Seahorse Diet & Feeding Guide
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Seahorses are difficult to feed. That’s why, unfortunately, many pet seahorses usually starve in aquaria. But this doesn’t have to happen! With due diligence and daily monitoring, you can keep happy, well-fed seahorses!
Keep reading to learn how! In this article, I’ll explain how and what to feed seahorse adults and juveniles. I also go over some of the best food products and what to do when your seahorse refuses to eat. So, let’s get started!
Wild Seahorse Diet
A seahorse’s diet in the wild is influenced by factors such as the seahorse’s predation strategies, physical perks, and location. Seahorses can be less than 1 inch long or over 12 inches. However, all seahorses have small snouts and no teeth.
They can’t open their mouths to bite or gulp food like other fish. Instead, they use their tube-like mouths to suck up their prey. Seahorses are also slow swimmers due to their small fins and upright posture. They can’t chase or hunt for food. They must rely on sit-and-wait predation strategies.
Thus, wild seahorses can only consume very small and defenseless critters. As opportunistic feeders, they’ll eat anything that moves as long as it can fit into their mouths. The exact foods consumed by wild seahorses differ depending on the fish’s location. But all the foods they consume will fall into one of the following categories:
- Zooplankton (very small drifting marine animals)
- Crustaceans (various species of shrimps)
- Gastropods (small mollusks and snails)
- Fish larvae (including fry)
- Phytoplankton (microscopic algae)
I should mention that wild seahorses are exclusively ambush predators and primarily carnivorous. They don’t show scavenging behavior like most other fish species. Seahorses won’t consume dead critters in the wild.
What to Feed a Pet Seahorse?
To keep happy, healthy seahorses, you must closely simulate their natural diet. This means feeding them some of the same foods they’d eat in the wild. The more variety in the diet, the better. Luckily for us, plankton and crustaceans encompass dozens of different species. Many of them are easy to find in the aquarium trade.
Ideally, you should also feed your seahorses live food. As I’ve mentioned, seahorses are ambush predators. They don’t eat dead prey! A wild-caught seahorse will never accept frozen food. Captive-bred seahorses can also be picky eaters. But most are already trained to eat frozen food.
In any case, you should always be prepared with fresh, live food in case your seahorse refuses regular fish food. Below are some examples of live foods seahorses love. You can also experiment with frozen versions to see if your pet will eat them:
– Brine Shrimp
Brine shrimp is the most common food offered to freshwater and saltwater fish. These are tiny crustaceans, less than 0.5 inches in size. They’re easy to find in most aquarium stores and contain a decent amount of protein.
However, they don’t contain a lot of minerals or fatty acids. They shouldn’t make up the bulk of a seahorse’s diet unless enriched with vitamins and omega three fatty acids.
Baby brine shrimp is also a common option for small fish fry. You can feed this to dwarf and pygmy seahorses. Baby brine shrimp are slightly more fatty acids and vitamins because they’ve recently fed on the nutrient-rich yolk sack.
Copepods classify as both zooplankton and crustaceans. These are very small organisms, less than 0.08 inches in size! They look like little one-eyed bugs. They aren’t very impressive, but they pack a nutritious punch.
Copepods contain plenty of protein, healthy fatty acids, and important vitamins that your seahorses need. Copepods are also the perfect size for all seahorses, including pygmies and seahorse fry.
They’re a bit more difficult to find, but you can still buy live copepods online. Many aquarists start their own cultures at home, although it’s challenging.
– Mysis Shrimp
Mysis shrimp are a small crustacean species that measures between 0.2-1 inch. They have a similar nutrient profile to brine shrimp. Mysis shrimp are low in fat and contain a decent percentage of protein.
They’re a good alternative to brine shrimp. The larger Mysis shrimp are especially good for bigger seahorse species. Mysis shrimp, like brine shrimp, requires enriching with vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Keeping a culture at home is difficult, as you must separate young shrimp from the adults. Mysis shrimp are cannibalistic and also need a live feed of their own. Fortunately, Mysis shrimp are easy to find in stores since they’re a popular fish food.
Rotifers are a type of microscopic zooplankton. Most species are smaller than 500 micrometers long. That’s less than 0.02 inches! However, some rotifers may reach less than 0.04 inches. It’s good that you can’t see them because rotifers look like a disgusting crossover between a worm and a carnivorous plant.
Rotifers bring tons of nutritional benefits and are often used to supplement seahorse diets. Rotifers contain essential amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, vitamins A, C, and E, and iodine. Their small size makes them an ideal feed for pygmy seahorses and fry.
Culturing your own rotifers is extremely easy. These organisms breed very rapidly and require simple foods, mainly phytoplankton. Rotifer feed is also available in specialty stores. Or you can bypass the culturing process and buy live rotifers!
Amphipods are small, shrimp-like crustaceans. Most species in this category are up to ¼ of an inch in size. They’re also soft and easy to digest because they have no shells. These small crustaceans are considered nutritional powerhouses and can be used to supplement seahorse diets.
They contain a very high amount of protein and a good amount of healthy fats. They’re also rich in vitamins D, E, A, and B vitamins and minerals. Amphipods are primarily found in saltwater environments and are usually naturally present in most marine aquariums, albeit in small quantities. They commonly hitchhike off live rocks and live sand.
You can easily find saltwater aquaculture amphipods in online stores. You can feed these to your seahorses or use them to start your own culture at home. These tiny animals feed off phytoplankton, zooplankton, and rotifers.
Daphnia, also known as water fleas, are small planktonic crustaceans related to copepods. They range in size from 0.01 to 0.24 inches. These zooplankton species are highly nutritious and are roughly 45% protein by weight.
They’re rich in minerals, B vitamins, and vitamin A. Daphnia is also higher in fat than other crustaceans. It is a good feed for small seahorses and picky eaters that won’t accept other live foods.
Daphnia is a very popular feed option for both freshwater and saltwater fish. Thus, it’s very easy to find in most aquarium stores. If you plan to culture your own, you can feed them powdered algae and active dry yeast.
– Fish Fry
Some fish fry can be small enough for most seahorses to eat. The fry of live-bearing fish, in particular, are excellent because of their size and how easy they are to grow. The most common options include guppy, molly, and platy fry, which are roughly ¼ of an inch when born.
Fish fry can also be quite nutritious if gut-loaded before feeding. They contain protein and small amounts of fatty acids. Fry fed a high-quality diet are also a good source of vitamins and minerals.
They’re very easy to breed, too. Live-bearing fish breed once every 30 days and can give birth to 60-90 fry at a time. Many freshwater aquarists worry about overcrowding the tank due to fish overbreeding. Keeping feeder fish won’t be an issue.
– Ghost Shrimp
Ghost shrimp, also known as glass shrimp, is a species of dwarf freshwater crustaceans. Adult ghost shrimp are quite large compared to other foods on this list. They can reach up to 1.5 inches in length. Young ghost shrimp are considerably smaller, though.
Ghost shrimp can make a satiating meal or snack for larger seahorses such as Lined seahorses, Longsnouts, and Tiger Tails. Ghost shrimp are good sources of protein, omega-3 fats, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins D and E.
You can find ghost shrimp in almost any aquarium store. However, they can be quite pricy when used as feed. The typical price is $1-$3 apiece. Breeding them as a main food source is also time-consuming. Ghost shrimp only breed in specific conditions, and the entire process takes weeks.
Phytoplankton is a general term for various species of microscopic algae. Phytoplankton is the thing that gives water a distinct green color. These single-cell algae are incredibly small, ranging from 2-200 microns. To put things into perspective, 200 microns is less than 1/125 of an inch.
They’re minuscule but very high in nutrients. Phytoplankton is at the very bottom of the food chain. It produces its own food through photosynthesis, and all other organisms consume it, from zooplankton to fish.
Phytoplankton provides important nutrients for all other life forms in the ocean. These nutrients include essential omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, minerals, vitamins A and C, all B vitamins, and various antioxidants and natural plant pigments.
Seahorses can’t get all the energy they need from phytoplankton, but this is still an excellent source of micronutrients to supplement their diet. It’s also quite easy to find in aquarium stores. It’s usually advertised as feed for corals and other invertebrates.
Best Commercial Food for Seahorses
So, now you know what seahorses like to eat. But the quality of the food is equally important. Whether live or frozen, you want the food to be as nutritious and clean as possible. Why? Well, seahorses lack stomachs and have short digestive tracts. The food passes through them very quickly, limiting the time for nutrient absorption.
You want to feed them nutrient-dense, preferably gut-loaded or enriched food to ensure they make the best of every meal. Also, most parasitic and bacterial infections in aquarium fish start from contaminated food. To avoid this issue, you should choose foods prepared and packaged with the highest hygiene standards.
I can’t speak for every product out there. But I’ve personally been very pleased with the following lines. Many fellow aquarists agree, considering these brands have a good reputation. If you’re in doubt, I highly recommend going for one of the following:
– Reef Nutrition
Reef Nutrition specializes in niche products for feeding corals and other invertebrates. But their line is also suitable for feeding seahorses and other fish. They offer a variety of small feeding critters, including:
- Mysis shrimp
- Arctic copepods
- North-Pacific copepods
- Red copepods
- Artemia salina brine shrimp
All their feeds are nutrient-dense and come in very densely-packed bottles. You can choose between 6 oz., 16 oz., and 32 oz. packs. More importantly, all the feed is freshly frozen to keep as much of their nutrition as possible.
The copepods range in size from 100 to 3000 microns, while the largest shrimps are up to 0.98 inches. The carefully-selected feed is perfect for even the smallest seahorses. The brine shrimp are enriched and very high in pro-vitamin A and plant pigments. Your seahorses will greatly benefit from this food and might develop a healthy, intense color.
Hikari is the OG of species-specific diets for freshwater and marine fish. They have a few good feeds for saltwater species, but their bio-pure Mysis shrimp is most suitable for seahorses. The Mysis shrimp is frozen live and packed full of nutrition. Here are just some of the perks of this product:
- Perfect size for most seahorse species
- Good protein content
- Shrimp are gut-loaded with algae before freezing
- Supplemented with a cocktail of essential nutrients (B vitamins, calcium, folate, vitamin C, and pro-vitamin A)
- Natural source of omega-3 fatty acids
- Sterilized and guaranteed free of bacteria and parasites
- Comes in large packs (up to 16 oz.)
Most captive-bred seahorses readily accept this food. Hikari bio-pure Mysis shrimp is quick-frozen to maintain the shrimp’s natural color, taste, and texture. Thus, the food remains enticing and enjoyable even for the pickiest eaters.
– Algae Barn
Algae Barn has a comprehensive line of copepods and zooplankton. Their products are quite expensive, but they’re among the few brands selling live critters. Their live organisms are aquacultured and carefully selected by species and size.
Their simple 16 oz. packages contain 3000+ live copepods of juvenile to adult sizes. You can choose between various copepod species, including Tigriopus californicus, Apocyclops panamensis, and Tisbe biminiensis. Or you can buy some of their copepod combos, which contain a balanced mixture of multiple species:
- Poseidon’s Feast (Tigriopus and Tisbe copepods)
- 5280 Pods (Tigriopus, Tisbe, and Apocyclops copepods)
- Galaxy Pods (Tigriopus, Tisbe, Apocyclops, Oithona, and Euterpina copepods)
- Ecopods (Tigriopus, Tisbe, Apocyclops, and Oithona copepods)
Algae Barn offers a live arrival guarantee and ensures their copepods are 100% viable to reproduce in marine aquaria. You can use the copepods for feeding and seeding your tank. These products are specifically geared towards the fussiest eaters, including seahorses, corals, clams, and filter-feeding invertebrates.
They also offer a live phytoplankton product, perfect for feeding and maintaining copepod cultures. Their phytoplankton contains a mixture of microalgae of various sizes, including Tetraselmis, Thalassiosira weissflogii, Nannochloropsis gaditana, and Isochrysis galbana.
How to Feed Pet Seahorses?
Now that we’ve cleared up what to feed seahorses, let’s talk more about how to feed them. There are two main methods you can use, and each has its pros and cons:
– Rain feeding
This is how you’d feed most fish. Take a small bunch of feeder shrimp or another food of your choice. Then, plop them into the aquarium. The flow from the filter will disperse the food throughout the water column. This method is quick and works well for most seahorses.
- Pros: This method is great for both live and frozen food. The water flow makes frozen food move and seem alive, piquing the seahorse’s interest. Both wild-caught and captive-bred seahorses take well to this method.
- Cons: A lot of food will get wasted when sinking to the substrate. Some slower-eating seahorses might miss out on the food. If you have other fish in the tank, those will out-compete the seahorses for food.
– Target feeding
This is the most recommended method for feeding seahorses. It’s the easiest way to eliminate food waste and ensure all your seahorses get a fair chance to feed. When target feeding, you put the food directly in the front of the seahorses, a few pieces at a time. You can do this with a clean kitchen baster or aquarium pliers.
- Pros: It’s easier to keep tabs on how much each seahorse eats. There’s a lower chance that slow eaters will starve. This method keeps the aquarium cleaner.
- Cons: You might need to train your seahorses to target-feed. Wild-caught seahorses will take a while to get used to it. Target feeding is boring and time-consuming.
Whichever method you choose, seahorses require frequent feedings at regular intervals. They have a short digestive tract, so they need to eat more than other fish. Most species should feed 2-3 times a day.
You should also allow them six hours between meals to digest their food. Generally, a good meal size for a seahorse is roughly half a cube of frozen feeder shrimp or the equivalent amount if using live food.
How do You Know if Seahorse Is Eating Enough?
You might not be able to tell from one day to the next. However, there are some signs that a seahorse is missing food. Keep an eye on your pets’ body size, feeding behavior, and bathroom habits. If your seahorse checks all the following boxes, chances are, it’s eating enough:
- Healthy body weight. Starving seahorses will slowly lose weight and eventually develop a caved-in abdomen. Look at your seahorses from the front or back. If your pet seahorse is getting enough food, its abdomen should be slightly plump, and the belly plates should bulge out a little.
- Regular number 2’s. All the food that goes in must eventually come out. If your seahorse is getting enough food, it should also produce waste regularly. So, if your seahorses are as messy as usual, that’s a good sign.
- Normal appetite. Seahorses eat a lot, but they eat very slowly. On the other hand, a starved seahorse will rush to stuff its face to get as much food as possible. If all your seahorses go crazy at feeding time, you need to feed them more. A well-fed seahorse will still show interest in food but without looking agitated.
Why Won’t Seahorse Accept Frozen Food?
Wild seahorses will straight-up refuse any frozen food in most cases. But even captive-bred seahorses are notoriously fussy eaters. Their natural diet is based on live prey, so they’ll always gravitate towards that.
You should always be ready for your seahorses to pull a surprise and stop eating frozen foods. If you can’t train your seahorses or they recently stopped eating frozen foods, this could also be because of the following:
- Food size: What works for juvenile seahorses won’t work for adults, and vice-versa. If the frozen food is too small or too large for your seahorses, this will diminish their interest. Food that’s too large is too challenging to eat. If the food is too small, the seahorses won’t bother with it.
- Food type: Captive-bred seahorses are trained to feed on frozen Mysis shrimp, so they’ll most readily accept that. If you try feeding them something vastly different, it might not register as food to them. Try switching back to frozen Mysis shrimp to see if they still refuse frozen foods.
- Food quality: Some seahorses accept frozen food. But they’re still picky about it. If you switch to a different brand that has poor-quality products, the seahorses will find the new food less enticing. This happens especially with chopped-up frozen foods. Seahorses inspect every bit they eat, and the ugly food doesn’t cut it for them.
- The rest of their diet: Keeping a balance between live and frozen food is difficult. Even trained seahorses can fall back into old habits if they get accustomed to live feed. If your seahorses know they can get better food, they won’t bother with the frozen stuff. I recommend reducing their live food or combining live and frozen in the same meal. This helps re-train their palate.
Can Seahorses Eat Flakes or Pellets?
I’d say that seahorses might eat flakes or pellets, but that’s still very generous. In 99% of cases, seahorses won’t eat anything that doesn’t resemble the food they’d consume in the wild. Even captive-bred and trained seahorses refuse chopped Mysis shrimp. A dry blob of mushed-up food is all the less appetizing for them.
If you have young, captive-bred seahorses, you can still try training them. It takes tons of work, but you might be among the lucky few who succeed. Either way, fish flakes and pellets shouldn’t form the basis of a seahorse’s diet. Flakes and pellets are rich in micronutrients but don’t contain enough protein for carnivorous fish like seahorses.
Can Seahorses Eat Freeze-Dried Food?
Some seahorses might eat freeze-dried foods. Just like with frozen food and pellets, getting your seahorses to eat this stuff takes a lot of effort. I also strongly advise against it. Unlike regular frozen foods, freeze-dried foods are lower in nutrients. The freeze-drying process destroys most of the vitamins and minerals in the food and removes all the moisture.
Thus, the lower nutrition content makes freeze-dried food less satiating and nourishing. Freeze-drying also changes the texture and appearance of the food. Seahorses won’t like it, and it won’t do them any good, either. In my opinion, freeze-dried food is even worse than pellets.
Do Seahorses Eat Algae?
Seahorses are mainly carnivorous. Live and enriched crustaceans should make up most of their diet. However, seahorses in the wild also consume a bit of algae, specifically phytoplankton. They can’t rely on algae for energy, but feeding them a bit of plankton here and there can be beneficial.
As for macroalgae, such as the ones you keep in the aquarium, those are safe. Seahorses don’t have teeth to bite into fibrous plants. They might accidentally suck up floating bits of withered algae, but that’s about it.
Are Bloodworms Good for Seahorses?
Bloodworms are okay for omnivorous fish but not so good for seahorses. Although they’re rich in iron and have a decent amount of protein, they’re lacking in many other ways. First, bloodworms do not contain a balanced amino-acid profile— something very important for carnivorous fish.
Secondly, bloodworms are a poor source of most vitamins and minerals. They also contain mainly roughage, which makes them harder to digest. Since seahorses already have trouble getting enough nutrition from food, bloodworms are a big no-no.
Finally, bloodworms are often contaminated with parasites. There’s no benefit to including this food in your pets’ diets. I doubt most seahorses would be drawn to bloodworms anyway.
What do Baby Seahorses Eat?
When born, most seahorse fry measure 0.3-0.5 inches. That’s considerably smaller than adults and even Pygmy seahorses. Thus, their food should also be small enough to eat whole. Like adults, baby seahorses are primarily carnivorous and require live food. Their body size limits them to small zooplankton species like rotifers.
For the first two weeks of their life, baby seahorses can only consume near-microscopic organisms. As the juveniles develop and grow, they begin eating more substantial foods. After two weeks, they start consuming baby brine shrimp and copepods. Baby seahorses also require more frequent feedings than adults, roughly 3-5 times daily.
Seahorses require special carnivorous diets, preferably consisting of live feed. Wild seahorses are especially picky about their food and refuse frozen food equivalents. Captive-bred seahorses are likely to eat frozen foods but will require enrichment to get enough fatty acids and vitamins. Luckily, there are plenty of feed options for wild and captive-bred seahorses of all sizes.
Rotifers, copepods, and brine shrimp are excellent for young seahorses. Adults will also enjoy Mysis shrimp, daphnia, ghost shrimp, amphipods, and fish larvae. Adults require 2-3 meals daily, while baby seahorses should eat up to 5 times. Target feeding is recommended to ensure all seahorses get enough food to maintain healthy body weight.