Getting Rid of Aiptasia in Your Reef Aquarium
Written by Katherine Barrington
Learn about aiptasia in the reef aquarium and how to get rid of it.
One of the things that separates reef tanks from freshwater aquariums is the hitchhikers that come attached to live rock. It can be very exciting to see something new grow out of your rock, but some of these hitchhikers can also be harmful to your reef setup. One example is the Aiptasia Anemone (also known as the Glass Anemone). If you have kept a reef aquarium for any length of time and buy a lot of live rock or coral frags, you no doubt have encountered this marine pest.
So why are Aiptasia considered a pest? There are actually two answers. First, they possess stinging cells and the toxin released from these stinging cells is more potent than many of the corals kept in the trade. Therefore, if other corals in your tank get too close to an Aiptasia Anemone, they will start to recede and become stressed. If they are not able to move far enough away from the Aiptasia, they will eventually die.
The second reason they are considered pests is because they reproduce very quickly, are hardy, and can soon overrun your aquarium. While it might sound great to have a full tank of anemones, Aiptasia look pretty bland and actually pretty creepy (almost as if they are telling you they are bad news). One way they reproduce is by pedal laceration which means that small bits of tissue are left behind when they move. These small tissue fragments will then turn into full specimens and this brings us to our first point in getting rid of Aiptasia – DO NOT TRY TO SCRAPE OR CRUSH AN AIPTASIA TO KILL IT. All you will end up doing is making a bunch of Aiptasia fragments that will then turn into full anemones. In other words, you will be speeding up their propagation.
So, your next question is probably, “How do I get rid of an Aiptasia if it does show up in my aquarium?” While this article will discuss several methods, there is one that I personally hold above the rest.
The Best Removal Strategy – Peppermint Shrimp
The single best way to quickly remove Aiptasia from your aquarium is to head to your local fish store and buy a peppermint shrimp. These little shrimps have a HUGE appetite for Aiptasia and are considered reef safe if you buy the right species. There are actually several different species sold under the name “peppermint shrimp” in local fish stores. You want to buy Lysmata wurdenmanni as it is the reef safe one. The other species can damage your small polyps and other corals so it is important to know that you bought the right species. If you are really worried about your peppermint shrimp bothering your coral, you can drop one in for a couple of days, let him eat the Aiptasia, and then bring him back to the store.
Peppermint shrimps are also a nice addition to your aquarium (if you do decide to keep the shrimp permanently) as they have a nice vivid pink/red coloration and stay small (2”). They are fairly benign and will generally not harm any fish, corals, or clams (unless the clam is already in poor health). They are reclusive and nocturnal so you may not see the shrimp too often, but you can often find them hiding under a piece of rock or in a cave during the day.
One thing to remember when using the peppermint shrimp control method is to not feed the peppermint shrimp until he has eaten all of the Aiptasia. If you feed the shrimp, he will soon learn to eat your food and will become disinterested in the Aiptasia.
Other Natural Strategies
There are other natural strategies (natural meaning non-chemical) you can use to control Aiptasia besides just a peppermint shrimp. For example, the Copperbanded Butterfly fish is a common predator of Aiptasia (although there seems to be quite a variance from individual to individual in terms of their appetite for these anemones). The Raccoon Butterfly fish is used by some people, but I have heard numerous reports of this species munching on other corals and feather dusters. Therefore, I would not recommend using the Raccoon Butterfly fish in a reef setup.
Nudibranches (specifically Berghia verrucicornis) has been found to eat Aiptasia, but there are several problems with this predator. First of all, it can be difficult to find a specimen that is large enough for a typical reef tank. Secondly, they only eat Aiptasia so once this food source is gone, they will starve to death. Some people have gone to a “pass it along” approach where they use the nudibranch for their aquarium and then pass it on to another hobbyist with Aiptasia in their tank.
In general, I am not a big proponent of adding a great deal of chemicals to aquariums. This is especially true for the control of Aiptasia as I have had so much success with peppermint shrimps. However, I do realize that some people have found natural methods to not work for their specific case so I felt I should mention the common chemical-based solutions here as well. I do want to emphasize that I view chemical control methods as a last resort.
The chemical approach usually means going to the local fish store and finding a product specifically designed to kill Aiptasia. You then usually inject the chemical into the anemone and it dies. I have also heard from people who claim that injecting almost boiling water into an Aiptasia will kill it. The main problem with injecting Aiptasia is that these anemones are very good at evading your attempts. They are pretty fast and will quickly retreat when they sense danger. Therefore, it can be difficult to actually inject a specimen.
Also, while some chemicals claim to be safe for the rest of your corals, I would still investigate these claims and make sure that the rest of your livestock will not be damaged when the chemical is introduced to the water. If you do decide to use the chemical approach, be prepared to watch your corals constantly and perform large water changes if signs of stress appear.
It should also be noted that some of the chemicals that claim to rid your tank of Aiptasia do not actually work or contain very, very harmful compounds. You need to research specific brands if you decide to go down this path. Also, I have heard from many people that using chemicals does not generally work because bits and pieces of the anemone are often left behind, only to start a new grouping of Aiptasia a short time later.
Aiptasia infestation is a common problem in saltwater aquariums. I personally do not know any saltwater hobbyist who has not had at least one hitchhike its way into their tank. While they are hardy and can be difficult to get rid of if you do not know what you are doing, the good news is that often a natural predator like a peppermint shrimp will work. Chemical control methods can be used, but please use this as a last resort and do significant research before adding any particular brand of chemical into your tank.
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