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/Diversity of Aquatic Life Series

Macrodactyla doreensis; Corkscrew or Long Tentacle Anemones in Captive Systems

by Bob Fenner


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

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Amongst the dozen or so species of Anemones naturally symbiotic with Clownfishes, the Corkscrew or Long Tentacle, Macrodactyla doreensis gets little use... Is this for want of good looks? Decidedly not, as this is amongst the prettiest colored and physically arrayed of such Actinarians. Perhaps the lack of availability is a factor... it's just not common in its range or at wholesalers... No, this isn't the case. Is it a pure terror, like the Carpet Anemones, eating all mobile tankmates? Not... Could it be that this species gets too large, requires too much light, is too toxic, doesn't eat captive foods...? Mmm, no... perhaps the only downside/negative of keeping the Corkscrew is the need for fine sand of depth... even muck... for it to feel comfortable with.

    This attractive animal comes in a myriad of colors, even stripes, and as far as large Clown-symbiotic Anemones goes, is relatively hardy and otherwise undemanding. A good choice for advanced aquarists with room, patience and knowledge re its husbandry.


Macrodactyla doreensis (Quoy & Gaimard 1833), the Corkscrew Tentacle Sea Anemone, Long Tentacle Anemone (LTA), Sand, Red-Based... Anemone. Column generally colored dull orange to red on lower part, to white above, buried in sediment that it can completely retract into. Oral disc flared widely, with prominent white radial lines. Tentacles uniform, long sinewy, tapering, corkscrew-like. Distinctive (eye-like, round, non-adhesive) verrucae in rows on the stalk. Disc often with radial appearance. In N. Sulawesi typically w/o fishes, in the mud, and two pix in captivity. 
Distribution... Limited: This species has the most restricted range of all Clown-symbiotic anemones, being found in the western Pacific; from S. Japan, through the Philippines, eastern Indonesia, New Guinea to northern Australia.
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Macrodactyla doreensis is NOT the Curlicue Anemone (Bartholomea annulata)... this is a crevice dwelling super-stinger of all fish life... From the tropical west Atlantic. 


    Moving around with this species is not a good sign... A "happy" Corkscrew Anemone attaches to/through the sand and stays put. If yours is moving, it's time to be checking your lighting, feeding regimen, water quality...

    Though the LTA can and will occasionally deflate to a degree, amongst anemones kept by hobbyists it is likely THE one that stays engorged, full most all the time. If yours is egesting ("going to the bathroom") it might shrink down temporarily, but staying closed is a bad sign.


Species of Fish Symbionts Found in Natural Association. Scientific and Common Names  (After Fautin 1997, 2006. Modified)
Amphiprion clarkii Clark's Clownfish
A. percula "True" Percula or Orange Clownfish
A. perideraion Pink Anemonefish
A. polymnus Saddleback Clown
Premnas biaculeatus Maroon Clownfish

 In the wild only these five species of clownfish are observed with this anemone.  However in an artificial environment, artificial things happen.  Tank bred clowns of naturally-associating species may not form such a partnership; and other clown species may do so... Only time, patience, experience can/will tell. Oh, and as symbiotic Anemones go, the LTA is distinct in often being encountered sans protective Clownfish guests!

    I have seen systems that housed both an LTA and other Cnidarians... not Anemones, but hard, soft corals et al. Orders... Such systems are best being HUGE (hundreds of gallons), well-established (at least half a year old, better a year or more), with the other stinging-celled life well-set... and the substrate space for the LTA set apart from LR, other structure. Good circulation & lighting, purposeful feed, water quality maintenance will hopefully keep the Anemone from wandering...  Or your luck will hold should it go on a walk-about.

    This species is almost always found in shallow water (5 meters or less in depth) and thus one might consider that it requires high intensity, red-spectrum shifted light... And this is indeed so. Metal halides are suggested, though in moderate water depths... let's say half a meter or so (20 nominal inches), boosted fluorescents of sufficient wattage should do. Incandescent temperatures of 6,700 to 10,000 Kelvin are suggested.

    More than one LTA to a system? Not a good idea unless they're clones... asexual reproductive products.


    As stated, it's a rare day when you can visit a marine livestock wholesaler and NOT find LTAs to sort through... these animals, by virtue of their means of attachment (anchoring in muck and fine sand) and sturdy discs, are usually undamaged in collection, holding and shipping... Usually they're "lying down" on their sides, kept by species, grouped all in a tank... often with "outdoor" carpeting or such, to give attached species purchase... and easily picked up, scooted into a specimen container (underwater! best never to lift such soft-bodied animals into the air), and placed on the packing table... Or if at your LFS, slipped into a double polyethylene bag...

    Do look for a specimen that is relatively open at its disc surface, whose mouth is flat, closed (not everted/pursed or flaccid), a basal area that is entire, evenly colored (sans whitish tear marks) and of course, not torn.


    Though not a huge species like the Carpets or Magnificent Anemones, the Corkscrew can have a disc that opens to 500 mm (19 plus inches) across... though most top-out at about a foot or so. You need to have an open space, including area around this animal of at least this diameter... to allow circulation, distance between it and any other tankmate... Remember, this is an animal that lives in a soft, mucky bottom... so your live rock et al. hard decor needs to leave at least this foot across open space.

    Take a look at the pix of the wild-specimens of Macrodactyla doreensis shown here? Notice the fine, darkish material their bodies are sunk into? They live in... muddy, silty, mucky muck... with some soft sand. NOT sharp sand, crushed coral, aragonite, silica..., but roundish coral sand... And NOT sterile sand either... In sufficient depths (six inches) that the animal can (and will!) pull itself completely under/into, should it be frightened. You need to supply a similar habitat.

    And where does having all this mud (miraculous or not) get you? You might think, "Well, terrible water quality", but nay, exactly the opposite! And similarly, these animals don't appreciate much in the way of free/solubilized nutrient... read this as no detectable phosphate, little nitrate... In other words, and subjectively evaluated, "great water quality" is required.

    Given a high happiness-index, LTAs are not given to detaching, moving about... however, a very high percentage of specimens are lost due to such errant behavior, getting sucked into or against powerheads, intakes, overflows... All these must be arranged to prevent such a tragedy... with proper screening and redundancy... should one be occluded...


    Macrodactyla doreensis feeds on small/er particles than many anemone species; from almost microscopic to a quarter inch across at most... The species is best fed with having a large, healthy refugium incorporated with its main display, or barring this, the few-times-weekly baster feeding of a mash of marine protein based foods, squirted onto its tentacles with your circulation temporarily (use a timer...) shut off. Regurgitated foods are usually indicative of too-large size offerings...


    Practically all losses of this species are consequent with improper environment... being placed in too small, too new a setting, with sufficient mud/soft sand, a lack of light, circulation, metabolite poisoning, a dearth of biomineral, alkalinity... and allelopathy... chemical competition. These animals are problematic in the same water as other Cnidarians as mentioned...

    What happens if yours is not anchored? Floating about? Test your water, check the expiry dates on your light bulbs/lamps... if need be, consider moving the animal to another system...


    Macrodactyla is not a good candidate for artificially fragmenting. It just suffers too much for the abuse. However, natural fission events, though not common, do occur, with one animal splitting into two... or asexual fissioning, breaking off a piece of the body distinct from its parent, developing a new disc and tentacles.


    Not as easy to accommodate as a Bubbletip (Entacmaea quadricolor), or even a Sebae (Heteractis crispa), the LTA does have some specialized needs... At least it's not as stinging and large as the Carpet Anemones... If you have the room, deep/dirty sand, a yearning for a spectacular bottom-dwelling show-piece... perhaps Macrodactyla is for you. With or w/o hosting Clowns, the LTA is a beauty.

Bibliography/Further Reading:



Fatherree, James. 2002. Keeping Sea Anemones. What you need to know. TFH 12/02

Fautin, Daphne G. & Gerald R. Allen. 1992, revised ed. 1997. Anemone Fishes and Their Host Sea Anemones. Western Australian Museum. 160 pp.

Fenner, Robert. 1992. Anemones in captive systems. FAMA 10/92

Karli, Scott W. 2003. Sea Anemones. FAMA 1/03.

Shimek, Ronald L. 2002. Host Anemones. Responsible care will ensure their survival. AFM 10/03

Shimek, Ronald L. 2003. Anemone troubleshooting; With no defined life span, anemones may last indefinitely- but only if given proper care by an aquarist who researches their needs and meets their care requirements. AFM 10/03

Shimek, Ronald L. 2004. Are any Anemones right for beginners? In a stable tank, a couple species might work. AFM 3/04

Toonen, Rob. 2001. Invert Insights (column) Re: Anemones, Clownfish symbionts. TFH 9/01.

Toonen, Rob. 2003. Ask the Reefer (column). Gen. disc. re Anemones in captivity. TFH 3/03.  

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