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A Concise Methodology for Introducing Frozen Mysis Shrimp as a Food Source for Captive Seahorses

By Chris Burns, Mike Gilbert and Bethany Watson

Anyone who has kept, or even considered keeping, seahorses has probably encountered the adage that maintaining proper nutrition in these animals is the single-most difficult aspect to their husbandry.  For the most part it seems that the ďcommon knowledgeĒ is that seahorses eat only live foods and unless you can provide these foods for them, you shouldnít endeavor to keep them in a home aquarium.  This leaves most folks who are not fortunate enough to live near the ocean or an inland lake seeking food sources such as brine shrimp, ghost shrimp, and various other small crustaceans.  There are potential problems with all of these food sources.  Often times ghost shrimp are either prohibitively expensive or impossible to find, and most people are not necessarily looking to set up a breeding tank dedicated just to them.  Brine shrimp are a very poor source of nutrition without being properly enriched, and even then their nutritional value is somewhat suspect.  The varieties of other crustaceans available are difficult to rear or not eaten by the herd.  So, what is a seahorse aficionado to do?  Well, in this article, we will hopefully provide a solution that will supply the herd with an EXCELLENT source of nutrition as well as the aquarist a very simple, cost effective and minimally time consuming way to deliver it.

You may have already guessed that this food source is frozen freshwater mysis shrimp (Mysis relicta).  They can be purchased at most live fish stores and usually come in 4 or 8 ounce packages, with 4 ounces being roughly equivalent to 10,000 shrimps.  An adult seahorse will typically consume between 3 and 12 of these shrimps per day depending on the size of the horse.  This may seem like a low number, but due to the nutritional makeup of these shrimps, especially their fat content, they seem to be quite filling.  So, as you can plainly see, a single package could last a single horse for years!!  Mysis are also, as previously stated, an EXCELLENT source of nutrition for seahorses (or any marine fish for that matter) for two reasons.  First, M. relicta are freshwater creatures, which means that when your marine animals consume them, they will not need to expend excess energy to eliminate the extra salt they have taken in.  Most marine creatures expend great deals of energy expelling salts just due to their environment, and the oral intake of even more salt taxes their system that much more.  Second, M. relicta have an extremely varied feeding cycle.  During the day, they are benthic detritivores (bottom-dwelling poop-eaters) but at night, they migrate to the surface and feed on the planktonic layer, taking in rotifers, protozoans, pollen grains and several species of algae.    As an added bonus, possibly due to their highly diversified eating habits, M. relicta contains very large quantities of naturally occurring fatty acids (Stearic, Palmitic, Oleic, Omega-3 and Omega-6 to name a few)  that not only provide marine animals with essential nutrition but also stimulates a positive feeding response.  That said, letís look at how we can get our finicky seahorses to not only accept this alternate food source, but learn to relish it! 

We will present two methods you can try.  Both work equally well, but are dependent on the disposition of your animals.

Method #1:
The first thing you will need is a good turkey baster with a CLEAR tube.  This is very important part, since the horses cannot really see the tube if it is clear.  You will also need some frozen mysis shrimp (we HIGHLY recommend Piscine Energetics M.Y.S.I.S. for its size, consistency and quality) and some brine shrimp or other live food that your horses will readily eat.

Next, take small amount of Piscine Energetics Mysis (not too much at this point) and thaw it out in some tank water.   Try to ďmushĒ the individual shrimp some so as to create a milky solution with the water.   The cloudiness in the water is the fatty acids we mentioned earlier.  Now, release 20 or so brine shrimp (or whatever live food you chose) into the tank and when your horses begin eating, suck up some of the mysis water and squirt it into the tank near your horses. You may need to do this for several days. This will get the horses used to the taste of the mysis as they are eating so that they will associate that flavor with food.  It is very important to do this conservatively, as you do not want to pollute the water with the fatty solution.

The next step is to try getting your herd to eat the actual shrimp.  Some horses will go right to them without even needing the previous step, and other may take a while to adjust to the taste, so your process will probably vary.  As a reference, a quarter sized chunk feeds my seven horses with a bit left over for my baby trigger and puffer.  Now, thaw the chunk in some tank water and then suck up a good amount of the shrimps.  Squirt a mysis shrimp down to the end of the tube, but keep it inside the tube. You want just the end of it hanging out. You can mimic movement by squeezing and releasing the bulb very slightly. Take the animated shrimp over to one of your horses, and wait patiently. I (Chris) have several horses that will actually rapidly approach and snick the mysis right out of the end of the tube as soon as it goes into the water!!!

Once they begin eating the mysis, you should be able to just squirt them into the tank. I try to squirt them onto the top of the rock-work or into the macro algae. Then the horses will "hunt". They will pick over the rocks and through the algae and snick up whatever they find!  You are home free from that point on, and can use the P.E. mysis as your primary food source, with occasional supplementations of other live food for variety and fun.

Method #2:
As a second method which seems to also work is, you can work them onto frozen mysis by hand feeding them using live food in the beginning, meaning ghost shrimp.  The way to do this is to use smaller ghost shrimp and to begin getting your fish to take them from your hand.  This method where you hand feed may or may not work.  Some fish are really too timid to take ghost shrimp even from your hands.  We have found that most of the time, they are so hungry that they donít care that we are holding onto the ghost shrimp.  They just see it flicking its tail, and theyíre hooked.  They go in for the kill and suck them down.

We hold the ghost shrimp between our thumb and forefinger either by their whiskers, or just above them around their eyes.  The trick is to use enough of a grip to hold the shrimp and prevent it from getting away, but not so much that your seahorse canít get it out of your fingers.  After trying once or twice, most people get the hang of it, and it isnít a problem from there on.  After a couple of feedings with ghost shrimp, you can try using a mysis. 

We thaw mysis and then pick them out individually so that we have whole mysis to feed to our fish.  They look virtually the same as ghost shrimp, which is another really great thing about these mysis.  They thaw whole and usually stay that way.  Of course, you will always get a blend of heads or tails, but for the most part, Piscene Energetics mysis thaws out as whole shrimp.

Be sure to hold the mysis the same way that you hold a ghost shrimp.  You might have to gently wiggle it so that it looks alive.  We usually give it a gentle, but somewhat sharp, wiggle so that it mimics the motion of a ghost shrimp.  Typically, our fish take it right from us because they think they are getting ghost shrimp, when in fact, itís a mysis. 

The thing is that they donít know that the mysis is dead.  That is why we wiggle it a little.  It gives them the illusion that the mysis is still alive and kicking (literally).  Sometimes they figure it out, but that is rare.  The other trick to doing this is that they never see the head of the ghost shrimp or the mysis.  They just seem to assume that it has one and that the eyes would move (or look at them in utter horror), were they to see it.  If they canít see the head or the eyes, they really donít seem to know the difference between live and dead food.

Not to mention, a mysis shrimp really stinks.  Of course, to our fish this smells really tasty, and they usually go after the mysis shrimp with vigor.

Many of our fish will eventually eat the mysis that we thaw when it is in the water column, and even better, lots of other ones will eat it even when it is on the bottom of the tank.  They donít seem to mind.  Most of them go for it because it smells good and tastes good too.  We donít have to hand feed very many of our fish anymore, which is also really good.  They just eat it of their own volition. 

Once again, you just have to experiment to see what works with this method.  We like to feed them by hand because it gives us a chance to make sure that the fish, especially the picky ones, are eating well.  It also gives us a chance to interact with our fish so that they arenít as stressed when we do enter their territory for routine cleanings, or to remove them because they are sick.

A NOTE FROM CHRIS:
Since using the Piscine Energetics Mysis, ALL of my horses are incredibly colored (I have two orange reidi, two black erectus that got REALLY dark with these incredible tiny little white dots all over them, a purplish brown erectus that pales to a yellow in the evening, and a pair of bright yellow/green barbouri). They are all plump... and I mean the spaces between their ribs that are usually slightly indented, are at least flush if not protruding slightly. They are all very active and breeding regularly!!  This method has eased my mind regarding getting the proper nutrition to my horses, and has also eased my pocketbook considerably.  I wish you luck in this endeavor, should you choose to take it on!

A NOTE FROM BETHANY AND MIKE:
We have tried several different brands of mysis, but none of them can hold a candle to Piscine Energetics mysis.  Our fish who eat these mysis are fat, happy, colorful, robust, and breeding regularly without any problems.  They seem to stay healthier as well and suffer less from diseases or pathogens.  Every single fish that is still eating live food isnít quite as fat or as happy as the ones eating this mysis.  We both highly recommend that you use this mysis because it truly is a great product and one we recommend as often as we can.  It is also significantly less expensive than live food.  And since it is actually MORE nutritious, we canít say anything bad about it at all.  If you can get a hold of this stuff, we highly recommend it.

 


Contact:  Chris at cburns@mythosproductions.com

 

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