How to deal with Aiptasia

How to deal with Aiptasia

Aiptasia has been the topic of many blog posts and conversations in stores around the world since reef keeping became a thing. Aiptasia like all life can thrive and become invasive under certain conditions, in the wild there are natural checks and balances that prevent a single species from ‘taking over’, however, in your little slice of ocean those checks and balances are rarely present.

Why is Aiptasia such a problem? The main problem with Aiptasia is that it is a type of anemone and is able to sting corals causing damage or death. You run the same risk with any anemone you add to a reef but at least as an aquarist that is your choice, what’s more the Aiptasia anemone is much more agile and reproduces much faster than the anemones we add by choice. Aiptasia being small, agile and fast gets right in amongst coral colonies where it causes havoc multiplying and stinging corals in order to secure more space to colonise.

As with most things prevention is better than cure, a thorough visual inspection of rock or coral before adding to your tank will eliminate most introductions however quarantine is the only sure way to avoid accidental introductions.

Coral dips are pretty useless against Aiptasia, that’s not reason enough to skip dipping though for the record as it is very effective at dealing with a range of other nasties.

As an animal capable of filter feeding it has become clear that high nutrient levels usually associated with dirty or overfed tanks experience the worst break outs of Aiptasia. From a biology point of view it makes sense, a species usually fills a gap, when a food source is in excess a species is able to multiply to the point that it is no longer in excess, it cannot exceed the limits the food source creates, another strong argument for not over-feeding tanks.

Aiptasia on equipment or in weirs can be eliminated with fresh water, soak equipment in fresh water for half hour in freshwater, rinse and the job should be done. Likewise weirs can be filled with freshwater and then using a piece of tubing to syphon out the contents you should be able to clean it up effectively.

You can manually remove Aiptasia by siphoning them and at the same time scraping them, I’d avoid scraping without also using a siphon as just scraping and mushing the Aiptasia into oblivion seems to result in the numbers multiplying, there are mixed views on how this happens, the threat response from Aiptasia could be to spawn or it may just be that like all anemones they may be able to grow from tiny pieces of the anemone floating away and landing somewhere else, like pedal laceration but broadcasting the tiny pieces as opposed to leaving them fixed to a rock.

Kill Aiptasia with specially formulated products such as Red Sea’s Aiptasia-X. Whilst this is helpful to eliminate easy to reach Aiptasia it isn’t a cure all. Consider it a helping hand in the fight.

The final way of course is to make use of natural predators of which there are several. The most common predators used by hobbyists are peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus), filefish (Acreichthys tomentosus) and the Berghia nudibranch (Berghia stephanieae). The last one on this list is the only ‘specialist’ feeder meaning it will not eat anything other than Aiptasia making it the more difficult species to maintain and source.

The peppermint shrimp have a reef-safe status so are probably the best option for most people. The Berghia are also reef safe however as mentioned before are much harder to source and maintain. Copperband’s and filefish are generally given the status of reef-safe with caution, so be sure to do your research to check they’re suitable for your tank before adding them. It is also likely that some of the other butterfly fishes consume Aiptasia too, the copperband was chosen for a mention here as it is the one least likely to also have a go at corals.