Photo by @d2mini
In our previous article on Keeping Seahorses in Aquaria, we looked at how to select your ponies and them happy and healthy. In this article, we'll look at another aspect of seahorse keeping your herd happy and healthy—feeding them properly and well.
Certainly one way to a seahorse’s heart is through its stomach! This is a time to really enjoy your ponies. As their owner, you get the experience of interacting with them at feeding time. It is an excellent opportunity for you to inspect each pony and determine its health and behavior patterns. Seahorses quickly learn that the appearance of their owners usually means yummy things to eat will soon follow. They will dance and beg and even change colors in an attempt to expedite their meal. We imagine that our aquatic pets are ecstatic to see us. In reality, it is probably the mysis that elicits such enthusiasm, but nonetheless, it is still gratifying!
In the wild seahorses are ambush predators. They eat their food by powerfully sucking it into their mouth and tube like snout. This sucking action is lightning fast and done with deadly precision. It is called a “snick”. They choose strategic hitches and basically snick any hapless crustacean that wanders nearby. They do this nearly every waking moment except when they are courting. Remember, their intestinal tract is primitive and not very efficient.
It is not possible to mimic this in our aquariums so instead we must do the next best thing which is offer multiple feedings a day. Most seahorse keepers offer 2-3 feedings each day. It is a balancing act of providing enough nutrition for our herd, but not so much bio-load and waste that the water quality is degraded.
Food preparation is an important part of feeding seahorses. Frozen mysis comes in both flat packs and cubes and either is fine for seahorses. The crucial thing to remember is to only prepare and thaw the amount for one meal. The process of decomposition begins immediately when the mysis is thawed. Frozen mysis should be thawed using tank water rather than water from the tap. Mysis thawed in salt water will sink while mysis thawed in tap water will float. After a few minutes the mysis will be thawed and ready to be rinsed in saltwater to remove excess oil and small particles. This step helps preserve water quality in the tank. Now you are ready to feed your ponies.
I do not recommend broadcast feeding for seahorses. Seahorses are slow deliberate diners and too much food is wasted by this method. Excess food can be trapped in the aquascape to rot and fuel bad bacteria.
Instead I recommend beginning with a turkey baster to feed your ponies. Suck up just a few pieces of thawed mysis. Position the open end of the baster in front of the targeted pony. Very gently squeeze the baster until a single mysis is expelled into the water column. A hungry pony usually can’t resist and readily will snick the tasty morsel. In fact, seahorses can become so excited to eat that they try to snick the mysis out of the turkey baster before their owner can squeeze a few pieces into the water column. As the herd catches on to the routine they will come a galloping as soon as they see the turkey baster.
Creative use of a feeding ring by @77.christy Now is a good time to introduce a feeding dish. The dish can be any smooth, safe container that can hold the prepared mysis. I like to use small quilted jelly jars. I have even seen shells or dish shaped artificial coral used as feeding dishes. I strategically place the dish in the lowest flow of my seahorse tank. That way I can leave my return pump running and only turn off the supplementary power head pumps. I have hitches surrounding the food dish. I use the turkey baster as a lure to gently guide a seahorse over to the feeding dish and then expel mysis into it. Quite often when one pony finds the dish, other members of the herd will investigate and also will find the dish. You can continue to use a turkey baster in this manner to fill the feeding dish or you can buy an acrylic half-inch diameter tube. If you get an acrylic tube taller than your tank you can keep your hands dry during the feeding process. You just put the tube into the food dish and using the turkey baster, squirt the prepared mysis into the tube. This can require some practice to squirt the mysis into the dish without so much force as to create a whirlpool that carries the mysis right back out of the dish. Eventually you will master directing the mysis down the acrylic tube and when it nears the dish to merely dribble water into the tube so that the mysis gently settles in the dish. Of course the hungry herd that is too impatient to wait for the mysis to reach the feeding dish can complicate the process. They may hitch to the tube and try to snick the mysis as it is passing through. Just continue to dribble water into the tube and the ponies are likely to move down the tube as the mysis moves down where they will find it settled in their dish. Soon your herd will recognize when they see the feeding tube that a shrimp dinner is forthcoming. In fact, they may even begin to wait at their feeding dish before it is time for them to eat!
Here's a video of the author's ponies waiting by their bowl.
And here's a later innovation of a feeding dish with multiple hitch posts:
I usually allow my seahorses 10-20 minutes to eat. Some days they are ravenous and the food is gone very quickly and other days they prefer to eat at a more leisurely pace. When I notice that they have moved to other hitches in the aquarium, I always check the food dish to see if all the food has been eaten. If it has not, then I use the turkey baster to remove the uneaten portion and discard it. I never save uneaten food to be used for another meal as bad bacteria could be starting to inhabit it. This is another safeguard to protect your seahorses from pathogenic bacteria.
Another creative idea for hitch posts by @JHuneke
Seahorses are just like most other creatures in that a varied diet is best for meeting all of their nutritional needs. The problem is that about the only frozen food that CB seahorses will eat is mysis. Mysis is an excellent staple but it is a good idea to supplement a seahorse’s diet. This can be done in a multitude of ways.
Gut loading live adult brine shrimp (crap) with an enrichment product is an excellent way of supplementing a seahorse’s diet. crap are easy to gut load since they begin to assimilate enrichment products into their tissues in 12 hours. It is as easy as placing the shrimp into a sterile container with newly made salt water and then add the enrichment. To maximize the enrichment process, strain the crap and place them in another sterile container with newly made salt water and enrich them for another 12 hours prior to rinsing and feeding. There are a number of benefits of doing this once a week. The first is that the enrichment product can fill in some gaps that a diet of mysis alone can’t. The second benefit is that the stimulation of the seahorses preying on crap is healthy and natural. Seahorses are predators and naturally enjoy hunting. A third benefit is that crap can be gut loaded with medications as well as enrichment products. In fact, most antibacterial medications are more effective if taken orally as opposed to being put in the QT water. Seahorses that have learned to enjoy enriched crap are more prone to also eat crap gut loaded with medication.
Photo of @rbraunberger's DIY brine shrimp hatchery
To read @rbraunberger's creative step-by-step guide to build your own brine shrimp hatchery, click this link.
Live mysis or ghost shrimp can be bought to supplement a pony’s diet. Of course, the shrimp must also be fed an enrichment to be nutritious. Some LFS carry them although seahorses usually prefer smaller shrimp. Feeder shrimp are expensive to ship but are easily kept in a 5-gallon tank with a small HOB pump. I try to always keep some feeder shrimp for my seahorses for a treat or those times when I may need to QT a pony. When being treated I have found that live shrimp is a good way to keep a sick pony eating.
Finally, an amphipod culture is another good supplemental food for seahorses. Again a 5-gallon tank with some rock, macro algae, a cheap light and a HOB filter will do the trick. I often discard left over mysis that the ponies did not eat into the amphipods or feeder shrimp. The amphipods are nice in that the more you feed them, the more they will reproduce. Of course, both feeder shrimp and amphipods need occasional WCs but they are pretty forgiving about water quality.
Now that we've covered how to keep your seahorses well-fed, the next question you'll need to answer is what to do during your time away (vacation or other extended travel) as well as how to deal with diseases and sickness. Those are the questions we'll address in our next and final installment of this series! Here's the link: Keeping Seahorses in Aquaria #6 - Dealing with Travel and Sickness