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Along with the grandeur which are natural reefs and their attempts at biotopic representation which are reef aquariums, are an equal number of pest headaches... Ask any advanced marine hobbyist: Mantis shrimps, bubble, black/red and filamentous algae, bristleworms... and Aiptasia, aka Glass or Rock anemones are a real bane.
Don't want them? Tough! Most likely if you become a reef aquarist, you'll get them... for free (oh boy!) as contaminants on live rock and hard coral skeletons... from any part of the worlds oceans. Maybe you think, "Ill just ignore them; they'll go away". I doubt it. Just like some corollary of Murphy's Laws, the giant anemone species everyone wants to keep are difficult to maintain in captivity... the Glass Anemones are hard to kill! What's more they sting the devil out of your desirable sessile livestock.
But don't give up your dreams of having a slice of a tropical reef environment quite yet. There are a range of techniques and tools available to help you combat these least favorite anemones.
In case you don't know the animal anemones from the look-alike flowers they're named after, some science regarding anemones period and then on to ways to rid your system of Aiptasia.
Classification: Phylum Cnidaria:
Early classifiers termed anemones "zoophytes" or animal plants, in reference to their flower-like appearance. Many of us know them from their old phyletic grouping within the "Coelenterata", an allusion to their gastrovascular cavity (coel= hollow, enteron= intestine). Modern classifications tend to leave out the comb-jellies (Phylum Ctenophora), and group the anemones, jellyfish, hydras and corals as the Phylum Cnidaria, describing their "possession of stinging-cells" on mouth-surrounding tentacles.
Within the phylum they are further sub-classified on basis of body plan. Anemones are typically polyp-like (Polypoid) cylinders, sessile, with their oral cavities upright. Other forms are generally medusa-like, free-swimming discs, mouth down.
Most cnidarians are marine, only a few being found in freshwater; some interstitial (living in the substrate!). There are about 9,000 described stinging-celled animal species. Their fossil records date back to the earliest times of life, the Cambrian Period.
The Class Anthozoa:
Within the Cnidaria, Anemones are placed in the Class Anthozoa; as single or colonial polyps, the Medusoid stage completely missing. This group includes the bulk of Cnidarian species (6000+) encompassing corals, sea fans, and sea pansies. They are distinguished from the hydrozoans and scyphozoans by the lack of an operculum on their stinging cells and several structural/embryological differences.
Anemones are separated from other Anthozoans in the sub-class Zoantharia, and two main orders: The Actinaria are often called the "true anemones". They have internal separations of body parts (mesenteries) arranged in hexamerous (six) cycles and usually with two ciliated oral cavities (siphonoglyphs).
Glass Anemones are comprised of seven or so species of the family (guess!) Aptaisiidae. They are uniformly light brownish (due to endosymbiotic algae within their smooth bodies) to clear (hence the common name Glass...), from tiny to a few inches tall, with disc diameters of 1 or 2 inches... and narrow-width tentacles.
Good luck here, these tissue-grade animals have a few tricks up their... tentacles. Try to rip, cut, pinch or siphon them out? They're attached, and able to quickly withdraw, often into a tiny cranny. You remove most of the polyp... and the bit left regenerates into another (or a few) anemone! Nonetheless, with large infestations, a first line of offense is to physically extract as much of them as possible... IDd either do this with a siphon or remove the rock they're attached to for scrubbing under a sink of running freshwater... you'll only help the Aiptasia to asexually reproduce in your system by breaking it up and spreading it around there.
My fave siphon attachment tool for sucking a high percentage of Glass Anemone tissues out is a piece of rigid tubing with a narrowed tip, attached to a larger diameter vacuum hose.
Thankfully there is a whole spectrum of animals that eat Glass anemones to some extent (what do you expect with such a bountiful natural supply?). These can/should be considered on the basis of their utility per your application, specificity of diet (some are errant nibblers on other sedentary invertebrates), and likely survivability (whether they live in captivity or no).
Elegance et al. Corals:
In the "who's a better stinger" contest, the Meat/Elegance Coral (Catalaphyllia jardinei) rank near the top, higher even, than the Glass Anemones. If you could keep these mostly reef-system incompatible Caryophylliids alive and were willing to risk moving them about to sting your Aiptasia (but not other animals), your pest control problems would be over. FWIW, Hydnophora corals are also better stingers than Aiptasia as well.
Most popular is the little, almost invisible Berghia verrucornis, are great obligate (this is all they eat) Aiptasia destroyers... do remember to "pass your specimen(s) on" a few weeks after your Glass Anemones are apparently gone. Otherwise the Berghia will perish from lack of food.
Perhaps the best (cheapest, most readily available, easiest to track and remove...) Aiptasia nemesis are a few Hermit Crabs. In particular the more common "Red Legged ("Hairy") Hermit Crab, Clibanarius digueti is an almost-all-the-time reef-safe animal that also eats pest algae. One or two to a tank is all it takes.
Most celebrated is the Copperband Butterflyfish, Chelmon rostrata... now, if you can only find one in good shape to start with... and get it to not sample your living corals... A hardier choice in butterflies is the Raccoon, Chaetodon lunula... which generally will eat in captivity... but also is not above trying your corals, Featherduster worms... If you use one of these fishes, you must keep your eyes on your other livestock. Other chaetodonts that have been cited as effective Aiptasia eaters include the Long-nosed Butterflyfishes (genus Forcipiger), Klein's (Chaetodon kleini), the Threadfin (C. auriga) and Tear Drop (C. unimaculata). Once again, be careful here... not all specimens will eat Aiptasia, and definitely not all will JUST eat Aiptasia.
Puffers of various sorts have made the Aiptasia hit lists of other authors. The Guinea Fowl (Arothron meleagris) gets HUGE, but I bet it would eat Aiptasia, along with everything else in your system. The Tobies, or Sharp-Nosed puffers, sub-family Canthigastrinae might be better, but they do would go roving for other food.
Some of the larger marine Angelfishes will eat Aiptasia for sure. The Queen (Holacanthus ciliaris) and some of the Dwarfs of the genus Centropyge have been cited.
In Europe, many aquarists utilize Scats (family Scatophagidae) to eat Aiptasia (and algae). These fishes are mostly sold as brackish aquarium animals in the west, and must be slowly (over a period of weeks) acclimated (back) to full saltwater concentration.
(Images: Fish Aiptasia eaters on Parade... see FAQs to this section).
A few are touted, but these should be your option of last resort... most of these are outright biocides (killers of all living things), to non-effective... If you stoop to chemical means, be prepared to make large water changes to save your livestock from poisoning.
Strong Bases; caustic chemicals like Calcium or Sodium Hydroxide (the former is "Kalkwasser", the latter the principal ingredient in oven cleaners) can be applied directly to the Aiptasia... in dry or concentrated liquid form... use gloves and forceps for the former, a sturdy pipette or hypodermic syringe for the latter... Given the choice, go with the Ca(OH)2.
Hot Sauce to the Great Unknown: Some folks are hawking other "novel" (this is a kind word!) materials to wipe out Glass Anemones, or make them go "dormant"... injected (good luck) to simply poured in. I've yet to see any credible evidence that these work on a consistent basis.
Other chemical approaches detailed in the literature include blasting the Aiptasia with concentrated salt mix, hot water, hot hydrogen peroxide... to dangerous chemicals like hydrochloric and acetic acids, copper compounds, even copper wire... don't even think about using these.
Control Help: Though it won't get rid of your Aiptasia, keeping your system clean and low in metabolites (nitrates, phosphates) will cut down on their growth and proliferation.
What? Oh yes, let's re-emphasize that Glass Anemones can move and wage outright chemical/physical war with your desirable livestock. In particular, other stinging-celled organisms; corals, sea fans (gorgonaceans), and other anemones may be sting/digested to death. Fish tankmates either learn to avoid Aiptasia, or are consumed by them.
Spans an entire gamut, sexual and asexual. New individuals may form from a piece torn off during locomotion, your mechanical attempts at removing them, by longitudinal or transverse fission.
These sea anemones are of separate sexes. Fertilization and development occur outside the body cavity. The anemone larvae have a planktonic developmental phase before settling.
Glass Anemones are indeed interesting and hardy reef life. Unfortunately, they can become real trouble in a "standard" reef set-up... and are best relegated (if kept) to biotopic, or limited, specialized "species tanks".
Most likely you probably don't want these pests! They're unattractive, deleterious to your desired livestock, and hard to stop once they start multiplying... Don't wait once you see Aiptasia in your system. Enlist the help of biological predators and/or if you have a bunch of them to deal with, take up arms (with a pointed tip siphon...) to siphon the bulk of them out. At the worst, consider nuking ?em with concentrated Kalkwasser to rid your system of these stealthy nuisances. Beware of other means.
Aiptasia; Glass Anemones http://www.reefsource.com/aptasia.htm
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Cohen, Sandy. 1998. Aiptasia: Menace to captive reef society (and how to get rid of them).
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Anemones in General
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Ates, Ron. 1992. Fighting tentacles in sea anemones. FAMA 6/92.
Bellomy, Mildred D., 1975. Sea anemones at home. Marine Aquarist, 6(5): 1975
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Delbeek, Charles J. 1997. Anemone adventures. It?s not impossible to keep anemones but it does require knowledge and experience. AFM 8/97.
Dorety, Mike. 1980. How to make your own anemone feeder. FAMA 1/80.
Fenner, Bob. 1992. Anemones in captive systems. FAMA 10/92.
Fenner, Robert. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist; A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.
Friese, U.E. 1972. Sea Anemones. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, N.J.
Frissell, Christopher A. 1980. Anemone symbionts and the anemone microcommunity aquarium. FAMA 1/80.
Glodek, Garrett S. 1992. Cold water anemones, part 1; bio-aquascaping and natural history; part 2 Captive diets and other husbandry notes. FAMA 5,6/92.
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Johnson, Don S. 1985. Keeping invertebrates; part 1: anemones and corals. FAMA 5/85.
Johnson, Don S.1999. Success with invertebrates: The misunderstood anemone. AFM 6/99.
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Paletta, Michael. 1993. Anemone propagation. SeaScope v. 10, Winter 93.
Kenney, William R. 1986. The Atlantic frilled anemone. FAMA 6/86.
Kloth, Thomas. 1979. Kloth's Korner; sea anemones. FAMA 7/79.
Neal, Tom. 1997. Anemones: the basics. TFH 8/97.
Schlais, Jim. 1979. Aiptasia: nature's filter. FAMA 5/79.
Shimek, Ron. 1997. Sea anemones- inside and out... bags that bite. Aquarium Frontiers On-Line 7/97.
Shimek, Ron & Joyce Wilkerson. 1998. Host sea anemone maintenance. Temperature, specific gravity, feeding and current. FAMA 1/98.
Straughan, Robert P.L. 1960. The Florida sea anemones. TFH 4/60.
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Walls, Jerry G. 1989. Identifying the giant anemones. TFH 9/89.