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If you’re keeping live rock or corals in a reef tank, Aiptasia are bound to appear in your system at one point or another. The most common question when it comes to coral pests is how to get rid of Aiptasia Anemones. These pest anemones can quickly take over saltwater fish tanks and can be very difficult to remove. They can also injure other corals and sting nearby fish in the process of removal.
Hobbyists have been fighting the battle against Aiptasia for decades, and luckily, several solutions have been found to eradicate Aiptasia once and for all.
What are Aiptaisa Anemones?
When setting up a new saltwater tank, it can be very exciting to find any signs of unexpected life during the nitrogen cycle and shortly after. Copepods start to show up on the glass and even algae can be an amazing discovery. Until suddenly, you find a small, clear what-seems-to-be coral.
These ‘corals’ have long and thin tapered tentacles and might even resemble a kind of zoanthid at first. Usually, these tentacles will be attached to an oral disc that emerges from a long, translucent stalk. Sadly, more often than not, this unidentified polyp is actually a kind of pest anemone belonging to the Aiptasia genus.
The main problem with Aiptasia Anemones is that they are both sexual and asexual; they can quickly split to create exponentially more anemones in a very small period of time. Like other species of anemone, they have stinging cells that can cause damage to nearby coral, fish, and invertebrates.
They can also grow in very hard-to-reach places in the tank where you might not even see the problem forming. Their tentacles will grow in order to reach light, though their stalks may elongate and emerge from dark crevices within the rockwork.
Naming And Other Pest Anemones
In general, all species within the Aiptasia genus are simply referred to as Aiptasia even though there are several other known members; other common names include glass anemone and rock anemone (not to be confused with rock flower anemones of the Phymathidae family).
Another type of pest anemone, Majano anemones (Anemonia manjano), may also be clumped together when talking about Aiptasia hitchhikers.
Majano anemones are said to be easier to remove than Aiptasia, but they will both cause a headache at the end of the day. Majano anemones are, in some ways, prettier than Aiptasia and have rounded green tentacles with a purplish-pink oral disc; they are typically larger, have much more opaque flesh, and overall more vibrant colors than Aiptasia.
Like Aiptasia, Majano anemones can quickly take over a tank and injure other corals and tankmates. Luckily, most of the removal methods are universal for pest anemones.
How Do They Enter The Aquarium?
Aiptasia Anemones are present in most aquarium systems. They can be very difficult to notice in dense rockwork and before you know it, you have a tank overrun by them. But how did they get there in the first place?
These anemones are hitchhikers, just like any other algae or invertebrate that unintentionally enters the aquarium. This means that they can come in on live rock, corals, or even filter media. Once established in the tank, they can then spread to every part of it, including the filtration system and sump.
In general, it’s not considered as an if these anemones will enter your system but a when.
How Do You Prevent Them From Entering The Aquarium?
Though Aiptasia Anemones will find its way into the aquarium if it wants to, there are some ways to protect your system.
Mainly, observation and preparation are key.
Observation And Identification
It might sound simple, but observation is the best way to find and destroy Aiptasia before they get the chance to destroy your reef tank.
Check and double-check new additions of live rock and coral. Use a flashlight to look in the crevices for any signs of tentacles popping up through the rockwork. Continue to check your tank daily for the next few weeks after a new addition.
It is easiest to find pest anemones when they are extended in the water instead of when they are emersed. If possible, observe live rock and corals from a quarantine system. From there, use one of the following methods to remove it.
One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is that they think an Aiptasia is a desirable coral and let it continue to grow. It is important to accurately identify the anemone first in order to go about fixing the problem. More often than not, any ‘lucky’ coral you see on new rock or a coral plug is actually an Aiptasia.
That being said, all new live rock and coral should be quarantined. No exceptions.
Not only does quarantine help prevent disease and illness from entering the aquarium, but it also greatly reduces the risk of inadvertently introducing Aiptasia Anemones as well.
Allowing two or more weeks of secluded observation will allow most hitchhikers to rear their ugly heads. It is much easier to fix these problems in a controlled setting than having to break down the rockwork and possibly filtration once put into a display. It also means that you can be more vigorous and widespread with treatments, such as chemical solutions.
Remove Frag Plugs
When buying new corals, they will often come on a frag plug. No matter if these corals were aqua-cultured in a controlled environment or gifted by a trusted fellow hobbyist, this frag plug should always be removed.
For one reason or another, frag plugs are notorious for carrying in unwanted hitchhikers. Aiptasia are very quick to occupy free real estate and a frag plug is no exception. Most often, these anemones are very tiny and might only be able to be seen under a magnifying glass.
When in doubt, throw it out.
Another way Aiptasia Anemones travels across tanks is by live rock and filter media. Many times, hobbyists share these with each other in order to seed a new tank with beneficial bacteria. Though this usually works flawlessly, there is always the chance that you’re introducing Aiptasia into the system.
If you’re really worried about introducing pest anemones via live rock or filter media, do not use what has been in another tank. Instead, use brand new dry rock and cycle the tank with another method. This way, there is no chance of having any pests come in.
The downside to this method is that many of the beneficial hitchhikers are lost as well, like copepods, and will need to be manually introduced later.
How To Get Rid of Them From Your Aquarium (The Best Ways
The key to dealing with an Aiptasia outbreak in your aquarium is acting quickly and effectively as soon as you see one appear. The longer you wait to take action, the more chance they have to grow and spread throughout the reef tank.
There are a few different methods based on the size, type, and amount of pest anemones in your saltwater tank. Whether the method works for you will also depend on several factors and Aiptasia removal could become a regular part of maintenance.
Here are the best ways to get rid of Aiptasia Anemones from your saltwater aquarium.
Manual removal is one of the easiest methods, but also the least guaranteed way to fully remove Aiptasia from the aquarium. This is because these anemones are capable of growing from the smallest piece of flesh leftover, and it can be very easy to miss; in fact, Aiptasia only need a single remaining cell to regenerate into a new animal.
For manual removal, you will need to be able to take the piece of rock out of the tank. Once removed, use scissors, razors, bone cutters, and whatever else you need to in order to get every last piece of anemone off of the rock. Some hobbyists split the rock in half entirely to ensure that there is no chance of the anemone coming back.
Still, it is easy to miss other smaller Aiptasia that might have already propagated or left remnants behind.
Super Glue (Cyanoacrylate)
Super glue is one of the easiest and least damaging ways to control Aiptasia Anemones, though this method does not work all of the time.
This method simply involves coating the anemone in a thick sarcophagus of superglue so that it is unable to extend. Simply remove the affected piece of rock from the aquarium and apply a healthy dollop of glue.
There are a few problems with this method, though. First, it’s not always feasible to remove the piece of rock from the reef tank. Second, the anemone is very capable of growing around the glue and out through another opening, allowing it to live; some hobbyists have even seen them come out from the other side of the rock if the opportunity presents itself.
Super glue is most effective for removable pieces of rock and small Aiptasia that can be generously coated and sealed.
There are many chemical solutions on the aquarium market designed to eliminate Aiptasia from the aquarium. This method can be very effective when facing large colonies of pest anemone with sizable individuals.
A great solution for target elimination of Aiptasia in a reef tank.
One of the most popular Aiptasia removal chemicals is Aiptasia-X by Red Sea. This product needs to be applied to the surface of the oral disc of the anemone, where it is then forced to be ingested. Within a few minutes, the anemone implodes on itself, preventing regrowth and larvae from spreading throughout the rest of the reef aquarium.
Other popular brands include:
- Joe’s Juice Aiptasia Eliminator
- Salifert Aiptasia
- Blue Life Aiptasia Rx
- Reef Kalkwasser (calcium hydroxide). Though not a product specifically meant for Aiptaisa, Reef Kalkwasser can be used to create a paste that can cover the disc of the anemone in a similar fashion.
These chemicals are not effective for all reefers though, and these products can actually harm healthy corals if not applied correctly. The application can also become difficult if the anemone is situated in a hard-to-reach spot where it has time to react and retract. If only a small dosage is received, then the Aiptasia may come back stronger and start to propagate.
Other DIY Solutions
If you don’t have immediate access to chemical solutions, then you might need to make your own solution. It should be noted that these methods are very prone to failure and should only be done under close moderation.
- Lemon juice. Lemon juice has been used to successfully remove Aiptasia Anemones. Fill a syringe with lemon juice and inject it into the anemone. The acidity will theoretically cause the anemone to die.
- Vinegar. Similarly, vinegar can be injected and will kill Aiptasia due to its acidity.
- Hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is not likely to work when only applied over the anemone. Instead, it can be used to wipe off the remaining parts of Aiptasia that are leftover from previous attempts of removal.
- Boiling water. Boiling water can be mixed with lemon juice or vinegar or used by itself. Again, use a syringe to inject it into the anemone.
These methods have worked for some hobbyists and completely failed for others. It is necessary to gauge how much solution is entering the system as both lemon juice and vinegar can start to affect pH due to their acidity. Boiling water can also burn nearby fish and invertebrates.
If able to do so, attempt other methods first as to not encourage propagation from a failed removal.
Lasers are an expensive solution but can be very effective at reaching hard-to-reach places without having to put your hands in the reef tank. They are a relatively new technology being introduced into the reef aquarium hobby for treating Aiptasia Anemones and come with mixed results that might not make their price worth it.
These lasers need to be very strong and capable of melting away Aiptasia anemone. The problem with this is that they are also very capable of injuring other corals, fish, and invertebrates in the process.
Some hobbyists have reported them as being completely ineffective.
Livestock (Fish And Inverts That Love Eating This Type)
Adding Aiptasia-eating fish and invertebrates to the tank system is usually a great alternative to the other methods mentioned. However, there is always a risk when adding something new to the tank.
The main problem with adding additional livestock into the reef aquarium is that many of the species recommended to add cannot discriminate between a coral and an anemone. As a result, they might start to target colonies of desired corals and leave the Aiptasia nice and healthy. It is also possible that your fish or invertebrate will successfully eat Aiptasia and then starts to eat corals, too.
Regardless, many hobbyists try their luck at adding a new fish or invertebrate species for dealing with Aiptasia problems; some can even arrange temporary housings until the anemones have been eliminated and then pass them along to another hobbyist.
Here are some of the most common fish and invertebrates species for removing Aiptasia from your saltwater aquarium.
Butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae family)
For the most part, nearly all common species of butterflyfish have been used to effectively control Aiptasia populations. It is known that butterflyfish are not considered reef-safe and it should not come as a surprise if the one you add decides to go after corals.
There are, however, a few species that seem to be more reliable than others. This includes:
- Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus)
- Klein’s butterfly (Chaetodon kleinii)
- Pearlscale butterfly (Chaetodon xanthurus)
- Raccoon butterfly (Chaetodon lunula)
Of course, always ensure that your setup is appropriate for the species you plan on adding. Tank size, water parameters, and diet should all be arranged to accommodate a new fish.
Eating Filefish (Monacanthidae family)
Aiptasia Eating Filefish are another popular addition for dealing with Aiptasia, though they are just as likely to nip at corals. Some hobbyists have found that buying captive-bred individuals helps deter coral picking and encourages Aiptasia Anemone hunting.
Aiptasia Eating Filefish aren’t the prettiest to have in a reef tank display and some species can get very large. However, the most popular Aiptasia-eating species, like the matted filefish (Acreichthys tomentosus), stay small and can quickly take care of a pest anemone problem.
It is not unheard of for filefish to suddenly start picking at corals, though.
Peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
These little shrimp are the most common livestock treatment for Aiptasia. Available as tank raised and reef safe.
A group of peppermint shrimp is usually the route most reefers take for dealing with pest anemones as they are small yet effective.
With multiple individuals, peppermint shrimp can be expensive and their high demand in the hobby can also make them more difficult to obtain. Not to mention that the peppermint shrimp has a very similar appearance to the camel shrimp (Rhynchocinetes durbanensis), which is not reef-safe, and can easily be confused.
Overall, peppermint shrimp have a very high success rate for dealing with Aiptasia, however, they’ll typically avoid larger ones. They have also been known to graze on zoanthids as well.
Berghia Nudibranch (Berghia stephanieae)
If you’re limited on space but still want a natural predator of Aiptasia, Berghia nudibranchs are a great short-term solution.
These nudibranchs can also be expensive and you will need a good amount of them depending on the size of your saltwater tank. Take into consideration that some fish and other invertebrates might also see them as food in the meantime just as they’re starting to hunt for anemones.
The main problem with Berghia nudibranchs is that they only eat Aiptasia. This is great in the short term when you are desperate to get rid of all visible anemones, but doesn’t serve as a very long-term solution; once your anemone supply runs out, these nudibranchs will perish.
Many hobbyists like to pass on their nudibranchs to other tanks suffering from Aiptasia so that they don’t die in the process. They can be very difficult to catch though, and often you will not be able to save them all. If you are interested in purchasing them, I recommend buying them from Salty Underground.
Aiptasia are the last thing you want to see in your aquarium but are largely unavoidable. These ugly, fast-growing pest anemones can quickly take over a display and infiltrate filtration systems if left to grow.
There are many different methods for removing them, including chemical products, more organic solutions, and livestock recommendations. Whatever method you end up choosing, you will most likely need to also use other alternatives and keep on schedule for a few months until there are absolutely no signs of Aiptasia.
One of the best ways to prevent a pest anemone infestation is by prevention. Even then, it is good to be prepared if one ever happens to enter your system.
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.