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And Freshwater Seahorses: There are reports from time to time of "Hippocampus aimei" being a true freshwater seahorse. One of the two species now identified as this pseudonym, H. spinossimus is brackish... to marine. No freshwater Seahorses.
About Pipehorses: A combination of body plans, pipehorses
For seahorses, the eastern Pacific H. ingens is largest at some 14 inches stretched out, the smallest, H. bargibanti and H. zosterae are less than an inch tall in the saddle. Pipefishes range from a few inches to a foot and a half.
Selection: General to Specific
The picking out of good/healthy syngnathids is a matter of keen insight into what criteria to look for/avoid, and careful observation. Only over a period of time and study may you come to identify how full-bodied, alert, and undamaged suitable specimens are. What to select for, and how?
1) Time: is the great equalizer in many ways. You want to wait on just newly arrived individuals at your dealers, but not too long lest they starve there. At first, all may seem okay with a shipment, but like a few other groups of marine livestock, syngnathids occasionally "all just die" from "stress"; assuredly induced through holding/shipping. Wait a few days after arrival, and:
2) Make sure they're feeding... foods that you can/are culturing, or have been trained onto frozen, otherwise dead items you will use. Pay attention to the size of the foodstuffs taken. Here's my forecasting "plug" for selecting larger specimens; these will take concurrently larger food items.
3) Size matters, for two reasons. Larger, more mature individuals adapt much more readily to captive conditions; and "casting your vote" as a consumer of bigger ones goes a long way to discourage the practice of collecting immature animals. Those that have not been afforded the chances to reproduce. A reinforcing aside here: As you're probably aware, seahorses of this group in particular are collected in vast quantities as curios and for their supposed pharmacological properties. This practice has diminished their numbers appreciably in quite a few places around the world. For the small proportion of tube-mouthed fishes consumed in the trade, you can do your bit as a conscientious aquarist to only utilize them if/when you're ready, and then of appropriate size.
4) About netting: If you can, don't; instead use your net(s) to guide these fishes into a submerged specimen container or bag. Too often animals are lost due to intaking air, entanglement in mesh and body damage by being raised out of the water.
The bulk of syngnathids are near shore, shallow water species, living in and amongst benthic invertebrates, algae and rock. Seahorses require suitable anchorages and an absence of stinging life forms. Plastic plants, live algal material, gorgonian and Scleractinian skeletons are fine as "trees"; sea anemones, feeding corals and hydroids are out.
As touchy as they are, the tube-mouthed fishes are relatively tolerant of a wide range and rapid change in chemical and physical characteristics of their water. Standard conditions of 1.021-1.025 specific gravity and temperatures in the seventies-low eighties F. are fine for tropical species.
Must need be thorough and yet the means of circulating the water not too vigorous to dash these almost-planktonic organisms against the decor or such them onto the filter intakes. Old timey accounts suggest simple undergravel filtration as being sufficient. Modern systems rely on mechanical diffusion to spread the intake/outflow effects.
Aside from the very small species, the Syngnathidae must be housed in larger (tens of gallons) systems replete with adequate decor. In the wild these fishes live a cryptic, stealth lifestyle, concealing and ambushing their small prey, disguising themselves from predators in dense cover. For pipes and horses, you will need to supply rock, coral/skeletons, either plant-like algal material and/or plastic look-a-likes for hiding and attachment. For the seahorses, again, the use of anemones and aggressively stinging corals (e.g. Goniopora) is contraindicated.
Due to their need for small foodstuffs and stable conditions, you should wait to place your Pipefishes and seahorses a few months after setting up/establishing your system. After quarantine, they are simply moved (without lifting into the air or using nets) via a specimen container, into the permanent display aquarium.
For tube-mouthed fishes most anything that's small enough to inhale is fair game as a food item; this eliminates their tankmates as prey. Reciprocally, they're left well alone by their bony selves by most small fish species (mandarins, peaceful gobies...) used and useful to aquarists. Two mentions should be made however, for deleterious "predator" related concerns in keeping these fishes, incidental ingestion by cnidarians, and out-competition for foodstuffs by speedy cohabitants.
The first is a warning in placing these slow moving fishes in with aggressively stinging anemones and corals. Yes, they can easily be blown by currents into these and consumed or at least stung to death. The second matter gets back to Pipefishes and seahorses principal source of mortality; starvation. Without adequate food present during much of the day, they will starve. Keeping more outgoing predators of the same foods in their system may cause their demise.
Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:
A chief preoccupation with keeping syngnathid fishes is mating, "spawning" and rearing of their young. Oddly enough, for such difficult fishes to keep, most species readily pair up and attempt reproduction if/when kept alive long enough.
With their rigid exoskeletons, you can imagine syngnathids don't utilize body undulations for propulsion. For seahorses, getting about is mainly accomplished via dorsal and pectoral fin movements; for pipes, some waft their dorsals and anals, others virtually crawl along the bottom.
Besides having weird heads, eyes akin to chameleons, insect-like bodies, a lack of scales, ribs, teeth and stomach, what else is strange and unusual about the Syngnathidae?
Oh how about the fact that they can camouflage their bodies by growing extensions of their skin, including taking on algal growth and associated micro-life? Or that they can change their color to blend into the scenery or express emotion?
You know these fishes exercise male brooding; were you aware that they form very strong male-female pair bonds, particular couples staying monogamous for a season to life?
Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes
The number one reason given for lack of success with tube-mouthed fishes is starvation; a lack of foods and feeding leading to death from non-nutrition. Without a doubt, this is the single most important source of mortality of captive syngnathids.
The relatively few accounts of long-term success in keeping Pipefishes and their kin consistently relate the almost constant provision of a mix of live foods, or animals trained to accept proper sized non-live meaty alternatives by hand.
Gammarus, other isopods, amphipods, Mysid and other shrimps including Artemia, various livebearer young (mollies, platies, guppies, swords...) and more have been employed as prey/food items. In a perfect world some live material should be available throughout the day period as this is when these fishes forage and need sufficient food intake to maintain bulk, grow and reproduce.
My favorite set-ups for these provisions involve either a large adjunct co-tank called a refugium, and/or large un-crowded display aquariums with lots of live rock and possibly sand, producing copious food organisms on an ongoing basis.
A word of caution regarding coming to rely on live brine shrimp, Artemia salina as the sole or bulk of tube-mouth fishes diets. These shrimp are actually not a very complete source of nutrition, requiring soaking and/or feeding themselves to bolster their food value. Use LBS only occasionally or as a treat in addition to other accepted foodstuffs.
A further word admonishing the use of freshwater and sewage "worms" and insect larvae. Do your best to avoid Tubificids, bloodworms, et al.. These are poorly accepted by tube-mouthed fishes and tend to pollute your water on decomposing uneaten.
Until and unless you can train your livestock onto non-live foods, you may well have to become a proficient aquaculturist of their meals. Happily several types can be "home-grown" without too much trouble. Gammarids, Mysids and livebearers, among others may be purchased through local sources or mail order as starter cultures. Keep in mind the time and physical resources necessary to this food production in planning to keep syngnathids.
Training your syngnathid charges onto non-living foods (in addition to live, which they require forever) is time consuming, but often rewarding. In a large system, you might do well to make use of a large baster, mouth operated hard and soft plastic tubing "pipette" or long-handled tongs to proffer the intact item right in front of them. Some of my seahorse friends have put their charges in breeding trap arrangements to facilitate feeding and clean-up. your syngnathid charges onto non-living foods (in addition to live, which they require forever) is time consuming, but often rewarding. In a large system, you might do well to make use of a large baster, mouth operated hard and soft plastic tubing "pipette" or long-handled tongs to proffer the intact item right in front of them. Some of my seahorse friends have put their charges in breeding trap arrangements to facilitate feeding and clean-up.
I break with other writers on the issue of "hand feeding" per se; don't submerse your hands in the systems water! The danger of introducing pollution is not worth the perceived benefits or fun... if you must get involved in this way, I implore you, get and use dedicated full-length gloves each time.
Due to their finickiness for feeding, need for nutrition, you are definitely encouraged to make use of liquid food supplements/appetite stimulants with these animals. Soaking all food in these concentrated products can go a long way to bolster food value and acceptance. "Feeding the food" items themselves for example might involve the proscribed Selcon (tm) liquid for brine shrimp nauplii intended for juveniles or very small species, and the algae Isochrysis galbana for larger live filter-feeding crustaceans used for bigger animals.
Feeding strikes and changes in preference are the rule, rather than the exception with tube-mouth fishes; be observant, be flexible, but keep on trying, feeding a variety until the "meal du jour" is found.Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social The most useful statement I can offer regarding these fishes disposition to normal or healthy conditions versus not is that Seahorses and Pipefishes display
little immune-tolerance to poor handling and less-than-ideal environmental conditions. In other words, they die off mysteriously in the face of hobbyist abuse and neglect; therefore prevention must be foremost in your mind in their "treatment" for disease… i.e. prevention by good husbandry.
Tube-mouthed fishes of the family Syngnathidae
are susceptible to the two standard parasitic disease banes of tropical
marines, Amyloodinium and Cryptocaryon, as well as a
couple of other common maladies. Seahorses in particular, if not
damaged to death in collection, shipping and starving enroute to the
end-user, fall prey to apparent fungal infections and a protozoan. The
"fungal" (bacterial) infection is most prominent amongst
challenged juveniles and post-shipped adults and manifests itself in
whitish loose material originating and hanging off the fish's
inter-ring body areas primarily. Scarratt (1996) lists success with
treating young through immersion in a 10 percent Povidone iodine
solution followed by a one-minute freshwater bath.
Seahorses in particular, if not damaged to death in collection, shipping and starving enroute to the end-user, fall prey to apparent fungal infections and a protozoan. The "fungal" (bacterial) infection is most prominent amongst challenged juveniles and post-shipped adults and manifests itself in whitish loose material originating and hanging off the fish's inter-ring body areas primarily. Scarratt (1996) lists success with treating young through immersion in a 10 percent Povidone iodine solution followed by a one-minute freshwater bath.Glugea heraldi is a protozoan parasite that manifests itself as boil-like lesions of about pinhead size. These small single-celled organisms are presumably contracted through incidental ingestion in the wild. In captivity they make their way into your system on/in new specimens and express themselves under stressful conditions to their host. Looking a lot like marine "ich", Cryptocaryoniasis, both are best "treated" by avoidance; that is, by selection of healthy, apparently uninfected individuals, and quarantine. At the very least new specimens should be run through a prophylactic freshwater dip on arrival. There are no demonstrated chemotherapeutics of value in treating for Glugea; copper solutions, malachite green, etc. have all proven ineffective, their use more harmful than beneficial. Infected individuals should be isolated and kept in a stable environment of elevated temperature (low 80's F. for most species) which has been shown to favor the host and destroy the parasite. Alternatively, and much more dangerous, dips, treatments with formalin/formaldehyde compounds may prove efficacious.
To "journey again", the definition of reiterate, the principal considerations to keeping syngnathid fishes alive in captivity are selection of initially healthy livestock, constant adequate food, and a stable, non-competitive tankmate environment. Without careful provision of this triumvirate, you can expect the historically dismal success rate that aquarists have met with to date.
Ideally, these fishes should be kept in a "species tank" featuring them as a/the highlighted "key species", a large refugium/sump and/or live rock/sand arrangement to provide plenty of living food items, replete with a lack of competing and stinging tankmates. These are definitely not "beginner fishes".
Seahorsefirstname.lastname@example.org (run by Neil Garrick-Maidment) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OceanRider/ (ocean rider's club) http://www.egroups.com/subscribe/Seahorses_Forever (run by some hobbyists)
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Leddo, Leslie: My photos can be seen in the following places if you would like to have a look: -The Syngnathid.org Species Galleries http://www.syngnathid.org/ubbthreads/PP/index.php, -The Syngnathid.org Member's Gallery http://www.syngnathid.org/ubbthreads/PP/index.php, -syngnathid.org in the rotation of photos on the main page www.syngnathid.org -Bob Goemans site http://www.saltcorner.com -www.oceanrider.com - Reefcentral's Reef Keeping Online magazine http://www.reefkeeping.com/ has accepted a series of my photos for use in their Reef Slides monthly column. -www.oceana.org and Gateway Learning Corporation also purchased one of my photos for educational purposes
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