besides finiscky water requirements, seahorses require specialized aquaria.  They are easily blown away by powerful currents,and can be sucked into many filters.  Because they are docile, and slow moving fish, they are easily bullied by fish such as Damsels, clownfish and tangs.  Even a sea anemone can prove deadly to un unsuspecting seahorse.  With other faster and hungry tankmates, its easy to see why many seahorses stave to death in healthy reef tanks.

If you feel you have the skill and time necessary to try these magnificent creatures, then look for a captive bred specimen.  Captive bred seahorses will be more tolerant of the foods avaiabl to you, and you know you did not take any from the environment.  Seahorses typically live for only 3 years, and don’t repoduce until they are 1 year of age.  With all the ‘dried; seahorses for sale, and the live one imported, they are declining in nature.  So as responsible hobbiyists we should select those that have been bred in casptive aquairums.  If you are doing it all properly- you should be rewared with regular broods of babies in your home tank.

One of the best specimens to keep in captivity is Hippocampus kuda.  It has many common names, such as lined seahorse, Pacific seahorse, and many others.  They reach an adult size of 10 inches from nose to tail.  In nature they will assume various color morphs ranging from black, brown, yellow to even red.  H. kuda comes from the Indo-Pacific ocean area and is found among the coral skeletons and seaweeds. They have an affinity for the algae Caulerpa.  As fish, they do have a backbone and are vertebrates, even though close observation may not suggest this.

Seahorses are not very active fish, so must be kept in an aquarium that has a light to moderate water flow.  We never want to make them cling to their coral branch for fear of being blasted across the tank!  Live rock is a must, as is a dee sand bed.  Seahorses will always enjoy the extra meal provided by copepods, and gammarus found in good live rock and healthy sand beds.  Another factor to consider is filtration.  Seahorses do not tolerate poor water quality, so they must be housed in a stable, well establsihed system, and are definitely NOT suitable for new tanks.  One of the problems with smaller seashorses is that they mistake small air bubbles for food. So any skimmers or pumps that produce air bubbles must be checked before that water returns to aquarium.

As mentioned, their diet can incorporate live adult Artemia, also known as brine shrimp.  I like to soak mine in Super Selco to further enrich it with fatty acids and vitamins.  I also feed rotifers, and Mysis shrip, both of which can be cultured.  For some of my larger specimens, I feed an occaisional live guppy, just born of course, since seahorses have such tiny mouths.  Eventually you may be fortunate to have your seahorse eat frozen foods. Some of mine will eat chopped krill, but other will only take live foods, so it’s a not a guarantee.

The most bizzare aspect of an already unusual fish is the means of reproduction.  The male seahorses have the babies. Actually, they have a pouch, much like a kangaroo, and the female deposits eggs into this pouch, and the male fertilizes them.  After about 20 days, baby seahorses are born.  This phenomemen is shared only with the cousisn, the pipefish.  Because the babies are so tiny, you must feed newly hatch Artemia nauplii and rotifers.  With daily water changes, and clean cultures, you can have a high survival rate with your young seahorses.  Some of mine have had 60 babies at one time.  Because of their size, its best to raise them in  smaller and separate aquairum.

Mysterious, beatiful and gracefull, all words to describe these creatures.  But again, they ar best enjoyed from a distance at public aquariums.  With all the harvesting of wild seahorses, in some areas populations are crashing, and they are experience critically low numbers in the wild.  For such a magnificent animal, we would not wish to contribute to this downfall.  If you must try seahorses, makesure you are well prepared, and equipped, and use only captive bred seahorses.