How to Deal with Aiptasia

How to deal with Aiptasia

Pest infestation is a common problem in the hobby. For freshwater aquariums, major pests are snails and algae while it is hitchhikers for saltwater aquariums. Hitchhikers are unknowingly introduced into the tank when attached to live rock or other ornaments being transported.

A good example is the Glass anemones (Aiptasia) which plagues reef aquariums and any careless attempt to remove them will give rise to the birth of more anemones.

This article provides valuable insights on how to deal with this pest effectively; which involves biological, chemical, and high-tech approaches. Keep on reading for more information.

What are Aiptasia?

Aiptasia in reef tankAiptasia, are soft-bodied invertebrates that display the ability to store significant amounts of water in their body. They are also known as Glass anemones, are considered as pests in the marine aquarium hobby. Since Aiptasia are little creatures (they can grow up to 2.5 – 3 inches or 5 – 7 cm), as such, they can be difficult to spot in the tank at first.

They are known to possess a remarkable nutrition plasticity. Aiptasia are able to accomplish their energetic demands by preying on zooplankton, and through the photosynthetates produced by their endosymbiotic microalgae (zooxanthellae). According to the study, this symbiotic relationship can supply up to 95% of photosynthetically-fixed carbon to the host, which may allow some Aiptasia species to survive without any external food for long periods.

They are often accidentally imported as hitchhikers on live rock or base of corals. Except you actually want to keep this species for some reason, you should NOT purposely purchase live rocks or corals with Aiptasia on it.

Why You Should Remove Aiptasia

You might be wondering why the glass anemones are considered as pests. Here’s why: the first reason is that Aiptasia have stinging cells and the toxin released from these stinging cells are powerful enough to harm the corals and fish in the tank.

The second reason being that Aiptasia reproduces fast (sexually and asexually), these sea anemones are capable of multiplying quickly in reef aquariums once good lighting and abundant nutrient exists, they will overpopulate your tank and ultimately outcompete other species.

Note:  They often reproduce by breaking parts of the foot off and forming a new Aiptasia. Even a single cell can be enough to create a new Aiptasia. It may take around 2 weeks to develop a new polyp. Under laboratory conditions, only 1 Aiptasia produced up to 5000 clones of itself in a year!

To identify Aiptasia, you need to observe and look out for a light-brown transparent polyp with long brown tentacles. The elongated tapering tentacles stretch out from the oral plate connected to a long body column down to the pedal. They will quickly withdraw their tentacles and will retract into holes and crevices in rocks when threatened.

There are many established methods of controlling the presence of Aiptasia in the aquarium; these includes manual efforts using natural predators, physical and chemical methods. Each method will be duly described in this article.

Dealing with it, when you see the first signs of it is the easiest point at which you can solve this problem. Because if you think that there are some easy ways to remove it overnight – you are wrong. Depending on the infestation level, it can take weeks or even months before you completely get rid of Aiptasia.

1. Natural Predators

There are quite a large number of predators that are known to eliminate Aiptasia or glass anemones in coral reef aquariums. They include the following:

  • Butterflyfish:

Chelmon rostratusThese species of butterflyfish are known to devour Aiptasia: Klein’s Butterflyfish (Chaetodon kleinii), Racoon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula), Copperband Butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus), Saddled Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ephippium), Threadfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga), Hawaiian Butterflyfish (Chaetodon tinkeri), Banded Butterflyfish (Chaetodon striatus).

Note: The problem is that this is a delicate fish for experienced fish keepers. Given a choice, personally, I would use other method s first.

  • Filefish:

AcreichthysThere are four species of genus Acreichthys (Filefish), however, the Brittle-tail Filefish (Acreichthys tomentosus) is said to be one of the best Aiptasia eaters. They just swim around and suck them up. However, in many cases, we have to give these fish some time before they start eating Aiptasia. Another problem is that they can nips at soft and stony corals as well. So, the cure might be worse than the disease.

  • Puffers:

Canthigaster solandri

Some Puffers will eat glass anemones, but the downside is that they might feed on other available invertebrates and corals as well. Guinea fowl Puffer (Arothron meleagris) is a good example, but due to its huge size, it might not be suitable for mini reefs. Sharp-nosed Puffer (Canthigaster solandri) is more preferred for this role.

  • Shrimps:

The peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
The peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)

Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) is the first choice when it comes to choosing Aipstasia-eating shrimp, this shrimp is small, has a transparent reddish body marked with red horizontal lines. Peppermint shrimp is an excellent addition to the tank aesthetically, and it is less likely to harm fish, corals, and clams.

Note: There are reports that Peppermint shrimp may have problems with eating large Aipstasia. In addition, strong flow in the tank can prevent them from going in those places.

Hingeback shrimp (Rhynchocinetes durbanensis) can also eat Aiptasia anemones but, frankly saying, these shrimp are not very interested in Aiptasia. In addition, it is likely to devour corals in the tank as well, therefore, it is not really a good choice.

  • Hermit crabs:

Dardanus megistosThe hermit crabs i.e. the Blue Leg Hermit Crabs, the Red-legged or White-spotted (Dardanus Megistos) are popular for reef tanks, they are renowned Aipstasia-eaters.

Nonetheless, I would be very careful with Dardanus Megistos species because they grow really big (up to 12 cm or 5 inches and more) in the tanks. When they are small, they will keep the tank really nice and clean. However, once they get a little bit bigger, their carnivorous nature will be a treat to all smaller fish and invertebrates. 

Some pet stores sell Red-legged hermit crabs as algae eaters. Do not believe them. Even though they might eat some algae, when they are super small and do not have anything else to eat, this phase will pass away very quickly and they will turn against corals. Dardanus megistos are not coral safe.

  • Nudibranches:

Berghia stephanieaeBerghia stephanieae, previously known as Aeolidiellia stephanieae is one of the most commonly sold Aeolid nudibranches in the marine trade in North America. It is a nudibranch from the Florida Keys region of the West Atlantic Ocean and considered as one of the best predators for combating Aiptasia sea anemones.

Berghia stephanieae only eats Aiptasia 24/7 and they never seem to stop. Actually, they will die of starvation in their absence. Hence, they should be moved to another tank with Aiptasia to ensure their survival.

Some hobbyists practice the “pass it along” approach, whereby they use nudibranchs to eliminate Aiptasia and then pass it on to another hobbyist with Aiptasia infestation in his tank.

Note: Do not forget to acclimation. It is advisable to do even with Berghia stephanieae. Also, keep in mind, that these little guys do not like high-flow areas, so, they will be less efficient in such tanks.

Natural Predators. Cons

Using natural predators to combat Aiptasia may be an excellent idea, however, it has some cons:

  1. Some of the fish species will also devour other creatures in the tank and these include corals, zoanthids, polyps.
  2. The majority of the suggested predators will feed on other sessile invertebrates: sea anemones, clams, sea urchins, and crustaceans, especially when all reachable Aiptasia have been eliminated. This is a major problem.
  3. There is no guarantee that the chosen predator will eventually eat the glass anemones. They might feel indifferent towards feeding on them and the size of the anemones can be a deterrent too.

2. Chemical Method

The chemical method of controlling Aiptasia involves injecting these notorious creatures with concentrated household chemical or liquid solutions using a needle or syringe. Keep in mind that any chemicals will affect your water parameters in the tank, therefore, do not use too much. Do not try to kill all Aiptasia in one day, 5 to 10 a day will be more than enough.

Warning: Caustic chemicals are harmful to the human body, therefore, you should always wear protective eye goggles and hand gloves as a necessary precaution.
  • Calcium Hydroxide (Kalkwasser):

An effective method of killing Aiptasia is by injecting it with calcium hydroxide in a strong or concentrated solution.

The issue with this method is that the kill rate is low if the solution is not directly injected into them and if the solution is not strong enough to effectively kill the Aiptasia. Another problem is that if you try to kill off too many Aiptasia at once, it can disrupt the water chemistry and alter the pH level in your tank due to the addition of too much calcium hydroxide at a time.

  • Sodium Hydroxide:

This chemical should be mixed properly to form a concentrated solution strong enough to kill these anemones on contact. Be sure to wear protective clothing and gloves before handling this solution as it can irritate and burn your skin.

  • Lemon juice concentrate:

Using lemon juice is an inexpensive and effective way of eliminating Aiptasia. This should be injected into an Aiptasia’s body column or base using a syringe.

Another viable option is to boil RO (reverse-osmosis) water and inject it into the Aiptasia with a turkey baster or syringe, some people tend to mix it with lime before application (both techniques are effective).

  • Vinegar: 

Some aquarists had great success in removing Aiptasia with the White distilled vinegar. It is really hard to hit but this should be also injected into an Aiptasia’s oral disk using a syringe.

  • Glue:

You can as well use epoxy or glue to seal Aiptasia into the rock where they live, this is effective as long as there is no escape route. Keep in mind that whichever method or methods you decide to adopt will need to be incorporated into your regular reef maintenance and should be repeated on a regular basis.

Using manufactured chemicals / OTC remedies

manufactured chemicals to combat Aiptasia in reef tanksYou can equally use manufactured chemicals to combat Aiptasia in reef tanks. These products are specifically and primarily designed to target and eliminate these anemones and, what is even more important to us, are also said to be reef-safe products.

They include the following products:

3. High-Tech Technologies 

  • MajanoWand

MajanoWand is very easy to use and can be a lifesaver in reef aquariums. This is a wand with a stainless steel tip which is used to run a small amount of electricity through it. However, even though you have to plug it in you are not actually electrocuting anything in the tank.

When it interacts with saltwater hydrogen gas forms. So when you press it against an Aiptasia or any other pest, it actually causes the water inside the anemone to turn into hydrogen gas and it literally disintegrates the flash of the animal.

Another good thing about MajanoWand is that it operates on low voltage and will not shock you if your hand is in the water.

  • Laser

Personally, I do not recommend this method to kill Aiptasia, however, I still have to list it.

Warning: Although it may sound cool and fun, you should be extremely careful with such lasers! Extremely! They are so powerful that can even blind you! Therefore, always read instructions and use glasses. Keep in mind the glass can reflect the beam, therefore, anybody around you should also wear protection. This is not a toy!

In addition, these are some tips from experienced users:

  1. You need to turn off all pumps, wavemakers, and powerheads, so the water is not distorting the laser’s
  2. Get the focal distance at the same distance as the oral disk. For example, if there is a rock at the same distance, use it to focus the beam before going after a
  3. When it comes to actually ‘frying’, aim for the polyp’s oral disk, starting in the center. If you miss, there is a chance that dying Aiptasia will have time to release spores and you will have more Aiptasia to kill later on. 
  4. Be efficient. The batteries can only work for about 5 minutes. After that, the beam will lose its power and will not be able to kill the Aiptasia efficiently.

Cons of Laser method:

  • The most expensive.
  • Very dangerous.
  • Pretty inefficient. You can only hit what you can see. It is not possible to get in all crannies of the tank with the laser.
  • When you do not kill Aiptasia, they get stressed and release spores. So, instead of removing them, you create them.

How to Avoid Aiptasia

Buy propagated corals from a reputable company. They do all necessary steps to make sure that there are no pests, including Aiptasia, in their system. If you want to avoid this problem entirely, you will need to set a quarantine tank. This is the only way you can ensure that pests will not make their way into your tank.

Ideally, everything (fish, invertebrates, coral, rocks, etc.) should go through a 30-day quarantine period in this tank before touching the main one.

Check out Your Sum and Refugium

There are many people complaining that they cannot remove Aiptasia out of the reef system. No matter what they do, this pest always returns.

Well, in many cases, they simply forget about sump and refugium. So, do not forget about it as well.

In Conclusion

Aiptasia is a pest, and should not be taken lightly. They can completely overrun the tank and will eventually harm other inhabitants if you don’t get rid of them.

Controlling this pest might prove difficult for an inexperienced aquarist, be aware that handling them carelessly will end up making a bunch of fragments that will turn into mature anemones and the problem will linger on. Also, avoid pulling them out with your hands while they are still active.

You should try using natural predators like nudibranchs and shrimp like Peppermint shrimp which will eat all reachable glass anemones in the tank. Chemicals should be the last resort, and it should be utilized with caution to avoid polluting the tank and killing off everything in it.

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