proud parents, members of the Tennessee Aquarium’s
seahorse team carefully watch, record and discuss the progress
of the newest additions to their family – a group
of twelve weedy seadragons born at the Aquarium in September.
is one of only two known institutions in the world to successfully
breed these rare animals and raise them. The breeding program
has given the Aquarium a great deal of information about
these rarely studied animals, from seadragon mating rituals
to the feeding habits of newly hatched babies.
caring for seadragons is not for the faint of heart. Like
parents with small children, the seahorse team must adhere
to a strict regimen of feeding, monitoring and then cleaning
up after these creatures.
breed the weedy seadragon, you must ensure that the animals
are sexually mature, healthy, that they have good nutrition
and a proper environment for mating,” said Senior
Aquarist, Thom Demas.
While this may
sound simple, it requires a great deal of diligence. When
the weedy seadragons arrive at the Aquarium they are approximately
3 months old and are quarantined and treated with a fresh
water bath to remove any parasites. The seadragons are then
converted from eating live food to eating frozen food. The
switch to frozen food helps keep the animals disease-free.
Because seadragons have no stomachs, the frozen food must
be of high quality to ensure the animals get adequate nutrition.
In addition to
their nutritional requirements, the weedy seadragons need
an extremely clean environment. Seadragons are very sensitive
to parasites and any foreign matter in the tanks can give
those parasites a place to grow. This means that the tank
filtration systems must be of high quality and the tanks
must be scrubbed down each week. Each tank is also sterilized
using ultraviolet lights.
tanks give the parasites an advantage,” Demas said.
“We have to clean and vacuum the tanks daily to make
sure we don’t give the parasites an opportunity to
get ahead of us.”
sexual maturity after two years and usually begin to display
courtship behavior. However, they must have the proper environment
for breeding. The water temperature must stay between 60
and 66 degrees Fahrenheit, the seadragons must have at least
twelve hours of light, they must have plenty of food and
a water column of proper height.
column height is key,” Demas explained. “When
weedy seadragons mate, they do a courtship dance and then
swim up the water column while facing each other. This is
when the egg transfer occurs. If the water column is too
short, the animals get frustrated and drop the eggs on the
bottom of the tank.”
of the seahorse team paid off and on July 21, 2002, a successful
egg transfer took place. Twenty-eight eggs were transferred
to the male seadragon, who carried them on the underside
of his tail.
After the egg
transfer, the male was separated from his tank mates in
a smaller container. By sequestering the male, the aquarists
hoped to reduce stress to him and the eggs. The container
also made it easier to retrieve the newly hatched babies.
had several problems to overcome when dealing with the expectant
seahorse dad. They had to ensure the seahorse received adequate
nutrition and had a environment, while making sure he did
not experience stress due to being moved or handled. Poor
nutrition, dirty water and stress can cause dropped eggs,
premature births, disease or even death.
24 eggs hatched. It was a great accomplishment, but meant
even more work for the seahorse team.
the baby seadragons were placed in a krisel tank in the
quarantine room. Krisel tanks create a circular current,
and this kept the babies’ food moving in the water
column, making it easier for them to feed. The current also
kept the babies off the floor of the tank, out of any waste
material or leftover food.
only did the baby seadragons require constant feeding (every
four hours), but the size of their food changed as they
grew. This meant that aquarists had to have several sizes
of mysid shrimp on hand at all times. Of course, constant
feeding also meant constant cleaning and members of the
seahorse team had to vacuum the tank at least two times
team also photographs, measures and evaluates the babies
each day, collecting data for scientific research. Many
of the babies were born prematurely, but 12 have survived
and continue to grow. They’ve reached several important
milestones, including their three-month birthday.
continue to exhibit mating behavior and aquarists are hopeful
that more successful egg transfers are in the future.