Seahorse Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a basic question about seahorses or their relatives? We might have the answer here. And if we don’t, feel free to send your questions to us!

Keeping In Captivity

Does water temperature effect sea horses?

Yes. Seahorses come from seas ranging from temperate (cold water) to tropical (warm water). If a species from temperate waters is exposed to excessively warm water, they become stressed, possibly to the point of being fatal. This is one reason climate change is a threat to seahorses. One additional problem is that the warming of ocean temperatures appears to be causing warm water species to invade territories they never have before, competing with the native seahorses. For instances, there is record of  Hippocampus algiricus  being found around the Canary Islands for the first time, and cross breeding with the native  Hippocampus hippocampus.

Cold water can have the same effect on tropical seahorses. Water that is too cold can stress tropical seahorses and too cold can kill them. Water that one species is perfectly happy in can be fatally too cold for other species.

In the home aquarium, temperature is also very important. Seahorses have a  primitive  immune system, which makes them very  susceptible  to bacterial diseases. In the wild, or even systems with large volumes and relatively low bioloads (the number of animals in a system), bacteria counts stay low. But in a home aquarium, bacteria tend to occur in much larger numbers. For years, people tried to understand why their seahorses were getting sick so frequently. In warmer water, bacteria reproduce at faster rates. The warmer the water, the faster bacteria reproduce. Seahorses are more prone to become ill do to overwhelming numbers of bacteria, especially when stressed, while other fish, because of their more advanced immune systems, are better equipped to deal with bacterial illness so they don’t get sick as often.

What aquarists have found is that turning the temperature down a few degrees from what they would experience in the wild. While it is only a hypothesis, the practice of keeping seahorses at temperatures slightly lower than they might be found in the wild has significantly reduced the amount of illness seahorses in captivity experience.

You can read more about temperature and seahorses in the aquarium here.

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Do I need a license to own a seahorse?

It depends on the country you live in, but in most locations you do not need a license to keep seahorses. Seahorse trade between countries is regulated and importers and exporters need approved paperwork to make the transaction, but once within a countries borders, most do not regulate them. In some countries, however, the original CITES number is needed to sell the offspring.

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I found a seahorse on the beach, and it was still alive so I brought it home. What do I need to do to keep it?

The best thing you can do for this seahorse is take it back to where you found it and release it. Wild seahorses are difficult to keep in captivity, especially if you are unprepared. Seahorses, being weak swimmers, are sometimes tossed ashore in rough weather. However, that does not mean there is anything wrong with it, so the best thing for it is to take it back to the ocean.

When you release it, try and find a sheltered area, such as near a dock, or areas where there is lots of seagrass and algae visible. Seahorses are site faithful, so returning it as close to where you found it as possible is best. However, if there are a lot of people in the area, try taking it to a slightly quieter location nearby.

If you are unsure how to safely release it, contact your nearest wildlife rescue or the local wildlife authorities, and they can help ensure it is properly released into the appropriate environment.

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Where can I buy Captive Bred Pipefish?

There are no commercial sources of captive bred pipefish at this time. Some hobbyists are breeding them, but they are few and far between. If you are looking to house your pipefish with seahorses, only do this if you are able to locate captive bred ones, though it is very likely you won’t be able to. However, hobbyists are working towards that goal, so there could be some before too long. Try your local reef clubs, along with MBI and MOFIB.

Because of their rarity, if you do find a fish store that is claiming to have them, inquire about the breeder. There are both unscrupulous fish stores along with unscrupulous distributors that will label fish as captive bred or tank raised even when they are not.

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Can I feed dwarf seahorses frozen copepods/brine shrimp/cyclopeeze?

No. Many people have tried over the years but I no know one who has had success. Dwarf seahorses will occasionally pick at frozen food, but do not eat enough to survive off of it. Occasional offerings of food such as frozen cyclop-eeze, baby brine shrimp, or copepods can be offered to vary their diet, but over long periods they seem to lose interest. Some never eat it.

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Where can I buy Captive Bred Seahorses?

It’s best to buy Captive Bred Seahorses directly from a breeder. Many aquarium stores conflate captive bred with tank raised and the two mean different things. Here is a list of seahorse breeders and suppliers. The Seahorse Breeders Registry also has a list of suppliers.

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Can I keep a Sea Dragon in an aquarium?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Sea Dragons have very specialized needs and are very expensive. Leafy SeaDragons cost around $4000, and there are limited numbers available because of export rules in Australia, so most go to public aquariums. They also need very specialized aquariums that keep the water clean and cool, as they are a temperate species, coming from the colder waters around southern Australia. Weedy Seadragons are less expensive, but still need very large, expensive setups.

The first hurdle is the aquarium. They need very large aquariums, at a minimum of 500 gallons, and that is a minimum with most being kept in much larger setups. The cost of an aquarium for sea dragons can easily exceed $10,000. On top of that, one would really need to have extensive experience not only with fish, but with syngnathids (the seahorse family of fishes), and would have to have access to a vet who has experience with syngnathids.

Most zoos and aquariums end up feeding live food because of the problems with bacteria and frozen food, which can cost a few hundred dollars a month to supply. Some places do grow their own food, but it is very labor intensive, and needs a large area to raise enough food to produce enough food. For example, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has a setup that is roughy 20′ long by 6′ wide by 8′ tall for raising mysis shrimp and has a staff of aquarists that maintain the mysis culture.

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Are seahorses difficult to keep?

This is a tricky question. Up until about 10 years ago, seahorses were considered extremely difficult to keep because of their specialized requirements and food needs. Most people that had success either lived near the ocean, and caught their own food, or were large public aquariums that could afford to have large quantities of live food shipped to them. Seahorses caught from the wild tended to not adjust to captivity well either, so even if you could provide food, there was no guarantee that a seahorse would adapt to captivity and thrive.

These days, most seahorses available to aquarists are born and raised in captivity. They are adjusted to life in the aquarium and eat frozen food that is readily available from most pet stores. They still require a specialized setup, but as long as the aquarist sticks to the basic guidelines for a seahorse aquarium, such as lower temperature and no agressive fish, then they are something that most people can manage to keep successfully (read more about their specialized requirements here)

However, there is a caveat. A lot of suppliers from overseas are selling seahorses that are just too small. The ideal size to sell seahorses is around the time they reach sexual maturity which happens at around 3-4″ for most commonly available species. But many suppliers are selling them around 2″ inches (sometimes smaller!) and they’re not really ready to handle the stress of shipping, acclimation and adapting to aquarium life where they are only fed a couple times a day. Some aren’t even fully weened to frozen food. Fish stores generally do not know enough (or care) to demand larger animals. They also often don’t know enough to instruct the aquarist on the proper setup for a seahorse. There are a few gems out there that are the exception to the rule, but most fish store supplied information is incorrect. So when those undersized, too-young seahorses are placed in an inadequate setup and perish, they end up perpetuating the myth that they are difficult to keep in captivity.

So the TL;DR answer is that they’re not difficult, but they do require a specialized setup and some advanced research to keep them successfully.

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What size tank would be good for two seahorses?

It depends on the species of seahorse you plan on keeping, but for most species, you’ll want to start off with a 29 gallon aquarium for two. It goes roughly 30 gallons for a pair, and 15 each additional pair. A more detailed guide on tank sizes for seahorses.

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What is the easiest kind of seahorse to take care of?

By in far the “easiest” seahorse is the Lined Seahorse, Hippcampus erectus. While it still has all the same requirements for care that other species do, it is the hardiest. And has been bred in captivity the most, so it is the best adapted to aquarium life. A close second is the Brazilian or Long Snout Seahorse, Hippocampus reidi. They tend to be very robust, healthy fish.  If you are considering getting seahorses as pets, please remember that Captive Bred seahorses are far more healthy than those caught form the wild, no matter what the species.

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These questions are answered by a human; therefore may take a little time to be answered, depending on the complexity of the question. You will be notified when your question is answered. If there is something urgent, please go to the forums for help.