Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday ... Under the Sea

-- Susan, every other Sunday

It's been a while since I took you on a visit "under the sea" to my aquarium, and since Jeff's latest dispatch from Greece has me in a summery mood, this seems like as good a time as any to take you on the shortest journey possible: approximately two feet to the left of where I sit as I type this post.

Here's the view:

The view from my writing desk.

I've had The Reef (a 60 gallon marine "show tank" - meaning it's almost as tall as it is long) since December 2010, and quite a few of the current inhabitants have been with me almost that long.

My watchman goby, Max (actually "Emperor Maximus Angryfish I"), was the very first fish on the reef and remains one of the most opinionated.

Emperor Max disapproves of your shenanigans.

If you ask him, he'd tell you his territory consists of "all the light touches" -- but for defensive purposes, he only gets truly feisty if someone attempts to invade the cave on the left side of the reef.

Max, defending his castle.

When that happens, all bets are off.  

The oldest corals in my tank are a lovely pink Kenya Tree:

Look carefully - there's a seahorse hitched to its base.
... and a colony of Tubastrea - common name "sun coral" - that has not only survived, but reproduced at a rate that's rare in captivity.

The parent is at center frame. The one at the top is an offspring.

Most of the other sun coral colonies in the tank are "children" of that initial frisky sun.

Sun coral babies, attached upside down to the filter motor.

While the Kenya Tree is photosynthetic (like a plant, although it's actually classified as an animal), the sun coral uses its tendrils to capture meaty foods, which it consumes through the mouths located at the center of each polyp. Mine get a mixture of live phytoplankton, oyster eggs, and (defrosted) frozen mysis shrimp--delivered nightly by eyedropper.

The "stars" of the reef don't live as long as the corals and most of the other fish. Hippocampus erectus--common name "Lined Seahorses"--live only 3-4 years, on average, and my tank is currently home to its third generation of seahorse-kind.

Moya - a male, in a rare moment out in the open.

I buy my seahorses from a breeder in Florida that raises them entirely in captivity. They arrive via FedEx overnight delivery, and need to be picked up at the FedEx office to minimize the time they spend in the box.

Which means that every few years, I get the joy of walking into a FedEx shipping office and telling the clerk I've come to pick up live seahorses -- a statement that never fails to startle whoever is working behind the counter.

This is what the seahorses look like when they arrive, at 3-4 months old:

Approximately 2.5" long. Cute as buttons.

And this is what they look like two years later:

Vega, a female. Adult length: 8"

Moya, close up.

Keeping a seahorse reef requires choosing only tank mates--fish and coral--that won't sting, pinch, harass, or upset the seahorses. Not an easy task, but not as difficult as you might imagine. While I'm limited mostly to "soft" corals and peaceful fish that hug the reef and avoid the water column at the center of the tank, that still leaves a wide variety of corals, fish, and invertebrates to choose from.

Porcelain crabs are peaceful creatures, no matter what the pincers tell you.

One of my favorite non-fish, non-seahorse tank inhabitants is Oscar, the abalone. (Extra points if you get the joke before you read the caption on his photo.) I've had him for almost three years now, and he's grown from a three-inch baby to a nearly ten-inch creature my husband refers to as the "living booger."

My abalone has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R...

Unfortunate nickname aside, I find Oscar fascinating. Abalone have light-sensing organs, and excellent senses of smell, but they don't see well (in fact, they're almost blind). Despite this, and their tiny brains, Oscar has learned that I supplement his diet of living algae by clipping sheets of dried seaweed to the top of the aquarium, and I can tell when he's hungry because he heads to the top of the tank and wanders around the rim, sticking his snout above the water level, looking for the seaweed clip. When he finds it, he'll scrape the remnants off and wait beside it until I notice him hovering there and add more food.

Oscar, enjoying his seaweed.

Not too bad for a sentient booger.

Obviously, I could go on at length, but I'll leave it there for now, but we'll visit again in a few more weeks, and I'll tell you more about the odd and lovely things I get to see on the reef.

Red-legged hermit, checking the seahorses' food bowl for treats. Yes, they eat from bowls.


  1. I'm always amazed by your reef. VERY cool, and something I'd never have the attention span (or Spann...) to deal with. I'm lucky to keep chickens and honey bees alive, and they mostly take care of themselves!

    1. Thanks Everett! Honey bees would be a challenge for me (I'm allergic to their stings) but I find them fascinating. Ironically, I bet you spend more time with the chickens than I do with the reef - but admittedly, the reef doesn't offer me anything tasty in return.

  2. I love this information. I have learned more about seahorses and their environment at this blog than I have ever known. And I had no idea that they grow to 8" or that abalone eat seaweed or what sun coral are or eat.

    The photos are fantastic.

    Whatever you post, I'll be riveted.

    1. Thank you so much! I've learned a ton about marine life since I started reef keeping - it has become quite a passion. I'll keep sharing for sure.

  3. Really fascinating, Susan. It must have taken you a lot of time and study to become expert enough to manage a reef. I had difficulty keeping my stepdaughter's fresh water tank going - a comparatively trivial task.

    1. I used to breed freshwater angelfish, decades ago, but stayed away from marine most of my life because I thought it would be too difficult. Fortunately, the tech has improved so much in the last couple of decades that it's almost as easy as freshwater now (as long as you don't choose the "special needs pets of the sea" --- my son's name for seahorses).

  4. Susan, I may have mentioned once before that as a teenager daydreaming through many a high school class I often doodled a home with one wall as a mega deep sea aquarium. You've captured and mastered that dream of mine...and made me a follower of your Facebook posts on your fabulous undersea family. Thanks, dream maker.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. My husband and I hope to someday have one of those epic "in-wall" monsters - they're truly lovely. It amazes me how much I've been able to do with the much-smaller (and much easier to clean!) 60 gallon version. I'm glad people like seeing the photos - because I sure love posting them.

  5. Am I the only one who didn't get the joke? Wouldn't surprise me. BUT I love these creatures. The photos are mesmerizing.

  6. What are the measurements of the 60-gallon tank? You have a whole world down there and I'm trying to imagine its size.