Hell's Fire Anemone

Pinnate Anemone, Tree Anemone, Branching Anemone

Hell's Fire Anemone, Actinodendron plumosum, Pinnate Anemone, Tree Anemone, Branching AnemoneActinodendron plumosumPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild

The Hell's Fire Anemone is a burrowing anemone that looks more like a coral, but beware!... their sting is much more powerful!

The Hell's Fire Anemone Actinodendron plumosum belongs to the Actinodendron genus, and is one of the 'stinging sea anemones' in the Actinodendronidae family. This family consists of three genera; Actinodendron, Actinostephanus, and Megalactis, all of which are found only in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific.

These anemones are so named 'stinging sea anemones' because of their capacity to sting humans badly. Although all anemones have stinging cells or nematocysts found in their tentacles, these anemones have a dangerous sting that is extremely powerful and is very painful. Another anemone from this group, the Bali Fire Anemone Megalactis hemprichi, is similar in this regard and is also referred to as a Hell's Fire Anemone.

The Actinodendron genus is a unique group of anemones that are basically in a class all their own. They look more like colonies of soft corals than actinides. Typically they have busy, branched long tentacles. The Hell's Fire Anemone has tentacles with a leaf shaped or feather-like appearance, thus they are also known as the Pinnate Anemone. They bury their foot and body in the sand with only their oral disc and tentacles emerging. When disturbed they can retract their entire body into the sand and be virtually invisible.

Purchasing a Hell's Fire Anemone, or any of the 'stinging sea anemones', needs to be made with enough knowledge to protect yourself and your other charges. They have a very different look from anything that is typically sold. They are very poisonous and the sting is very painful, so aquarists be warned and wear gloves when handling this genus.The sting from these anemones can damage and even kill other corals, and the Hell's Fire Anemone is also reputed to sting and eat fish. Keeping them in a species specific tank allows you and them to be happy.

For more about the types of Sea Anemone Species, see:
Sea Anemone - Tube Anemone

Hell's Fire Anemone, Actinodendron plumosum, & Harlequin Crab Pair

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Up close and personal with some marine symbiosis!

The Hell's Fire Anemone differs in a few ways from other anemones. While they need good light, a mature tank and good meaty foods, they do not play well with others. The Hell's Fire Anemone will sting all other corals with a sting that is much more potent than many other anemones. This anemone will not host clownfish, only inverts, like for instance... Harlequin Crabs! They make a great addition to a species specific tank!

Hell's Fire Anemone - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
  • Size of organism - inches: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No

Habitat: Distribution / Background

Sea Anemone Facts: The Actinodendron genus was described by Quoy & Gaimard in 1833 and is a member of the Actinodendronidae family. The 6 species in the genus are A. alcyonoideum, A. ambonense, A. arboreum, A. glomeratum, A. hansingorum, and A. plumosum. The Actinodendron plumosum is not on the IUCN Red List for endangered species. The most common members of this genus are:

  • Hell's Fire Anemone Actinodendron plumosum, which was described by Haddon in 1898. It is also known as the Pinnate Anemone, Tree Anemone, Branching Anemone, and Stinging Anemone.
  • Tree Anemone Actinodendron arboreum, which was described by Quoy & Gaimard in 1833.
  • Branching Anemone Actinodendron glomeratum, which was described by Haddon in 1898.

Where are Sea Anemones Found: The Actinodendron plumosum is found in the tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean.

Sea Anemone Habitat: These anemones are found at depths of 1 - 65 feet (3 - 20 m). They live singly in sandy and rubble covered bottoms on coral reefs, burrowed deep into the substrate with all but their tentacles showing. They use their very powerful and venomous cells or nematocysts found in their tentacles to sting and deflect any possible threats or attacks, as well as for capturing prey.

  • Scientific Name: Actinodendron plumosum
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


Appearance of a Sea Anemone: The Actinodendron genus has a pedal column that they bury in rubble or sand. They have many pairs of highly branched tentacles that make the them look more like a coral or a small tree than an anemone.

  • Hell's Fire Anemone A. plumosum can be light yellowish green, tan, brown, light green or gray. The anemone can be monochromatic or a combination of these colors. Each tentacle varies in size and has more of a "frilly" look to it. From a distance it almost looks like soft coral, like a kenya tree. This anemone comes out at night and hides during the day.
  • Tree Anemone A. arboreum has branching tentacles that are more erect and also covered with vesicles. The oral disc area is open, with the tentacles being around the margin.
  • Branching Anemone A. glomeratum can be greenish to gray in color. They are usually a mix of these colors. They lay flat on the sand with each tentacle having a space in between. Each tentacle has clusters of vesicles that look like a tiny forest of cauliflower covering it from top to bottom. This makes each one look like a fat, thick, lumpy protrusion. Each one, from a distance, almost looks like an acropora branch.

The mouth should be closed and tight, and will open when hungry, having an oval look; yet a gaping mouth is a warning signal. The Actinodendron plumosum takes food in, and expels waste through this same opening. They use their very powerful and venomous cells or nematocysts found in their tentacles to sting and deflect any possible threats or attacks, as well as for capturing prey.

Sea Anemones Life Cycles: Actinodendron anemones can grow up to 12" (30 cm). It is unknown how long they live, in fact some anemones can be hundreds of years old in the wild, and in captivity have been known to last 80 years or more.

  • Size of organism - inches: 12.0 inches (30.48 cm)
  • Lifespan: - Their lifespan is unknown, however they have lived up to 80 years in captivity and can live hundreds of years in the wild.

Difficulty of Care

Sea Anemone Care: These anemones can be easy to care for, yet they do have lighting needs and must be in a large enough aquarium to satisfy their ultimate size. Putting an anemone in a new tank will result in failure. The tank should be at least 6 months old and stable before adding your new A. plumosum anemone.

When choosing a Hell's Fire Anemone, make sure the color is good, their mouth is not gaping open, and their foot and tentacles are sticky to the touch. Also, they should be attached to something and make sure there is no damage to the foot area, often a result of pulling the anemone off its surface.

To take a A. plumosum anemone from another aquarium, use a very thin blunt item like a credit card to get under the foot. Slowly nudging it away will release the anemone from the glass. If it's attached to a rock, ideally you can simply purchase the rock as well. They are very poisonous and the sting is very painful, so aquarists be warned and wear gloves when handling this genus.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

What Do Sea Anemones Eat: The Hell's Fire Anemone or Pinnate Anemone is a carnivore. Feed your anemone chopped silversides, shrimp, krill, and mussels, fresh chopped fish (from your grocery store), as well as frozen carnivore preparations. Feed 2 times a week to keep them healthy. The old adage that anemones should be fed once a month is false and has led to many deaths.

  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Meaty Food: All of Diet - They can be fed chopped silversides, shrimp, krill, and mussels, fresh chopped fish (from your grocery store), as well as frozen carnivore preparations.
  • Feeding Frequency: Weekly - Feed them twice a week.

Aquarium Care

Water changes of 10% bi-monthly or 20% a month are typical. Monitor your water quality for your particular situation and adjust your water changes accordingly. One average sized Hell's Fire Anemone 2" to 4" is equal to 2 or 3 fish as far as waste production is concerned. Purigen and Poly-fiber are great products to help in maintaining water quality. Purigen is a synthetic polymer that removes soluble and insoluble impurities from water at an exceptionally high rate and capacity, helping to control ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. Additions of Iodine and and trace elements are suggested.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly
  • Iodine Levels: - Additions of Iodine and and trace elements are suggested.

Aquarium Setup

The typical reef environment is what is needed for your Hell's Fire Anemone. They need live rock and a deep sandy or crushed coral substrate to bury themselves into. Be sure to have all of your pumps covered, most good quality pumps have guards on them and are worth the investment.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Live Rock Requirement: Typical Amount
  • Substrate Type: Mix - Sand + Coral - They need a deep sandy or crushed coral substrate to bury themselves into.
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025 SG
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom

Social Behaviors

The Hell's Fire Anemones are aggressive and have a powerful sting that can kill nearby corals and fish. All anemones are semi-aggressive because they can be mobile, although a contented anemone will often stay put once it has found a place to settle. If it starts moving around you need to check your aquarium parameters and feeding schedule to find out why it is unhappy.

They are not typically sold, and their propensity to eat your fish should deter a purchase for anything other than a species display tank. It has often been suggested to not put anemones in a reef environment because corals cannot move away from the stinging tentacles. Once you have your anemone situated and it has not moved for several months, it might be safe to add other corals. This would be a "proceed at your own risk". In the wild they have a symbiotic relationship with some Periclimenes sp. of shrimp. They do not host clownfish.

After splitting, anemones will tolerate their own "clones" and sometimes their own species. All anemones in the tank need to have their own space, otherwise there can be a "chemical" warfare between species. This will usually cause one to not eat, shrink and eventually die. Having excellent filtration and a large tank (over 100 gallons), will usually allow 2 anemones at opposite ends to thrive. You can also build a natural blockade to help prevent them from wandering into each others "space".

  • Venomous: Yes
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Sometimes
    • Anemones: Threat
    • Mushroom Anemones - Corallimorphs: Monitor
    • Leather Corals: Monitor
    • Zoanthids - Button Polyps, Sea Mats: Monitor
    • Sponges, Tunicates: Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Monitor
    • Starfish: Monitor
    • Feather Dusters, Bristle Worms, Flatworms: Monitor
    • Clams, Scallops, Oysters: Monitor
    • Crabs: Monitor
    • Snails: Monitor
    • Sea Apples, Cucumbers: Monitor
    • Urchins, Sand Dollars: Monitor
    • Nudibranch, Sea Slugs: Monitor
    • Copepods, Amphipods, Mini Brittle Stars: Monitor
    • Stony Corals: May be aggressive
    • Soft Corals: May be aggressive

Sex: Sexual differences

No sexual difference in appearance is known.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Actinodendron species have not been bred in captivity. Anemones in general can multiply by sexual and asexual means. One way is using fission, which is when they actually split in half from the foot or mouth to form a clone, although the clone is its own animal, similar to twins. They will also reproduce using male and female sex glands or find another anemone of the opposite sex. This results in the production of ciliated planula larvae. This planula will eventually fall to the sea floor, develop a pedal disk, then begin to grow into a new anemone.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown

Ailments / Diseases

Problems for the Hell's Fire Anemone or Pinnate Anemone are pretty minimal unless your lighting, water movement, feeding and water quality are low. Then your anemone will detach to look for "better conditions." This usually results in an unpleasant experience with a water pump.


Buy A Sea Anemone: This anemone is rarely available to aquarists, and only suggested for a species specific tank.


Author: Clarice Brough CFS, Carrie McBirney
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