Aiptasia Anemones can be quite attractive, but they are also a real nuisance and reek havoc to reef tanks!
The name Aiptasia means “Beautiful”. Although these little anemones are unpopular with reef hobbyists because of their ability to take over the aquarium, they really can be quite nice looking. They are smaller anemones that only get to be about 1″ (3 cm) in diameter and 3 – 4″ (7.5 – 10 cm) tall depending on the species. Most specimens are actually much smaller then that too.
Their body form is the polyp. It is composed of a pedal disc or ‘foot’ with which the Aiptasia attaches to the substrate. It has a smooth, elongated body column with an oral disc on top. This disk has a mouth with many long stinging tentacles surrounding it.
Aiptasia, often called “weedy” anemones, are found in tropical and temperate waters around the globe. They live in a relatively wide range of salinities, temperatures, and other water quality conditions.
Just like corals, Aiptasia anemones are host to zooxanthellae, a minute dinoflagellate algae of the genus Symbiodinium that lives within their body tissues and gives them their coloring. In a symbiotic relationship, the zooxanthellae provides food for the anemone. In turn the anemone offers protection and provides nutrients for the algae.
There are 17 species in the Aiptasia Genus. The species that are well known are the Glass AnemoneA. pulchella, Brown Glass Anemone or Pale AnemoneA. pallida, Small Rock AnemoneA. diaphana, and the Rock Anemone or Trumpet AnemoneA. mutabilis.
To reduce and control pesky Aiptasia in your saltwater aquarium, biological approaches such as fish that eat aiptasia or crabs, shrimps, nudibranchs to eat glass anemones, and more can be used. Also various manufactured chemicals and household products can be used.
SeeAiptasia Pests – Getting Rid of Glass Anemonesfor more information.
Sea Anemone Facts
Sea Anemone Species: The Aiptasia genus was described by J. L. Chr. Gravenhorst in 1831. They belong in the family Aiptasiidae and there are 17 species in this Genus. This genus is not on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.
Common names Aiptasia anemones are known by in general include Glassrose Anemone, Glass Anemone, Pale Anemone, Rock Anemone, Trumpet Anemone, Brown Glass Anemone, Small Rock Anemone, Yellow Anemone, Tube Anemone, Aiptasia Anemone, Devil’s Plague, Pest Anemone, and Aptasia.
The best known Aiptasia species are:
- Aiptasia pallida = Brown Glass Anemone, Pale Anemone
- Aiptasia pulchella = Glass Anemone
- Aiptasia diaphana = Small Rock Anemone
- Aiptasia mutabilis = Rock Anemone, Trumpet Anemone
Where are Sea Anemones Found: The Aiptasia genus consists of a wide variety of species that are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. They specific data points are found in the Western Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean from Bermuda to South America, in the North Western Pacific east to Hawaii, in the Mediterranean and in the Red Sea.
Sea Anemone Habitat: Aiptasia Anemones are found in shallow waters along protected coasts and along intertidal rocky or mangrove lined shorelines. They will also form dense colonies in areas of shallow water, sometimes so dense they look like solid sheets. They are found alone attached to rubble, mangrove roots, dead corals, and other hard substrates. They occur in deep water too, where there is good tidal action. All species are commonly found with live rock.
Sea Anemones Life Cycles: It is unknown how long they live, but they do reproduce quickly. A mature Aiptasia Anemones can produce dozens of juveniles in a single day if well fed.
Appearance of a Sea Anemone
What do sea anemones look like?: The Glass Anemones are smaller anemones. They can get to be about 1″ (3 cm) in diameter and 4″ (10 cm) tall depending on the species, though most specimens are much smaller. Their body form is the polyp. It is composed of a smooth, elongated body column with an oral disc on top that has a mouth in the center. There are tons of long stinging tentacles positioned in narrow rings on the outer margin of the oral disc. If it feels threatened, quick as a whip, an aiptasia will rapidly retract its tentacles becoming a very small ball, and it will retract into its hole or crevice.
How do glass anemones move?: The Aiptasia has a pedal disc or ‘foot’ with which it attaches to the substrate. If tank conditions are not ideal Aiptasia use their “foot” to move along the substrate. They will contract the circular muscles of the foot and push forward, or they may crawl on their side, moving about 4 cm per hour. Aiptasia will often opt to simply disconnect and float around, or swim by moving in a spiral motion, until they find a new spot to adhere too.
Zooxanthellae and sea anemone color: The coloring of Aiptasia anemones is due to the presence of endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae) in the the body tissues. This color will vary depending on the the amount of light the aiptasia is kept under. Those found in waters well lit by the sun are usually light greenish brown to dark brown. Those that live in less sunlit environments will have a transparent appearance and be a medium to light brown or tan in color. The column is often marked with light lines, and there can be white flecks near the tentacles.
Sea Anemone Care
How do we get aiptasia?: Aiptasia is an anemone that saltwater hobbyists don’t purchase, rather they are accidentally introduced into a saltwater system as a hitchhiker on live rock or attached to the base of corals. Unless planning to cultivate this anemone, you would not knowingly purchase live rock or corals with aiptasia on it. However, they can be difficult to see. They are small and will quickly retract when disturbed, hiding inside small crevices and holes in the rock. They can hide for weeks or even months until conditions are suitable before coming out.
Hardy aquarium anemones: All species of the Aiptasia Genus are easy to care for. Aiptasia anemones, though very small, have proven quite hardy and durable. They have the ability to reproduce rapidly in saltwater aquariums where there are plenty of nutrients and good lighting. Aiptasia can reach plague proportions in captivity. Some aquarists use aiptasia in their refugiums to take out nutrients from the water.
What do sea anemones eat: The Glass Anemone is a carnivore. In the wild Aiptasia derive nutrition from their symbiotic alge, zooxanthellae, as well as from the water around them. They use their tentacles to capture organic matter that floats by, then insert the food into their mouths for ingestion. They generally eat zooplankton, but will always accept other foot particles.
Aquarium parameters: The typical reef environment is best for these anemones. Like most anemone species, they need live rock or some other solid material they can attach to. Aiptasia are hardy aquarium anemones that can survive even in dark conditions and will flourish in poor water-quality environments rich in organic nutrients. Water changes of 10% bi-monthly or 20% a month are typical for most anemones, but with Aiptasia, the more nutrients you have the happier it will be.
Using aiptasia in refugiums to take out nutrients can be effective, yet it can also be risky if any parts of an aiptasia migrates to the main tank through the filtration. In a refugium use screening to prevent free floating aiptasia from migrating to your main tank. Be sure to have all of your pumps covered. Most good quality pumps have guards on them.
- Minimum Tank Size / Length: 1 gallon (3.8 L)
- Marine Lighting – How much light for anemones: The will thrive in bright light, but even under poor lighting aiptasia anemones will survive.
- Temperature: 68° – 86° F (20° – 30° C) Has been known to endure even wider ranges of temperatures than these.
- Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 to 1.025
- Water Movement: Low to Moderate
- Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium, attached to hard surfaces.
Compatibility and Social Behaviors
Why are glass anemones harmful? The weedy Aiptasia is an anemone that saltwater hobbyists don’t purchase, rather they are accidentally introduced into a saltwater system as a hitchhiker on live rock or attached to the base of corals. They are able to out compete other species in the reef tank. When disturbed they eject dangerous white stinging threads, or acontia. By using venomous cells or nematocyst found in their tentacles, they sting and push other inhabitants away from their “turf”. They have strong stings that can harm, and even kill other corals and fish.
Pros and cons of keeping Aiptasia: There are pros and cons to the durable nature of Aptasia in captivity.
- Hobbyist Perspective: To most saltwater aquarists Aiptasia are considered a nuisance. They pose great difficulties to a reef environment as they harm other tank mates and quickly overgrow the environment. Their rapid reproduction makes them extremely difficult to control.
Attempts to remove them often results in small pieces being left behind, which then become new anemones and the process continues. However, some hobbyists do use them in refugiums to take out nutrients from the water.
- Research Perspective:
On the other hand, being easy to grow in the laboratory, makes Aiptasia specimens ideal in the scientific world. The Aiptasia species are a model system for research and study of their unique adaptations. They are being researched extensively both for medical uses and to learn about their ocean environment.
Some examples where Aiptasia species research is being used are on cloning and DNA, for factors affecting zooplankton feeding, and as a method of using stinging cells in skin creams to deliver insulin to diabetics in a needle-free way. They are also are being used as experimental models for coral bleaching and the regulation of symbiosis. They have helped provided valuable insight to the survival of corals and coral reef ecosystems.
Breeding and Reproduction: Propagating aiptasia anemones is fairly easy, just cut a piece off and it will grow. Anemones in general can multiply by sexual and asexual means. Aiptasia will multiply asexually by fission, which is where a tiny bit of tissue detached from the foot quickly develops into a new and complete anemone. Aiptasia anemones will tolerate their own “clones”, and these anemones are very prolific. This is why it is very difficult to physically remove these anemones from a rock. Any remaining tissues quickly multiply into to new specimens.
Studies of A. pallida and A. pulchella have determined that individuals are dioecious, meaning that individuals are of separate sexes. However, sexual reproduction has not been described for the species. They may also reproduce using male and female sex glands. This results in the production of ciliated planula larvae which will eventually fall to the sea floor, develop a pedal disk, then begin to grow into a new anemone.
Getting Rid of Glass Anemones
There are various ways to reduce and control aiptasia populations. Sea anemone predators provides a natural, biological method of controlling and possibly eliminating Aiptasia anemones. One of the best known methods is using nudibranchs to eat glass anemones. Of all the sea anemone predators, the Nudibranch Berghia verrucicornis is a great choice because it only feeds on Aiptasia.
Regular and time consuming manual removal is often required so that an aquarium is not overrun by dense populations of Aiptasia. Other methods of aiptasia control include chemical removal and the more risky method of physical removal. There are important considerations when using either of these two methods.
For information on sea anemone predators, and the chemical and physical methods of Aiptasia removal and control, see: Aiptasia Pests – Getting Rid of Glass Anemones.