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Aiptasia FAQ's

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Aiptasia FAQ’s

What are they?

Classification :

Phylum Cnidaria (Coelenterata) Class Anthozoa Order Actinaria Family Aiptasiidae Aiptasia pallida and Aiptasia pulchella

Aiptasia are generally dark brown to translucent brown anemones. The brown color comes from zooxanthellae, a golden brown symbiotic alga. Aiptasia in aquariums are usually less than 2 inches tall with an oral disc of about ½ inch. In favorable conditions they may get as big as 4 inches tall. Aiptasia have long tapered tentacles.

Aiptasia are members of the phylum Cnidaria, and as characteristic of all Cnidaria have a stinging cell. These stinging cells, called cnidocyte, each contains a stinging mechanism, cnidae or nematocyst. The nematocysts of aiptasia have a toxin that ismore potent that the majority of corals kept by the hobbyist. Corals coming into contact with aiptasia will recede and show signs of distress, leading to death. They can also reproduce quickly, over running an aquarium in a short period of time.

Where do they come from?

Aiptasia are introduced as hitch hikers in our aquarium. Often small specimens come in inadvertently on live rock or attached to the base of corals. Aiptasia are very common in shallow, nutrient rich water, but are also found in most tropical environments.

Why and how are they reproducing so quickly?

Aiptasia will reproduce quickly in some aquariums, while in others show little signs of an increase in population. The exact reason is unknown, but an environment high in nutrients and detritus seem to encourage faster growth. They generally reproduce by pedal laceration. When the aiptasia moves a small piece of the base tissue is left behind. Even a severely damaged piece can regenerate into an entire anemone. For this reason do not try to scrape the anemone off or try to crush it. Instead of killing it you will end up with many more.

So how do I get rid of them?

Unfortunately there is no perfect answer. There are two basic approaches, natural predators and a chemical approach. I have had little success with the chemical approach but others report good success. The first step should be to create a low nutrient environment. While this will not eliminate them, it will be a deterrent for further growth.

The Chemical Approach

Various manufacturers have come out with different products. As of the writing of this FAQ's, I know of none that works, or at least works any better than the old home brew.

The chemical approach involves taking a toxic liquid or paste and placing a large dose into the mouth of the aiptasia. The most popular one is to mix two parts water to one part calcium hydroxide (lime, kalkwasser) mix it and place it into a large bore syringe. Now this is highly caustic and some care should be given to the handling of this mixture. The large bore syringe can be obtained at any pet store or vet supply that handles vaccinations. Once you have it mixed and loaded, you simply place a large blob right on the aiptasia. The aiptasia rapidly takes the mix into its mouth. Within a few minutes the aiptasia begins to dissolve and can be easily removed by a small bore siphon. Other mixtures that can be used include hydrochloric acid, calcium chloride and boiling water. One more note of caution, large doses of some of these chemicals can rapidly change your pH.

My experience has been that while this seems to work well, there will always be traces of the anemone left behind that rapidly regenerate and you are right back where you started.

Another method has been to take the two part epoxies readily available and to seal them into the rock they live. This works well, as long as there is not an escape route for them to squeeze out on the other side.

Natural Predators

Berghia verrucicornis

The newest found predator and perhaps the one with the best potential is Berghia verrucicornis . This nudibranch was first introduced by the scientific article by Carrol & Kempf (1990: On Aiptasia eating Nudibranch. Biol. Bull. 179: 243-253). Berghia verrucicornis along with most nudibranchs are diet specific. Then another article appeared in describing methods to culture it. Shortly thereafter starter cultures were exchanged and several Aquaculture facilities in the US begin producing them. As of this writing there are a limited number available and the specimens that can be found are generally too small be put in to a large system and expected to live. I am sure this will change in the near future.

The only drawback for these is that they will eat nothing else. Once there are no aiptasias left or so few the nudibranch has trouble finding them he will starve to death. This is also a problem with buying the very small specimens that are available, they might starve in a large tank before they are able to locate food. The solution would seem to be to have a small tank set up and culture aiptasia in them to feed the nudibranchs. An alternative would be keeping the Berghia in a 10 gallon aquarium and move infested rock into it. Once your problem has cleared up, you simply pass the Berghia on to a fellow hobbyist.

Butterfly Fish

Chelmon rostratus and Chaetodon kleinii include these as part of their diet. I have had the best luck with the copper banded butterfly, C. rostratus . I have used these several times and they have never bothered any of the other inhabitants of my tank. I have heard reports of them picking at the small feather dusters in aquariums. The Raccoon butterfly is far less picky. While they eagerly devour the aiptasias, they also like to pick at other corals. They seem particularly fond of Trachyphyllia geoffroyii. Something to consider is fish are like people and have different tastes and at any time may change what they will eat.

Peppermint Shrimp

Both Rhynchocinetidae sp and Lysmata wurdemanni will eat aiptasias. Rhynchocinetidae sp. will also eat corals and is not suitable for a reef tank. There have also been reports of L. wurdemanni eating the polyps on small polyp sceleractinians. So I would think twice about adding this one.

Online Resources

Nudibranh of the week

Rec. Aquaria FAQ archive on aiptasia


Toxicological response of the symbiotic sea anemone Aiptasia pallida to butyltin contamination


Proceedings of The American Zoo and Aquarium Association Regional Conference, Audubon and Zoological Garden in New Orleans, 1996, pp 95-99 Culturing Berghia

Aiptasia pallida

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-23 01:42