Curiosity Kills the Seahorse Too*

* (All of mine are fine. It’s just a title.)

Before I started seahorse-keeping, I had no idea just how curious (see also: foolish) these little exotic fish could be.

They start exploring the minute they hit the tank…

15B09 Magellan (first)

and never stop.

15H04 Weeble

Seahorse keepers know (or learn, often tragically) that a seahorse doesn’t belong in a “mixed reef” tank. In the wild, seahorses live in highly specialized environments. Mostly, they hide in sea grass or live in “gentle” reef environments, with peaceful, slow-moving fish and corals that lack the ability to sting.

The plated armor that covers the seahorse’s body is a bit deceptive. Despite their rugged appearance, seahorses are fragile and quickly succumb to injuries or illness. The front of their prehensile tails is covered in skin, not armor, and they use it much like a “finger” to touch and explore the environment (as well as to hitch themselves to various objects).

Seahorses will stick their nose (or body) in every hole and crevice…

15H04 Magellan searching

and hitch to every object they can find.

For this reason, seahorse keepers end up rearranging reefs and adding “screens” of plastic mesh to cordon off the spots where seahorses could end up lost or stuck. I’ve had to pull my reef apart four times to rescue seahorses that trapped themselves behind the rocks when explorations went awry. (They’re better at wedging into tight spaces than at backing up.) After rescuing the unrepentant little beasts, I wedged little plastic screens into the openings to avert a disastrous repeat. 

15H04 Weeble Searching

Seahorses aren’t great at remembering which holes are safe and which ones they’d get trapped in.

Ironically, the seahorse’s inquisitive nature is part of what makes them such compelling pets. Their endless, childlike curiosity makes them fun to watch, and adding anything to the environment generally prompts a flurry of tail-grabbing and investigation.

Nothing is safe.

15H04 Magellan on Worm

Fortunately, careful planning and a commitment to keeping the reef a seahorse-friendly zone can minimize (though, sadly, not eliminate) the risks of accidental injury–or death–in these lovely creatures. Some days, seahorse keeping feels more like a lifelong attempt to outwit, outsmart, and out-protect a group of creatively suicidal maniacs, but in the end the trouble is worth it, at least to those of us who love to have them in our care.

Would you go to the trouble of keeping an entire reef safe for a single, silly species? Or would you prefer more diversity–and danger–in your reef?