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Aiptasia – understanding, control and removal


Aiptasia is a widespread and useless guest in saltwater aquariums, also known as Glass, Rock, Tube, or Glass Rose anemones, and they have a capacity to multiply rapidly and contending for food and space assertively. They often come uninvited hitchhiking in live rock or on coral colonies, waiting for the best time to grow in your aquarium. Every saltwater aquarist must have had a time when he got to deal with these anemones.

They resemble miniature palm trees, with a polyp body and an oral disc surrounded by tentacles and this is how you can recognize them when they suddenly show up in your tank. Among the various species of Aiptasia, there are some varieties that are transparent, while others are mostly light brown or tan in color, varying in size from a few centimeters to a few inches. The brown color of most Aiptasia anemones are the most common ones found in aquariums and is due to a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, minute plant cells living within the Aiptasia’s tissue that provide the anemone with much of its nutrients and energy.

Similar to all members of the Cnidaria phylum, Aiptasia have the capacity to sting and hurt the surrounding organisms for both offensive and defensive purposes. The tentacles near the oral disc have stinging cells called nematocysts that can sting fish, crustaceans, corals, and live rock in your aquarium. As an extra defensive method, Aiptasia can also hide into tiny holes in your live rock if endangered or tried to be removed.

These uninvited anemones not only offense the members of the tank by stings but also multiply rapidly both sexually and asexually. They reproduce fast and might take over the tank if not removed on time. The asexual reproduction is referred to as pedal laceration. During pedal laceration, minute basal cells break off the Aiptasia to take possession elsewhere in the tank – on live rock, substrate, aquarium walls, even on equipment. This at times happens when physical removal of the Aiptasia polyp is attempted, often resulting in creating more Aiptasia polyps than existed originally.

The difficulty of removing them from your tank is big enough for most people to give up but if you are determined on getting them out of your aquarium here’s how you can do it:

1. Make them starve by target feeding fishes and corals so that Aiptasia anemones get no chance to steal any food. Though they get their nutrition from zooxanthellae present in them but addition feeding should be avoided. Do not try to pick them out since the polyps will break and create more of them instead introduce a predator that can feed on them.

Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are a popular predator that be used against Aiptasia. Make sure that you procure the Lysmata wurdemanni and not its Pacific cousins, Lysmata Californica and Rhynchocinetes durbanensis, which are less attracted in feeding on Aiptasia.

3. The Copperband Butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) is also useful against Aiptasia, but they may also feed on clams, sessile invertebrates, feather dusters, or other anemones in the aquarium. Research on the suggested environment for keeping the Copperband Butterflyfish and Peppermint Shrimp on before adding to your aquarium. Also consider well if there are other anemones in your aquarium that might become a target to butterflyfish.

4. The best and the safest chemical alternative of Aiptasia control is the use of an aquarium-safe calcium hydroxide solution (Kalkwasser) that can be injected into the Aiptasia polyp by means of a hypodermic needle or pasted onto the mouth of the anemone. Be alert that adding calcium hydroxide can raise the pH in the aquarium depending on the quantity used and the water volume of the aquarium.

5. A chemical-free method to control Aiptasia is to inject scalding hot RO water into the polyp with a hypodermic needle. The hot water successfully kills the Aiptasia. Lemon juice can also be used to inject into the Aiptasia.