If you keep a marine or reef aquarium, you’ll probably come up against the Aiptasia anemone at some point.
But is Aiptasia a nuisance or a boon to the hobbyist? And how do you get rid of Aiptasia without harming your other livestock?
Read this guide to learn more about successfully and effectively managing Aiptasia in your fish tank.
What is Aiptasia?
Aiptasia is a group of invertebrate anemones, often referred to as “glass, tube, rock, or glass rose anemones.” there are 17 species of Aiptasia.
These anemones can sting their neighbors and prey and compete for space and food aggressively, which is why the species is regarded as a nuisance pest in the home fish tank. But future studies are bound to find out more about this.
In fact, the anemone’s name comes from the Greek words:
- “Aei,” which means “always.”
- “Petao,” which means “spread wings”
So, the name literally means “always spread wings,” referring to Aiptasia’s tentacles, which are usually fully extended.
How Do You Identify Aiptasia?
Aiptasia is distinguished by its brownish or clear coloration, long stinging tentacles, and long columnar body that ranges in size from a few inches to a few centimeters tall.
These anemones resemble mini palm trees, having a polyp body with an oral disc surrounded by tentacles. Some species of Aiptasia are transparent but can also be light brown to tan in color.
The brown color of most aquarium-dwelling Aiptasia is down to the anemone’s symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. These tiny algae cells exist within the anemone’s tissue, providing the Aiptasia with most of its energy and nutrients.
Aiptasia’s tentacles contain tiny, harpoon-like barbs called cnidocytes. The cnidocytes contain venom that they use to immobilize prey items. Once trapped in the anemone’s tentacles, the prey is passed to the creature’s mouth and ingested whole.
All anemones can sting. However, most species have shorter tentacles than Aiptasia, which reduces the risk of stinging other invertebrates close to them.
Fortunately, Aiptasia is too small to trap any of the most popular marine fish you’ll keep in a home tank. However, the anemone’s stings can cause irritation, which increases the danger of secondary infections.
Aiptasia is also a menace to corals close by, often causing the corals to close. That can prevent the corals from feeding and photosynthesizing.
As you can imagine, Aiptasia is generally regarded as a pest you don’t want in your fish tank!
Will Aiptasia Kill Fish?
Aiptasia doesn’t usually kill fish. However, the anemones can deliver a nasty venomous sting that often creates a secondary infection in its victims.
How Do Aiptasia Anemones Get Into Your Tank?
Aiptasia usually finds its way into your aquarium as a hitchhiker attached to live rock and amongst coral colonies.
Once in the aquarium, the anemone quickly reproduces both sexually and asexually.
Asexual or pedal laceration reproduction is the anemone’s most common reproducing method.
A segment is removed from the parent’s main body, establishing itself as a new polyp within 14 days.
A new Aiptasia anemone can grow from just one single cell! That’s why we don’t recommend pulling Aiptasia from a rock, as that method often leaves a part of the anemone behind.
Sexual reproduction occurs when the anemone releases a mass of free-floating gametes into the water.
Once those fertilized larvae settle, they develop into new anemones. So, if you suddenly experience mass colonization of Aiptasia in your tank, it’s most likely that sexual reproduction has taken place.
How To Control Aiptasia in Your Aquarium
So, what do you do if you discover Aiptasia in your fish tank?
Unfortunately, once you have Aiptasia in your aquarium, getting rid of these hardy survivors can be incredibly difficult, and there is no absolutely bulletproof method of eradicating them.
However, several options effectively control Aiptasia, including natural and chemical techniques.
You can even use symbiotic animals and homologous symbionts to regulate Aipstasia infestation. But some animals exhibit host specificity.
Chemical solutions are largely regarded as the best way to eliminate Aiptasia.
If used correctly, chemical treatments are absolutely safe for use in the coral reef tank. One excellent product proven effective at getting rid of Aiptasia is Anti-Aiptasia by NT Labs.
One 100ml bottle of Anti-Aiptasia provides up to 200 doses of the treatment and comes with a handy measuring syringe and an angled tip applicator that helps you to get to hard-to-reach anemones.
All you need to do is deploy the treatment close to the anemone’s mouth. The anemone reacts by withdrawing its body, sucking the treatment inside itself. Death generally occurs imminently with no further intervention from you.
However, if you’re treating large numbers of Aiptasia in one go, that can cause problems with water quality.
As the anemones die, they release ammonia into the water, potentially causing an ammonia spike. So, we recommend you treat only a few Aiptasia in one go, starting with the larger specimens.
That approach reduces the likelihood of sexual reproduction taking place and makes it easier to stop the Aiptasia from spreading.
You don’t need to worry about removing dead Aiptasia, as they usually disintegrate into the water to be removed by your protein skimmer.
Calcium Hydroxide Solution
Probably the safest chemical control option for removing Aiptasia from your tank is by using a calcium hydroxide solution.
Use a hypodermic needle to inject the polyp with the solution or paste some of the chemicals onto the anemone’s mouth.
That’s a simple, effective method of killing Aiptasia. However, adding calcium hydroxide can cause the water pH to increase, depending on how much you use and the aquarium volume.
So, you’ll need to keep an eye on your water parameters if you use this chemical solution to eliminate Aiptasia.
Natural Aiptasia Removal Methods
Several marine fish and invertebrate species are known to eat Aiptasia.
For example, one reef-safe option is the Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni). Filefish and Copperband butterflyfish are also known to prey on this anemone.
However, many of the fish that could be helpful in removing Aiptasia are not reef-safe or have highly specialized diets, which makes them unsuitable for long-term aquarium life.
You can also try spot-feeding your other livestock to deprive the anemones of their food source.
RO Water, Lemon Juice, and Vinegar
Scalding hot RO water, vinegar, and lemon juice effectively kill Aiptasia anemones.
Simply inject the substance of your choice into the anemone via a hypodermic needle.
Be sure to test your water parameters regularly when using any of these methods, and only treat a few anemones at a time.
Now, look at the species you could consider adding to your setup to wage war on Aiptasia.
There are quite a few species of Butterflyfish that are known to eat Aiptasia. However, Butterflyfish are not the easiest creatures to care for, so be sure to research the species’ care requirements and diet before you buy one.
Some Butterflyfish are challenging to keep.
Although they are okay in a fish-only setup, a reef tank can present more difficulties, as the fish tend to nibble on star polyps, zoanthids, corals, and even feather dusters.
However, if you want to take on Butterflyfish, the following species are known to eat Aiptasia:
- Raccoon butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula)
- Klein’s butterflyfish (Chaetodon kleinii)
- Saddled butterflyfish (Chaetodon ephippium)
- Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus)
- Hawaiian butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri)
- Threadfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga)
- Banded butterflyfish (Chaetodon striatus)
Due to their difficulty, we only recommend experienced hobbyists keep Butterflyfish.
Although most Filefish are not considered reef-safe, the Bristle-Tail filefish is generally said to be harmless to corals. These fish are also known to eat Aiptasia.
Sometimes, saltwater puffers are known to eat Aiptasia. However, these fish need careful research before being added to a reef tank.
Puffers mostly eat fish, although they can also snack on various invertebrates.
Puffers that might eat Aiptasia include the large Guinea Fowl puffer (Arothron Meleagris) and the Sharpnosed puffer (Canthigaster solandri). The latter is a smaller species that might be a good fit for a reef tank.
Scats are brackish water fish that enjoy snacking on Aiptasia as part of their diet. The spotted Scat (Scatophagus argus) is a hardy creature that can be acclimated to saltwater and freshwater tanks.
Regarding coral symbiosis, the Elegance coral (Catalaphyllia jardinei) has a sting that kills Aiptasia anemones. This coral-algal symbiosis benefits the algal cells and the stony corals in a coral reef ecosystem.
A few nudibranch species are quite effective at eliminating Aiptasia through mechanisms of symbiont selection. In general, nudibranchs that eat Aiptasia will usually leave other reef species alone.
Nudibranch Berghia (Aeolidiella stephanieae) is a nudibranch that comes from the Florida Keys in the western Atlantic Ocean. This is an excellent choice of nudibranch because it feeds exclusively on Aiptasia anemones.
However, although it is extremely helpful when ridding a reef tank of these pesky anemones, this nocturnal species of sea slug will die of starvation if you don’t move it to another tank that contains Aiptasia.
Spurilla neapolitana and Baeolidia nodosa are two more nudibranchs that can also be highly effective at ridding your tank of Aiptasia. However, these two species might not be readily available.
The White Spotted Hermit Crab (Dardanus megistos) is also known as the Scarlet or Red-Legged hermit crab. These crabs are popular reef tanks and are thought to eat Aiptasia. However, their effectiveness in eliminating pest anemones is unproven.
There are a few small shrimp species that will eat Aiptasia. However, you need to research shrimp carefully before you put them into a reef tank, as many shrimp species will eat a variety of inverts and corals, as well as Aiptasia.
Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) will eat Aiptasia anemones. However, these critters will also nibble on small polyp sceleractinians, the yellow polyps. These transparent reddish-colored shrimp grow to reach around 21/2 inches long.
Hingeback shrimp or Dancing shrimp (Rhynchocinetes durbanensis) will eat Aiptasia anemones. However, these shrimp will also attack corals and are really only suitable for a fish-only tank.
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Aiptasia is an invasive pest species of anemone that you really don’t want in your saltwater or marine aquarium. These anemones have long, stinging tentacles that they use to immobilize prey before eating it.
However, Aiptasia is a menace in a home tank, reproducing rapidly and attacking anything close to them, including corals and fish.
That can damage corals by preventing them from photosynthesizing and discouraging them from feeding. Fish can develop infections if stung by Aiptasia.
Previous studies have shown that you can use natural means to rid your tank of Aiptasia, such as predatory creatures that eat the Majano anemone. Alternatively, chemical treatments can be effective, too.
How did you get rid of Aiptasia from your tank? Tell us in the comments box below.