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Big-belly Seahorses

December 30, 2013

Jellies and Corals and Seahorses, Oh My! 

Written by: Amy Rollinson,
Senior Aquarist in Fish and Inverts

Lots of exciting things are happening in the Georgia Aquarium’s aquaculture room these days. The aquaculture room is where the aquarium grows live food, cultures jellies and propagates corals. In addition to raising these animals, we now have a new system for rearing seahorses, which arrived just in time for baby big-belly seahorses!

One of the most exciting events in an aquarist’s career is successful breeding of the animals in their care. Not to mention, when it comes to babies, no matter what it is, they are also pretty darn cute! In regards to the baby big-belly seahorses, aside from being too small to exhibit their distinct characteristic round bellies, they are exact miniature replicas of their parents. And in case you did not know, it is the male seahorse that is responsible for giving birth to the fry. Seahorses are among the very few animal species on Earth in which the male bears unborn young. Male seahorses come furnished with a brood pouch on their front-facing side. When mating, the female deposits her eggs into his pouch via an ovipositor, and the male then fertilizes them internally. He carries the eggs in his pouch until they hatch, which can be anywhere from 9 to 45 days based on species and water temperature. The male is capable of giving birth to hundreds of fry at a time, too. Happy Father’s Day, male seahorse. You have earned it!

The newest system that is currently housing our big-belly fry can be viewed in one of the windows of the aquaculture room and can be seen during one of the Aquarium’s behind-the-scene tours. Just like the baby jellies you see in the aquaculture room (known as ephyrae), baby seahorses do very well in a specially designed tank called a kreisel. Kreisels got their name from a German word for a child’s toy spinning top. The name links the spinning motion of the toy to the movement of water flow inside the tank. When baby seahorses are first born, the fry will gulp air at the surface to help fill their swim bladder. If they are exposed to the air for any length of time, chances are that they will swallow too much air and over-inflate their gas bladders. When that happens, the fry develop fatal buoyancy problems and become the infamous "floaters" that bob helplessly at the surface and are unable to eat. With the use of the specially designed kreisel, the water flow gently moves the seahorses into the water column ensuring that they do not stick to the surface of the water and therefore helping to increase our success rate.

When our baby seahorses are first born, they are fed tiny, live brine shrimp called Artemia. The stage in which these brine shrimp break free from their egg casing, it is referred to as Nauplli. The Aquarium hatches out our very own live, baby brine shrimp, which helps to feed our jellies and corals in addition to the baby seahorses. They are not only just the right size for the seahorse fry, but they provide proteins and fatty acids that are crucial in growth and survival in these fragile little creatures. Fishing line also provides the perfect holdfast for the seahorse fry to latch onto with their tiny, prehensile tail.

Coral reefs and sea grass beds, which are primary real-estate for seahorses, is quickly deteriorating, and therefore reducing viable habitats for seahorses. By being able to reproduce this animal in-house, we are able to educate the public about the declining numbers of seahorses without having to directly obtain these animals from the wild. Georgia Aquarium is also in a position to donate these animals to other aquariums and spread the message of conservation. So let the courtships continue, and let the babies be plentiful!

About the author: Amy Rollinson works in between the Tropical Diver and Cold Water Quest galleries, but one is most likely to see her in the Aquarium's aquaculture room culturing jellies, rearing seahorses or raising cuttlefish. When not being a total fish-geek, Rollinson spends her time writing, playing guitar and relaxing with her wonderful fiancé and two loveable dogs.

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