Index of Species
by Phil C. Henderson
Many hobbyist's first attempt
at keeping marine fish involves the keeping of clownfish. Most are colorful,
they have an interesting swimming motion, they are inexpensive and they
are relatively hardy. Soon after the purchase of their clownfish many
of those same people decide that their clownfish need an anemone. This
is where many aquarist meet with their first failure. They find that even
given good water conditions and good lighting their anemone still dies
six to eight months later for no apparent reason. If the anemone does
live, they may find they have a healthy clownfish and a beautiful anemone
and neither one will have anything to do with the other. In this article
I hope to give you some information that will help you to avoid these
This information was gathered
from over 30 aquarists like yourselves (some of them relatively famous)
who have responded to my questions via the Internet (a worldwide computer
network which has bulletin board services where aquarium related questions
can by posted and answered), every clownfish host anemone book or scientific
article I could get my hands on (and there aren't very many on keeping
anemones out there), and Aquarists in charge of the tropical tanks at
several public aquariums. When discussing the anemones I will give the
scientific name first and then as many common names as I can before the
information. (please understand that until recently not even the scientific
names had been standardized) I don't mean to imply that my information
is highly scientific; 30 people is hardly a good sampling. Hopefully those
of you reading this article will be inspired to send me your experiences
even if to tell me that you have had the same experiences.
First let me offer you some
general anemone keeping tips:
The degree to which you are successful
in keeping anemones may depend a great deal on your ability to chose a healthy
one from the dealers tank. This is easier said than done. Some things are
pretty obvious. Anemones with open, loose mouths, deflated tentacles, or
torn bases should be avoided. Other things may be less obvious. White transparent
color in an otherwise healthy anemone may mean that it has expelled all
its zooxanthellae and that it may be perfectly fine for up to 9 months before
it gradually starts to waste away. Short stubby tentacles on an anemone
that is supposed to have long thin tentacles, even though it looks healthy
otherwise, may mean it has already started to decline. If the anemone is
not attached to anything in the dealers tank, it may have difficulty attaching
to something in your tank and probably won't survive long. Watch as the
dealer removes your anemone from his tank. If the anemone doesn't contract
a little or react in some way, it is not a robust anemone. Lastly, if the
anemones is not at least a little sticky to the touch, it may have lost
the ability to fire its stinging cells (nematocysts), which means it will
be difficult, if not impossible, to feed.
One of the unfortunate things
about many of the hard to keep anemones especially, is that they seem
to have a very slow metabolism. They are very slow to let us know that
they are unhappy and by the time we notice, they may already be too far
gone to help them since they are slow to react to beneficial changes too.
Clownfish host anemones all
need lots of light to do well. They obtain most their nutrition from a
symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) that lives inside their tissues. Lots
of light means from 3 to 6 watts of bulb per gallon of a standard depth
aquarium. That means you need at least 4 of the longest bulbs that you
can fit over your tank, usually in a ratio of 50% actinic and 50% full
Anemones prefer water free
of organic wastes, which in most cases means you need to have an efficient
protein skimmer. Maintaining the levels of trace elements in the water
by performing regular water changes or the addition of commercially available
supplements also seems to be important. Charles Delbeek mentioned that
iron supplements could benefit the zooxanthellae in the anemones. I found
that the addition of CombiSan (which contains iron) seemed to help my
sebae anemone regain its color. Moderate current, in addition to clean
water, helps exchange needed elements and rid the anemone of waste products.
Some of the more delicate anemones seem to prefer higher temperatures
in the range of 78-80 F and pH in a consistent range of 8.2-8.4.
Feeding your anemone
Feeding can range from 3 times
a week to once every 2 weeks. Some aquarists have had success not directly
feeding their anemones at all, although I suspect their anemones are capturing
food that is meant for the fish. Food usually consists of a piece of raw
shrimp about the size of the anemone's mouth. Lance fish, silversides, clams,
scallops and other frozen marine organisms can also be used, but I find
them more messy. A large bag of peeled and deveined shrimp can be obtained
from one of the local discount supermarkets and may last many, many months
and has the added advantage of being fit for human consumption.
Liquid foods and Target foods
may actually be harmful to your anemones directly (several aquarists stated
that their anemones started to die as soon as they began to use liquid
target foods) and indirectly though degradation of your water quality.
The jury is still out on vitamins.
I could not find any common thread in my data that would point towards
them being helpful or harmful. My suggestion would be to use them sparingly,
or not at all.
Easier to keep anemones
- Stichodactyla haddoni,
Saddle Carpet, saddleback anemone, Haddoni anemone
- This anemone is often not
distinguished from other carpets in the dealers tanks. The tentacles
are short and knobby and usually densely packed. There is usually a
reddish to pinkish ring around the mouth that isn't present on other
carpets. Groups of tentacles on the same anemone may be of different
colors forming a striped pattern on the anemone. If not striped they
are usually a greyish-green, although bright greens, yellows and even
blues are sometimes seen.
Good Points- This
may be the easiest anemone to keep for long periods of time. Light
suitable for soft corals and commonly kept hard corals is enough.
I have had one growing slowly for over 7 years in the bottom of a
30 gal. tall aquarium with only 60 watts of fluorescent light. Reasonable
nitrate levels for fish seem to be OK for this anemone. For its first
3 years my anemone lived in water that measured 30 ppm of nitrate
on a Seatest Kit and showed no ill effects. They will grow faster
however given better conditions.
Bad Points- This
anemone will eat your fish! (not your clownfish) Dwarf angels, small
tangs, blennies and small shrimp seem to be prone to getting eaten.
Pseudochromis, hawkfish and some others don't seem to have a problem.
The clownfish that accept this anemone also seem to be limited. They
are accepted by saddleback clowns, true sebae clowns, Clarki clowns
and usually tomato clowns.
- Entacmaea quadricolor,
Bulb, bubble, bubble-tipped, maroon anemone
- Recently obtained individuals
will usually have unmistakable swollen ends on the tips of their tentacles.
Specimens in captivity will often lose their bubble-tips for periods
of time and just have long straight tentacles. The tentacles usually
have a green color especially when exposed to only actinic light. The
tentacles may also have a frosty white ring around the tip. The base
is often rusty-red but may also be purple or just tan. The Rose anemone
is a color variation of this anemone.
Good Points- Normal
reef lighting is enough (above 4 watts per gal.) for this type of
anemone and may be more than enough. Nitrate levels below 20 ppm are
preferred. Small ones may reproduce asexually in your aquarium by
dividing into two smaller anemones. Their sting is rather weak and
won't harm your other fish. They are accepted by Clarki-type clowns,
all the different tomato-type clowns, maroon clowns and sometimes,
although very rarely, percula and ocellaris clowns.
Bad Points- These
anemones tend to wander around the tank more than others, sometimes
causing their own deaths from lack of light or being sucked through
a powerhead. They like to have their foot shaded inside a crevice
in the rock or coral with their tentacles in the light. This preference
might be met by placing a short piece of PVC pipe, sized to the anemone,
where you want the anemone to stay and putting its base into the pipe.
They seem to be sensitive to being shipped. Make sure the one you
pick out has a tight mouth and is firmly attached to something in
the dealers tank. Any anemone that is not attached to something in
the dealers tank is probably not healthy. In addition, when the dealer
tries to remove the anemone from the tank the anemone should show
some type of reaction, usually they contract.
- Macrodactyla doreensis,
- These anemones have very
long (up to 5-6 in.), smooth, thick tentacles sometimes with longitudinal
stripes extending into the oral disk. The tentacles originate from a
round flat oral disk, distinguishing it from the condylactis anemone.
The foot of the base is almost always bright red or orange.
Good Points- They
are hardy if kept under Metal Halide lights. Under lower light levels
they seem to slowly waste away. They come in a variety of patterns
and colors including purple. Accepted by Clarki clowns, tomato-type
clowns and pink skunk clowns.
Bad Points- They
must have bright lighting. They normally live with their base buried
deep in the sand and sometimes have a difficult time finding an attachment
spot in a reef-type tank.
Difficult to keep anemones
There are a couple other natural
clownfish host anemones that will sometimes appear in your dealers tanks,
but I wasn't able to gather enough information on them to include an accurate
description. These are the Sand, corn or aurora anemone (Heteractis aurora)
and the Mertin's carpet (S. mertinii).
- Heteractis crispa
or H. malu, Sebae anemone, Singapore anemone, pink-tipped (but
not condylactis) anemone
- Tentacles range from long
and thin to short and fat depending on the condition of the anemone
(short and fat usually means it is starting to waste away). Tentacles
usually have magenta colored tips although yellowish-green tips are
not uncommon. Colors can be dyed yellow, dyed pink, natural pink/purple,
natural yellow, tan, but by far the most common is pure white. The oral
disk may also have a green sheen under actinic light.
are very common in stores and are usually the least expensive of the
host anemones. They are accepted by virtually all clownfish whether
they occur together in nature or not. Some not so white specimens
can regenerate their symbiotic algae thus becoming a brown color.
If you can obtain a tan specimen with long thin tentacles they should
do well under conditions similar to that required for bulb anemones.
Bad Points- No
one I have spoken with, not even the public aquariums, can keep the
white or yellow ones alive for more than 6-8 months. Out of the over
20 responses I received regarding sebaes only 2 anemones had stayed
alive for over one year. Both of the anemones were tan in color either
when purchased or had turned tan shortly there after. One thought
is that sebae anemones may expel their symbiotic algae shortly after
capture and when it is completely gone it is not easily replaced.
Frank Greco of the New York Aquarium says that he has been successful
in getting otherwise healthy sebaes to "color up" by feeding once
a week with fresh fish, clam, shrimp or gelatin. They also get live
brine shrimp, adult and baby, and a yeast based diet of his own design.
In addition to the frequent feedings the anemones are exposed to very
bright light, three 400 watt metal halide bulbs over the six foot
by six foot, four foot tall anemone tank. If the anemone is not able
to replace its zooxanthellae it is doomed to a very slow starvation
once in the tank. There are cream colored sebae anemones found in
shallow water in the wild, but they are not the transparent white
color found in the dealers tanks. These don't seem to be a good beginner's
anemone despite articles I have read that say they are.
- Heteractis magnifica,
Ritteri, African, yellow-tipped anemone
- This anemone is usually
rather large. Their tentacles are long with very blunt tips that are
lighter in color than the shafts. The base may be red or purple but
brown is more common.
Good Points- They
are relatively common in the market. They are accepted by almost every
variety of clownfish.
Bad Points- They
tend to move to the highest point in the tank, often up the sides
of the glass very near the water return pipe. In nature they tend
to be found at the highest parts of the reef exposed to strong light
and currents. In the aquarium they will need very strong lighting
(metal halide) and very strong alternating (wave) currents to do well.
They also have a reputation for being able to catch and eat medium
- Stichodactyla gigantea,
Giant carpet, colored carpet
- These anemones have short
pointed tentacles that seem to constantly vibrate. The tentacles are
usually not very densely packed except near the edges of the disk. Specimens
with blue, bright green, yellow, or white tipped tentacles can be found
and at some times of the year are even common, but light brown is still
the most common color. The oral disk often lies in a wave pattern if
the anemone is on a flat surface.
colored ones are very pretty! A pink specimen is featured on the cover
of Martin Moe's "Beginner to Breeder " book. They are accepted by
Bad Points- They
can sting non-clownfish and may even eat other anemones. Giant carpets
unlike their relative the saddle carpet seem to be very difficult
to keep in captivity. The only report I had of a success died in a
move after living for 10 years and the aquarist was unable to have
any success with any giant carpets after that. It is possible that
the first anemone may have been a saddle carpet rather than a giant
carpet, but I haven't been able to find out for sure. One of the reasons
for the difficulty in keeping the giant carpets may stem from the
fact that most are collected from very shallow water, sometimes less
than 3 feet deep. This leads me to believe that it may be difficult
for the aquarist to give the anemone all the light that it is accustomed
to in nature.
Some clownfish will also accept
non-natural hosts such as purple mat anemones, reef anemones, condylactis
anemones, gonipora corals and other long tentacled corals. There have
been reports, however, that clownfish that associate with condylactis
anemones and corals may be more prone to skin infections than normal.
The more anemone keeping experiences
we can share the better. The more we can communicate with each other the
more success we will all have. After many failures with sebae anemones,
I have used information gathered from other hobbyists to choose a sebae
anemone with a green oral disk and tan tentacles that has grown from 6 inches
to 12 inches in diameter in 7 months.
If you disagree with my findings
I would really like to here from you. If my findings agree with your experiences,
I need to support some of the opinions I have already formed. You can
reach me by e-mail at email@example.com
Allen, G. R. 1972. The Anemonefishes
- Their Classification and Biology - 2nd Edition. T.F.H. Publications
Inc. Neptune City, New Jersey. 352 pages.
Allen, G. R. and Fautin, D.
G 1992. Field Guide to Anemonefishes and their Host Sea Anemones.
Western Australian Museum. Perth, WA. 160 pages.
Friese, U. Erich. 1993. Sea
Anemones as a Hobby. T.F.H. Publications Inc. Neptune City, New Jersey.
Moe, M. A. Jr., 1992. The
Marine Aquarium Handbook- Beginner to Breeder- New Edition. Green
Turtle Publications. Plantain, Florida. 318 pages.
Sprung, J. 1994. Reef Notes.
Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine. 17(8):22.