Feeding Time on the Reef

I purchase my baby seahorses “captive bred,” from a breeder in Florida called Seahorse Source (aside: if you’re in the market for seahorses, Seahorse Source has high-quality, healthy stock, and I recommend them highly).

15A05 babies on reef


Breeders raise seahorses in a bare-tank environment, due to the ease of cleaning and keeping an eye on the baby seahorses, as well as the fact that reef environments hold too many dangers for infant seahorses. Infant seahorses are fed by scattering food in the water, because the seahorse’s natural instinct is to hunt and eat live prey. As they grow, baby seahorses have to be trained to eat frozen (defrosted) foods.

When my new baby seahorses arrived, they were already eating frozen mysis, but didn’t understand the concept of “feeding stations” or eating food from a surface rather than snatching it from the water. Once I got them safely adjusted to living on the reef, I started training them to utilize feeding stations.

15A12 Prestation hitching

My large male, Ghillie, has three feeding stations he utilizes. I built them from clam shells, which have about the right size and depth to fill with the mysis Ghillie eats.

Seahorses are smart, and learn quickly. Fortunately, they also learn by watching other seahorses. I hoped I could get Ghillie’s help in teaching the babies to eat from a feeding bowl, and fortunately I work from home, so I could train them effectively.

15A12 Ghillie and Vega feeding

The first step in the process is teaching the babies that food can be found in a bowl. Since the baby seahorses chose to hitch up for the night on a sponge near the center of the tank, I built a new feeding platform within reach of their favorite sleeping hitch. That way, I knew I could “catch” them there in the morning, when they’d be hungry.

At first, I put a little food on the feeding station, and waited for them to eat it. They took to this fairly quickly.

15A12 Kirin feeding

Then, I watched them throughout the day. When it was close to time for a feeding, I’d watch for them to hitch up close to a feeding station. If they did, I immediately defrosted food and filled the station–thereby teaching the babies that food was available in these locations.

Ghillie helped out, too, by feeding when the babies could see him.

15A12 Ghillie teaching feeding 2

Both of the babies tried to share Ghillie’s food immediately, thereby solidifying the lesson that “this is the way big seahorses eat.”

15A12 Ghillie teaching feeding

The second step was training the babies to eat at specific times of day. This involved only feeding them at the times I wanted them to eat, regardless of how often they landed on or near a feeding station. Like human teenagers, young seahorses are always hungry, so it was simply a matter of feeding them at the times I chose, no matter how often they nosed around in the bowl.

15A12 Babies eating

I’ve had the babies for almost a month, and they know that feedings occur at 9:30 am and at 1, 6, and 9pm. Fifteen to twenty minutes before that, one or both of the babies will swim to a feeding station of choice (often the same one, but sometimes different stations) and snuffle around in the bowl.

They still look for food at other times, too, but they’re already starting to realize that feeding time is designated by the clock, and not by their stomachs. It does intrigue me, however, that their internal clocks are almost spot-on when it comes to the hour of the day. It doesn’t matter whether the aquarium lights are on or off, and whether or not the last feeding was late — they know when the feeding hour arrives, and they’re waiting.

Does it surprise you that seahorses “tell time” and know when it’s time for a meal?  


One thought on “Feeding Time on the Reef

  • January 13, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    This is so fascinating!! I can’t believe it and the pics just prove what you say. Like training a furry pet.
    How do they know u r the one who feeds them? Vs. another family member? Or is it just the person near the tank?
    Does the frozen shrimp not float around in the water?
    How do you plant the shrimp in the food bowl / clam?

Comments are closed.