Seahorses are one of the most unique and easily recognizable marine fish, so it’s no surprise that many customers ask about keeping them in their saltwater aquariums. Because seahorses are very different-looking from other fish, they require special consideration when thinking about keeping them at home. The seahorse’s lesser-known cousin, the pipefish, is also a very interesting fish to keep. Unlike seahorses, pipefish can be kept in reef tanks, but certain considerations should be kept in mind such as tank-mates and feeding.
Seahorses fall into the genus Hippocampus within the Sygnathidae family. It’s easy to see at first glance that these fish are extremely different from your average tang or clownfish. Seahorses don’t have scales; instead they have a bony armor that protects them. They also don’t have a caudal fin; instead they have a prehensile tail that they use to anchor them on to rocks, coral, or algae. They only use their dorsal and opercular, or modified pectoral, fins for movement and as a result, they’re not very strong swimmers. In the wild, seahorses live in sheltered areas of coral reefs or grass beds with little water current. Their horse-like mouth is specially adapted to suck up tiny organisms like amphipods, isopods, copepods, and mysid shrimp like a vacuum.
Because seahorses are so specialized, they do not do well in high flow reef tanks competing for food with other fish. A species only aquarium is the best way to house and appreciate them. With the right equipment it’s easy to create a seahorse display at home. A 29/30 gallon tank is a great starter option. You may also want to consider getting a taller tank; seahorses are more vertical swimmers than horizontal. After you have a tank picked out, you want to make sure that you have good filtration as seahorses are messy eaters and they are especially sensitive to changes in water quality, so a protein skimmer is a great addition. The second thing you want to make sure you have is low flow because they can’t swim against strong currents.
Unique features of seahorse tanks are hitching posts, or things for the seahorses to hold on to with their tail. Branch rock, plants, gorgonians, and soft corals can all be used as hitching posts. Soft corals may be used because they usually don’t have a strong sting; other more aggressive species of corals should be avoided because the seahorses lack scales and are stung much easier. Crabs and shrimp should also be avoided as they may injure the seahorse or a particularly large seahorse may pick at them. A good tank mate would be Nassarius snails; seahorses are messy eaters so having a sand-sifting snail will help prevent too much waste buildup. Feeding seahorses can be a challenging task; they can be fed live foods such as brine shrimp, but should eventually be moved on to frozen food such as mysis shrimp. Getting a seahorse to eat frozen food may take quite a while, so be patient. There are many species of seahorse available to purchase that come in a few different colors. The common species that we carry are Hippocampus erectus, H. reidi, and H. kuda. There are also hybrids available that are combinations of two species.
Pipefish may look very different from seahorses, but they are essentially stretched out seahorses. Pipefish are much more suited to a reef aquarium than their cousins; but there are a few things you want to keep in mind. Pipefish should be added to an established aquarium, preferably one that has a large culture of copepods, as getting these guys to eat frozen is also challenging. There should be no aggressive fish in the tank, so in a reef tank, fish like tangs and maroon clowns may be too territorial. Any strong stinging corals and anemones should be avoided; pipefish don’t have scales like seahorses so they are easily stung. You may also want to place a guard over the teeth of the overflow box to ensure one of the pipefish doesn’t end up in the sump.
There are two main groupings of pipefish that are commonly found in the aquarium hobby: flagtail pipes and dragonface pipes. Flagtail pipefish are a bit easier to get on a frozen food than the dragonface pipefish and like seahorses they should be kept a pair per 30 gallons. The Bluestripe Pipefish (Doryrhamphus excisus) is perhaps one of the hardiest pipefish to keep. These pipefish can be aggressive so caution should be taken adding more than one to a tank. The Banded Pipefish (Dunkerocampus dactyliophorus) and the Yellow Banded Pipefish (D. pessuliferus) are much more sensitive than the Bluestripe Pipefish but they are much less aggressive and may be added in groups. The dragonface pipefish group is made up of the genus Corythoichthys. The dragonface pipefish rarely will eat frozen food so it’s important that they’re in a tank with established copepods, amphipods, or isopods and that there aren’t fish competing for this food like wrasses or mandarins.
Seahorses and pipefish are great examples of very specialized fish and with that comes a specialized method for keeping them. With the proper equipment and husbandry, these fish can be appreciated and enjoyed at home. Here at the store we’ve set up a new seahorse tank to better display our seahorses for sale. If keeping one or both of these animals interests you and you’d like to learn more, stop in the store to see our new tank and talk to an associate about how you can keep these unique fish!