Updated August 12, 2019
Author: Mike - FishLore Admin
The infamous Aiptasia Anemone - notice the smaller ones sprouting up on the right side of the rock pictured below.
Aiptasia is a smaller anemone that can get to be about 1 inch (3 cm) in diameter, sometimes larger, and reproduces rapidly in a saltwater aquarium with abundant nutrients. They are sometimes called aptasia, glass anemone, tube anemone and rock anemone and there are several different species. This is one anemone that saltwater hobbyists don't purchase, rather this one comes in on the live rock as a hitchhiker.
It can be difficult to see them when they are small and you obviously wouldn't want to knowingly buy live rock if you saw this pest on it at the store. They can hide inside the small crevices and rock pores only to come out weeks or months later if they are given the right conditions.
Why is it considered a pest?
Well, they are not the most attractive looking specimen, they multiply rapidly and more importantly they can sting other, more desirable corals and other reef tank inhabitants. It's a typical story... You get some new rock and a few weeks go by and you notice a small anemone starting to grow on the rock. How neat, a free anemone! Well, the honeymoon ends a few weeks or months later when you notice that your live rock starts to become overgrown with them, especially if you have a reef tank with expensive corals!
Ways to Control It
Controlling them can be a chore. If you try to smash them or cut them they are thought to release pieces of themselves into the water, thereby multiplying even more rapidly. Listed below are some natural and chemical methods for controlling tehm:
- First, if you can, reduce the amount of nutrients available to the anemone. This may mean limiting the amounts, types and frequency of fish and coral feedings. Do you just drop in a frozen fish food cube? Defrost the frozen food first and then slowly spoon feed it to the fish. Give the fish a little, give them 30 seconds to eat it all and then spoon feed them a little more. This makes for less waste and juices entering the tank and more food for the fish instead of the filter.
- Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are used by many hobbyists to eat this anemone. It can be hit or miss though. Especially if you get the wrong version of the "peppermint shrimp". There is another peppermint shrimp, Lysmata californica, that looks very similar to the wurdemanni but doesn't do the job on them that wurdemanni does.
- Raccoon Butterfly Fish and the Copperband Butterfly Fish will also eat this pest but they can pose other problems in reef tanks. They may eat and/or pick at corals. The copperband butterfly may be the better choice because it may be less inclined to eat or pick at corals than the Raccoon Butterfly but the Copperband is less hardy and more difficult to feed long-term. However, they may only eat bits and pieces of the aiptasia causing some of it to scatter and relocate in other places inside the tank.
- Bergia Nudibranch (Berghia verrucicornis) are great aptasia eaters but the problem with them is they might starve once it is gone. They can also easily be eaten by tank mates.
- Calcium and Kalkwasser is thought to destroy it too. The trick is applying it directly into the anemone or on the oral disk using a syringe before it retreats into its hole.
- A sting from an Elegance Coral (Catalaphyllia jardinei) is supposed to kill them. If you have one and you can pick up your elegance coral by the base, this may be an option for you.
Close up view of the oral disk
Given the various options listed above for controlling or eradicating it from your tank can take time and there are drawbacks to each method. The favored option for us is to use the peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni).
I went with the Peppermint Shrimps to take care of this pest that was getting out of hand in my 55 gallon saltwater tank. What started out as one quickly become 4 that quickly became at least 50 over a period of many months. I had two percula clownfish that were the mainstays of this tank and woke up one morning to find one dead and an aiptasia attached to it. I promptly went out and purchased three peppermint shrimps... I'd say in about 2 weeks time those shrimps had totally wiped out this pest in the tank and I've not seen a single one pop up since introducing these shrimps to my aquarium. The peppermints do like to hide a lot, so we don't get to see them very often but I sleep soundly knowing that I won't have to contend with this nuisance any longer.