Tiger Tail Seahorses-Hippocampus comes Species Profile and Keeping them in the Home Aquarium

 

Hippocampus comes-Tiger Tail Seahorse

Like all seahorse and pipefish species, Hippocampus comes, commonly known as the Tiger tail seahorse are in the family Syngnathidae. The genus for all seahorse species is Hippocampus, translating from the Ancient Greek, Hippokampos, "Hippo" for horse and "Kampos" for sea monster. There are around 45 described seahorse species. This species' common name, Tiger tail seahorse, came from the recognizable tail band markings, hence the name Tiger tail seahorse. H. comes were first described in the mid 1800's. 

Hippocampus comes, Tiger Tail male seahorses, at our farm. These are some of our breeding seahorses.

Native Distribution of Wild Populations 

This species has a wide distribution in the Western Central Pacific. Tiger tail seahorses are native to Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, India (Andaman Islands), and Thailand. Natural habitats for this species include coral reefs, sponge beds, and sea grasses at ~10-20 meters depth. H. Comes seahorses are often cultured in other countries including Vietnam and are sometimes seen as imports in the U.S. Imports were especially common over a decade ago before all Sygnathids were CITES II listed.

Female H. comes seahorse at our farm.

Female H. comes. Photo credit Cheryl Taylor

Hippocampus comes is one of the newest species we are excited to be working with and offering at our farm. We will cover care requirements, unique characteristics, breeding, behavior and more throughout this article.

Keeping Tiger Tail Seahorses in the Home Aquarium

In captivity this species reaches 5-7 inches. In our experience they are a slower growing species compared to other commonly cultured species such as H. erectus. For this reason we grow them out longer than other species we work with. Our Hippocampus comes are about 2.5-3 inches and around 6 months of age when they are ready for new homes. We find it takes about 2.5-3 years for them to reach 4-5 inches which is when we consider them mature breeding age although they can certainly breed at a smaller size and younger age. When you acquire Tiger tail seahorses from our farm they are a bit smaller in size than some of the other species we work with. This species is also a bit older when we ship them as we grow them out longer. We consider them a hardy species and a good beginner seahorse.

We highly recommend having a species only aquarium for H. comes and not mixing them with other seahorse species. When mixing seahorse species one or both species tends to not do well. A 30 gallon minimum aquarium size is recommend for the first pair of seahorses with an additional 15 gallons for every additional pair you wish to keep. Like all seahorses, a dedicated aquarium with peaceful tank-mates only is a must.

Juvenile Tiger tail seahorses at our farm.

With a proper setup and care one can expect Tiger Tail seahorses to live 4-7+ years. Our Tiger tail seahorses are completely weaned to frozen Mysis shrimp. We feed them Hikari BioPure Mysis shrimp as this is a smaller Mysis shrimp. Tiger Tail seahorses have a smaller snout than other species such as H. erectus. We find they most actively eat the Hikari Mysis shrimp compared to other brands and this likely has to do with food size preference. Like other seahorses species, we recommend feeding Tiger tail seahorses 2-3 times daily.

Temperature-A Slightly Higher Temperature Range

We find our Tiger Tail seahorses do best at a little warmer temperature range than other species we work with. We keep our Tiger tails at 74-76 F, whereas we keep our other species (H. erectus, H. zosterae, H. reidi, and H. kuda) at 70-74 F. The Tiger tail seahorses we work with and raise are more active and feed better at this slightly warmer temperature range. Our breeding stock also produces more frequent at this temperature range. In our experience, they stress a bit when it gets too cool (~68-70 F). 

Breeding

Seahorses will breed in the home aquarium given proper conditions and care. Most seahorse species such as the commonly kept H. erectus preform a courting dance. During this dance, the male and female rise in the water column and eventually line up where the female transfers unfertilized eggs to the male's brood-pouch and they are internally fertilized. We do not see this rising mating behavior as much with H. comes. Unlike other seahorse species, H. comes, display courting behaviors while hitched or swimming along the substrate. In our experience, breeding pairs will actually complete the egg transfer while hitched which a unique characteristic of this species.

Males are pregnant for ~16-24 days and give birth to ~100-700+ fry. Our H. comes breeding stock typically give birth in the middle of the night between 12:00-6:00 a.m. well before the lights come on during the day. This may vary for individuals or H. comes that derive from other populations. Pairs will often transfer eggs within a day or so of giving birth. Our breeding stock are conditioned to produce fry large enough to start on enriched Artemia nauplii as a first food. In some instances copepods may be necessary or yield higher success rates as a first food item for fry.

Behavior in the Aquarium

Tiger tails are a really fun and unique species of seahorse to keep. Many hobbyist start out with H. erectus seahorses and we like to give keepers a heads up that different species have different behaviors including H. comes.

Tiger tail seahorses often will find a favorite hitching area in the aquarium and you will likely find they prefer to hang out in this area most often. They are a more "clingy" species with their favorites spots. We also observe them hanging out in groups in one area and consider them highly social seahorses. While they do well when kept as a single pair they also do great in groups. Tiger tail seahorses do swim out in the open at times. Seahorses are very social animals and for this reason we do not recommend keeping them by themselves, you want at least two or more individuals.

During courting males especially will "light up" in coloration to show-off to the female. Pairs will sway back and forth and "shake" at each other during their courting dance. Tiger tail seahorses are usually most active in the morning and evening and less active in the middle of the day. Behavior varies with individuals and environment.

H. comes juveniles at our farm

Other Unique Characteristics

Large Tiger Stripe Tail

One of the most distinguishable characteristics of H. comes is their very large tail that is often heavily banded. The tail to body ratio of this species is much noticeably larger compared to other species. They have huge tails! This is more prominent with maturity.

Nocturnal?

There have been reports of this species being nocturnal. We have gone out to our farm in the middle of the night at all hours and do not observe this behavior with our stock. They do give birth very early in the morning but we do not observe them awake during the night. When we observe our stock they are hitched and still, "sleeping" during the night as our the other species we work with. This behavior may be different with wild populations in their natural environment or seahorses that derive from other populations.

Tiger tail Seahorse Fry are Born with caudal Tail Fin Rays

Tiger tail seahorse fry are born with caudal tail fin rays (see photo below). This developmental ancestral characteristic has been observed in some H. kuda and other seahorse species as well. When culturing this species the caudal tail fin rays have been observed to go away after approximately 2-3 weeks of age in Hippocampus comes (C. Taylor). We are unsure if the caudal tail fin rays serve any function during development for this species.

 

12 Day Old H. comes fry showing caudal tail fin rays. Photo credit: Cheryl Taylor.

Color Changing Ability-Base and Marking Color Changes 

All seahorse species change color based on surroundings, lighting, mood and other factors. Color in seahorses is not fixed. Tiger tail seahorses display a range of colors most commonly including beige, yellow, grey, black, very light beige (almost white), and other possible colors. Individuals may or may not have saddling markings. Most individuals have tail-band stripe markings, some individuals heavier than others. Tail bands and other markings often continue to develop with maturity. The spines on some individuals can display dark coloration and when the base coloration is light they can appear "spotted" which is very eye catching.

In a lot species such as H. erectus and H. reidi the silver saddling markings throughout the body are considered fixed, meaning they do not change color or shape. With maturity these markings may continue to develop and become more intricate but they do not typically go away. Tiger tail seahorses are unique as their markings can actually change color like the base color of the seahorse. An individual may display yellow base color and dark bands or markings and then the band and marking color changes to the same color as the base color making them appear pattern-less. The opposite can also occur where they display a dark base color with yellow bands or markings and they darken up their bands making them appear almost or completely dark or black. They can also chose a dark base color with light bands and markings or light base color with dark bands and markings. This can change day by day or as the seahorse feels. This is one of our favorite unique characteristics of this species. The same seahorse can really change its appearance with this capability. We were unaware of this ability until we observe and began working with this species at our farm. Light, mood, surroundings and other factors can play a role in a seahorses color preference. Some individuals will pick a color they feel comfortable with in the aquarium and rarely display color changes.

 

Some individuals will also display darker yellow spots or mottled coloration. This is especially noticeable when individuals are displaying light base color. See image below for example of this type of marking that can be seen in some H. comes.

H. comes seahorse. Photo credit Cheryl Taylor.

This species has quickly become a favorite species we work with at our farm and have became popular with our customers. If you are new to seahorses or already a keeper and looking for something different we highly recommend them. Tiger Tail seahorses are full of personality and easy to fall in love with. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to us, we are happy to share our experience and help. Your questions help us improve our content and let us know where we can clarify for others. We appreciate the questions and feedback you may have. We want you to be successful.

Special thank you to Cheryl Taylor, seahorse keeper and breeder, for also sharing her experiences with this species and the beautiful photos of her personal seahorses. 

Email: alyssa@seahorsesavvy.com

Phone: 410-618-3604

Photo credit Cheryl Taylor

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