Crabs in the Saltwater Aquarium
No, I am not talking about our old aunts or other relatives, although they can probably fit loosely into this topic if I could throw them in my saltwater tank! For the sake of family peace, however, I have had to refrain myself during one visit. An odd circumstance arose that would have lent itself to the submergence of a crabby relative INTO my 150 gallon tank! Yet, I digress…
I am talking about crabs; all species, all genus, all colors, all shapes and all sizes. Be assured, that eventually these little hellion monsters, with evil intentions and back biting ways, will murder another creature in your tank, that you spent your hard earned money on! It’s just their nature, and they can’t be blamed. Even the ones with “small claws” have been known to cause problems, especially in a reef tank. I am sure there are a few well behaved crabs out there, but I am not risking my inhabitants on something that can be easily replaced with a less opportunistic murderer.
My first experience with the “little darlings,” was when I bought my first “clean up crew” for my 8 week old cycled 55 gallon saltwater tank. During this time, my research was quite focused on water quality, live rock, substrate, skimmers, heaters, and lighting. I did however, intend on doing research on the fish I was going to buy. After all, how can you screw up buying a “clean up crew?” …Everybody else is doing it!
My appreciation for hermit crabs were short lived. Over a period of about 4 months, the hermits, one by one, took out my snails, which of course COST more then THEY did. Yes, there was plenty of food and algae for both, perfect water parameters, and no predatory fish; so nothing else would have killed the snails. For me, the last straw was the loss of my prized Jumbo Nassarius Snail, who was one of five I had in my tank. The day I saw a hermit crab rockin’ that snail’s shell, was the day I pulled each and every one OUT of the tank and returned them to the store.
I actually have witnessed larger hermit crabs starting to attack a resting or sick fish! Then a friend of mine related a story of a puffer fish that was attacked at night, and dead by morning. She owned the puffer for a long time, and it was not sick. I remember once, when looking in someone else’s reef, I noticed a hermit crab sitting on top of a healthy SPS coral. As I observed this little beast, I noticed it was tearing the flesh off of the coral! Enough said!
If a fish dies, your nassarius snails will converge and consume, but they will never touch a live fish, only a rotting one. This will keep your water quality from deteriorating if a fish does die. This makes nassarius snails great inhabitants! Over time, I discovered that brittle starfish also do just as good of a job getting extra food that the fish missed.
Back to the crabs! Well, against my better judgment I did buy an emerald crab down the line to take care of some green bubble algae. Once again, another little monster crab had to be extracted as it threatened my Halichoeres wrasses that were napping under the sand. I swear you could hear him say, “Where did those morsels go? The algae just ain’t cutting it!” My wrasses were unusually afraid of this emerald crab as it grew. So were we…
The worst experience I’d ever had was a reef crab that hitchhiked on some live rock. I bought the rock from a gentleman whose system crashed when the power went out. This is common during hot summer days in Las Vegas. I didn’t know there was a little monster stowed away in the rock and the way I found out was not cool! One morning, my fairy wrasses came up to be fed, and I noticed that my Scott’s Fairy Wrasse was no where around. This was odd, because he was usually the first in line for breakfast. I started looking for him and found this big, black, butt ugly, reef crab slowly scraping the now gutted sides of my most expensive wrasse! The Scott’s was NOT sick and I owed him long enough to rule out disease. Why is it ALWAYS the MOST expensive fish that is killed?
Thus started my long search for this monster in the bowels of my tank after he scampered away…. sideways… the LITTLE FREAK! I found him in a twisted and gnarled piece of live rock, which of course was UNDER a bunch of other live rock! So I had no choice but to remove the rock from the tank and chase him out of the middle. That was the WEIRDEST 30 minutes of my life up to that point. With saltwater tanks, these weird minutes start to accumulate over the years… just wait, you’ll see! So I got the little turd out and put him in a refugium as I decided what his fate would be. Let’s not go there.
I started to search for fish that would not typically eat snails but WOULD eat crabs. Why? I had this suspicion he had a brother! Enter the Harlequin Tuskfish. I loved that fish! For as big and scary his teeth were, he was not even the dominant wrasse in my tank. One day, about a week after I bought him, I found remnants of yet ANOTHER reef crab on the substrate. So I blurted out, “WHO’S A GOOD BOY? WHO’S A GOOD BOY? WHOOOOOSE A GOOOOD BOY?!?!” Yes, another weird moment, as my family members looked at me perplexed; since, well, we DIDN’T have a dog!
Upon further research, the Internet supplied more and more horror stories of crabs wreaking havoc in tanks. Reef crabs include Mithrax Crabs (Mithraculus sp.) and Xanthid Crabs, and these are some of the worst culprits. The Mithraculus crabs belong to the Majidae family of “spider crabs”, which has around 200 species in 52 genera. The Xanthidae family is huge, with 133 genera and 572 known species.
A wide variety of marine crabs can be seen here, at Dr. Jungle’s Animal-Image: Saltwater Crabs
Now I am sure there are crab lovers out there, and in certain set ups, hey, go right ahead!
Yes, they are very useful, but only in the ocean. There are many seasoned writers and hobbyists who have written books that will back me up on not keeping crabs in most closed systems. One may say that there are certain crabs like the tiny blue-legged hermits that don’t cause problems. Well, except if you happen to have those little nassarius snails! So YES, I did try those and they started to kill my little nassarius snails that, by the way, were perfectly fine up to that point.
Crabs are opportunistic scavengers, not pets. They are “cute” but the snails in your tank are thinking, “Well, I know one day I will be disemboweled by that heathen.” So the snails sulk away, out of the grip of the new resident… for now.
Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
Good, bad, and best choices for the saltwater aquarium beginner.
As I sit here staring at my 75-gallon semi reef tank, with my Platinum and Picasso Percula Clownfish, Halichoeres Garnoti Wrasse, and Royal Gramma… yes, I’ve started over again after moving… I thought about how I got to this point. I thought that the things I’ve learned, a few good choices along with my newbie mistakes, which started in 2005, might be of use to someone. As I reflect, I realized it wasn’t all bad and I did learn a lot along the way.
My first saltwater tank was a 55-gallon in 2005. The first bit of advice I can give you is that you WILL want corals, so just buy a good light now! You can remove some of the bulbs if you think you are going to have a fish only tank, but you will have all the watts you need when you can’t help but buy that first coral!
Back to my first tank… I read what I could on the internet, and at the time, you could get live Fiji rock on eBay from a reputable dealer for $.99 a pound! Excited to find such a great buy, I did order the 50 lbs of live rock and eagerly awaited its arrival. The tank was set up with the proper salt level of 1.023, and this made sense to me since the ocean is about that or higher.
That was my first good choice. My first bad choice? Well that would be crushed coral. A guy at the LFS (live fish store) who seemed to be knowledgeable on the subject, we will call him Mr. Crushed Coral, told me that this was the best choice. I recall they were out of sand, yet he assured me this was better at keeping the pH up, and yes that made sense to me… at the time, and in certain applications it does have its uses.
One good choice was that a different guy at my LFS, who was actually quite knowledgeable in some areas, told me due to the hot summers here in Vegas, to wait and see what temperature my tank could maintain on its own. He said if 82°F was the lowest you could get it to in the summer, then keep it there! This was good advice due to the fact that keeping it at 78°F in the summer would be near impossible, and the fluctuations between 78°F at night and 82° during the day would cause Crypt and other stresses. I also found from this the best way to medicate your fish in the reef! Read on!
Crushed Coral, Crushed Heart
So I went home, rinsed and then dumped in my crushed coral per Mr. Crushed Coral’s instructions. I also observed where the temperature tended to hover and found that 82°F was the magic number, and set it there. In the meantime, the live rock had been delivered to my house, and it was amazing!
At the 4 week mark I did a 50% water change, as advised by Mr. Crushed Coral, and I saw emerge from the rock, a peanut worm! Coolest, freakiest thing I ever saw… well up to this point. The little dude kind of hung around the rock for the first week after that water change and then decided, “Hey, I need to burrow, because I am a WORM after all!” That did it. The crushed coral sliced and diced up Mr. Wormy in no time as I watched dumbfounded that I thought sand was not the better choice!
Upon further research on the internet, which we all tend to do after a mistake which we never even realized, I found it WAS a mistake. I found that good quality reef sand will also keep up your pH! So I bought this sand and replaced half of the crushed coral initially, then the other half 2 weeks later, to give the bacteria and other creatures a chance to migrate. I also read how crushed coral, especially when several inches deep can hold anaerobic pockets, which can cause issues if released. Lesson learned, note to self… only reef quality sand.
Starfish, Love/Hate Relationships
I was now ready for my clean up crew, which you guessed it, included hermit crabs, snails, and a sand-stirring starfish. Yeah, it was the Mr. Crushed Coral dude, again. Well, one out of 3 creatures in the cleanup crew were not too bad. Why do I say this? Well the hermits systematically hunted and killed all my snails for their shells, so yeah, THERE was money well spent! To this day, I will only add a hermit crab if I have a fish that likes to eat them! Yes I love Harlequin Tuskfish!
I also noticed over the next 12 months my tank seemed unstable. I was testing my saltwater tank daily, almost to an OCD level! Thus my parameters of calcium, magnesium, iodine, etc were all good, no ammonia or nitrites and only about 5 nitrates. I also slowly added fish, at the rate of one every 2 weeks. One day I noticed my sand-stirring starfish had crawled up on a rock, and later that same day, during a conversation with my seawater supplier, I was telling him how my tank just didn’t seem to want to stabilize.
He happened to look in the tank and see the starfish on the rock (at the time I didn’t know it was dead) and he said, “There is your problem! They eat all the good stuff in the sand, and then once it is gone, they starve to death! In a much larger tank they are fine, but not a 55 gallon.” I was like, “Oh great guru, please guide this newbie!” We took out the starfish, uh, okay Sea Star, and to this day I still have it… on my window sill… yeah, I know.
He then sold me some of his live rock from one of his established systems for $2.00 a pound and I got some GREAT stuff! He also gave me copepods, then after a few weeks, my tank was stable! To stir sand, I found the jumbo nassarius snails are best and their babies are adorable! At that point, my sand was being stirred, water was stable and I then had a new brittle starfish that was very cool, eating the extra food the others missed. I loved that starfish! Err, Sea Star. Note to self, don’t even bother with Linckia Starfish.
One bit of information I stumbled upon while talking to an online website who sold fish bears repeating. They told me they purposely keep their tanks at 82°F to prevent the Cryptocaryon life cycle from completing, thus their fish rarely if ever had it! This would explain why I never had Crypt, and why any fish that I added who may have had a few spots never developed any more. I will say to this DAY, when my tank is at 82°F NO ONE gets sick!
To illustrate how harmless 82°F is, around the early part of 2006, my local UPS guy asked if I had a saltwater tank, noting the companies I was ordering from. I showed him my 55-gallon tank and on the spot he offered me, for FREE, a 150-gallon tank! He just finished with the hobby. This was oddly a foreshadowing of what I WOULD BE DOING with tanks over the next decade, but didn’t know it yet! So I continued with the temperature staying at 82°F, and I added more live rock and inhabitants to my 150-gallon reef over time. Eventually I had a Heteractis Magnifica (Magnificent or Ritteri Anemone), 2 Bubble Tips, various SPS (soft polyped stony corals), mushrooms (corallimorphs) zoanthids, one Kenya Tree, and LPS (large polyped stony corals), with all inhabitants, including fish, thriving. Of course, I never had cold-water fish! Note to self… no, you cannot have the Catalina Goby.
One time, back in 2007, I ordered some black perculas… yeah they were HOT back then! One had Brook! Quinine Sulfate, pharmaceutical grade cured one as I treated it in a separate tank, but I lost the male. I bought it from Nationalfishfarm.com and these people are very knowledgeable! One morning I noticed, in my 150-gallon tank, a few of my fish had Crypt, and the temperature was only 77°F because of a failed heater. I had an extra one on hand, but I needed to figure out what to do.
After hours of researching, I settled on Seachem’s Metronidazole and Seachem’s Focus. The idea behind these products was awesome! The food and medication is bound together and will not affect the water chemistry or harm any inverts or bacteria! I used 3 parts Focus (binds the food and the other Seachem medication) to 1 part Metronidazole (used for Crypt and a few other illnesses) to 1 tablespoon of fish food, which can be dry or wet, then stored the leftover in the fridge. Upon following the instructions, my fish recovered very quickly! No need to bomb the tank, remove the fish, or relocate corals! To my horror, upon one of the feedings, my Magnificent Anemone accidentally ATE this mixture of food and medication, (thanks to the clownfish “feeding him”), but nothing ever happened! It is an amazing product! Note to self… check the expiration date on the Metro and Focus…
Next time I will talk about my “charge” mistakes. Fish, corals, or creatures I was talked into buying at the local fish store, and regretted it every day since… but learned a lot from!
Saltwater aquarium success can be yours! Learn how to set up your aquarium with our Saltwater Aquarium Guide, Beginner Saltwater Aquarium Setup and Care. Then select the best fish with our Beginner Saltwater Fish Guide, Hardy Marine Fish for the Beginner’s Saltwater Aquariums.
Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
Good hang-on skimmers for the lower to mid-range budgets!
There are some decent low-to-mid priced protein skimmers, though each has its own little flaws and pluses. Yet there is an aquarist for each one. Some aquarists are simply more willing to mess around with their skimmers, so as Stuart Smalley would say, “and… that’s okay!”
Dating back to my newbie days in 2005 to the present, 2014, there are 3 skimmers that I have the most experience with. These skimmers I can say I have used for well over 6 months to 3 years, which is long enough, I feel, to justify reviewing them. Has it been almost 10 years? Wow, so much has changed in the saltwater world! Today there are amazing thermometers with a computer chip to monitor water temperature, turning it on or off for the exact temperature you want, and now we have LED lighting too. I have tried VHO, T5s, and Metal Halide; various substrates and tank sizes; and I have mixed various fish and seen interesting results.
I think we are all waiting for the “AquaScum 2003″ that dentist P. Sherman bought for his saltwater tank in “Finding Nemo”! Since I don’t like to speak on subjects I am not sure about, or a product I have not experienced, these 3 skimmers are the 3 hang-on or HOB (hang-on-the-back) I have had experience with.
I would put these three skimmers in the low-to-mid budget range and I can tell you that all three did their job. The lowest priced skimmer I used is now $80, it originally cost me $60 in 2005. The mid-range skimmer is about $180 today, and higher priced one runs about $260.
Red Sea Prizm Skimmer
I had a Prizm Skimmer for my first saltwater tank, which was a 55-gallon. Being new to the hobby I had spent quite a bit of money on so many things, including live rock. So of course I did what most newbies do, I bought a budget skimmer.
Mind you, I did do a lot of research on skimmers in the $50 to $100 range before I bought the Prizm Skimmer. I also read the “don’t skimp on the skimmer” suggestion along with countless other suggestions. So I went in knowing that someday I would have to upgrade. In my head, I had calculated that my 55-gallon tank, with 60+ pounds of live rock, would probably only hold about 40 gallons of water. So I decided this skimmer should do the job for now.
One thing I did right was to buy the cylinder shaped Pro Surface Skimmer Box along with the Prizm Pro. I will say, after about a month, the Prizm Pro did quite well for my needs. After weeks of tweaking and fiddling with it, I was able to have it product that dark nasty goo on a daily basis. Understandably, today most of us are very busy and don’t have time to “play” with our skimmers! A “plug and play skimmer,” the Prizm is not!
The surface skimmer box is what pulls in all the oils and goo from the water surface which saltwater fish and corals produce. The Prizm Pro Skimmer utilizes the adjustable height of the Skimmer box very well. Then an 18 blade turbo-Jet air injector sufficiently bubbles up the water to form skimmate for removal. Some nice touches with this skimmer are its slim, low profile and being available for about $100. That will include the surface skimmer box and a media chamber in which you can put carbon if desired.
Coralife Super Skimmer, Needle Wheel Protein Skimmer
By 2006 I was on to my 150-gallon reef tank. My UPS delivery guy kindly gave this huge tank to me. Yeah, that IS cool! He was delivering a package and saw my 55-gallon aquarium and asked if I would be interested in a 150-gallon tank. Of course I responded, “Why, YES I would, good sir!”
So my research for a new skimmer started up again. It needed to be another hang-on model because there were no drill holes in my new tank for a sump. Due to the location of the tank, size or bulk was not an issue. For inhabitants I had a Magnificent Anemone Heteractis Magnifica, which was about 5″ across when I bought it, and reaching 18″ across by the time it grew up. On top of that I had many other corals and lots of fish.
After a lot of research I settled on needle wheel technology, and purchased the Coralife Super Skimmer Needle Wheel 220, rated for 220 gallons. By now I had learned a few things about skimmers, so I knew that over sizing them slightly was not a bad idea. This skimmer pulled out some of the foulest smelling dark goo I had seen!
Yes, it works and it works well. On the downside, there was again, a lot of fiddling and tweaking. Inconveniently, you must turn the dial that is used for the bubble/skimming levels down all the way in order to clean the cup. This was a bit annoying, since it could take some time to find that exact “sweet spot” again for maximum goo removal! A simple fix that came to mind after the first few cleanings, was to mark the spot where the dial was set with a black magic marker, making it easy to find the original spot the red dial was set. The only time I had an issue with this skimmer was when I used products that caused mass skimmate production. And that is not the fault of the skimmer, but rather user error!
Even though the Coralife Needle Wheel Skimmer does not have a “surface” skimmer, it did quite well at producing that yuck we all want out of our tanks. By using the needle-wheel system with an aspirating Venturi, it caused tons of micro-bubbles and increased contact time, which is needed to be effective. Yes, initially there will be micro-bubbles in the tank, but don’t fret. Some adjustments, doing the hokey pokey, and making a few calls to Coralife will fix the problem. Their customer care is great.
Once you have it dialed in this is truly a great skimmer for the money. Currently the Coralife Needle Wheel Skimmer comes in a 65 gallon size for under $100, a 125 gallon size for about $150, and the 220 gallon size for about for $180.
AquaC Remora Protein Skimmer
Fast forwarding several years, I downsized my tank to a 60-gallon and again bought a Coralife. Due to limited space however, I needed to buy a new skimmer so the tank was not so far from the wall. This is when I bought the AquaC Remora Series Protein Skimmer. Currently, I have an AquaC Remora Pro Hang-On Skimmer rated for 50 to 120 gallons on my 75-gallon tank. I will say it gets out some nasty stuff, even with only 3 fish and 60 pounds of live rock!
What can I say… this is a great skimmer. This one IS “plug and play”, no muss no fuss! There is a break in period, as with all skimmers, but for the most part just adjust the collection cup for a darker or lighter skimmate (like you would the other two), and you’re done! The AquaC Remora uses a spray-injection. This is a powerful, high-pressure, air-induction spray that causes enormous amounts of goo removing bubbles.
I also purchased the skimmer box, which neatly hid the pump. This produced a lot of gooey icky skimmate and was easy to adjust by adding a thick round rubber band around the square cup. When it comes time to clean the skimmer cup you need to be careful not to move this band. However it isn’t a big deal if you do move it because the skimmer responds quickly to adjustments. The boxes are sized appropriately for the differently sized skimmers and pumps. You can also use the smaller pump and the smaller box with the larger skimmer, but that would just be silly. The square design does make it a little more challenging to clean, but hey, if that is the worst of it, I’ll take it. Plus this skimmer will not overflow!
The AquaC Remora Pro Hang-On also has a drain option for both sizes, which will drain into a 5-gallon container that is hidden under the tank. I recommend getting it, especially for those vacation days. But if you choose not to use the drain, you can just turn it upward and put a plug on it. The body of the skimmer has a special cut out area for the drain plug so this is not something you can do yourself.
I honestly struggled with my decision when it came to buying a skimmer for my present 75 gallon tank. Would I buy a Coralife or another AquaC Remora Pro Skimmer? Well, the flat, wide rectangular design of the AquaC won me over. After all, the tank is already intruding in a walkway of my house, and if I added the Coralife, I may have had to build a bridge over my tank! Okay, so it isn’t THAT bad! One thing I also like about the AquaC is there are just 2 small sections you have to cut out of that black strip in the back of your glass lid if you have a cover! I am planning to buy a Snake Eel, and I need a completely sealed top! Upon researching the AquaC Remora Pro Skimmer, I stumbled across an ad in my local Craigslist! I scored one that was only a few years old for LESS than 1/2 of the retail price!
Their customer service is second to none! The skimmer started to produce aa lot of excess, foamy skim production that was basically a clearish tan. Perplexed, I called their customer service number only to find out the culprit was a product called “Instant Ocean de-chlor” which is great, but has a “slime protection” for the fish. They said most skimmers over skim when this type of de-chlor is added, so avoid any that say “slime coat or slime protection.” Besides the fact, our saltwater fish don’t really need that like freshwater fish do! I had forgotten that little bit of information! You will typically speak to the inventor or one of his well-qualified employees! He was happy to help me, knowing full well I got this last AquaC on Craigslist! I told him that just to see what his reaction would be and he could care less where I got it, but just that I was happt with the product!
The AquaC Remora Hang-On for 20 to 75 gallons runs about $160 and the larger AquaC Remora Pro, for 50 to 120 gallons, runs about $250. An additional $10 buys the Pro Hang-On with the drain fitting. AquaC now has a “new and improved” Remora-S for 20 to 75 gallons. I have not used that one, so I cannot comment on it, but it is supposed to be even better.
Getting the best with your skimmer
Removing the goo from the aquarium is important. Yet too large of a skimmer on any tank can cause over skimming, which is not good for your tank. There are natural things found in the water that corals and other organisms need to thrive. Many suggest, especially in Europe, that you turn the skimmer off at night once the tank is well established. Some find their corals do better with this action. Yet if the skimmer is under powered, turning it off at night wouldn’t be necessary. So basically this suggestion needs to be tempered with the size of the skimmer, the contents or bioload of the aquarium, and the tank size.
Gladly, many companies are now stating the size of the skimmer based on the size of the tank and it’s bio-load, which is very responsible! This makes a skimmer purchase almost dummy proof, and that is great because no hobbyist wants to buy the wrong thing.
What are your protein skimmer experiences? We all should experiment to find a happy medium with skimming, and with discovery, share our new observations with others. This is how we all learn because no one knows everything! Happy skimming!
Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
Animal-World proudly features: Fairy Wrasses, an aquarium fairyland at its best!
These gorgeous fish came into my life shortly after I started into the saltwater hobby. Fairy Wrasses quickly became my personal favorite finned fish when they first began to appear many years ago. They have held a special place in my heart ever since!
Initially Fairy Wrasses were not too expensive but then prices started to soar for a few years. Now they are at a moderate to very high price, depending on the species you want. Still they never disappoint and each species seems to have a little bit of a unique personality. Sometimes it’s a decision between paying the electric bill and buying a wrasse. Yes, it is an illness!
The Cirrhilabrus (which is their genus name) are very easy to care for. They are also easily trained to eat out of your hand, given time and patience. Then every time you walk by the tank they scream “look how pretty I am, feed me!” So hey, throw in a little smidgen of food if you want because their super energy bodies appreciate it.
The only down side to keeping a Fairy Wrasse is that they love to carpet surf. Being avid jumpers they can quickly leap out of the tank. This is easy to prevent however, if you are careful about their tank mates and provide a lid of some kind. An awesome trait is that they are fairly disease resistant, and sleeping in a slimy cocoon at night helps them in this capacity too.
Choosing Your Fairy Wrasse
A great thing about the Cirrhilabrus species is that there will always be a color and size that will fit in your tank. If you have a 20 inch long aquarium, choose from the smaller 2.6″ to 3″ species, but if you have a larger tank, you can choose from the wrasses that are over 3″.
One of the smaller species is the 2.6″ Yellowfin Fairy Wrasse Cirrhilabrus flavidorsalis and a large wrasse would be the 5.1″ Scott’s Fairy Wrasse C. scottorum.
Some the most outstandingly colored wrasses, and a few favorites, are the Laboute’s Wrasse Cirrhilabrus laboutei which has amazing striping and the Flame Wrasse C. jordani with intense sunset colorings of red, orange and yellow. The Purple-Lined or Lavender Fairy Wrasse C. lineatus is beautifully adorned with yellow and red fins on a greenish yellow body with blue to purple lines. Another favorite is the Temminck’s Wrasse C. Temminckii, who seems to have the qualities of a flasher wrasse. Its body has many colors of the rainbow with bluish green dotted lines along the top, reflecting the reef line in your tank. It’s not hard to see why these are some of the most sought after fairy wrasses, and their price tags reflect that fact!
Fairy Wrasses range in price from $15.00 to $250.00 each. The color, but also the depths at which they are found, add to the price. Those that are found at very deep levels of the ocean are the ones that are the most expensive. They are also the ones who are very susceptible to improper collection, and because of this have the highest mortality rate, usually within a month of purchase. Who wants to come home to a $250.00 fish that is now dead because of carelessness? I sure wouldn’t! So keep that scenario in the back of your mind and demand a guarantee on these pricey fish.
Wrasses come in so many colors and patterns that even a tighter budget can allow for similarly colored, yet cheaper version of each. For example, if you want a fish with green or blue, the Indonesian Scott’s Fairy Wrasse C. scottorum will run you up to and over $100.00 USD. Yet the Solar or Red Headed Fairy Wrasse C. solorensis, which is my personal favorite, is similarly colored and will only cost around $40.00 to $50.00 USD. If you want a little red or orange, you can choose the Jordani Wrasse at $250.00 for a super male, or a $35.00 Redfinned Fairy Wrasse C. rubripinnis. How about pink? The Laboutes’ Fairy Wrasse has some pink, but is again very expensive. On the other hand, the Lubbocki’s Fairy Wrasse has similar coloring but is one of the least expensive. The Laboute’s patterning is by far more amazing though.
Keeping Your Fairy Wrasse Happy and Healthy
If you are limited on space but you are chomping at the bit to own a fairy wrasse, no problem. The smaller species will do well in a 30-gallon, or even a 20 inch long. They are movers and shakers though, so will do better with length over depth in a tank configuration. The larger species need at least 55 gallons, which should be at least 4′ long.
Be sure to have a lid on the aquarium. These wrasses do jump, and they will carpet surf at some point if the tank isn’t covered. An Atlantic Tang juvenile actually sparred with my Solar Fairy Wrasse, and chased him up and out of the tank!
The substrate is also no problem; you can choose whatever substrate you want. In fact you don’t need substrate since the Cirrhilabrus species do not bury themselves at night. They spin a slimy cocoon to sleep in. Provide lots of rockwork with crevices or caves for them to spin their cocoon in at night. The cocoon prevents their scent from being detected by predators, but will not affect water quality. Speaking of water quality, Fairy wrasses are quite disease resistant, but dirty tanks can still result in a sick wrasse, so be sure to do proper maintenance.
Fairy Wrasses are very active, and with that high-energy output there needs to be quality input. Provide them with a wide variety of meaty foods and feed them several times a day. The more you feed them, the less they will be inclined to chow on any copepods you have built up over the months. In smaller tanks you may need to add copepods periodically.
These wrasses don’t usually fill up too much on copepods when there’s lots of rockwork unless you have a large number of wrasses. I had about 5 fairy wrasses and a mandarin in a 150-gallon tank that was teaming with copepods, and the copepod numbers never seemed to dwindle. Other species, like Halichoeres Wrasses, are much harder on copepod populations.
Fairy Wrasses Enjoy Lots of Companions
Here are some considerations for keeping different Fairy Wrasse species together: Fairy Wrasses are some of the few saltwater fish where you can easily mix species. A great thing about keeping Cirrhilabrus wrasses together, is that there is no fight to the death, just chasing. Then after a hierarchy is established, life goes on. At the very worst a dominant wrasse will chase, and then the subordinate fish will hide. I had a Solar Fairy Wrasse that hid for a week under a rock when I added the Scott’s Fairy Wrasse. The Solar Fairy eventually got used to the idea and came out. You will only need to remove a subordinate fish if the chasing situation has not resolved itself in over 2 weeks.
You can keep multiple Cirrhilabrus species if you follow a few guidelines. First, the tank should be larger than the minimum size. When mixing sizes, the 2.6″ fairy wrasses like the Lubbock’s C. lubbocki and Longfin or Social Fairy Wrasse C. rubriventralis, should be added first and become established before adding wrasses in the 4″ size category.
The Solar or Red Headed Fairy Wrasse C. solorensis is an exception, it can be added at the same time. What I really like about the Solar Fairy Wrasse is that although it is one of the bigger ones, they seem to do okay with the smaller species because they have more mellow personalities. They will get along with the larger wrasses too.
Allow several months for the smaller wrasses to grow a little and adjust. Add the largest 5″ fairy wrasse species last, and add them as small juveniles so they are similar in size to your smaller and more timid wrasses. These larger ones would be like the Scott’s Fairy Wrasse C. scottorum, Temminck’s Fairy Wrasse C. temminckii, and Yellowstreak Fairy Wrasse C. Luteovittatus. I suggest that order for these larger wrasses because experience showed me the C. Luteovittatus can be quite aggressive, and that was in a 150-gallon tank!
If you are unsure about compatibility between species, or do not want to try and remove fish after adding them, your safest bet is to not house smaller wrasses, that are only 2 1/2″ to about 3”, with the larger 5″ wrasses that are more aggressive. You can house 4 – 5″ wrasses together without a problem provided you add the 5″ size last, and after the 4″ sized wrasses are settled and older.
Adding two females has resulted in one turning male for many an aquarist, though they may not become a “super male”. Super males are a premium fish with the most outstanding coloration, as reflected by the money you pay for them.
Keeping Fairy Wrasses with other fish: Cirrhilabrus species get along with most other fish, except the very aggressive fish that may bite at them if they enter their territory like dottybacks. Do not house them with fish large enough to swallow them whole.
Here are a couple other considerations for other fish you may want to house with Cirrhilabrus species:
- Do not house with flasher wrasses Paracheilinus spp., since for some reason, the Fairy Wrasses do not tolerate them. It may be they are competing for similar foods. Very small fairy wrasses may be okay with flasher wrasses, but that is only in a very large tank over 100 gallons or at least 5′ long.
- Smaller Halichoeres species will be attacked by fairy wrasses as well. Keeping species of these two genus together may work as juveniles, but only if the Halichoeres is larger. Halichoeres Wrasses differ in their sleeping behaviors too, they do bury themselves in sand while the Cirrhilabrus species do not.
You just can’t go wrong with a Fairy Wrasse. They rarely are the troublemakers of the tank, and if they are, it’s with their own kind. So save those pennies and buy your future favorite fish!
Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
Ask your favorite Wrasse about it’s sleeping tips!
Humans have many methods and tricks they can employ to help them sleep, but for a saltwater wrasse it’s dependent on its particular sleeping behavior. It may surprise you to know that not all wrasses bury themselves in the sand at night! When keeping saltwater wrasses, either a high-rise condo or a sand flat could be the place of choice.
Each of the various wrasse species beds down at night in a particular area of the tank, either the sub-level or the upper-level. In fact, there are an equal amount of wrasses that sleep in the sand and sleep in the rockwork. Out of the rockwork sleepers, a few genuses will even spin a mucus cocoon to mask their scent from predators!
Knowing the habitat requirements of an individual species can be confusing though, as retailers themselves aren’t always sure or may just assume they all bury themselves. The best way to prepare a proper home for your new wrasse is to know which genus’ bury themselves in the sand and which genus’ just sleep in caves and crevices among the rockwork.
Facts about wrasse sleeping behaviors and protective strategies
Sand-sleeping Wrasses: Wrasses that bury themselves at night are undisturbed by most nocturnal predators. Yet there are some predators that use sonar to locate creatures under the sand, and those pose the greatest risk to buriers. But even if detected, most of the time the wrasse has a chance to shoot out of the sand in an attempt to escape. Still there may be another predator swimming by just looking to take advantage of an unearthed morsel!
During the day, these wrasses will also take refuge in the sand if they feel threatened. Juveniles may also stay in the sand during growth changes. My Halichoeres garnoti, right before a growth spurt and color change, will stay in the sand for most of the day. So don’t get too worried and go looking for your juvenile buriers, they are just getting some extra sleep!
Cocoon Spinning Wrasses: The wrasses that spin mucus cocoons have an interesting strategy. They not only sleep in their cocoon, but it masks their scent from predators. Being in a cocoon still allows these wrasses to be alert to any predators that may find them accidentally, and it allows them a chance to escape quickly. This is an advantage over many other reef fish that are just hiding in the rock, as they are subject to getting flushed out and ambushed by night predators.
Cave and Crevice Sleeping Wrasses: The last group consists of the wrasses that, like other fish in the reef, will just hide in caves at night. Certain genus’ that sleep in the rockwork without a mucus cocoon will still hide in the sand if frightened, but they do not sleep in the sand.
What about the substrate?
What to use for a substrate is really one of the very first decisions you will make as a new saltwater aquarist. You’ll need to decide if you should you use a sand or crushed coral, both, or none. Thinking of your future inhabitants and their needs will help you make the best decision.
If you are going to have a wrasse that buries itself, whether out of fear or at night, sand is really your only choice. Personally, I feel about 2″ to 3″ of sand is by far the most superior substrate, and a sand designed for marine tanks can help keep the pH high. Though people like crushed coral for various reasons, it can lacerate your pet, causing sores, infection, and possibly death if not treated immediately. Crushed coral also tends to compact and needs to be mechanically stirred to keep debris from getting stuck and then rotting.
Bare bottom or Berlin tanks will work fine for wrasses that spin cocoons at night to sleep in, or who just sleep in the rockwork like other fish. But this type of tank is not the best choice for the wrasses who bury themselves at night or when frightened. These wrasses need that security or they will stress and eventually become sick, because that is what stressed fish do! One option is to add a sand filled plastic bowel that is longer than your wrasse but is at least 3″ deep. Believe me, your wrasse will find that bowl! This is also a great idea in a quarantine tank.
Sleeping behaviors for various wrasse species
This quick reference guide will help you decide which genus you want, and what substrate is the best. Below are wrasses grouped by sleeping habits. Some wrasses go sub-level at night and some stay in the upper levels within the rock.
They are listed by the common names given for a group or an individual species, followed by the genus name. Those with an asterisk * by their genus name do not sleep in the sand at night, but will still hide in the sand during the day if startled. These fish are also very active and have to rest during the day, so don’t get worried if they are resting on the sand or in the rockwork.
- Candycane Wrasses / Ring Wrasses: (Genus Hologymnosus)
- Chiseltooth Wrasse: (Genus Pseudodax)
- Coris Wrasses: (Genus Coris)
- DragonWrasse: (Genus Novaculichthys)
- Halichoeres Wrasses: (Genus Halichoeres)
- Leopard Wrasses: (Genus Macropharyngodon)
- Pencil Wrasses: (Genus Pseudojuloides)
- Tamarin Wrasses: Genus Anampses
- Razorfish group 1: (Genus Cymolutes)
- Razorfish group 2: (Genus Hemipteronotus)
- Razorfish group 3: (Genus Iniistius)
- Razorfish group 4: (Genus Xyrichtys)
- Rockmover Wrasses: (Genus Novaculichthys)
Cocoon Mucus Spinners:
- Fairy Wrasses: (Genus Cirrhilabrus)
- Flasher Wrasses: (Genus Paracheilinus)
- Lined Wrasses: (Genus Pseudocheilinus)
Cave and Crevice Sleepers:
- Banana Wrasse: (Genus Thalassoma)*
- Bird Wrasses: (Genus Gomphosus)*
- Cleaner Wrasses: (Genus Labroides)
- Hogfish: (Genus Bodianus)*
- Maori Wrasses: (Genus Oxychilinus)
- Possum Wrasses: (Genus Wetmorella)
- Ribbon Wrasse: (Genus Stethojulis)
- Secretive Wrasse: (genus Pteragogus)
- Tuskfish: (Genus Choerodon)
- Thicklip Wrasses: (Genus Hemigymnus)*
So keep this handy as a quick reference. Wrasses have amazing personalities, with each genus being different from the others. Their constant movement makes them very enjoyable to watch!
Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.
Animal-World’s Newest Featured Animals are: The Amazing Spotted Snake Eels!
Out of all the salt-water fish I have ever owned, I have to say the Snake Eels of the Myrichthys genus have always been my favorites! Watching them bury under the sand, leaving just their head sticking out, is the funkiest thing you’ll ever see. But the coolest part of owning them is that they will eat silversides right from your hand! And if they accidentally grab your finger, it never hurts becuase they grab and swallow their prey rather than biting it.
I will refer to these as Spotted Snake Eels, because, well they are spotted! Two similar species are the Spotted or Tiger Snake Eel Myrichthys maculosus and the Magnificent Snake Eel Myrichthys magnificus, and these two are similar in care as well. Both are a creamy off white with large brown spots all over their bodies. But the Magnificent Snake Eel is a light tan color with large brown spots while the Tiger Snake Eel seems to be more of a creamy white and with slightly smaller dark brown spots.
In the wild Snake Eels are very friendly to divers, readily coming up to them and investigating. The Spotted or Tiger Snake Eel is found in the Indo-Pacific and the Magnificent Snake Eel is found in the Eastern Central Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands. So if you were diving there on vacation, you may very well have seen this eel.
Many retailers and people confuse the Spotted Snake Eels with the Sharptail Snake Eel Myrichthys breviceps, which is nowhere near as attractive. The Spotted ones can be readily distinguished because the spots on their faces are also large, unlike the tiny dots you will find on the Sharptail Snake Eel. Another member, the Banded Snake Eel Myrichthys columbrinus, is banded in black and white, but is also similar in care.
Spotted Snake Eels make great pets!
I own the Spotted or Tiger Snake Eel M. maculosus. Of course we named ours “Spot” because well, what else are you going to name one? This eel is great at stirring the sand bed and as a juvenile it came out every day to eat, although as an adult it only comes out every other day to eat. When it comes out to eat it will swim around the tank, which either elates or scares whoever is visiting our home at the time!
Although they are said to be hard to feed, personally I have never had one refuse thawed frozen krill or silversides. I feed 2 or 3 skinny silversides at a time, or until it is full, and then they’re good to go! After filling their bellies, they will bury themselves under the sand until they get hungry again.
The Spotted Snake Eels will grow up to about 30″ (78 cm) in length, but the girth of their body is similar to the girth of your thumb. Due to their skinny girth, they do not produce as much waste as a full-bodied eel of the same length. Consequently they are not as sensitive to water conditions as butterflyfish or angelfish types, which adds to the joy of owning one.
The most difficult thing about their care is that they are incredible escape artists, making Houdini look like an idiot! The one thing to be aware of is tank decor and equipment that offers any type of escape. If you can stick your finger in a hole, such as in some water pumps, the Spotted Snake Eel will more than likely be able to go through as well. The worst thing they will do in a reef tank is knock a coral over, but most aquarists know how to secure corals. My Snake Eel has never ever gone after any of my fish, and has not bothered any invertebrates.
Finding a Spotted Snake Eel will take some work and they are not cheap. But if you have a tank that has a tight fitting lid and are willing to make sure they are fed daily or every other day when adults, then go for it! With any of the Myrichthys species you will enjoy the oddity of their behavior, and a pet like quality that differs from the typical saltwater fish!
Tips for housing Spotted Snake Eels in the saltwater aquarium
A tank that is at least 4 feet or longer is best for these thin elongated fish. They are great with normal tropical water temperatures and pH and they are not picky about any light or water movement. It is obvious by their burrowing habits that a sand bed is needed. Larger, more abrasive substrates such as crushed coral may lacerate their skin. Mine have always done well with 2″ of sand.
Be sure you have the aquarium covered with a very tight fitting lid. To prevent escape you must be able to seal off the top of the tank with only enough room for tubing to fit. Egg crate lids will not work as these eels can wiggle right through them as juveniles and young adults. They will come out looking for food and if they find a hole, will wiggle right through it and out of the tank!
The best tank is one that is completely sealed on top with an overflow. Make sure they cannot go over the edge of the over flow, because they will! The teeth or grating of the overflow at the top should reach and meet the lid, with no gaps. Most saltwater tanks are open on top because of the need for air exchange at the surface. When keeping a Spotted Snake Eel, you can add oxygen into the tank by adding an air pump and using fittings that make large bubbles instead. It is a little messier, but then what saltwater tank isn’t a little messy anyway?
If you have a pump that has any open holes at the bottom or sides, then it is just a matter of time before the eel will wiggle into it. It can get killed that way. Sicce Voyager pumps are better than Hydora Korolia pumps to use with these eels because they do not have any open holes that an eel can wiggle into.
Tips for feeding Spotted Snake Eels
As far as feeding them, it has been observed that they are very smart and will look for food in the same spot each time! My first Spotted Snake Eel I had when I was a noob saltwater tank owner. I hand fed it at the top of the water. So one day we came home and Spot was dried up on the floor. He was probably popping his head out of the water looking for food and jetted himself right out and over! My next Spotted Snake Eel, which I obtained years later, is fed at the bottom of the tank in a little rock opening. Consequently he only goes there in search of food.
Health Tips for Spotted Snake Eels
Spotted Snake Eels are disease resistant, but with no scales, so don’t treat their tank with any copper medications. If it should happen that you find your seemingly “dead” snake eel out of its tank, do NOT assume it is dead. Put it back in the tank for at least an hour. They have a defense mechanism that protects them from exposure to air for several hours. I learned this the hard way!
Carrie McBirney is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.