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For emergency seahorse care please visit Seahorse.org Emergency Forum
General Aquarium Care
This beginners careguide has been adapted for Australian keepers from the careguide avalible at Seahorse.org. For more information please visit the Seahorse.org library. All information taken from this guide is used with permission.
It Is Recommended That Beginning Keepers Purchase Captive Bred Seahorses
If you are buying from a local fish store (LFS), observe the seahorses carefully before you purchase. Even the smallest sign of disease or injury can result in mortality. Seahorses are sensitive and often succumb to pathogens not common to other marine ornamental fish. Treatments are quite different and have fewer efficacies. Even with a careful eye, wild caught (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:
Do Not Buy A Seahorse That Is Not Eating
Even stressed, new arrivals should eat within 24 hours if it they are 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. If the seahorses have been in the 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), or frozen mysis. Most captive bred (CB) seahorses have been trained to eat frozen mysis. Additionally, as part of a complete diet, seahorses trained to eat frozen food should regularly receive a variety of live foods. Examples include ghost shrimp, enriched brine shrimp, baby mollies etc. Some live food should be offered every week.
Signs To Observe For Potential Problems
Are there any signs of skin sloughing or discoloration, inflammation, odd swimming behaviour, not using a holdfast, lying on substrate or hitching 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 behaviour (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
Acclimation and Quarantine
Seahorses should be floated in the aquarium with lights off for 20 minutes upon arriving home. After this time, a small amount of aquarium water should be added to the bag. Refloat for a further 30 minutes.
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 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 freshwater (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. 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 Seahorse.org. Alternately, you can post the problem on the 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 must be introduced into a mature, cycled aquarium. Numerous 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:
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.
Most seahorse aquarists use taller tanks. Seahorses need height (2.5 to 3 times the UNCURLED length of the animals) to court and mate. The minimum depth of the tank should be 2x the uncurled length of the animal. Two to three pairs of medium sized seahorses can be maintained in a 100L tank although larger tanks are preferable to keep water parameters more stable. 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 powerheads (water pumps), air pumps, and fans can help to lower and stabilize temperatures if necessary.
Seahorse tanks can contain live rock like 'normal' marine tanks. It is important to ensure that your live rock has had any crabs, anemones, hydroids and large bristleworms removed prior to the addition of your seahorses. This can be monitored during the tank cycling process. Crabs are capable of injuring or even causing death to adult seahorses. Anemones and hydroids contain stinging cells (nematocysts) capable of damaging the skin leaving the seahorse susceptible to secondary bacterial infections. Adult seahorses may attempt to eat bristleworms becoming lodged in the snout resulting in death.
Here is a list of commonly available seahorse species in Australia, grouped by temperature range. You cannot mix species from differing temperature ranges. Also listed is the recommended minimum tank size for two pairs of adult seahorses of each species, as well as the 'additional' space required by each additional pair. These are guidelines.
- kept at 23-25^ degrees C
- H. kuda, 1 pair/30 litres - minimum size 80 litres
- H. barbouri, 1 pair/30 litres - minimum size 80 litres
- H. reidi 1 pair/30 litres - minimum size 80 litres
- H. procerus 1 pair/30 litres - minimum size 60 litres
- H. subelongatus 1 pair/50 litres - minimum size 150 litres
- kept at 21-23 degrees C
- H. whitei, 1 pair/30 litres - minimum size 60 litres
- kept at 18-20 degrees C
- H. abdominalis, 1 pair/50 litres - minimum size 220 litres
- H. breviceps, 1 pair/20 litres - minimum size 40 litres
^ 25 degrees C is the maximum temperature for tropical species and should not exceed this temperature.
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 defences 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. Compatible species include:
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)
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. Corals, Catalaphyllia 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. (You can find a "how-to" at Seahorse.org under "Articles" which explains the procedure.) 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); 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. 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. 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 (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 these 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.
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 at Seahorse.org. If still unsure, a digital photo may be uploaded and linked to on the Seahorse.org site. 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. Seahorses are best kept in a species tank; that is, a tank specifically set up for keeping primarily one species.
This fact sheet was created for the new seahorse hobbyists by Seahorse.org and has been adapted with permission for RTAW Reefpedia by Terri Rennie to suit Australian seahorse keepers. Please distribute this document freely to all parties interested in keeping seahorses
Australian Aquarium Species Identification Guide
- H. abdominalis - H. Bleekeri, Big Bellied Seahorse, Potbellied Seahorse, Southern Knights
- H . barbouri - Barbour's Seahorse, Tiger-snout Seahorse, Zebra-nosed Seahorse
- H. breviceps - Short Headed Seahorse, Southern Chargers
- H. guttulatus - Speckled Seahorse, Long-snouted seahorse, Hairy Seahorse
- H. kuda - Spotted Seahorse, Asian Emperors
- H. procerus
- H. reidi - Brazillian Seahorse
- H. subelongatus - H. elongatus, Western Australian Seahorse,
- H. whitei - White's Seahorse, Sydney Seahorse, White Knights
Disease information to be added shortly (13/12/2006)
H. barbouri, female
H. erectus, female
H. kuda, two being acclimatised
H. subelongatus, female (left) and male (right).
- Nutritional Requirements of Seahorses by Rob Toonen - Reefs.org
- A New Feeding Strategy for Hippocampus sp., and Other Fishes by Paul Baldassano - Journal of Maquaculture
- Seahorse Care: A Basic Guide to Starting Your First Herd by Beth Panocha - Advanced Aquarist's Online Magazine
- Seahorses: All You Need to Know About Keeping Seahorses in Captivity and Breeding Babies
- Seahorse.org - Seahorse Organisation, Keeping and Breeding Seahorses in the Home Aquarium.
- saseahorse.com South Australian Seahorse - Purchase Captive Bred Seahorses in Australia
- Oceanarium.com - Purchase Captive Bred Seahorses in Australia
- Seahorse Farm Tasmania - Purchase Captive Bred Seahorses in Australia
- Seahorse Australia - Purchase Captive Bred Seahorses in Australia
- Revision of the Australian seahorses of the genus Hippocampus (Syngnathiformes: Syngnathidae) with descriptions of nine new species by Rudi Kuiter - Records of the Australian Museum