Spotlight on Magellan

I’ve owned a few seahorses over the years, and all of them are special-needs pets, but none is quite as special (or as needy) as Magellan.

16A11 Magellan 3

When my seahorses arrived from the breeder early last December, I didn’t notice right away that one of them was different. Seahorses often eat poorly the day they arrive from the breeder, and since three of the four had similar snakeskin patterns it was hard to keep them straight that first afternoon.

16A11 Baby seahorses

By morning, however, it was clear that one of the baby seahorses wasn’t “normal.” Unlike the others, who snicked up food as quickly as I presented it, the fourth little seahorse didn’t seem to have a functioning “trigger” (the mechanism by which seahorses suck food through their long, fused jaw and into the space behind their gills where they can crush and swallow it). Instead of a “snick,” he was only able to manage a weak sucking motion, insufficient to draw a mysis shrimp up past his gills.

I moved him to a hospital tank and treated him for ciliates (a parasite that invades the gills), and for bacterial infections, but neither the freshwater dip nor the medicine changed his ability to eat.

After several weeks, I realized (and the breeder agreed) that little Magellan was simply…different. A snick-less seahorse. A weakling that nature should have selected against, and who, had his disability been noticed, would have been culled from the seahorse herd before being sent to a permanent home.

16A11 Magellan Peeking

Except…he wasn’t noticed.

He was here. And he deserved a chance.

16A11 Magellan swimming

I tried shaving mysis off the blocks of frozen food, to get the pieces small enough for him to eat, but to no avail. The only thing he could eat was mushy, defrosted enriched brine shrimp (not very nutritious, but any port in a storm).

16A11 Magellan eating

The breeder warned me, and I believed, he probably wouldn’t live for long. Sooner or later, his nutritional deficits or his handicap would catch up with him, and he would die.

Except…it didn’t happen.

14 months later, little Magellan remains much smaller than his biological siblings, two of whom–Vega and Weeble–share my reef.

16A11 Magellan and Vega

He still cannot eat frozen mysis, and it takes him almost half an hour, twice a day, to eat his meals of brine. He sucks them up like a child with a bowl of spaghetti, one piece at a time, and he stays at his bowl, entirely focused, until he’s had his fill.

Where a normal seahorse of his species (H. erectus) reaches 6-8″ in length, or more, little Magellan measures barely three inches from nose to tail. The stunting is clearly caused by his lack of nutrition, but also resulted in his body staying small enough for enriched frozen brine to meet at least his baseline physical needs.

16A11 Magellan and Vega backs

To this day, he cannot snick, though he shows no other signs of illness.

In time, his disability may still catch up with him, and I fully expect that he may not live a full-term seahorse life. That said, he’s a study in determination, and evidence of the fact that disabilities do not make a creature “less than”–only “different from”–and that even supposedly fatal obstacles can be overcome with sufficient will.


He’s a survivor, a tough little cookie, and I love him for it. He doesn’t know he’s different, and he makes me smile every day.