Caballitos de mar
SeahorsesYou find in these pages, all you need to know about keeping seahorses in captivity and breeding babies
There are at least about 60 different kinds of seahorses and subspecies (hippocampus) in the world, varying in color and length from the dwarf pigmy of the Gulf (2,5 centimeters = 1 inch) to the great seahorse of the Pacific (35 centimeters = 14 inches). In Europe they do not exceed more than 15 centimeters = 6 inches. They are of the syngnathidae family which includes approximately 220 species. Their life span extends from 2 to 4 years in an aquarium. In the sea they usually live between the surface and shallow bottoms, near algae and sea grass, their life would be from 5 to 7 years according to the species.
Only buy seahorses in specialised fish shops or in private breeders accustomed to an aquarium and substitute food (for instance hippocampus-hippocampus, erectus, guttulatus, histrix, kuda, reidi,) Other species generally refuse to feed themselves in captivity or do not simply adapt themselves, and would necessitate breeding or obtaining live food identical in every way to that which they find in their natural environment.
When you buy seahorses from a fish shop, ensure they are well-rounded (belly not collapsed, a sign of sickness or malnutrition), that it is proven to you that they feed themselves and especially to which food they are accustomed. Observe their behaviour which must be completely normal, that there is no abnormality on the body or the eyes etc (see the chapter on diseases). Don't by an animal just arrived at the fish shop, always await a 3 weeks minimum. Otherwise, if you see a couple, don't separate them, buy both of them they will be happy.
Besides, it is necessary to inquire about the compatibility and the needs of the species before mixing the population of seahorses.
They almost have the same skeleton as fish, except for some specific particularities which give the animals their original posture. If fish have scales, seahorses' bodies are covered with dermal plates protecting and shielding them. This animal has 2 branchial flukes to steer, one back fluke to move forward and a small anal fluke to keep the balance. The tail, normally intended to maintain the animals straight, is sometimes used as a balancing pole when they swim head down. They only have one kidney and no stomach. The male seahorse has an external pouch that can be seen by an experienced eye when it is five to six months old. This pouch allows you to recognize the animal. The crest of the male thorax is sleek. whereas the female crest of thorax is serrated. The head is at a right angle of the body and ends in a tube like muzzle which allows the animal to suck up its prey. The length and opening of the mouth differs from one species to another. The smaller the mouth, the more difficult it is to catch food, especially in our tanks. Seahorses have a very good eyesight and can see tiny things. Both eyes move independently one from the other. For instance one eye can watch rightwards, the other down. This precious gift allows them to detect simultaneously a danger and watch something else. They also have a good hearing and smell. They communicate each other by faint sounds that a human ear cannot perceive. They emit a vibration you can feel if you hold a seahorse between two fingers when with removing a wounded animal to heal it (MIND YOU, AVOID HOLDING AN ANIMAL UNLESS NECESSARY). In any case, always keep the head under the water so that it may breathe. Seahorses may adapt or change their color according to their surroundings or their mood. They can thus protect themselves from predators according to an opinion, or deceive their preys, according to some other specialists. One thing is certain, seahorses tend to darken in a tank if confronted to a stressing situation of when they feel disturbed. When in a good mood or during mating, seahorses lighten more or less.
Feeding is a problem for seahorse keepers who only get their supplies from fish shops or must breed living food themselves. In their natural environment, seahorses usually feed upon plankton and small crustaceans.
Luckily for us, in a tank they accept frozen of living substitution food (do not forget to defreeze and do not give the juice) especially artemias salinas (brine shrimp). They are also keen of mysis and cyclops. If their mouth is large enough they can eat krills and daphnia but they are not really fond of that. You can also try tiny worms. When you acquire a new guest, you should bring it to get progressively used to this kind of food. So should do fish shops. Feed the animals twice a day. 20 preys a day seem to be enough to feed one animal and keep it in good shape. Naturally if you give more it will not refuse. However keep an eye on water pollution. Same food can also be given alive from time to time: additional contribution in vitamins and they will be happy.
If you are not too sensitive, you may give living shrimps "palaemonetes" from time to time : seahorses will only suck the blood. During the hunt seahorses circle the prey and following a specific strategy will kill it before emptying it from its blood. You can also give guppys babies.
The syngnatid = pipefishes (doryrhamphus dactyliophorus for instance) need to live amongst sea urchins in the aquarium and "Alive stones". They will feed with difficulty upon substitue food. They often accept the artemias (small sizes or new hatched), the cyclops or others copepods and amphipods. How much time to feed them ? Also twice a day (Keeping rules = identical to those of seahorses).
Feeding time is expected by these creatures. They cluster in front of the tank pane and start moving faster. When fed, they calm down. If they are still excited after the meal, this means that food was not enough. Let us remember that seahorses eat the whole day in their natural environment and that we should be careful in order to avoid water pollution. Feeding is one important moment in the life of the seahorses, stop the pumps during the meals.
It is difficult to tell how long an adult seahorse can stay without eating and what would be the result on its organism. Do never exceed two to three days, provided the animals have previously been correctly fed, and were in good health. IT IS HOWEVER NOT RECOMMENDED TO DO THAT. A seahorse must regularly eat. It all depends on whether it finds enough preys in the tank or not. Beyond three days disturbances may appear. Anyway, seahorses will feel better and happier if reasonably fed. One must remember that in the sea, they spend their days eating whatever they find. An underfed seahorse is stressed and unhappy !
During the meals the adults as the babies may be choke, it is always necessary to watch them (see the chapter breeding - feeding).
A newcomer in your tank will show timid. Be patient, when it gets to knowing you better if will trust you and will eventually eat from your fingers.
Avoid any lack in vitamins and trace elements. It is strongly recommended to regularly add liquid solutions containing them into the tank. Do so especially when coal and/or a scum device and an UV-sterilizer are used. It is also recommended to add vitamins and trace elements in presence of unvarriated food.
Behaviour, Habits, Aquarium life
As said in these pages, seahorses are fragile and timid when put in a new environment. They tend to consider you as a possible danger. Consequently they will hide, grasp an element, and stay motionless. This can go for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. Male animals appear to be even more timid. See that they eat enough and treat them gently. A quarantine period is strongly recommended.
When accustomed to the tank, they will move fearlessly. Swimming straight they will near you as soon as they see you, especially if they are hungry. They will gracefully curl their tails and perform a kind of dance to charm you, or a sexual partner . They also seem sensitive to your voice.
All day long they scan at the bottom of the tank in search of food, or they idle, interlace their tails, or sleep. A seahorse can also swim head down, especially the male one. It does so either because it keeps eggs in its pocket (too many of them, and sometimes with addition of air) or for fun (usually babies). Swimming this way may as well be intended to detect tiny preys. Female seahorses do not favor this way of swimming. If a seahorse stays head down for more than a few days, this means it could be ill.
By nature quite calm and nonchalant, seahorses dislike the mixing of populations. A tank should preferably group animals of the same kin. Except for calm fish like the "pterapongon kauderni, avoid other fish which are too nervy and liable to stress your hosts. Besides a problem of feeding would appear : a fish eats very quickly whereas a seahorse takes all its time. The seahorse will probably not survive such a situation. Avoid putting certain kinds of invertebrates in the tank or be careful in doing so as they may capture, wound or disturb the seahorses. For instance I witnessed a "stenopus shrimp" usually harmless and even useful in the removing of parasites from fish spending its time watching and attacking the inhabitants of my tank and eventually killed my ringed pipefishes (doryrhamphus dactyliophorius) trying to cut them into.
Seahorses are meant to live in small groups and affinities appear between male or female animals or among individuals of the same sex. This is why avoid to separate two or several individuals. The remaining animals may develop a serious stress or stop eating. This phenomenon appears sometimes when an animal of the group dies.
Newcomers may find it difficult to be accepted by the group. Some very sociable seahorses - which is normal for the species - accept newcomers easily, some do not (especially she-seahorses due to the interest in having the favors of the he-seahorses). It is obvious that as for other animals you will find difficult individuals. In that case, they will watch the intruders waving from right to left or spinning around as if they were preys. They will strike them with their muzzles. They may pretend not to pay attention to the newcomers and all of a sudden strike them . The only way to try stopping these attacks is to separate the victims from the attackers in the same tank. This way the animals can get used one to another. If the attempt fails avoid any introduction of new seahorses. The babies having grown up and having been separated from the parents for a too long time become strangers and may suffer the same treatment. This is why it is preferable to built up a population in one time because each individual will be busy getting acquainted to its environment and will look for its own marks. On the other hand if a seahorse is separated from the others for a short time its coming back in the group will not be difficult like for young seahorses (aged six to eight months) used to living together and especially when they were bred in captivity. They will accept in principle any newcomer without reluctance or aggressivity.
Some suspect seahorses of attacking or even eating their babies when they are born. Personally I have never seen my hosts (200 individuals) attacking them. This may perhaps happens if adults are starving or one individual is quite aggressive. In this case it will not get along with its mates.
I do not share the idea, common among specialists, that seahorses reproduction is difficult in captivity and that breeding often fails. In presence of failure it can be said that this is due to ignorance, lack of devoted time and that the numerous requirements are not fulfilled. All my seahorses have been bred in my tanks and go on reproducing.
If your hosts feel well you will witness numerous matings and births. A seahorse in good shape will perpetuate life. Naturally, I would not assert that breeding babies is easy, but in comparison with illness......
Reproduction - Mating, birth
A male seahorse will not necessarily be satisfied with one female individual. If the she-seahorse does not produce enough eggs it may call for an extra sexual partner. The more frequent case is the one when a female has too many eggs to transfer. In that situation it looks for a second carrier. This means that you need to have more male than female individuals, because the latter may wear out a partner by imposing a too heavy burden. Otherwise, attention to possible conflicts.
I have read several accounts stating that male seahorses worn out by births would almost die in tanks as well as in their natural environment. This is wrong. If they die, either the first rule mentioned above is not respected or because the animal is ill and in a bad condition for other reasons, or because it is too old.
The rate of reproduction is as an average of around once a month, usually from April to October but may extend to the whole year. It all depends on the life medium, temperate or tropical water. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of six months. The first eggs laying may show lifeless - it did not happen in my breeding. Bred in captivity they develop successfully. The mating parade lasts for hours during which the male produces tiny grunts to attract its mate. The couple will perform a ballet like ritual dance interlacing and swimming in all directions, bowing to each other incessantly. During this elegant ceremony, the he-seahorse inseminates the eggs. Regularly it opens its inflated, almost transparent pouch. During the whole process the male will perform starts while continuing paying court to its beloved one.
At the appropriate time, the partners will stay a few seconds belly to belly. The female seahorse will insert its laying tube into the male's pouch transmitting it the eggs. The he-seahorse will at this moment show its satisfaction by wriggling and waddling. It will allow the eggs to mature and will keep the babies until they are born. From then on the pouch which was flabby will become firm and swollen, sometimes even bloated (in case of a large litter). When the pouch changes its appearance from swollen to small bumps, the babies completely shaped are ready to be born. With a good side light it is possible to watch in transparency not only the eggs but the small seahorses. A male animal in good health will give birth in a standing position. The babies will come out in small groups. It will look rather nervy, will bend in two, open its pouch, push hard until one ore several babies are stream like ejected. An ill animal will give birth at the bottom of the tank and will often die after the babies are born. The latter seem protected from illness. The parents do not look after the newborn babies.
Two of three weeks after mating according to the species, takes place the preparations for action : one to several tens of babies 10 mm to 15 mm long come out. They are the exact tiny copies of the adults and they are immediately able to eat. Out of the comfortable nest they tend to panic first, then regain their self-control and will grasp the first thing they find on their way. The more courageous ones start swimming immediately in a frenetic and clumsy manner. During the first days and weeks they endeavor to improve the swimming technique, and will devote the time eating, quarrelling, or sleeping.
During the first 4 or 5 months, the young are able to change color on several occasions (usually during a single night), going from brown to milk white, or yellow, and vice versa. The final taint will be established after 3 - 5 months and will in principle be virtually the same as the parents. Even so it can happen that several babies choose a permanent derivate, presumably for the same reason that their elders develop this kind of temporary modification.