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Zulu Lulu - Hippocampus Capensis

BEGINNER

I am new to the hobby of marine aquariums and I’m fascinated with seahorses. I would like to set up a 10-gallon species tank with a pair or two of seahorses. Which seahorses are easier to maintain? Are there any that would be suitable for a beginner? Compared to their wild-caught counterparts, virtually all captive-bred seahorses are very hardy, disease-resistant animals that are relatively easy to keep, but there are three types that are perhaps best-suited for beginners--Pixies, Zulu-lulus, and Mustangs. Which one is best for you depends largely on whether you like miniature, medium, or giant seahorses, whether you are primarily interested in breeding and raising the babies or just keeping them healthy and happy, and whether you mind hatching lots of brine shrimp every day or would rather keep seahorses that are trained to eat frozen foods as their everyday diet.

Pixies (Hippocampus zosterae) are the smallest of all seahorses available to hobbyists--exquisite, elfin creatures no bigger than your thumbnail--that are also the easiest seahorses to breed and raise. They are inexpensive, hardy, breed like crazy, and a whole herd of them will live happily in a simple 5-10 gallon setup. But they have one big drawback--they are too small to eat frozen foods and must eat copious amounts of newly hatched brine shrimp daily. Decapsulating brine shrimp cysts and hatching live food every day can a lot of extra work for a beginner, so I think Zulu-lulus or Mustangs would be an even better choice for you, Michael.

Mustangs are large, robust tropical seahorses whose only drawback is that their offspring are much more difficult to raise than Pixie or Zulu-lulu babies. But all seahorse fry are relatively challenging to raise, even for expert hobbyists, so I'm thinking that's a daunting task you may not be interested in tackling until you've gained more experience anyway, and that for now your primary concern is just keeping your seahorses happy and healthy.

Ordinarily, I would unhesitatingly recommend Mustangs for your first seahorses, Michael. They have been captive bred and raised for more generations than any other line, making them better adapted to aquarium conditions and life in captivity than other seahorses. The first pair of captive-bred seahorses I ever owned were Mustangs, and my 'stangs quickly learned to recognize me as their feeder, whereupon they would often meet me at their feeding station and interact with me at dinnertime by turning on their greeting colors and parading around in all their finery. My original pair are still going strong years later.

But Mustangs get big, fully twice the size of full-grown Zulus, and sooner or later the ‘stangs would tend to outgrow a 10-gallon tank. So in your case, Michael, I would say the ‘lulus are the perfect seahorse for you to start with.

Zulu-lulus (Hippocampus capensis) are pudgy little ponies, but adorable, all the same. Short and stout, with that portly profile, stubby snouts, big bulging eyes, and perfectly smooth bodies, these thick-bodied little are the perfect size for the home aquarium. They reach a total length of just over 4 inches, and are shipped to you at the modest size of 2-3 inches. That makes them around three times the size of Pixies--small enough to feel right at home in the average aquarium, yet large enough to make fine display specimens and to eat small frozen mysid shrimp as their staple diet. They have proven to be very hardy and easy to breed, and when you’re ready for the challenge of rearing, Michael, you’ll find little ‘lulus are relatively easy to raise, much like Pixie babies

Zulu-lulus are smallish-to-medium seahorses, but they have BIG appetites and will eat most anything and everything the giant breeds do. Of course, they love frozen PE mysis and are accustomed to eating that as their staple diet, but these chow hounds are not at all picky when they put on the ol' feed bag. These galloping gourmets also eat rotifers, brine shrimp, amphipods, copepods, OR red shrimp and all the usual live foods. Caprellids, Gammarus, Red Iron Horse Feed, Green Iron Horse Feed, Regular Iron Horse Feed--all are taken with relish! Feeding these fat little fellas is the last thing the hobbyist has to worry about! They are natural born gluttons, which normally feed on nonmotile food in the wild, so they thrive on frozen food in the aquarium.

Like most of OR's captive-raised seahorses, Zulu-lulus are very social, highly gregarious animals that very much enjoy the company of others of their kind. They court constantly and breed like bunnies. They will form pair bonds, but they may not be permanent. Any time male and female Zulus are kept together under good conditions, you are going to see courtship and mating.

These are VERY adaptable animals, a necessary trait for estuarine seahorses that customarily inhabit the mouths of rivers and lagoons, where winter gales or the influx of freshwater from flooding and torrential rains can change conditions drastically overnight. Zulu-lulus are rugged little rascals -- adaptable fishes that can survive wide variations in salinity ranging from water that is barely brackish to water twice as salty as normal seawater. But, as always, they will do best under stable conditions, and prefer a specific gravity in the low-normal range for a marine aquarium (e.g., 1.020-1.022).

Considering the conditions they are accustomed to in the wild, we shouldn't be surprised to find that farm-raised Zulus can adapt to considerable temperature variations as well. Maintain stable temperatures between a range of 72F-77F and they will do just fine.

Zulu-lulus in the wild have the smallest range and most limited distribution of all the seahorses. Found only in a few small bays and estuaries at the southernmost tip of South Africa, these extraordinary animals are unprecedented in the hobby--they have never appeared on the market before. In the wild, their numbers are now down to just a few hundred animals, and these remarkable rarities are considered the most endangered seahorses in the world.

So all things considered, Michael, I think Zulu-lulus are the perfect choice for a beginner who is started out with a 10-gallon tank. They are ideal for seahorse keepers with a serious interest in breeding and rearing, or for anyone who is looking for truly exotic specimens that have never been available to hobbyists before.

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TANK SIZE

I have a small 20 gallon short tank that I was thinking about setting up for some Zulu-lulus. Is this shorter tank okay or should I use a taller tank? What is the best kind of hitching posts that you recommend? If I use brightly colored hitching posts will I be able to see my Zulu-lulus in a yellow or orange phase? Is there anything else that I should do to keep them happy and colorful? The short 20 gallon tank will be just fine, in fact many hobbyist report that the Zulu-lulus seem to do better in tanks that are not so tall. This is probably because, unlike the larger breeds of seahorses which are more oriented to swimming vertically (up and down), the H. capensis seems to be more horizontally oriented preferring the substrate more than other breeds. We also notice that here on the farm they really love to hang out in clumps of macro-algae such as the thicker Hawaiian Ogo (gracilarius sp) whereas the larger breeds are not interested in it all after they are a few months old. This is probably due to not only their smaller size but to the fact that in their natural habitat they find the best camouflage in low growing algae’s and corals common to the area off South Africa where they originate from. Many of the larger breeds are found in areas with very tall sea grass beds and taller corals so this is part of the reason for the difference in behavior between the two.

This behavior has something to do with the way they eat as well. We see that the H.capensis eat very very easily off the bottom… hence the tendency to “hang out” in the substrate where as many of the large breeds… especially the larger and older males… like to sit up higher on their hitching posts in hope that the food will flow past them so they can eat as they remain perched on top of the world looking at their empire!! One could say they are “lazy” compared to the Zulu-lulus which seem to do a bit more swimming and searching for their food!

As far as color… take a look at this photo from Leslie Leddo! It is another beauty! We have seen the many extraordinary seahorse photos by Leslies published in FAMA over the years and we all know she is an expert at bringing out the most extraordinary colors in seahorses and here you can see she has done it again! This male Zulu-lulus is absolutely stunning!!

I would suggest definitely using as many colored hitching posts as possible to bring out these colors. But hitching posts alone will not do the trick . It is equally important to remember to manage your tank properly, keep excellent water quality and to feed only the best to your seahorses avoiding live artemia, guppies and other foods that are not high in the long chain fatty acids or vitamins and minerals. The best seahorse diet that I know of remains the frozen mysis with Vibrance and occasional live treat of those fancy red Hawaiian shrimp! This will surely keep them healthy, happy and colorful!

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BREEDING

You have said that the Zulu-lulus are very easy to keep and that they breed easily. Can you tell me why you think so? How many males and how many females should I put in my tank to ensure that they mate? How long do I have to wait until the male gets pregnant? Should I separate the male once he is pregnant? How long do I need to wait until he gives birth? What do I feed the babies? The Zulu-lulus are one of the most fun and easy seahorses to keep that I know of. They are as easy and fun as the Mustangs but have the advantage that they can be kept in smaller tanks at higher densities and seem to be less prone to gas bubble problems. They are also as fun and easy to keep as the Pixies but have the advantage of being bigger and therefore not so delicate or as tricky to feed.

They also seem to be relatively insensitive to a wider range of temperatures than most seahorses being most comfortable at 75C but able to thrive in lower and higher temperatures as well as long as acclimation is a slow process and not a quick one. I would not say that they are less sensitive to high nitrates or to any reading other than zero of ammonia and nitrite but are definitely less sensitive to lower salinities although I still recommend keeping them at 1.0252 if possible. These Zulu-lulus are also very good shippers with the same famous hardiness of the Mustangs and Pixies with and amazing ability to acclimate well to home aquariums after what sometimes are longer than expected trips often exposed to cooler and warmer conditions than ideal as well as lower ph than ideal and sometimes even slightly higher than zero ammonia levels.

This may all seem too good to be true but now consider the best part: The feeding is even easier!! The adults are all trained to eat frozen mysis enhanced with Vibrance. They will feed easily off the bottom of the tank and seem to be always ready to eat. I don’t think they can get too fat!! As your population expands as you add new members to fill out your tank be it in part via your own breeding program or by just adding new mates you will find yourself with different sized individuals which is very pretty to look at but for many hobbyist this means more time to feed the different sized mouths and make sure everyone gets their share. Well, with the Zulu-lulus this is nothing to worry about as all you have to do is chop the mysis a little and they will all feed on it. If you are able to keep your tank full of background critters such as copepods, isopods and seahare eggs the baby capensis will feed on these easily. Even so, it is recommended that you feed some vibrance enriched baby artemia (instar) at least a few times a week just for the babies. What is amazing is that the adults will still eat these instar as well so on these days you can skip the frozen mysis and feed the whole population a good feeding of instar!. As the babies grow you can even feed an occasional feeding of larger adult artemia as long as it is enriched. Remember the potato chip theory. It you do not enrich your artemia it is the same as feeding your precious seahorses potato chips. If you go through the extra effort and expense to enrich you are feeding them what is equivalent to steak with vegetables and salad! We all know that potatoes chips will not meet the nutritional requirements even for the simplest life form!

In order to get the most enjoyment out of your tank and herd I would recommend several adults of breeding age. The sex ratio really does not matter much at all as you will see breeding regardless if you have more females or more males or the same number of each. It really is a personal choice. Having said that I would set my tank up with more males as I think they are prettier and more fun to watch as they parade around impressing each other with the best of pouchs and colors! The point here is to have fun and enjoy your pets. If you have a good size herd of say 4 to 7 you should expect to see a male with a swollen pouch within 2 –3 months. The gestation period is about 3 weeks if you keep them at 75F and a bit longer is you have a cooler the tank. You can expect anywhere from a few to as many as 100 babies with the larger older males.

These traits are just a few that make the Zulu-lulus an ideal choice not only for the beginner seahorse hobbyists but for the expert as well that wants to try something new and different or the enthusiast that just never has enough salt water tanks at home and finds themselves filling up their office space with tanks too!

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CAN I FEED THE HAWAIIAN RED SHRIMP?

Can I feed the Hawaiian red shrimp to my H. capenisis (Zulu-lulus)? Are these shrimp too big for the them? If not, how should I keep the shrimp and if they are too big what should I feed to my the Zulu-lulus?? The Hawaiian red shrimp that you are referring to have the scientific name: Halocaridina rubra. They belong to the Phylum of Crustacea. They are endemic (found no where else) to the islands of Hawaii being most common on the Big Island but also found on the islands of Maui, Oahu, Kahoolawe and Molokai. The Hawaiian name is Opa’e u la. You may have seen them before inside the popular aquatic ecosystems or microhabitat domes that were flown and studied on the space shuttle.

These unique and rare shrimp inhabit Anchialine Pools. These pools are tidally influenced saline pools that occur along the Hawaiian coast but are not openly connected to the ocean. These include water in natural depressions, fissures in the lava rock, quarries, craters and even wells on Oahu. These pools are fed by the ocean water that seeps in with the tide and by fresh water that is fed from the lava tubes that disperse fresh rain water from the mountains and other rainy areas into these tubes which end up in these anchialine pools. The pools end up being about half fresh water and half salt water with an average salinity of 20ppt or1.0145 specific gravity. The temperature cools dramatically after mountain rain storms down to 20Celsisu (68F)with the shallow pools often heating up somewhat during hot sunny days to as high as 27 Celsius (80F). The average temperature remains around 25Celsius (77F). The shrimp will “disappear” into the cracks and fissure in the lavas during radical temperature fluctuations not to be seen at all. There is also a belief that the shrimp actually travel from pond to pond via the extensive network of lava tubes so common to the Hawaiian underground terrain making a sort of “shrimp subway”!! Often, these shrimp will simply disappear from certain ponds and suddenly appear in others making the “subway” theory seem quite reasonable.

These anchaline pools are usually covered with a reddish carpet of iron like fungus and bacteria which the shrimp thrive on making the nutritional profile one with very high levels of long chain fatty acids and beta-carotene’s making these shrimp extremely nutritious and giving them the beautiful red color!

As adults they are about 1 and ½ cm long and about as wide as the tip of a #2 pencil. They are born as mysis (shrimp larval form that swims backwards) and are about half the size of the adults. Within a few short months they are of adult size. They are not very fecund shrimp having only 4 or 5 spawns per year with a release of only 5-10 larvae per spawn. These facts make them virtually impossible to breed or culture outside of their natural anchaline pools. These pools are also so unique that any human interference, be it development that covers up the ponds and/or the introduction of fish or other foreign flora and fauna can destroy these unique habitats causing loss of shrimp. This, in fact, has already happened to most anchaline ponds in Hawaii which is one reason why these shrimp are so rare and becoming even more so. This fact combined with the very low spawning rate and number of offspring make the supply of these shrimp very limited.

Once you do get some of these shrimp, they are easy to take care of as long as you follow a few very important rules. The first is the salinity. They do not adapt well to changes in salinity so it is essential that your home holding vessel be it a 5-gallon bucket or small aquarium have the EXACT salinity that the shrimp are shipped in which is usually 20Celsisus. (1.0145 specific gravity). These shrimp are also very sensitive to too fast of a change in temperature, too much light, lack of habitat and overfeeding. Basic water parameters for holding these rare shrimp are: Temperature 60F –80F, Ammonia 0, Nitrites 0, PH 8.2 – 8.4, Specific gravity 1.0145 to 1.0168

If you are careful to follow the instructions that come with the red shrimp you will do fine and your seahorses will be in for the treat of their lives!! However, only the very large H. Capensis will be able to eat these red shrimp. The average size Zulu-lulus will eat chopped frozen mysis and live baby or adult brine shrimp (enriched of course!)

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HABITAT - WHERE AND WHAT IS GARDEN ROUTE IN SOUTH AFRICA?

You said that H.capsenis is also called the Knysna Seahorse and is found along the Garden Route in South Africa. Where is this and where is the Knysna lagoon?? What is the ocean called that they are found in? What is the habitat like where the seahorses are found? Is it shallow or deep? Are they found in the reef beds or are sea grass areas?? I would like to know as I want to set up my tank to be as natural as possible. If you look at a global map of the world, go to the tip of South Africa. You will see an area where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the general area where the Garden Route is found and this is the general range of the Knysna seahorse. As you look at he detailed photo of this area, the Garden route runs from the tip of South Africa north. It is along most of this coastal route that you can find the Knysna seahorse. The famous Knysna lagoon is located mid way along this route and found in the warmer part of the Indian Ocean that is much warmer than the sea water in Cape Town which explains why this seahorse thrives in tropical conditions. Even air temperatures in Knysna here are quite warm with 25C (77F) being the average during the day.

Having never been there myself I do not have any first hand accounts but the Knysna Lagoon has the highest diversity of organisms of any estuary in South Africa. I would not say the that the diving here is like the tropical parts of the South Pacific in temperature or biodiversity but the estuary is famous for its great reefs and “tropical like” diving conditions. Strong currents are also reported to be quite common in many areas.

Common names for H. capensis include The Knynsa seahorse and the Cape seahorse as well as the new farm raised Zulu-lulu. The habitat that they originate from is quite diverse but, is mostly made up of reef type conditions with a range of depth from 50cm to 20m according to Project Seahorse. Actual temperatures in the Knynsa lagoon vary from 25C (77F) to the occasional 27C (80.6)in the shallows and down to 20C(68F) at the lower depths in the winter.

This really is an amazing seahorse that has the ability to adapt to very diverse environments. These various environmental conditions have imprinted into their genetic code making them a very hardy seahorse. It is also apparent they, like a lot of seahorses, have the ability to show off many different color phases dependent on their “mood” and environment as are evident from some of the photos here. Because of their relatively small size compared to the large breeds they do well in desk top aquariums, making them great work companions! They are also very good eaters and very good breeders so all in all they make a great pet that is easy to feed, keep, and breed!

DO I NEED TO MAINTAIN THEM IN A TANK WITH A CHILLER?

I would like to set up a tank of farm raised H. Capenis from South Africa. Do I need to maintain them in a tank with a chiller or can I put them in with my other tropical seahorses?I would prefer to put them in with my tropical but the temperature is about 75F and in the summer it gets up to 78F. Is this too warm? I have found that the Zulu-lulus (H. capensis) are quite comfortable at 75F-77F so your tropical tank should be just fine. In fact the warmer temperatures tend to bring out the yellows and oranges huges that are common to the breed. You could acclimate them downwards so as to include them with your temperate species tank but it is not necessary nor recommended. What I have seen is that these cooler temperatures typical of a temperate species tank bring out the darker color patterns of the Zulu-lus. They are still really cute, but lets face it, we all like the bright colors.

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WATER LEVEL

I am particularly curious about the level of the water column they seem to prefer. Most of mine seem to like to hitch close to the substrate. They spend most of their time lazing about the bottom. They sort of scoot or slide along the substrate with their tail stretched straight out behind them or curled a bit. They can and do swim, some more than others. 2 swim quite a bit. They also court close to the bottom. I have not yet observed an egg transfer. Is this bottom dwelling behavior considered normal for this species? Can any of you with experience with the species share your experiences with them please. Any additional info about the species would also be greatly appreciated. From Neil Garrick-Maidment, Director, The Seahorse Trust

They are (H.capensis) are an amazing Seahorse.I kept them for some time and bred thousands of them, in fact the ones you have are probably decendants of them. Like you say they are intriguing as they tend to live on the bottom most of the time and the young in particular drop like stones when they are born and hold on from day one. If there is a Seahorse that is suitable as a first time one then it has to be the Knynsa Seahorse (Hippocampus capensis). The brilliant thing about them, in the wild they naturally feed on non-motile food so it makes them a god send for training onto dead food and the young do really well on newly artemia, without enrichment.

They come from the Knysna and Kuerbon lagoons in South Africa and due to the seasonal flooding in that region it means that they can cope with a wide range of salinities including I am told freshwater for a very short length of time (personally I wouldnt try this). They can also cope with a wide range of temperatures as well. A few years back I had an outbreak of vibrio and stopped in its tracks by dropping their temperature down to 16 degrees rapidly and then slowly raised it back up to 20 over the next couple of months and they coped incredibly well with this.

They were the first Seahorse to be listed on the South African red data list as ironically for an animal that breeds so well they are down to just a few hundred in the wild. The ground dwelling behaviour is perfectly normal for them, in fact many people are disappointed when they spend all their time on the bottom, having said this a tank of a minimum of 15 to 18 inches is better for egg swapping. apart from the two british Species Knysna seahorses have got to be my favourite.

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