Guide to Controlling Aiptasia Anemones
One of the most common problems affecting captive reef systems is the proliferation of anemones of the genus Aiptasia.
These anemones are very hearty and employ pedal laceration, a strategy in which small daughter clones separate from the foot of the mother animal, to reproduce extremely quickly. Attempts to remove or kill the anemones are seldom successful, as each animal removed leaves a ring of daughter anemones behind.
As such, removal of Aiptasia is best performed by one of their natural predators. Inland Aquatics has used Peppermint Shrimp, Butterfly fish (Usually the Raccoon or Copperband Butterfly fish) and Berghia verrucicornis, a Nudibranch, to remove Aiptasia. Each is discussed below.
“Peppermint Shrimp” is used to refer to at least three different species of small cleaner shrimp. Generally speaking, Lysmata wurdemanni are the better Aiptasia eaters and are less likely to bother other reef inhabitants. Each shrimp is different, but we find cultured L. wurdemanni perform better than wild ones.
Unfortunately, even the very best Anemone eating shrimp prefer other foods to Aiptasia, especially the large ones. Peppermint Shrimp can be used in a new tank, before animals are added; however, they are seldom effective in an established reef, as there is plenty of other things for them to eat. Placing several shrimp in a small bare tank with Aiptasia infested rock is the most effective approach. Replace clean rock with infested rock until the anemones are gone.
Several species of butterfly fishes will eat Aiptasia. Unfortunately, they will also eat other corals, zooanthids, anemones and tube worms. We prefer to use the Raccoon Butterfly, Chaetodon lanula, or the Copperband Butterfly, Chelmon rostratus. Copperbands have a snout that allows them to get to more anemones; however, Raccoons will seldom bother reef inhabitants until all the Aiptasia are gone, making them the fish of choice for most applications.
Butterfly fishes less than 3.5” in length are seldom effective Aiptasia eaters. Once “trained”, Raccoons will usually eat anemones off of rocks held in the tank with them. Raccoons used in our facility get used to being moved from tank to tank and will begin feeding immediately after a move. They're very effective!
Butterfly fishes have their limitations. Copperbands are most thorough; however, none of the species are capable of getting all the Aiptasia out of the cracks and crevices. More importantly, all of the Butterflies are likely sufferers of Post–Traumatic Shipping Disorder (PTSD). Only purchase these animals once they’ve been in a dealers tank for at least six weeks. Inland offers quarantined and “trained” animals.
Aiptasia Eating Nudibranchs (Berghia verrucicornis)
Adding Nudibranchs smaller than half an inch to your tank is not recommended! In fact, I recommend that you keep your Berghia, regardless of their size, in a Mason jar for at least a couple of days. There are several reasons for this:
- Even breeder size B. verrucicornis are small. They are also nocturnal and well camouflaged, making them very difficult to keep track of in even the smallest aquarium.
- Jars are great for the Nudibranchs; a good place to recover from shipping. Don’t worry that they will be uncomfortable in such a small volume of non–filtered/aerated water. Inland’s brood stock Nudibranchs live their entire lives in 250 and 500 ml beakers with no water movement!
- Nudibranchs begin laying eggs at a size of about a half inch in length. If you keep them long enough to harvest some egg strands, you'll have a chance to raise some more AIPTASIA EATING MACHINES.
- These little buggers ain’t cheap! Don’t you think you’d like to see them in action a time or two before you release them into the great unknown?!
- If you succeed in reproducing your nudis, you can convert your AIPTASIA into CASH! The demand for Berghia far exceeds the current supply. Inland is always looking for cultured Berghia and your reef keeping buddies and local fish stores (LFS) likely are too!
If that’s not enough to convince you to hold onto your nudis for awhile, follow these
INSTRUCTIONS FOR PLACING BERGHIA IN THE AQUARIUM
- Nudis should not be added to a reef tank until they are over half an inch in length. Even at that size, Butterflies and Peppermint Shrimp may be able to eat them.
- Berghia are nocturnal and prefer subdued flow. It is best to add them with the lights off and place them in minimal flow. POWER HEADS EAT Nudibranchs!
- Refugia are ideal for nudi placement! Move a continuous supply of AIPTASIA to the refugium to keep your “breeders” fat and prolific. Larvae will migrate and go to work on AIPTASIA in other parts of the system. If traumatic pumps interfere, move some of the juveniles manually.
- Be careful not to drop your nudis on Aiptasia when adding them to your tank. When given the chance, AIPTASIA EAT BERGHIA. The nudis make their living by sneaking up on their prey. A small pipette is great for moving the animals. Break off the tip for larger adults. Be gentle.
- The best thing to do when the nudis arrive from Inland is to remove the cap on the shipping vial and place it on/against rock or the side of the aquarium. Leave the vial in the tank until they crawl out on their own. (They will do so more quickly in the dark.)
HOLDING BERGHIA IN JARS
- A WEEK OR TWO BEFORE YOU INTEND TO RECEIVE YOUR ORDER, Collect a dozen or more large Aiptasia and place them in two Mason jars with water from your system. Be careful not to add much anemone slime as this may cause water quality problems. Plastic pipettes are great for collecting Aiptasia!
- Mark the water line on the side of each jar with a Sharpie.
- Cover the jars with a very loose lid.
- Place the jars in a cabinet or some other very dark place with a relatively stable temperature.
- Top the cultures off with fresh water each week to keep the level at the fill line.
- Upon arrival, place the new Berghia in one of the jars. The other is to be used as a reservoir for feeder Aiptasia.