Ask the WWM Crew
|Please visit our Sponsors|
Seahorse care guide Bob and Crew, I just wanted to take a moment and let you know about the new seahorse care guide created by seahorse.org. I'm very excited about this because its been in planning for a while, and now its finally done. Its aimed at educating beginning seahorse keepers, and it was created to be given out at local fish stores. Since seahorses are becoming even more popular now, its our hopes to educate the new seahorse keeper on proper care and encourage them to buy captive bred. And maybe we can get LFSs to learn a bit too! <Good ideas> Here is a link to the care guide: http://www.seahorse.org/library/articles/SeahorseFactsAndInfo.pdf I hope you like it. Please, feel free to copy it and share! <Thank you. Will post. Bob Fenner>
Photographer: Karen Barber
"Seahorses are strange, beautiful, oddities of nature. But the very things that make them so
fascinating to humans now threatens to lead them to extinction."
- ABC News
As many aquarium hobbyists know, seahorses and related species have different needs than other marine
fish. This fact sheet was created to assist anyone that is interested in keeping these fascinating fish. The
content herein is meant to be a guideline for new seahorse keepers based upon the experience of several
hundred seahorse hobbyists, Syngnathidae researchers, and commercial breeders.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Although we discuss wild caught (WC) as well as captive bred (CB) seahorse s, we
strongly advise buying CB seahorses. Captive breeding prevents decimation of wild populations and
supports responsible and innovative breeding programs for those interested in becoming seahorse
breeders. In addition, captive bred seahorses are much easier to keep, having been trained to accept
frozen food, pre-adapted to aquarium conditions, and much less likely to carry or spread disease. Their
survivability in captivity is significantly higher than that of wild caught seahorses. In the end, it is more cost
effective and rewarding for the beginning hobbyist to purchase CB seahorses.
WE RECOMMEND THAT ALL BEGINNING KEEPERS PURCHASE ONLY CAPTIVE BRED SEAHORSES.
PURCHASING HEALTHY SEAHORSES
If you are buying from a local fish store (LFS), observe the seahorses
carefully before you purchase. If you are buying from an e-tailer, be sure
they have a reputation for supplying quality animals and a guarantee of live
arrival and survival for 5-7 days. Even the smallest sign of disease or
injury can result in a mortality, as seahorses are extremely sensitive and
often succumb to pathogens not common to other marine ornamental fish.
To make matters worse, treatments are quite different and have fewer
efficacies. The following are some questions to ask of your local fish store
or e-tailer, particularly if you are purchasing WC animals. If you are able to
observe the seahorses onsite, the following guidelines can help you with
picking out the best animals that are most likely to survive. Even with a
careful eye, WC seahorses can look outwardly healthy, only to die within a
few days of purchase. Though there are no guarantees when purchasing
WC seahorses, this may help to minimize mortalities:
?Is the seahorse eating? What food is it eating and how often is it being fed?
Is the body well - rounded with no signs of abdominal concavity?
Photographer: Tamara Weiss
DO NOT BUY A SEAHORSE THAT IS NOT EATING. Even stressed, new arrivals should eat within 24
hours if it they are otherwise healthy and kept in a clean, well-aerated tank. Often they have only been
offered brine shrimp, which is not a normal food source in their native habitats. Although this is not a
healthy diet, if the seahorse will take it readily, it is the first sign of good overall health. However, if the
seahorses have been in the pet store for any length of time, fed exclusively on un-enriched brine shrimp,
there is a good chance these specimens will be malnourished. Seahorses only have a rudimentary stomach
and must continuously absorb nutrients. Offering a non-nutritional diet for more than several days will
quickly deplete the seahorse of necessary nutrients, making it more susceptible to pathogens. Most
malnourished seahorses do not survive in the long term.
It is a better sign if the pet store is feeding a more adequate diet. This could include enriched brine shrimp,
ghost shrimp (for larger seahorses), Hawaiian red shrimp, or frozen mysis or similar crustaceans. You are
much more likely to succeed with a seahorse that is trained to eat frozen food, and it is cheaper and easier
to obtain and provide frozen food. Most CB seahorses have been trained to eat frozen mysis or similar
appropriate food. Of the WC seahorses, H. erectus, the lined seahorse from the North American Atlantic
seaboard, has the reputation of being easiest to train to eat frozen foods. As part of a complete diet,
seahorses trained to eat frozen food should regularly receive a variety of live foods as well. Examples
include ghost shrimp, enriched brine shrimp, baby mollies, red shrimp, etc. Some live food should be
offered every week. (Note: The dwarf seahorse, H. zosterae, is a hardy species, but requires live food
cultures of brine shrimp nauplii (24+ hour post-hatched vitamin/HUFA enriched baby brine shrimp), but is
very hardy if its nutritional needs are met.)
SIGNS TO OBSERVE FOR POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
?Are there any signs of skin sloughing or discoloration, inflammation, odd
swimming behavior, not using a holdfast, lying on substrate or swimming
upside down, minimal eye movement, protruding eyes, blisters anywhere on
the body, inflamed gill slits, eroded snout, any body or tail lesions, or
continuous heavy respiration?
This is only a partial list of possible outward signs of illness. It's also difficult to know what is normal
behavior (e.g., normal eye movement, respiration) without an experienced eye for seahorse observation. If
any of the above descriptions are present, play it safe and pass on the purchase. Resist buying an
apparently healthy animal if its tank mates show signs of disease, as it is likely to be infected as well. To
"rescue" an obviously malnourished or sick seahorse is tempting. Try to resist the temptation; most sick
seahorses will die, and you risk introducing disease pathogens into your
aquariums. In addition, you will be rewarding an aquarium shop for poor
husbandry practices and for selling unhealthy WC seahorses. Instead,
urge the store to maintain and feed seahorses properly and to stock CB
CB seahorses, maintained in a mature tank with good water quality
(ammonia and nitrite, zero; nitrate <20 ppm) and fed an appropriate diet
may be expected to live for several years without serious health
problems. WC seahorses, on the other hand, often show signs of
disease, particularly as they are being newly established in the home
aquarium. For either WC or CB, it is imperative to have medications on
hand, so that you can be prepared to treat a disease outbreak before it overtakes one or all of your animals.
The following medications have been recommended by the author and members of Seahorse.org to keep
on hand in case of illness. Before treating, be sure to diagnose the disease and determine the best course
of treatment. The "Articles" section in the Seahorse.org library includes information on diseases and
treatments, and the discussion board has an Emergency forum staffed by experienced keepers and
breeders to help with your questions.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE MEDICINE CABINET
You should have these medications on hand when you purchase your seahorse. As you become more
knowledgeable about them, you may find that you prefer other medications; this is just a guideline. Most of
these medications can be found at a well-stocked LFS.
Be sure to have on hand:
Formalin 3 and Neosporin (triple antibiotic ointment) as a topical solution.
(Betadine will do in a pinch.)
Furan-2 or Triple Sulfa
Important meds that may be obtained through your veterinarian or MD:
Essential tools to have on hand:
Fine gauge IV catheter flexible tubing (without needle)
Tuberculin syringe with needle removed
Loose hairpin with soft plastic tip
Hospital tank and accessories
NOTE: Seahorse.org is attempting to make the essential medications and tools available through the
ACCLIMATION AND QUARANTINE
Acclimation procedures do not differ from other fish except for the use of nets, as netting often damages the
bony plates and the delicate dermal layer of the seahorse. Preferable methods include gently coaxing them
into a plastic container for transfer or hand transfer. If the latter method is used, it is advisable to make the
transfer quickly to avoid undue stress.
All WC purchases should be given a freshwater dip or formalin bath and ideally be kept in a separate
display or quarantine tank for 2-4 weeks before introducing them to a tank with other seahorses. Seahorses
are more sensitive than most fish to the FW dip, thus if they show signs of distress(e.g. thrashing, lying on
bottom) lasting more than around 15 seconds, remove them immediately, regardless of the maximum 3 -5
minutes required to remove or kill external parasites. We do not advocate mixing CB and WC seahorses in
a tank, as even apparently healthy WC seahorses may be asymptomatic carriers of disease that could
decimate CB seahorses that may not have resistance to the disease. Observe all new purchases carefully
for any odd behavior or external lesions, spots or other anomalies. Usually the first sign of illness is
cessation of appetite, but this is not a hard and fast rule. If any signs of illness are suspected, there is a
comprehensive disease guide at www.seahorse.org. Alternately, you can post the problem on the
Photographer: Eliezer Zu ga Villarreal
discussion board under Emergency if anything seems amiss. There are several expert keepers who will be
around to help you with the problem and answer your questions. Please do not treat a seahorse without
knowing what pathogen is affecting it. Additionally, never use copper-based solutions on seahorses or
pipefish. Their internal organs are too delicate to withstand copper treatments.
THE SEAHORSE TANK
Seahorses should be introduced into a mature, cycled aquarium. Most commonly used marine filtration
methods and tank set-ups can result in a healthy, stable seahorse aquarium. A seahorse tank must have
gentle to moderate currents. Be sure there is adequate biological filtration and do regular, partial water
changes of 5-20 percent per week as you would with any fish-only aquarium, to keep water parameters as
listed below. Water parameters should be stable before animals are added:
pH - 8.0 to 8.3
Specific gravity - 1.021 to 1.024
Ammonia - 0
Nitrite - 0
Nitrate - <20 ppm
Optimum temperature is dependent on whether the seahorse species being kept are tropical, subtropical or
temperate. Generally, most beginners should start with tropical species unless the tank is equipped with a
chiller unit. Heating tanks is much less expensive than cooling them. Use a high quality submersible
heater. Many Seahorse.org members use Ebo Jaeger heaters as they have more reliable than average
performance and do not feel hot to the touch, minimizing the chance of burning a seahorse that hitches to
the heater. Allow about 4-watts per gallon when selecting an aquarium heater.
This is not a hard and fast rule, but most seahorse aquarists use taller tanks. Seahorses need height (2.5
to 3 times the UNCURLED length of the animals) in their tanks to court and mate. At a minimum, the depth
of the tank, excluding the substrate, should be at least 2x the uncurled length of the animal. Further, leave a
path along the substrate as some seahorses courting rituals require them to scoot along the bottom of the
tank in tandem. Several pairs of pygmy seahorses can be maintained in a 5-10 gallon tank (a 10G is
recommended because of the difficulties of keeping water parameters stable in a small capacity aquarium.
Two to three pairs of medium sized seahorses can be maintained in a 24-gallon tank although a larger tank
is preferable to keep water parameters more stable.
Temperature Requirements and Stocking Density of
Commonly Available Seahorse Species
Note: This is to be used as a guideline. Keeping temperature
constant is extremely important and although it is typically
better to keep them at the lower ranges below, stability is key.
One degree more or less is not a problem as long as
temperature swings do not exceed 2 degrees maximum in a
24-hour range. Surface turbulence using power heads (water
pumps), air pumps, and fans can help to lower and stabilize
temperatures if necessary.
1) Tropical species should be kept at 74-78 degrees F (24-26 degrees C)
zosterae, 1 pair/2.5 gallons (10 liters)
kuda, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
barbouri, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
erectus, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
reidi, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
fuscus, 1 pair per 5 gallons (20 liters)
Photographer: Robert Sozzani
comes, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
procerus, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
2) Subtropical species should be kept at 70-74 degrees F (22-25 degrees C)
whitei, 1 pair/8 gallons (30 liters)
ingens, 1 pair/13 gallons (50 liters)
tuberculatus, 1 pair/5 gallons (20 liters)
capensis, 1 pair/5 gallons (20 liters)
3) Temperate species should be kept at 66-72 degrees F (19-22 degrees C)
abdominalis, 1pair/13 gallons (50 liters)
breviceps, 1 pair/5 gallons (20 liters)
CHOOSING SAFE TANK MATES
The following hardy invertebrates are generally regarded as safe tank mates for medium to large seahorses
and do not require special lighting, as do corals. Use caution when adding animals to the tank; seahorses
are not strong swimmers, are not competitive feeders, and have very few defenses against aggression.
With the exception of these clean-up crew animals it is generally advisable to establish seahorses first, then
add other animals. Remove a tank mate at the first sign of aggression.
Many potential tank mates can help control algae and/or clean up
uneaten food. Other animals such as certain non-aggressive fish and
corals may be housed with seahorses; this is just a partial list of
compatible "clean up crew" animals considered most likely to be safe
with small to large seahorses. Not all of these animals should be
considered safe with seahorse fry. See the tank mates section of
Seahorse.org for a more comprehensive list.
NOTE: Be sure you research the requirements of any compatible
animals you wish to add to the seahorse tank before purchasing. For
example, many corals, sponges, and gorgonians require special reef
lighting or high water flow to thrive.
Fan worms including Feather Dusters (Phylum Annelida)
Astrea Snail (Lithopoma [Astraea] spp.)
Turbo Snail (Turbo spp.)
Nassarius Snail (Nassarius vibex)
Trochus Snail (Trochus niloticus)
Cerith Snail (Family Cerithiidae)
Nerite Snail (Nerita spp.)
Fighting Conch (Strombus alatus)
Blue-legged Hermit Crab (Clibanarius tricolor)
Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
Scarlet/Blood Shrimp (Lysmata debelius)
Rockpool Shrimp (Palaemon elegans)
Grass Shrimp (Palaemonetes vulgaris)
(Shrimp are not considered safe around seahorse fry or H.zosterae (dwarf seahorse).
Notable groups that should be avoided:
Tangs, Triggerfish, Groupers, , Eels, Nudibranchs, Filter-feeding Sea Cucumbers, Sea Urchins with sharp
spines, Fireworms, Spanish Dancer Flatworms, Fire Corals, Lace Corals, Anemones, Tube Anemones, all
Cephalopods (Squids, Octopuses, Cuttlefish, and Nautilus-), Mantis Shrimp, Lobsters, Heliofungia spp.
Photographer: Barry Lipman
Corals, Cataphyllia spp. Corals, Euphyllia spp. Corals, Goniopora/Alveopora spp. Corals, Galaxea spp.
Corals, and Hydnophora spp. Corals.
With a little patience, WC seahorses can be trained to eat dead/frozen foods. There are numerous ways to
coax them into taking it. (There are several members in the seahorse.org forums with experience available
to offer advice on how to do this.) This not only makes the job of feeding them a great deal easier and less
expensive, it increases their chances of long-term survival, particularly with less experienced seahorse
keepers. If you are having a lot of trouble getting your new seahorses to take frozen food, a short-term
solution is to feed enriched artemia, (brine shrimp), ghost shrimp for larger species; and Hawaiian red
shrimp. (See Seahorse.org for enrichment procedures.) The need to start with live food is usually
necessary when purchasing WC seahorses unless the staff at your LFS has already trained them. It is
good husbandry to continue to regularly offer live foods to seahorses that primarily subsist on frozen foods.
Try to offer live foods at least once or twice a week.
The enriched artemia should always be rinsed in freshwater prior to feedings to kill or remove any harmful
bacteria, and offered two to three times per day at three to six hour intervals. Some larger seahorse
species may not readily take the brine shrimp, and will require live ghost/glass shrimp. These are a much
more nutritional food source (or supplement) than the artemia-only diet. Hawaiian red shrimp can be
purchased from Ocean Rider at www.oceanrider.com. (Tell them you are a Seahorse.org member.) Finally,
if you don't want to go to all this trouble maintaining the WC seahorses, your other option is to purchase
only CB (captive bred) species that have already been trained to eat frozen foods, such as mysis (Mysis
relicta), or mysids making feeding a much more simple task. Offer the frozen food, pre-thawed and rinsed,
once or twice daily. Initially watch the seahorses carefully to see that all are getting their fill, and then adjust
the amount of food offered accordingly. Again, remember to supplement a diet of frozen food with live
foods offered at least once per week.
KNOW YOUR SPECIES
Often, temperate species are available for the home aquaria. One of the most popular species currently
being sold is the pot-bellied seahorse, H. abdominalis/H. bleekeri. This is a wonderfully active, curious
seahorse that has captured the heart of many hobbyists. If you choose to carry them, it is critical to hold
them at optimum temp ranges (66-70F/19-21C). You will need to purchase a chiller to maintain optimum
temperatures. Be forewarned that chillers are very expensive pieces of equipment.
NOTE: Any fact sheets purporting that temperate species can be kept at tropical temperature
ranges is false and will, without exception, cause the demise of a subtropical and temperate species
within a few days. It is in your own best interest not to purchase from breeding facilities that claim
otherwise, nor to disseminate this misinformation.
Most of the WC seahorses supplied to pet stores are collected
from the tropical Indo-Pacific or Caribbean regions. These species
are most comfortably kept at temperature ranges between 74-
78F/24.5-26C. There are several species regularly offered, but
again, many of these same species are also being domestically
bred. You can find excellent photos and descriptions, and other
specifics on each species at www.seahorse.org. Many new
seahorse hobbyists purchase seahorses from their local aquarium
dealer without being aware of which species they own. We
frequently get questions on species ID and care at Seahorse.org.
If your dealer is not certain of the scientific name of the species of
seahorse he/she carries, you can ID your species at Photo Gallery
Photographer: John Randall
at Seahorse.org . If still unsure, a digital photo may be uploaded and linked to on the Seahorse.org site.
One clear photo showing the dorsal spines and head/snout should be sufficient for ID purposes. Common
names can be misleading. Find their scientific equivalent and make sure you find out about any specific
needs particular to the species purchased.
BEFORE YOU BUY, be sure you understand the basic principles of how to keep
seahorses in the home aquarium. Again, the best overall source for this is at
Seahorse.org. Keeping marine fish of any type requires a solid knowledge of basic
marine chemistry. There are many books available and sources on the internet on
this topic. If you prepare adequately and take the time to set up an appropriate
sized, fully cycled, and stable tank environment for your seahorses, you will
greatly improve your chances of success.
NOTE: Although temperature ranges may be similar, it is not wise to keep tropical
seahorses in a captive reef environment. They cannot compete for food and may
be stressed by pelagic fishes, such as tangs and wrasses. The water circulation in
a standard reef tank is much higher than the low to moderate water turnover for
seahorses. In an attempt to find a holdfast, they may grasp onto corals and
anemones, consequently receiving a potentially deadly sting. They also have been known to damage the
soft tissue of delicate SPS corals frequently kept in reef tanks through constant hitching. Seahorses are
best kept in a species tank; that is, a tank specifically set up for keeping primarily one species.
Check with your LFS or at Seahorse.org for information on how to best obtain a particular species.
No matter where you live, it is not usually difficult to have CB
seahorses ordered for you from your LFS.
This fact sheet was created for the new seahorse hobbyists by Seahorse.org (www.seahorse.org), a nonprofit
organization committed to the education and ethical treatment of seahorses in captivity. Please
distribute this document freely to all parties interested in keeping seahorses.