Nov 14, 2010

Seahorses and Vibrio

The Vibrio bacteria that infect seahorses and pipefish are temperature dependent. Keeping seahorses in a chilled aquarium can greatly reduce the risk of infection or death by Vibrio bacteria.

Different species of seahorses from different parts of the world may be more or less resistant to Vibrio bacteria based on the temperatures of their native environments. The Atlantic Ocean is warmer than other oceans by about 16°F. Hippocampus erectus, H. zosterae, H. reidi and other seahorse species in the Atlantic may have had to adapt by developing stronger immunity to Vibrio bacteria, as warmer temperatures encourage growth of Vibrio, exposing the seahorses to a higher percentage of Vibrio bacteria in their environment than seahorses in other parts of the world. This may explain why H. erectus seahorses, one of the most common seahorse species in the U.S., have been identified as asymptomatic carriers of Vibrio, and when introduced to other species of seahorses can cause severe Vibrio outbreaks.

Hippocampus elongatus (subelongatus)
a beautiful temperate H. elongatus seahorse


Seahorses coming from sub-tropical or temperate zones may have little to no resistance to Vibrio bacteria, especially those strains found in tropical waters. This is why it is so important to keep cool-water seahorse species at their recommended temperature and not to keep them at tropical temperatures even for a short period. Keeping cool-water seahorses with tropical seahorses, especially those from a different ocean, can expose them to strains of Vibrio to which they have no immunity.

There are steps you can take to prevent Vibrio bacterial infections in your aquarium. Invest in one or two good aquarium chillers. Steadily maintain your main tank temperature between 68°F - 74°F for tropical species. A bare bottom aquarium will help prevent build up of bacteria. Scrub the sides and bottom of the tank. Siphon feces before each feeding, and siphon uneaten food shortly after each feeding. A slightly over sized protein skimmer will help maintain water quality.

It is not recommended to mix together different species of seahorses and/or pipefish. Vibrio bacteria can even be transferred via your hands, fish nets, containers, and feeding syringes. If you plan to mix different species of seahorses or pipefish together, you are taking a risk, but you can help to minimize potential infections by quarantining your new arrivals for at least 6 weeks, preferably several months. The new seahorses must be eating perfectly and be in perfect health before introducing them to the main tank, so quarantine for as long as it takes. A UV Sterilizer could theoretically be used to "inoculate" the new seahorses to your existing seahorses' bacteria and vice versa. There is absolutely no fail-safe way to mix seahorse and/or pipefish species together and ensure they will not succumb to Vibrio infection or other transferable disease or infection.

If your tropical species of seahorse develops white, fuzzy patches of eroded skin, especially on the snout or tail, it is likely a Vibrio bacterial infection. Immediately move the seahorse to a bare bottom, sterile 10 gallon hospital/quarantine tank (or simple, plastic Sterilite storage tub/container) with a couple plastic hitches at a temperature of 68°F. Go to the Seahorse.org Emergency forum and start a thread asking for advice; include answers to these questions. Make sure you have the necessary antibiotic medications on hand such as Triple Sulfa or Furan 2 combined with Neomycin. Aggressive Vibrio infections can spread quickly and kill in as little as 24 hours, so act immediately to resolve the issue.

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