View Full Version : Seahorse keeping basics - difference from other marine fish?

11/15/2016, 06:33 AM
Can someone make a post about the basics of buying and keeping seahorses and how it is different from keeping other marine fish? Mods maybe it could even be made a sticky? I have had a reef tank for almost a year now and love it, but my main goal ever since I started keeping freshwater was to one day own a seahorse tank. What is a good way to start off? Do seahorses tend to do better in a seagrass tank or do they do equally well in a reef? What do they eat and how do you feed them? Is it possible to build up a large enough population of live food in the tank to not really have to feed them?

Cheers :)

11/15/2016, 08:21 AM
I started reefing in Jan 94, but when I started into seahorse research in 2002 I found that I needed to learn a LOT more to be successful in that part of the salt hobby. I didn't get my first seahorse until 2005.
In that time since, the hobby has gone through a lot of change in what gets recommended based on so much more experience by many more hobbyists.
There are certain basics that most experienced hobbyists generally adhere to, but other factors that hobbyists vary in their choices of how to accomplish something. i.e. some use expensive filtration while others like myself do more hands on husbandry. (I have too many tanks to pay for the more expensive filtration for each.)
A few of the basics: tanks size= one pair of standard sized seahorses in a 29/30g tank with an additional 15g for each additional pair. This might change further though as Dan Underwood of seahorsesource.com is now recommending a straight rule of 29/30g for every pair in the tank.
Another basic is to keep the tank at 68 to 74F for tropic seahorses even though they come from warmer waters in their natural setting.
These recommendations are because of seahorse "dirty" eating habits, as well as their propensity for coming down with bacterial diseases, and, less frequent, chemical imbalances within themselves.
IME, target your husbandry practices to keep the water cleaner than it would be for ANY reef tank and your chances of success will be greater.
It is best to buy direct from a reputable breeder so the seahorses do NOT come in contact with LFS systems exposing them to pathogens they haven't grown up with. They often don't do well with this type of exposure.
Even when you have researched sufficiently to succeed in the hobby, you will always find exceptions, and someone saying you don't have to this or that.
IME, it is best to start off with sticking to what the majority of successful hobbyists recommend before trying some of the non recommend ways.
As I said before, some "luck" in to success, possibly due to more tolerant individual seahorse(s) but many many more are lost to others trying and failing. Even if you stick the recommendations it WILL NOT guarantee success.
You will need to research many places for differing opinions, but to start with, one of my pages can give you some insight into my experiences early on.
MY THOUGHST ON SEAHORSE KEEPING (http://www.angelfire.com/ab/rayjay/seahorsekeeping.html)
At the bottom of the page there are some links to information I find helpful, and especially check out the links to Tami Weiss's website which is probably the most up to date site for seahorses today, even more so than seahorse.org.
Anything you read written by Dan Underwood would be extremely important to take into consideration. Dan is, IMO, the most important source of excellent seahorse hobby information of any breeder for the hobby.

11/15/2016, 08:32 AM
I didn't finish answering before I set the post so here goes more.
While occasionally you will find some seahorses successfully kept in reef tanks, many many more are lost in the attempts to do so. They are best kept in a species only tank. Even mixing pipe fish can be a problematic addition unless they are captive bred which are almost impossible to come by as I know of only one source in the US.
You can set them up in a sea-grass tank, or in a tank with just using artificial decor/hitching. They will do best fed on frozen mysis like Hikari, and can benefit from occasional enriched with a high DHA product gut loaded live foods like adult brine shrimp. Any appropriately sized pods WILL be beneficial as well.
Seahorses will very quickly decimate the majority of any pod population in their tank so the primary feeding will be the frozen foods.
Some people feed them with a baster while some others used a feeding dish, and many more like myself, broadcast the food directly into the tank like most other fish get.
Well you have a start now, hopefully many others will chime in with their opinions. Some have other lives though and aren't able to visit this site daily so give it some time.

11/15/2016, 08:45 AM
Can someone make a post about the basics of buying and keeping seahorses and how it is different from keeping other marine fish? Mods maybe it could even be made a sticky? I have had a reef tank for almost a year now and love it, but my main goal ever since I started keeping freshwater was to one day own a seahorse tank. What is a good way to start off? Do seahorses tend to do better in a seagrass tank or do they do equally well in a reef? What do they eat and how do you feed them? Is it possible to build up a large enough population of live food in the tank to not really have to feed them?

Cheers :)
rayjay has some excellant material on seahorse keeping and he has long term experience. In his signature of his posts is: My thoughts on seahorse keeping. He will readily admit that his way is not the only way but its definitely a good solid method.

I have not been keeping seahorses near as long and I have learned a few things the hard way. I have been able to keep my ponies in a reef tank with safe non stinging softies. Recently I decided that a sandbed requires too much work and have converted to a bare bottom tank painted underneathe to simulate sand. Even after only a month of doing that I have decided that for me it is a good method of keeping detritus under control.

Whether you go reef or seagrass/macro tank you will need to make sure that leftover food and detritus are not trapped as that can fuel pathogenic bacteria. Dangerous bacteria and too many organics in the water column are probably the most serious issues seahorse keepers deal with. Keeping the temperatures below 75 helps prevent those bacteria from reproducing as quickly. Doing regular diligent husbandry also helps with both the bacteria issue and organics in the water column. A large oversized protein skimmer is very helpful in reducing nutrients as well.

Also it is a myth that seahorses need a low flow tank. They actually like to choose hitches in high, medium and low flow areas depending on their mood. Make sure if you choose powerheads to help with flow that they have tight grating that no pony tails can be injured by the impellors.

Lastly captive bred seahorses from a reputable seahorse farm like Seahorse Source is the best place to get seahorses. They come trained to eat frozen mysis are have been raised in tank conditions with synthetic seawater. They have less disease than wild caught seahorses.

This by far is not exhaustive but these are some definite things to think about.

11/15/2016, 08:53 AM
Thanks for the info, keep it coming!
What do you mean by 'husbandry'?

11/15/2016, 09:01 AM
Just to expand a bit on true captive bred, they can be born and raised in synthetic salt water, but also can be born and raised in ocean water that is properly filtered and treated for pathogens. Off shore facilities are well known for NOT properly filtering and treating their ocean water so that perhaps the majority of seahorses sold in LFS's in North American are NOT NEAR as suitable for purchase as a few of the North American breeders like Dan Underwood. Also, a problem with LFS purchases, they almost always have kept the seahorses in a system that has previously contained other fish, or in a system that presently is connected to tanks with other fish, exposing the seahorses to pathogens they haven't grown up with and can be very susceptible to. You can mitigate this by ordering seahorses and specifying that you pick them up BEFORE they are introduced to any LFS system. It means basically being there on delivery but it will be much better that way.
By husbandry, I mean basically keeping the tank extremely clean.
More frequent and larger water changes than a reef tank, and frequent cleaning of the mechanical filters (no less than weekly IMO), and siphoning or in some way removing any uneaten food/detritus that is NOT picked up by the mechanical filters, ESPECIALLY the crap that sits out of sight trapped in decor or in and around rockwork.

11/15/2016, 11:23 AM
As I am starting to research SH as well got a couple questions to add to this. Water changes, I get the reason, keeping nutrients low etc. I am looking at doing a macro heavy display. Since detritus breaks down and increases nitrates, wouldn't the macro counteract that? Not planning on letting the tank get coated in garbage, I'll run some sort of mechanical filtration but I'm planning on the tank being on my second floor, not too keen on carrying water up from the basement. Edit to clarify, not planning on going no water changes ever, just would prefer doing one every two weeks not multiple times a week.

Second, live foods. I'm about to start up a pod culture for my reef tank, I want a mandarin. Also considering a continuous brine shrimp hatchery, fortifying them with phytoplankton I'll be growing and Selcon. Since I like taking vacations, and don't like having to coach people on difficult to feed tank critters, anyone see any issue in having the main food source for the SH being live brine shrimp?

11/15/2016, 12:02 PM
First off, the reason for doing this extreme husbandry is because seahorses affinity for bacterial infection caused by nasty bacteria like vibriosis types and others. These nasty bacteria get to plaque levels as far as seahorses are concerned when temperatures are above 74F and when they have food and bedding. This food and bedding is the uneaten food and food waste detritus that is decaying either trapped in the tank somewhere, or caught in the mechanical filters. This deterioration of water quality happens before it ever gets to the nitrate stage, and, there are NO hobbyist test kits to tell you when it gets to problem levels so preventive maintenance is needed. It may take many months before the problem arises as the water can degrade slowly or fast depending on tank conditions and cleaning habits.
I would never go more than two weeks without a large water change but prefer more often based on my years of experience good and bad. More important is the removal of any uneaten food and detritus before it decays.
Other marine fish don't have this problem so you wouldn't normally have to worry about it for a fish only or reef tank.
In a seahorse tank, the pods would quickly become decimated so in fact you would need to culture them outside the tank and add when available. They ARE and excellent food, but unless you're going to have an extensively large or multiple set ups it can't be the primary food source. I don't know of anyone in my years of keeping that anyone has managed this long term.
Brine shrimp (artemia) can be a useful tool to get nutrition to the seahorses. However, unlike a mandarin, the artemia need to be grown out to adults before being enriched with a high DHA product. Most seahores other than dwarfs, can't be bothered with small shrimp like a mandarin eats, especially as they become adults, and, they would have to consume an inordinate amount of them to be of any value at all. I personally restrict the brine shrimp feedings I do to about once a week, with frozen Hikari mysis being used as the main food.
I used to grow copepods to augment the nutrition, but after a few years it became to much of a PITA so I just kept on with the growing of artemia that I'd been doing for over a decade at that point. (I grow them out in 26g rubbermaid containers)
I use phyto for the first week or so of the nauplii stage of brine, followed by greenwater made from well blended spirulina powder and then enriched at the adult stage using well blended Algamac 3050, high DHA, even higher than high DHA selcon. (I'm not partial to selcon/selco as being an emulsion, deteriorates rapidly, whereas the 3050 is a powder and can be kept long term in a freezer) Growing Brine Shrimp to Adult (http://www.angelfire.com/ab/rayjay/brineshrimp.html)
Also, nutritionally, brine shrimp are NOT sufficient for seahorses full time.
A further problem with live food feeding is that if for some reason the supply became blocked for a bit, the seahorses by that time will no longer consume frozen foods, and seahorses, when going without food for around 4 days, may never start to feed again and need to be tube fed with a syringe and cannula.
You may want to reconsider getting into the hobby if you have to carry water from the basement to the second floor all the time as the amount and frequency can burn you out in time, leaving the problems that arise from gradual slackening to cause fatalities.
I have some of my tanks on the first floor and for years carried the water upstairs and eventually I had the burnout and losses. I finally got a hose long enough to go from the mixing tanks and water holding tanks, up to the tanks on the first floor so I didn't have to carry it anymore. At my age it's a real challenge. I also use the hose to service all the tanks in the basement, but they were not as much of a problem as upstairs because I used a dolly cart to move the pails of water. The hose works out much faster though.

11/15/2016, 12:31 PM
Ah ok that makes sense with the bacteria. I always equated water quality to nitrates not so much the bacteria. I have no issues keeping up with water changes, just wanted to understand more of the "why". I'll definitely employ some matter of mechanical filter like a sock or even just a felt pad, plus mess with water flow to keep detritus suspended and flowing into the overflow. I think I could probably rig up some manner of pump system to make my life easier too.

Thanks for the link on the brine shrimp growing, seems most people only hatch and feed and I was looking for something exactly like that. Not much out there on it that I've found so far. I like the idea of the rubbermaid containers, I'll have to get a couple to set up. I was thinking a 10 gallon tank to start for pods for the mandarin, but I'm sure I'll need to increase that if I want to be supplying two tanks. Brine shrimp I wasn't sure what size I should do, but a good sized tote would be great. I have a something like a 5 gallon container to start my phytoplankton growing in and I'll add a few others if I need to or can. One question though, what does DHA stand for?

Makes sense to keep them used to eating frozen, shouldn't be too much of an issue. I have a whole farm of animals, and a reef tanks. So anytime we leave someone needs to house sit. I'll just want to make sure to keep them used to broadcast feeding, I've seen videos of them being target fed and I don't think the people I have watch the house are interested in that.

11/15/2016, 01:36 PM
Please remember to clean filter socks about every 3 to 4 days, and any pads a week at the most. Also, the sump needs to be keep free of decaying product as well so as not to feed the nasty bacteria.
As for growing brine shrimp, I'd recommend starting small and working up in time. It takes most people some time to "get the knack" so to speak. Even after my growing them for decades now, and on large scale to supply couple of stores locally, I still end up with failures occasionally.
I started growing them in two litre pop bottles and graduated to four litre wide mouth jars and then on to 5g water bottles inverted before finally using 26g. You shouldn't need more than a couple of those 5g at most. It's best to have multiple cultures going in case of crashes so you don't loose everything. In a pinch you can order from livebrineshrimp.com, especially if you don't want the labour intensive growing them yourself.
It's best to have multiple phytoplankton cultures also.
I've grown it in container up to 26g rubbermaids, but the 26g ones I had to stop because now we can't buy large spot lights here in Canada, only the flood lights that don't penetrate deep enough.
My Phyto Page (http://www.angelfire.com/ab/rayjay/phyto.html)
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is one of the fatty acids like EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) but seahorses can't manufacture it for themselves so need to consume it.
For growing pods, most species are going to do better in cultures kept in trays rather than tanks. I like depths of 4 to 5 inches best. They will need top up more often than a tank of equivalent volume because of so much surface area with respect to that volume. For adult seahorses, my seahorses experiences were best with amphipods when I was culturing pods for adults.
I don't know what is best pod life for mandarins as mine ate the freeze dried copepods that I soaked overnight before putting them in the tank. (a lot of corals took advantage of these freeze dried pods as well)
I tried tigger pods but some of my seahorses would get disturbed when the tiggers jumped on them and held on.
I used Nitocra Lacustris for pelagic seahorse fry as their first food.
Some hobbyists prefer to use a feeding dish to feed the frozen mysis, trying to minimize any getting throughout the tank.

11/15/2016, 03:56 PM
I have not been keeping seahorses near as long and I have learned a few things the hard way. I have been able to keep my ponies in a reef tank with safe non stinging softies.

Oops, I realise my statement about keeping my seahorses in a reef tank was misleading. My seahorses are in a specie specific tank that has live softie coral. It is not a mixed reef tank however.

When I first got into seahorses I had my seahorse tank plumbed into my reef tank. I kept both tanks at temperatures below 74. All the fish I had were old timers and I presumed disease free. Having tried that I would NOT recommend it to any seahorse keepers. It necessitated me keeping both tanks up to seahorse husbandry standards and was too much for me after a year of doing it that way. I made the tough decision to sell everything not seahorse safe and consolidate everything else into 1 specie specific seahorse tank.

11/16/2016, 11:12 AM
Awesome thank you for these answers. Sorry it may have derailed the original intent of the OP's post.

I've read the recommended height for a tank is at least 24". Is this very important, or could one get away with using a tank 20" high?

11/16/2016, 11:23 AM
20" no problem. Most of my seahorse tanks are 21 1/2".
I've also had them in 40g breeders which is significantly lower.
The higher height only makes it easier for them to transfer the eggs to the pouch but they often find a way to do it anyway.
If you don't want to raise fry then it won't matter at all.

11/16/2016, 11:48 AM
Also good to know, currently have zero interest in raising the fry haha. Which would lead into another question, if they do happen to breed, and I don't collect the fry, do they eat them like other fish?

11/16/2016, 02:27 PM
They get caught up in the filters and have to be cleaned out before decomposition sets in.
Or, you arrange for someone else to take them and raise them.