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Contains articles featuring information, advice or answering questions regarding reef aquariums, livestock or equipment.

Where have all the Seahorses gone?

Seahorses have long been one of the icons of the aquarium hobby, with graceful movements and a delicate, unusual appearance. Seahorses are members of a family of fish known as Sygnathids, meaning “spiny-finned fish”. Other members of the family include Sea Dragons and Pipefish. They each have a small tubular seahorse_orangesnout that enables them to suck in prey items like brine shrimp, copepods, and other similar crustaceans. Seahorses and their relatives are timid and slow-moving. They are most often found in beds or sea grass where they can use their tails to anchor themselves to the grass or corals and not be carried off by the current. Seahorses bear live young that are carried in a pouch, similar to a Kangaroo, until they are mature enough to be released.

A couple of years ago, seahorses were a rather common offering in Aquarium Stores nationwide. Seahorses have long been one of the icons of the aquarium hobby, with graceful movements and a delicate, unusual appearance. In recent years, the with the technical advancements in aquarium keeping, environments can be created to more easily and better suited to keeping these amazing fish. The possibility of keeping sea horses is more within reach than ever. But where have they gone?

In 2004, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) upgraded the status of Seahorse species to “vulnerable” meaning that the seahorse populations are in danger of a 30% decrease due to targeted catch, accidental capture, and habitat loss. One of the biggest threats to these species is the high demand for their dried bodies in Asian and Southeast Asian medicine trades. Climate changes and habitat destruction are also taking huge tolls on these interesting and amazing little creatures.

With growing awareness and increased conservation efforts, captive breeding programs for these animals are growing in number and are becoming increasingly successful. If you’re lucky enough to venture into keeping them in a home aquarium, strive to purchase captive raised individuals. By doing so, stress on wild populations can be reduced, and these animals tend to adapt to aquarium conditions and diets with more ease than wild-caught specimens. Be sure to check out the related articles in the blog for more fascinating facts and tips on keeping these guys at home.

Thanks, Eileen

TFP 700 Gallon Reef Tank – Update

Hi Dave here,

I thought it was about time to post an update to the blog about the 700 gallon reef tank here at TFP. The tank is really starting to mature nicely, and we have seen some really nice growth from the corals in the tank.

For all the particulars of the tank, refer back to the original blog, the details of the tank, lighting, and filtration are discussed in detail. No need to rehash them here.

The tank has been running for about a year now, and things have gone very well. I wanted to post a few new pics of the tank so that you can see the changes since then. We have added a few new items into the tank since the original blog back in August of 2008. The majority of the corals that we put into the tank, originated from captive sources, or frags from our own propagation system, it has been really cool to watch them fill in and grow into larger colonies.

If anyone has any questions about the tank, please ask, I would be happy to explain what I can.

Until next blog

An Introduction to Some Common Boxing Shrimp

Melissa here, just figured I would write this blog on some new Banded Coral Shrimp Banded Coral Shrimpspecies we have in stock. Banded Coral Shrimp are members of the Stenopodidae family, and are referred to as “Boxing Shrimp” because of the way their large pincher’s are held. They are ready to take a swing at whatever comes close enough like a boxer would.  Banded Coral Shrimp should be given plenty of space to scavenge without their long antennae touching neighboring corals or anemones, and lots of caves to hide in. Banded coral shrimp are relatively hardy, but must be acclimated slowly to avoid any salinity and/or pH shock. They are intolerant of high nitrates or copper levels, but iodine is encouraged to promote proper molting.  Banded Coral Shrimp are generally peaceful towards fish, but may harass other small shrimp and are intolerant of others of the same genus. For this reason they must be kept singly, or in mated pairs.  In the wild, banded coral shrimp are know to feed on parasites, dead tissue removed from fish, and other tiny organisms. In the home aquarium, Banded Coral Shrimp will usually accept most flaked and frozen foods, plankton, and meaty items. They are also known to be effective bristleworm hunters in the reef aquarium.

Golden Banded Coral ShrimpMost people are familiar with the first species, Stenopus hispidus as the most common species in the trade.  They have a red and white banded body and claws resembling the stripes of the American Flag. I happen to have a pair of these banded coral shrimp in my tank at home.  They are out all of the time and usually only an antennae length away from each other. My female is constantly carrying eggs. Something really cool that I have witnessed several times was when my female is within a day or so of releasing her eggs the male waits on her hand and foot. He brings her food and makes sure none of the fish bother her. That is about the only time I ever see them apart. I would have to say my favorite invert would have to be these shrimp. 

Other species of banded coral shrimp we get in from time to time are the Golden Banded Coral Shrimp, Stenopus scutellatus and the Blue Banded Shrimp, Stenopus tenuirostris.Blue Coral Banded Shrimp They have similar red and bands on the tail and claws as seen on Stenopus hispidis, but have a bright yellow or violet blue body and white antennae. The Blue Banded shrimp also has golden bands between the red bands.

Zanzibar ShrimpThere is also another really cool species that recently arrived here, Stenopus zanzibaricus. This shrimp is mostly white with two red bands on the tail and two red markings on the proximal portion of the front arms. It has white claws and red antennae. Do not attempt to mix the Zanzibar shrimp with Stenopus hispidus because they will fight to death, usually with one usually  loosing the battle and its life.

Sea Hares: Frilly, Fun and Fascinating

We get a lot of really cool stuff in our fish room.  After years and years of seeing the same goodies each week, I love that we get new and interesting species from areas not previously collected from. New crabs, corals, shrimp, fish and other inverts arrive to us each week, but I have to say I’m particularly drawn to the various Sea Hares that show up. I mean, what’s not to like?  These are the equivalent of a cute and fuzzy bunny for your home aquarium!  But they’re more than just an adorable face.  These amazing little guys can play a big role in controlling pesky algae.

The Sea Hares consist of nine genera of family Aplysiidae.  Species of these various genera range in size from under an inch to over 27 inches in length! They are found around the world in temperate and tropical waters. They earned the common name Sea hare for their loose resemblance to a sitting hare or rabbit.  The rolled, erect rhinophores on their heads give these lovely little slugs the silhouette of ears, and their bodies are rather bulbous.  Most species have a thin calcified internal plate or shell in the small mantle cavity to protect the gill and heart.  The cavity is usually covered by variable skin flaps called parapodial flaps.  While most species slide along on their slippery belly, some use their large flaps to “swim” or glide through the water.  Sea Hares are hermaphroditic and may produce clusters, strings, or spirals of eggs in a healthy aquarium.

Sea Hares are all herbivores, feeding on different algaes and cyanobacteria, and making them great workers in a reef or rocky tank.  They may congregate in shallow waters in large numbers when food is abundant. These creatures have a keen sense of smell, (facilitated by their chemoreceptive rhinophores) which allows them to seek out appropriate food in sediments and rock.  They are variable in color and skin texture, but often exhibit a color, texture, or pattern that allows them to blend with the algae they eat.  This camouflage helps to protect them from predators while they lazily graze. Though they look slow, these guys are cleaning machines with big mouths and big appetites!

If the camouflage does not deter predators, these gastropods have a unique secondary defense.  When disturbed, stressed or harassed, they have the ability to release ink from glands in the cavity.  The ink may be white or colored purple or red, and it serves as a noxious smoke screen, deterring predators and allowing the hare to slip away in the confusion.  Their skin also contains other toxins making them unpalatable to predators.

When considering Sea Hares for your aquarium, keep several things in mind.  First and foremost, consider the size of the species you’re interested in.  You’ll need plenty of room and food (algae) for the one you choose, and some species like the Caribbean Dolibrifera are more suited for smaller or delicately arranged tanks.  As for any addition, keep the water quality pristine and be sure not to house sea hares with fish that may pick at or agitate them to prevent inking pollution on the tank. This is more a concern in a small aquarium where the ink would be less diluted should it occur.  Food may be supplemented with live macro algaes and spirulina or sheet algae if your natural algae growth can’t keep up with their appetites.  Sea Hares are rather slow, but heavy and may dislodge loose rock or coral, especially large species in close quarters.

In the right environment, you won’t be disappointed when you add sea hares to your tank. They’re a joy to watch, and a big help if you have nuisance algae.  Choose your chubby new pet with your needs and their’s in mind, and you’re in for a rewarding experience.

Sea Urchins: Unusual Algae Eaters

Brandon here. Many aquarists that come through our fish room will ask what we recommend as algae eaters for their reef.  The answer is usually the same: snails, hermit crabs, or maybe a lawnmower blenny.  One of the most efficient algae eaters found on the reef is usually overlooked, the sea urchin.

Sea urchins are relatives of starfish and sea cucumbers, belonging to the phylum Echinodermata.  They are generally covered in hard spines for protection, little clawed arms called pedicellariae which are used to remove debris and detritus from the urchins’ skin and can also aid in protection, and tube like feet used for moving across the substrate.  Their mouths are surrounded by a structure called Aristotle’s Lantern, which is used for scraping rock and breaking food apart.  The Aristotle’s Lantern is what makes some urchins such efficient algae eaters.

Green Variagated UrchineWhile not all sea urchins eat algae, and not all that eat algae are desirable for a reef tank, there are a few that would make a great addition to the aquarium.  The Variegated Green Urchin, Lytechinus variegates, stays relatively small and clears live rock of virtually all types of algae.  One urchin that we use in some of our display tanks here at the store is the Tuxedo Urchin, Mespilia globulus.  These urchins also remain relatively small and do a number on different types of algae.  Another extremely efficient, algae-eating urchin is the Longspine Urchin, Diadema setosum.  These can grow very large, and have spines capable of puncturing skin and leaving a painful injury.

 Here are some urchins to avoid in the reef tank.  Rock-boring Urchins, Echinometra lucunter, do little to clean up algae.  They spend most of their time chewing holes in live rock.  Priest Hat Urchins, Tripneustes gratilla, are generally considered reef safe, and will even do some scavenging, but they can also grab immobile fish and inverts for dinner.  One urchin that we do not carry here at That Fish Place, the Flower Urchin, Toxopneustes pileolus, is very beautiful but can inflict a potentially deadly sting.  It is covered in what appears to be little flowers, but are actually pedicellariae.  These specialized pedicellariae have three jaws on the tip, each of which is hollow and filled with venom.  Upon contact they snap shut and inject venom into the skin, which causes extreme pain and even muscle paralysis, which could drown an unsuspecting diver.

Urchins are not for everyone.  While they will clean up most types of undesirable algae, they can also scrape coralline algae from the rock work, leaving it white and bare.  They also require good water quality in respect to temperature, salinity, and other factors.  Always be sure of the urchins’ specific requirements and adult size before purchasing.  Whether you have a reef tank or not, urchins can make very interesting additions to the aquarium.