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/Diversity of Aquatic Life Series

Bubble Tip Anemones

By Jim Black

Jim Black's BTA growing facility

When I started out in this hobby I had one bad experience after another and have to relate some of it in order for anyone to understand the evolution of the system that  works for me and the colonial morph of Entacmaea Quadricolor that I enjoy.

            In late 1995 I started out in the hobby with a DAS 175 gallon system that had a large filter box for biological filtration built in the tank.  I knew from the beginning I wanted a reef tank and was told by the local Marine Fish Store 'This is the system to have'.  Well even 6 years ago that was really not true. It might have been fine for a fish only system. I had no way of knowing the owner only had a year of experience in marine fish and was on the verge of going out of business. I failed to do my homework and there was a price to be payed. The system came with seven 40 watt fluorescent tubes, the biological filter box, 1/4th of an inch of course gravel and two 10 pound pieces of quite dead 'Live Rock'. He threw 6 blue, 6 white, and 6 domino damsels in the tank after filling it from a pump truck. He then drove away. Yep, I had a rip roaring reef tank. The next day he sold me six hundred dollars worth of assorted corals. Of course my problems started about a week later as the system began to cycle. I had a red slime covering everything, so I drove the 40 miles back to him to find out what was wrong. The sign on the shop window said ' This space for Lease'. I could go into agonizing detail after detail of what all transpired with the system for the next year, but suffice to say it wasn't pretty. Today the only things that survived the initial setup are the tank, one open brain coral, and a now 7.5' D. trimaculatus (Domino Damsel). The 'Killer Damsel' was given a new home last week.

            The second year brought a lot of change to my system. I replaced the gravel on the bottom of the tank with a three inch bed of Aragamax oolitic sand and added 235 pounds of live rock. The system cycled and I began adding a few corals to the system and two green bubble tipped anemones. The system did better than before but still everything declined slowly. I had to give the two bubble tips away before they died. I subscribed to several bulletin boards on the net and was exposed to the ideas of skimming, proper lighting, and increased current flow. It was late in the second year in the hobby and I knew if I didn't do something to turn things around I was just going to give up and find another hobby. I'm pretty stubborn so I decided to throw good money after bad.

I ordered an overflow box and a Gorman Rupp pump rated at over 1,500 gallons an hour.

I installed a sump under the system and added the new equipment. Things were getting better. I added two Rio 2500's to the system for even more flow. I've since pulled them from the system due to the opinion they are an electrical hazard just waiting to happen.

Flow is still moderate in the system. I left the filter box in the system and it has three power heads that move maybe 300 gallons an hour across the surface of the tank. I would like to remove the filter box but I'm not willing to take my system down to do it. I just leave the pumps in it running so as not to cause a stagnant water area in it. At any rate, considering head pressure, I am actually turning over about 1,400 gallons an hour. 

The third year I added an Ice Cap 660 to the system and replaced 4 of the 40 watt tubes with 4 VHO's. Still not satisfied with the system, late in 1998, I added a Euro-Reef F-2 to the system. It's about the same as the newer Euro Reef  C8-1.   

 So the system so far consists of: (Late 1997)

175 gallon tank with a 24 gallon sump

Ice Cap 660 with 4 three foot 95 watt VHO tubes and 4- 40 watt  tubes (about 3 watts a gallon)

Gorman Rupp 14520 return pump

SF 1.021

Alkalinity 2 DKH

Calcium    280 - 350

PH 8.2

Cheapest Salt I can find on sale

Every Kent additive and invert food I could lay my hands on.

Lugol's 5 drops every week

No calcium additives or Kalk 

It's was about this time I got back into Bubble Tips. A friend of mine ended up with two rose bubble tips in an mail order mess up. He had a fish only set up and I more than willingly took them off his hands. Things were looking better in my tank now and I was ready to give them a try. For about a year they wandered around. I was starting to see life perk back up in my tank but still not looking like what I thought it should. I had replaced the noisy Gorman Rupp with a Iwaki WMD40RLXT with the Japanese motor. It's much quieter than it was, even though I did give up a couple hundred gph of water turn over. Still not satisfied with my lighting and knowing I could do better I built 5 acrylic fixtures to each hold two, three foot VHO tubes. I now run 3 Ice Cap 660's on the system.  I did away with the normal output ballasts and tubes. In addition I began to pay closer attention to my water conditions. 

So the system so far consists of: (Summer 1998 to Dec 2001)

175 gallon tank with a 24 gallon sump

3-Ice Cap 660's with 10 three foot URI 95 watt VHO tubes: 6 - 50/50's, 2 -- Aquasuns, and 2 - A-03's

IWAKI - MD40RLXT return pump -- turning over about 1200 gph

Euro Reef F2 skimmer

Salt -- Instant Ocean regular SF 1.026

Alkalinity 4.9 DKH   or 1.75 meq/L (I am trying to increase this number slowly and see how it affects the splitting of the anemones)

Calcium    430

PH 8.2

Temp  79 degrees F at night and a high of 82.5 in the evening 

Water Change -  Every 3-4 months I do a incremental water change that consists of replacing 44 gallons, waiting a week and changing another 44 gallons. (part of the process I use to trigger splitting) 

Food:  Flake food for the fish, MYSIS soaked in Selcon and rolled into a small ball and fed to each anemone at least once a week( once every 3 days starting two weeks before water changes). MYSIS every other day for the fish, From the Health Food shops like Akins I buy fresh  Main Coast Sea Vegetables 'DULSE' in a 2 oz bag. Tangs love it. I use DT's 'Live Marine Phytoplankton' But only feed it at a rate of one ounce three times a week. I've ordered Golden Pearls and will give it a try in the Rotifer Size 100-200 microns first. 

Additives: I use calcium chloride if levels get below 400 to get it up fast and then maintain my calcium level and Alkalinity with ESV's B-Ionic with an occasional alk boost from Seachem Reef Builder. I do add iodine in the form of Reef Pure's Lugol's solution but only at 1 drop per 25 gallons of actual water in the tank, which in my 175 with 24 gallon sump I estimate I have at most 125 gallons. I only add it once monthly instead of weekly. It is one of the additives I'm really not sure I need, but until someone tells me different I will continue to add it.

            That is the system as it stands today.  As far as the RBTA's are concerned they did not decline as the system was set up in early 1998 but they did not prosper either. Change in them was first seen in late 1998 after the addition of the skimmer and first lighting upgrade. They had just started exhibiting bubbles on their tips and had climbed to the high points of the live rock. About a month after their move and just after a water change one of them split. It was soon after this first split that I moved from one Ice Cap 660 to 3 of them and 10 -- 95watt 3 foot tubes. All three anemones moved again to about the lower middle portion of the live rock. I also began feeding them MYSIS soaked in Selcon at this time. Since I had just discovered Selcon I was feeding them about once every three days.  All three began to grow and really exhibit full bubble tips. It had been several months since I had done a water change so I changed 44 gallons, waited a week and changed another 44 gallons. Two weeks later I had six bubble tips. Hummmm

Strange, that's the second time that's happened. Two months later I did another water change of 44 gallons and nothing happened. Was it too soon or was I expecting too much.

Upon further thought there were a couple of things I was doing different. I wasn't feeding but once a week and I didn't do two water changes. I would rule both of these things out the next time I tried. Three months later I began feeding them every three days for two weeks and then followed up with the 44 gallon water change and repeated it a week later.

Yep, you guessed it. I had 11 anemones, one didn't cooperate. Due to algae problems I cut the feeding back to once a week. No splits for three months. Well it could have all been luck so I had to try it again. I picked the feeding up again before the water change and did two changes. You guessed it, I had 20 anemones two weeks later. My system is about maxed out at 50 in the tank at once. The majority are on the back of my tank on the live rock, giving me room to keep my other corals in the front. I still have not split the feeding from the two water changes to know how key that is in the process, but I'm not sure I want to find out how key a role it plays as I'm getting 60.00 apiece for the tank raised splits from several LFS's. They are all fluorescent orange in color. I've sold about 20 of them now and only take a few at a time to the LFS's. It's too hard to get them off the live rock so I catch a few of the splits as they are moving .  The thing that scares me now is trying this with 50 of them in the tank. 

            One has to wonder why this process causes them to split. I've had a couple of theories but don't know that I will ever know which is true, if either. One is that the water changes stress them and in an effort to save the species they are programmed to split thus giving them better survival odds. The other is that the feeding and water changes cause a positive response in them. That being that conditions have just changed for the better and could support more of the species.

  I've had no real problems with them stinging other corals in the tank. I think the sting of a BTA must be low on the toxic scale compared to other anemones or I've been very lucky. Many are touching leathers and neither exhibiting any discoloration or withdrawing from each other. The BTA's do however steer very clear of the brains in the front of the tank. Again I'm not sure why. I don't have any wandering problems except with an occasional new split. Most cluster and spread across an area of live rock, gaining more territory slowly after each mass split.

 It's easy to tell when they are hungry because they will really open up and inflate their bubble tips more than normal. I am told and believe they gain more ready energy from light than they do the feedings but both are important to the overall well being of the animal. I've heard others say they never feed their anemones and that the light is all they really need. In those cases I think it just happens enough food is in the water column to supplement their feeding requirements. I've heard others say they can raise bubble tips in the darkest of aquariums just by feeding them. Very few of those that I have seen have lasted more than a year before starting to decline and if they split both seemed smaller and weaker and declined sooner.

            On the question of how much water flow should be around and through a BTA, I have found that in a tank with so many it seems to be just a preference thing to them. I have some that are beautiful specimens in areas of the tank that the current doesn't even move their tentacles. Even those however I can at least see particulate matter in the water column moving through their tentacles. Most of mine have enough flow to make their tentacles wave gently in the water. A few are positioned so that the return water really gets them moving. These don't exhibit the large bubbles on their tips though. I wonder why? J  Maybe because it would rip them from their rock?  I think the level the water is oxygenated makes it possible for the ones in the more stagnant areas to do well. I run the skimmer 24 hours a day and have two wooden air 'stones' in the filter box. I will however admit that my oxygenation thoughts are purely speculation as I don't have enough of a scientific background to confirm that in the least.

            I'm not a writer and I'm not an expert by any means on the subject of anemones. I'm only writing this to give others an idea of what seems to be working for me. Far too many of these creatures perish in our tanks, so if any of this information helps save one it's worth the time and effort to at least try to convey this information. If anyone thinks any of the content is seriously flawed please let me know. I've had numerous experiences that I have not covered and would be more than happy to answer any questions anyone has about bubble tipped anemones. If I don't know the answer I will certainly try and find the answer or help point them to those I think would know the answer. Don't try your 'luck' with an e. quad, try to ensure your and its success by meeting its needs before you add one to your system.

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