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Related Articles: Heteractis crispa/Sebae Anemones, Magnificent Anemones, Heteractis malu, Invertebrates, Stinging-Celled Animals, Clownfishes, Coldwater Anemones, Bubble Tip Anemones, Aiptasia/Glass Anemones, Anemones of the Tropical West Atlantic, Colored/Dyed Anemones, Marine Light, & Lighting, Water Flow, How Much is Enough,

/Diversity of Aquatic Life Series

Anemones in Captive Systems

Part 3 of 3

Part. 1, Part. 2,

By Bob Fenner

A beaded anemone sp.

New Print and eBook on Amazon:  

Anemone Success
Doing what it takes to keep Anemones healthy long-term

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

About Cool to Cold Water Anemones:

Anthopleura xanthogrammica, the "Giant" Green Anemone of California on north. This one off of San Diego. Not for tropical aquariums.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Bigger PIX: Anthopleura elatensis, a tropical species of this genus
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.
Halcurias carlgreni, a cool-water anemone from Japan. Here at the CAS, Steinhart Aq. 2012

Metridium sp., One of a few coldwater genera of anemones too often sold to unwary aquarists for tropical settings; where they will certainly perish. These at the Shaw Centre in Victoria, B.C., Canada 2010

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
Tealia sp., One of a few coldwater genera of anemones too often sold to unwary aquarists for tropical settings; where they will certainly perish. These in a public aquarium in Texas. 2009

Tealia sp., "Red Apple". One of a few coldwater genera of anemones too often sold to unwary aquarists for tropical settings; where they will certainly perish. These in a public aquarium in Texas. 2009

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Misc. Anemones... there are many

Would mimicking a stony coral colony (perhaps an Acropora sp. here) reduce the likelihood of predation? A mimic Anemone in Mabul, Malaysia.
A beaded anemone. A real stinger and eater of fishes it can catch. Interzoo 2010.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)

Environmental: Conditions

Anemones for the most part are extremely un-demanding. Some writers state otherwise, but many species have been maintained (and reproduced) in synthetic sea water. Many folks have suggested at least blending some natural with artificial marine water. Phillip Gosse in A Handbook to the Marine Aquarium in 1855 (yes, that's eighteen fifty-five), public aquaria, large trans-shippers, wholesalers, retailers, even I have had success in non-"real" water.


Bellomy goes so far as to suggest a full-blown anemonarium. A suitable chemically inert glass or plastic container of as large a capacity as practical/available will help insure stability. Shallow water, intertidal species predictably make for good choices for small, crowded conditions.

Be aware of your species life habits, or at least be prepared to offer them a choice of light conditions, substrate types and variable circulation. See below re acclimation.


Some writers list anemones as their choice for hardiest of marine animals, surviving/tolerating fluctuations in temperature, salinity and pH better than other groups. Many may be crowded (some species of Condylactis) together or housed in small aquaria. There are few things that seem fatal to anemones, other than metal-based chemical therapeutics or accidental introduction of metal ions from other sources.

For almost all species identified, absolute and varying specific gravity is not problematical. Keeping it between 1.022 and 1.028 is recommended. Ditto with temperature; something between seventy and eighty degrees F is great.

Keeping your eye on possible weak buffering by natural water, a pH of 7.6 to 8.3 is satisfactory. For crowded systems in particular, I would utilize a test kit weekly and periodically dose the system with water changes supplemented with a "pinch" of sodium bicarbonate or more-expensive adjuvant-equivalent.


Anemones are aerobes, they need oxygen to respire and need to shed themselves of excess carbon dioxide. Some have internal (endo)symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) which aid in these processes, in addition to producing food sugars. Respiration is accomplished by simple osmosis and accelerated active-transport.


Most importantly, circulation is important. I prefer a non-bubbly power-head, canister or inside-power filter over air-infusing mechanisms for moving the water around; but whatever the means do move it vigorously. One of my childhood heroes Robert P.L. (Straughan) warned against air-bubble entrapment mortality in captive anemones.

Good aquarium practices in set-up and maintenance will preclude anemone loss.

The removal of regurgitated food in mucus balls and bands through netting and siphoning must be a regular maintenance feature. Digestible foods are converted almost entirely into ammonia...to be removed by system filtration. Some filter-feeding anemones produce mucus nets, pass them up and over, trapping particles and ingest the whole mass. Mucus strands from locomotion and filter-feeding do not appear to be toxic.

Behavior: Territoriality:

What? Oh yes, they do can/move and do wage outright chemical/physical war with undesirable tankmates. In particular other stinging-celled organisms: corals, sea fans (gorgonaceans), and other anemones may sting/digest each other to the death. Suitable choice in specimens, crowding/provision of habitat are important considerations.


First impressions are important! I stand by my advice; do not introduce the shipping/collecting water into the "home" system (unless possibly these are the only/first live specimens). Take the anemones) out of the shipping water, or alternatively rinse them over with holding system water, removing wastes and excess mucus. If possible do all this underwater including moving them into the system via a container. Place the specimens in their desired area, waiting a while for attachment if appropriate/possible. Overall circulation should be arrested for the meanwhile. Observe the new arrivals frequently for the first hours/day or so. Be careful re situating them near sharp corals, coral and shell skeletons or rocks. Purposely move them if necessary, otherwise they will move themselves.

Predator/Prey Relations:

Can be important. Many fishes and crustaceans will eat anemones if hungry...Triggerfishes and puffers, many butterflyfishes are not to be trusted.

And yes, anemones may and do eat most anything they can snare. I wish you and I had all the money "spent" on feeding sea-horses, other barely mobile tankmates and unfamiliar species of fishes mixed with "exotic" anemones.


Spans the entire gamut, sexual and asexual. New individuals may form from a piece torn off during locomotion or trauma, by longitudinal or transverse fission.

Sea anemones may be separate sexes or hermaphroditic. If same sex, generally eggs and sperm tend to be produced at different times. Fertilization and some development may occur within the body cavity or not. Typically, anemone larvae have a planktonic developmental phase before settling.

A gorgeous Heteractis magnifica Anemone in captivity undergoing asexual reproduction by bilateral fission.


Is accomplished through a muscular-ciliary-mucus "gliding" of the bottom (basal or pedal disc) or complete loosening and "drifting" of the animal with current. Even mud-dwelling "tube" anemones are capable of moving and re-inserting themselves in soft substrates. Some species are actually pelagic, swimming about by lashing their tentacles.

Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes

Anemones possess rings of tentacles around their mouths used for prey collection and manipulation. These are arrayed with numerous stinging (cnidocysts) and sticky (spirocysts) cells below their surface. These specialized cells may be found in and on other body areas and assist in immobilizing and holding prey as well as warding off would-be predators.

Underfeed, underfeed, don't feed! Underfeed, underfeed, don't feed! Most losses in captive systems are the result of over-feeding. How many more times do I feel I need to write this? Bunches! Some anemones have been kept for YEARS without any intentional external feeding. Know your stock! Many anemones (especially larger species) are detritivorous (a polite term meaning they eat poop), planktivorous, and largely chemoautotrophic/photosynthesizing species/individuals that hobbyists try to over-stuff with meaty/prepared foods. My bid for largest cause of loss of anemones is the consequences (lack of oxygen, hydrogen and other sulfide production...) from over-feeding. Cut it out! Within normal temperatures and other conditions, most can and do do well on weekly feedings. If you're going on vacation, leave them alone.

For almost all varieties kept, an occasional (weekly or so) perfusion (wash?) of live brine shrimp, prepared mash of frozen or dried food, or frappe' (as in with your blender) of "fresh" marine food meant for human consumption (shellfish, shrimp, langouste, not-so-oily fish) with or without supplementation. Temporarily turn off your particulate filters and squirt the food onto their tentacular surface.

Some authors suggest the use of beef and other foods unlikely to be encountered in the wild. I do not.

Disease: Infectious, Parasitic

An unhealthy specimen is sometimes hard to discern. When acquiring, avoid flaccid choices over good turgidity. Good specimens should not be torn, leaking, with grayish, whitish necrotic or obviously infected areas. Photosynthetic species should show evidence (color) of yellow, golden or green symbiotic algae.

If a specimen shrinks down, don't automatically assume the worst and toss it. Maybe it's just "bummed-out" by too much/too little light, circulation, chewing tank-mates, polluted water from over-feeding, a metal source.

Bibliography/Further Reading:




Humann, Paul 1992. Reef Creature Identification, Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inch. Jacksonville, Florida. 320pp.

To: Part. 1, Part. 2,

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