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

/Diversity of Aquatic Life Series

Anemones in Captive Systems

Part 1 of 3

Part. 2, Part 3,

By Bob Fenner

 Heteractis crispa in Cebu, P.I.  

New Print and eBook on Amazon:  

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

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Flowers of the sea? Hardly. Most anemones are marine; but they are definitely animals, just a step or two up from the "tissue-grade" life that is the sponges, phylum Porifera.

The trade in these stinging-celled animals is brisk, and well it should be; many species are reasonably available and hardy, undemanding aquarium fare.

This series offers an overview of aquatic life natural history, and captive care. This installment deals with the polypoid cnidarians (coelenterates) we call anemones.

Try imagining a reef system, photograph, television show, fish store without anemones. Hard to do, isn't it? Anemones are seemingly ubiquitous fixtures in all these.

Why? Many species make hardy specimens given proper collection, treatment and selection (by you). They have remarkable, interesting biologies. Know though that the vast majority of specimens aquarists try only live days to a few weeks... largely due to the trauma of collection, holding, shipping practices before they get them... and secondarily due to factors such as a lack of light, inappropriate feeding, being placed in poor water quality, with incompatible livestock... Much to know before one buys. 

Classification: Taxonomy, Problems

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 gastro-vascular 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 the 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 are marine, a few freshwater, some interstitial (in the substrate!). There are about 9,000 described species. Their fossil record dates back to earliest life time, the Cambrian period.

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). The other order, Ceriantharia, or "tube" anemones have greatly elongate bodies without basal discs, secreted mucous tubes buried in soft substrates. One siphonoglyph and complete mesenteries.

Relation with other groups:

Placed a group above the sponges, Cnidarians are often grouped with the comb-jellies, phylum Ctenophora as the Radiata, for their radial symmetry. These are simple animals made of three basic layers, an outer epidermis, a lining of the gut (gastrodermis) and a changeable, amorphous inner layer of mesoglea. Cnidarians have little to no organ development.

Selection: General to Specific:

As faithful followers of my unending scribblings will testify, I will not abide nefarious practices in the aquatics trades and, unfortunately, dear reader, anemones are a "guilty" area.

Most anemones that die quickly in the hobbyists care were doomed through mis-collection or rough handling in-between their purchase. I am referring to physically tearing the body, usually the disc/foot through hasty separation from the wild substrate or aquarium. Where removing anemones goes, careful patience is key. Some thoughtful, conscientious wholesalers (e.g. Phil Shane's Quality Marine) have hit upon the use of indoor/outdoor carpeting material lining their tanks to facilitate removal and examination. But, the ultimate damage born is due to too anxious handling. Carefully, slowly slide a nail under the disc, around the perimeter to remove a specimen. Examine and bag same under water! Avoid having anemones or their "slime" touching your wrists, eyes, other non-calloused areas, especially mucus membranes Rinse and wipe off your hands. Most folks can tolerate time to time contact with most offered species; should you develop a sensitivity, wear thin rubber gloves, or keep your hands off!

At Quality Marine in Los Angeles, a premiere marine livestock wholesaler. Anemone holding facilities made of sheet PVC covered with indoor/outdoor carpeting to allow easy removal, non-tearing of specimens. Drainage is also concealed to prevent plugging/clogging... large volumes of water are utilized as "dilution solution" to large biomass changes.  High quality specimens to start with, Here are examples of anemones with intact (non-torn) pedicles and basal discs. Do inspect the "foot" of all prospective purchases ahead of buying. 
Be aware and beware of the too-frequently badly damaged offering of poor anemone specimens. Shown here is a Heteractis malu w/ a torn foot/pedicle... Such specimens rarely recover.

Re Colored Anemones: Yes; tinted, dyed, artificially colored specimens. "Sebae" and "Ritteri" anemones in particular are often adulterated with vegetable (and other) dyes to "enhance" their salability. I put these (and the people who buy them) in the same box as "painted" fishes, minnows (Labeo, et al.), glassfish (Chanda), and (barf) others. No, the "pretty" color does not last and no, I cannot see how it adds to the organism's vitality. There are naturally colored anemones.

Healthy specimens have long, fully expanded tentacles and a semi-clean earthy/marine smell. Dead, dying specimens smell bad.

If you are comfortable with the varieties you'd like and how you will care for them, specimens can be bought at local outlets, ordered through the mail/phone or even collected from the wild if not too dear or restricted by law. I offer my usual advice for purchase. Inquire as to origin, history on-site... and put down a suitable deposit, retrieving the individual(s) in a week or two. This will weed out the vast majority of doomed/damaged specimens and afford other folks the opportunity of viewing.

Anemones Naturally Symbiotic With Clownfishes:

Cryptodendrum adhaesivum Klunzinger 1877, the Adhesive Sea Anemone, aka as the Pizza Anemone for obvious reasons. Family Thalassianthidae. Not often seen, used in the aquarium interest due to the species extremely sticky short tentacles and propensity for tearing in moving. Only one Clownfish species is found in it in the wild, the Clarkii. At right in Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, often found with juveniles of the endemic Dascyllus strasburgi. Below: A specimen in Pulau Redang, Malaysia, and one with a Periclimenes brevicarpalis symbiont in Fiji, a close-up of one and the same shrimp species symbiont off Queensland, Australia. 

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

Entacmaea quadricolor (Ruppell & Leuckart 1828), the Bubble-Tip or Bulb-Tentacle Sea Anemone. Family Actiniidae. This is historically the hardiest of large, naturally symbiotic Clownfish anemones for aquarium use... many more specimens are collected and received in tact, in reasonably good health from the wild to distributors. And more and more folks are offering very hardy "fragged" individuals that are asexual cloned aquacultured specimens. A colonial grouping and a close-up image of the Bubble-Tip Anemone and the Clownfish, Amphiprion bicinctus in the Red Sea and Fiji, and unusual colored specimens in Pulau Redang, Malaysia and Fiji. 

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available) 
Gyractis sesere (Haddon & Shackleton 1893), Looking more like Zoanthids, but closer to Anemonia majano. Aq. photo.


Heteractis aurora (Quoy & Gaimard 1833), the Beaded Sea Anemone. Family Stichodactylidae. Up to two inch tentacles, eleven inch disc width, with characteristic beaded appearance. With apparent mouth opening and often with radiating appearance from center. Stalk may be mottled or solid orange or red. Live attached to solid structure, able to retract completely beneath the substrate. Full size and close up Malaysian  images.

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

Heteractis crispa (Ehrenberg 1834), the Leathery or Sebae Sea Anemone. Family Stichodactylidae. Often mis-sold/identified in the trade as H. ritteri and the commonest species in the market as the "Sebae Anenome". Has numerous long, tapering tentacles that end in points. Column gray in color. A close-up in Fiji, the second in the Cook Islands, third in Fiji. See more typical aquarium specimen above in the article header. Click colored, linked names/files for much more.

Heteractis magnifica (Quoy & Gaimard 1833), the Magnificent Sea Anemone. Family Stichodactylidae. Found in open areas, attached to a solid object. Base of solid purple, blue, green, red, white or brown color. Oral disc flat with barely tapering, finger-like tentacles up to a meter across. Specimen showing disc and basal color and  in Pulau Redang, Malaysia at right. And a close-up of the pedicle (stalk) of one in N. Sulawesi to show the verrucae. 

Heteractis malu (Haddon & Shackleton 1893), the Delicate Sea Anemone. Narrow, buried column of pale cream, yellow, orange to red color, sometimes with some yellow or orange splotching. Upper part with adhesive verrucae  in rows. Sparse tentacles of stubby appearance, variable length, usually magenta tipped, with radial markings. Found in sediment in shallow, still water. Here in Australia with a Clarkii Clownfish and at a wholesalers.

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

Macrodactyla doreensis (Quoy & Gaimard 1833), the Corkscrew Tentacle Sea Anemone, Long Tentacle Anemone (LTA), Sand, Red Based... Anemone. Column 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 few, but long sinewy, tapering, corkscrew-like tentacles. Distinctive (eye-like) verrucae in rows Disc often with radial appearance. In N. Sulawesi typically w/o fishes, in the mud, and in captivity. 

Carpet Anemones: Named for their immense size (sometimes more than a meter/yard across) and "pile"; numerous colored tentacles. Very difficult aquarium specimens that "shed", otherwise can/do sting and poison tankmates.

Stichodactyla gigantea (Forsskal 1775), the Gigantic (Carpet) Anemone. Family Stichodactylidae. Has characteristic deeply folded oral disc, with short, tapering, blunt tentacles. Often found attached via a relatively narrow column to something solid while surrounded by sand in very shallow water. Come in browns, blue, green, pink, purple tentacle colors. A specimen in Indonesia, a beautiful blue one in Fiji and a close-up in captivity.

Stichodactyla haddoni (Saville-Kent 1893), Haddon's (Carpet) Sea Anemone. Family Stichodactylidae. Variably folded disc surface, open near surface. Has a tentacle-free central area. Very small tentacles with narrow stalks, globose ends; often vary in color. Have larger columns... Lives in sand in which it can/does completely retract when disturbed. Close up and overall images of aquarium specimens. 

Stichodactyla mertensii Brandt 1835, Merten's (Carpet) Sea Anemone. Family Stichodactylidae. Folded disc exceeding a meter in diameter in some specimens. Lives on hard surfaces that it covers closely. Small pedal disc, striated by disc-spreading verrucae of  orange or magenta color. Short tentacles (1cm) of uniform color. Have narrow columns of grey to white color. Close up and further back on specimens in Pulau Redang, Malaysia.

Naturally Symbiotic Relationships Between Amphiprionines and Actinarians (After Fautin 1997)
<Note: In captivity Clownfishes will often come to be associated with other species, even inanimate objects!>

#1 Cryptodendrum adhaesivum, #2 Entacmaea quadricolor, #3 Heteractis aurora, #4 Heteractis crispa #5 Heteractis magnifica, #6 Heteractis malu, #7 Macrodactyla doreensis, #8 Stichodactyla gigantea, #9 Stichodactyla haddoni, #10 Stichodactyla mertensii 

Clownfish/Damsel Species/Anemone # as above 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
A. ephippium, Red Saddleback Clownfish   X   X            
A. frenatus, Tomato Clownfish   X                
A. fuscocaudatus, Seychelles Anemonefish                   X
A. latezonatus, Wide-Band Anemonefish       X            
A. latifasciatus, Madagascar Anemonefish                   X
A. leucokranos, White-Bonnet Anemonefish       X X         X
A. mccullochi, McCulloch's Anemonefish   X   X            
A. melanopus, Red & Black Anemonefish   X     X          
A. nigripes, Maldive's Anemonefish         X          
A. ocellaris, False Clown Anemonefish         X     X   X
A. omanensis, Oman Anemonefish   X   X         X  
A. percula, Clown Anemonefish       X X     X    
A. perideraion, Pink Anemonefish       X X   X X    
A. polymnus, Saddleback Anemonefish       X     X   X  
A. rubrocinctus, Australian Anemonefish   X           X    
A. sandaracinos, Orange Anemonefish       X           X
A. sebae, Sebae Anemonefish                 X  
A. thiellei, Thielle's Anemonefish                    
A. tricinctus, Three-Band Anemonefish   X X X           X
Premnas biaculeatus, Spine-Cheek Clown   X                
Dascyllus trimaculatus, Domino Damsel    X  

To: Part 2, Part 3,

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