How to Care for Seahorses

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    Victoria Smirnova

    Victoria Smirnova is a writer and editor who adores animals and helps readers get along well with their pets. While studying at the University, Victoria became interested in writing articles on different themes. Before The Pets, Viki headed several websites and worked as a news editor. Victoria has been working in digital media for more than 5 years and has great experience writing content about lifestyle, including pets.

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  • Updated on: 17/04/2020

Seahorses are incredible creatures and a treat to care for. However, they are very unique animals and they have very unique needs, requiring specialized systems and a good deal of dedication to keep them healthy. These days, coral tanks are quite popular since so many different critters are compatible with them. With that said, though, your seahorses are really deserving of their own dedicated “species tank.”

how to care for seahorse@Pexels / Pixabay

Although they require unique care, seahorses are easy to keep and even breed, if you maintain the right setup. The key is to invest in the right tank system and then pair your seahorses with the right tank mates. From there, it’s really only a matter of feeding them the right food. You’ll soon see just how rewarding seahorses are to care for and how fun they are to observe. But, let’s start by going through some interesting things you should know about seahorses.

What You Should Know About Seahorses

There are no laws against owning seahorses in the United States, but they can be expensive. The average cost is about $100 for 10 dwarf horses, but the price can range drastically depending on if you’re buying a wild-caught or tank-bred seahorse, alongside other factors.

  • Scientifically, seahorses (Genus Hippocampus) fall into Family Syngnathidae, sharing this family with sea dragons and pipefishes. In all, there are 36 seahorse species, but all of them share a number of characteristics that you would distinctly recognize that make them seahorses–like the fact that all seahorses carry themselves upright.
  • Seahorses swim using their modified pectoral fins and their dorsal fin. Unlike many other creatures of the sea, they do not have a caudal fin, which you may better recognize as a tail fin. Instead, seahorses have their lovely prehensile tail. If you take a close look at a seahorse, you’ll also notice something else that set them apart from many other sea creatures. Namely, they don’t have scales. Instead, seahorses have bodies that are naturally protected with a series of tough plates.
  • Of course, the top recognizable feature of a seahorse is the distinct shape of their head, which is akin to that of a horse (hence its name). The elegant bend of their neck and slender snout complete the look, helping anyone instantly and intuitively call out a seahorse from all the rest within a tank of any number of creatures.
  • As far as wild seahorses go, they are found naturally in many calm waters within estuaries and shallow bays. Most seahorses will prefer a place where macroalgae and seagrass grow densely, as this allows them to grab onto something with their tail, keeping them from getting pulled around when waves and tidal currents are strong.
  • Like other syngnathids, seahorses are predatory and they prey on small crustaceans, including amphipods, copepods, and juvenile shrimps. Due to the tiny size of this prey, seahorses are constantly hunting and feeding the entire day. Interestingly, while they may have an awkward shape, seahorses are quite adept for hunting. Although slower than many fish, seahorses are impressively nimble and have great maneuverability. They’re even able to hover in one place for long periods of time.

Seahorses are also rather interesting in the way that they attack their prey. They use a mechanism known as elastic recoil feeding that lets them rapidly snap their head forward with the energy they store in certain neck muscles. All of this is behavior you’re sure to witness when you go to feed your seahorses each day, but first you’ll need to figure out a few other important details.

Seahorse Tank Setup

how to care for seahorses@Q.U.I / Unsplash

One of the most common questions people ask is: What size tank do seahorses need? In reality, it’s not just the size of the tank, but the setup of the tank that is important. Your aquarium for your seahorses won’t be much unlike the saltwater aquarium you would prepare for another fish species, however, the way seahorses live will require special needs to be addressed.

  • Generally, you can create the most optimal conditions within your seahorses’ tank with ease, but they actually contradict the general best practices of a reef tank in some ways. That means an aquarium that might be perfectly suited to your corals won’t be a good fit for seahorses. In fact, it’d be quite a bad pairing. Your seahorses deserve a specialized setup, so here’s what you should keep in mind.
  • Since seahorses are not very active and not territorial, either, your pet seahorses won’t need a huge tank. Instead, focus on how you maintain that tank and invest in the right systems to do so. Water quality, for example, is a major factor in the health and wellness of your seahorses. Therefore, you might consider a smaller tank, but invest in a tank filter that’s dependable, highly-effective, and perhaps even rated for a larger tank, allowing it to easily process all of the water within your seahorses’ environment.
  • When choosing a water filter, pick one capable of handling more or larger animals than you have in your tank. Also, remember that seahorses don’t like currents, so keep the water flow to a minimum. Moreover, try to eliminate air bubbles in your system as much as possible.
  • As an aspiring seahorse keeper, you’ll want to begin with a quality sea salt mix, like Instant Ocean sea salt. To make sure that the sensitive seahorses you acquire will never be exposed to ammonia, which is toxic, you’ll also want to begin with a bio-active substrate, like Nature’s Ocean reef substrate. You can then add one or more simple filters, like the kind that hang on the back of the tank. The Marina power filter is a popular choice. Once it’s filled, you should monitor the temperature of your tank with a reliable thermometer, like a Marina floating thermometer.

Inside the tank, remember that seahorses live and act differently than other fish. They don’t need hiding spots, but they do need hitching posts. They are what your seahorses will hold onto with their tails when they go to rest. There should be plenty of room so that all of your seahorses can hitch on when resting. Realize that live (stinging) corals aren’t good hitching posts, but you can use real or artificial plants and seaweeds. For example, seahorses love Marineland bamboo!

You can also make your own hitching posts out of the PVC pipe. Although they won’t look natural, the seahorses will not care and they are actually highly effective within these environments. Alternatively, you can buy larger artificial structures, like Marina mangrove root, so that you can easily clean and handle what’s in the tank without sacrificing the appearance of your tank.

Picking Stablemates for Your Seahorses

“Can I have seahorses in my aquarium?” If you find yourself asking that question, you likely have already found the answer. As mentioned above, seahorses deserve and truly need their own specialized tank environment. Don’t place them into your reef tank and think twice before combining them with your other existing fish. Seahorses need a tank designed especially for them.

how to take care of a seahorse@zilvergolf / Freepik

So, do seahorses need stablemates at all? It depends. Seahorses are actually best kept as individuals or in a bonded pair. You can keep a small group of a seahorse species (a “herd”) and it’s also possible to house different species of seahorses, and perhaps even pair them with other syngnathids, however, there are limits due to the parameters these different creatures will require, like water temperature, along with some other complications and considerations.

You can attempt to keep non-syngnathids with your seahorses, too, although it’s extremely difficult. Seahorses are slow, so they can’t dodge the attacks any aggressive tank mate attempts to make and they also can’t keep up with other species when it comes time to feed. Speaking of food, feeding your seahorse brings with it some other considerations.

Feeding Your Seahorse

Feeding will definitely be the most involved part of caring for your seahorse. They are picky eaters, to say the least, so never expect them to simply accept the food you prepare for them, be it flakes or pellets. Even whole, frozen foods may be rejected. It all depends on your particular seahorse. When it comes to feeding, tank-bred specimens will be easier to deal with than wild-caught ones, who are quite finicky.

In general, seahorses prepare living food, which is generally small crustaceans. You’ll also need to think about the feeding schedule, as seahorses in the wild generally graze throughout the day rather than eating all at once. Frequent feedings are a must and many small meals are better than a few big ones. While it may seem impractical, you should also cut off the filtration system as you feed.

Of course, if you go through the trouble of doing things right, it will all be worth it in the end! After all, properly cared for seahorses can thrive for years in captivity, so enjoy your new pets.

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