Sunday, April 26, 2015

My writing space: The View From the Reef

Many writers have offices that overlook a garden, a peaceful yard, or a stand of trees. We tend to surround ourselves with inspiring views (at least, whenever we can) -- in many cases, they help to keep our thoughts in the pages and our butts in the chair.

That said, the view from my desk can get a little distracting.

Directly to the right of my desk, within arm's reach, sits a sixty-gallon aquarium full of seahorses and corals.

The Reef, April 2015

I've always loved the coral reef, with seahorses and their kin my special favorites. I had freshwater tanks for years, but shied away from reefs because I thought salt water tanks too difficult to keep and maintain. In 2010, my father died, and my husband encouraged me to take a little of his estate and do something I'd always wanted to do. He thought I would honor my father best by using a bit of that money to fulfill a dream, instead of paying bills.

(Have I mentioned my husband's a keeper?)

I mulled the thought over until December, until I remembered how much my father shared my love of the ocean and the various creatures that lived within its depths.

It took you HOW long?

Decision made: I wanted a reef. And not just a reef, but a seahorse reef -- which, as I learned, required some special planning. Seahorses are lovely, exotic creatures, and more intelligent than most people realize, but they're also not the brightest bulbs on the reef. Like toddlers, they grab at everything, so aquarium keepers have to "seahorse-proof" the reef to ensure that nothing will grab, pinch, sting, or molest the curious, delicate creatures who star in the space.

Baby seahorses: lovely and accident-prone.

It's not as easy as you might think.

Five years later, I'm raising my second group of seahorses. (The species I raise, Hippocampus erectus, lives only 4-5 years.) I've learned a lot in the process, and I think my dad would be glad that I made the decision to invest in a reef. It's more than a hobby--it's an obsession--but one that gives me many happy hours (and quite a few photos to share on my Facebook feed).

Seahorses have long, involved courtships and bond in pair-relationships that often last for the seahorses' entire lives. Male seahorses have "pouches" beneath their bellies, where the female deposits the eggs during a lovely mating dance. After fertilization, the male experiences a true pregnancy--including labor and contractions before delivery--which takes about 20 seconds and results in the live birth of up to 500 baby seahorses.

Don't believe me?

Here's a video of my second male seahorse, Ghillie, giving birth to a brood of babies.

The female who passes through the frame at about the 15-second mark is his mate, Ceti, who seems to be thinking, "That looks like a personal problem to me...catch you later."

Ghillie died a few weeks ago, but I thought I'd introduce the "new crew" who you might be seeing here from time to time.

The females:

Vega, the large black female.

Kirin (top)...showing Vega who's the REAL boss of the reef.

and Weeble (named because she wobbles, but she won't fall down.)

(Weeble is new to those who follow me, and my reef, on Facebook...expect to hear more about her in the days to come).

The males:

Rygel (spelling changed from "Rigel" when we learned he was male)

And the ever-hungry Moya.

and finally, little Magellan:

Magellan - the miracle horse.

Magellan is a special-needs seahorse born without the "snick"--the mechanism most seahorses use to feed. His disability keeps him smaller than the others, and impacts the way he eats, but he's a happy, inspiring fellow even so.

Seahorses might appear calm and peaceful, but they're carnivores (ambush predators, in the wild), and their oddity appeals to the parts of me that appreciates the strange, exotic, and dangerous.

Expect to hear (and see) more in the weeks to come...

--- Susan the Seahorse-Keeper


  1. So... do seahorses eat their young, or is there a high infant mortality, or what do you DO with 500 young seahorsii?

  2. Seahorses won't eat their young, but just about everything else on my reef would be glad to partake of the mobile buffet. My gobies, shrimp, crabs, and even half of my corals will eat baby seahorses.

    Baby seahorses only eat freshly-hatched baby brine shrimp (think infant sea monkeys), and they eat every 3-4 hours around the clock, so they're exceptionally difficult to raise.

    Fortunately, some seahorse breeders will raise the babies if those of us who end up with them send the babies back to the breeder via FedEx (which is also how the breeders ship them to us in the first place).

    Also fortunately, Ghillie was bad at the mating dance (though he did love doing it) so he only ended up pregnant twice in the four years I had him. He didn't mind, and it ended up better for me, so it all works out. We'll see if Moya and Rygel end up with "better" results.

  3. Is Magellan reached his full size (for him) or is he just behind his percentile growth for his age? He sounds a wee character.

    1. Magellan is the same age as Kirin and Vega - almost 7 months - but while they're almost 5" long (snout to tail) he's still only about 3.5" - the size of a 3-month old seahorse. His lack of a snick prevents him from eating the same food as the others, and probably stunted his growth as well. He is a wee thing, compared with the others, but he's spunky for sure.

  4. What an inspirational view you have, Susan. I'm surprised you're not hoarse from cheering them on!

    1. Thanks Jeff - and fortunately, I'm not at all hoarse. Nay...not at all.

  5. Amazing! I'd be watching all day too.

    1. Pretty much :) On the other hand, my rear rarely leaves the chair.

  6. I second all the above motions. I would not have a prayer of maintaining such a thing, but I am enormously happy to have one to experience vicariously--without the responsibility. Lucky me.

    1. Thank you! I definitely chose the "special needs" end of the marine spectrum, but the joy they give me is worth the extra work.

  7. I can't wait to see more about Weeble - she's adorable!

    I think Rygel is my favorite, although I have a soft spot for Magellan <3

    1. Thanks Rebecca! Weeble's introduction got delayed because we weren't at all certain she would live - she's missing the last half inch of her tail, so her "grip" is defective - she lost it due to infection early on, and it won't grow back. Nobody told HER that's a death sentence, however, so she's pretty much disregarded (and beaten) the odds.

  8. I'm amazed at all of us who have latched on to the critters in your reef and need fresh news and pics daily. Have you considered writing a children's book about their lives? (I'd say an adult book but would enough people know they were about to be hooked to buy it?)

    1. There's definitely a children's book in the works, Susan - it's on hold while I finish up two other projects that were earlier in the queue, but it's definitely coming!

  9. My God, I learned more here than on any average day surfing through the Internet.

    What a fascinating post. I knew nothing about seahorses and have just gotten an education. I can see why you are so absorbed in their lives and personalities.