Re:Aiptasia Eating Filefish (acreichthys tomentosus)

Pete Giwojna

Dear Debi:

Actually, I believe that your cleaner shrimp would not present a problem for a small colony of peppermint shrimp, Debi. I know a number of hobbyists who keep decorative shrimp – scarlet cleaner shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) and/or fire/blood shrimp (Lysmata debelius) – together with the popular peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) in their seahorse tanks without any problem.

The reason they are normally able to coexist without any conflicts or aggression is that the shrimp divide up the available resources chronologically, with the cleaner shrimp being on the clock diurnally, manning the day shift, while the nocturnal peppermint shrimp take over after dark, working the graveyard shift. So you will find that your cleaner shrimp are out and about during the day, cleaning up leftover Mysis and scraps from the seahorses’ messy meals, Debi, while the peppermint shrimp are resting in their favorite hideouts, whereas the peppermint shrimp take over after dark (when the cleaner shrimp are no longer active), working the night shift.

So I think a small group of 3-5 peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) would do well in your seahorse tank together with the large cleaner shrimp, Debi. The cleaner shrimp would police the tank during the day, mopping up leftovers from your seahorses, and the peppermint shrimp will scour the tank after dark, chowing down on me Aiptasia rock anemones. That’s a good way for the shrimp to divide up the available resources because the cleaner shrimp will have no interest in the Aiptasia rock anemones, and even though there may be no leftover Mysis for the peppermint shrimp eat during the night, they will happily predate the Aiptasia rock anemones that are shunned by the cleaner shrimp.

The other discussion thread you found is largely correct about Aiptasia glass anemones not causing any harm in a fish-only tank, Debi. Aiptasia rock anemones and majano anemones are mainly a concern for reef keepers, who don’t want them to crowd out or out-compete their live corals. The Aiptasia and majano anemones are not typically a concern in fish-only aquariums (with the exception of seahorse tanks, of course) since the anemones do no harm at all to most fish and may even provide a welcome dietary supplement for butterflyfish and angelfish.

Of course, a dedicated seahorse tank is the exception to the rule that Aiptasia rock anemones are not harmful in fish-only aquarium systems, Debi. That’s because the seahorses face a much greater risk of being stung and suffering damage to their integument from anemones than free swimming fish such as tangs or damselfish or just about any marine tropical. The reason for this is that seahorses are demersal animals that orient to the substrate and habitually grasp convenient objects on the bottom with their prehensile tails. This is going to inevitably bring them in contact with any anemones or live corals or sessile invertebrates you keep in the aquarium, so it’s important to avoid anemones and to limit yourself to soft corals and certain select SPS corals or LPS corals that cannot harm the seahorses when they grasp the corals with their tails.

Seahorses are smart and they will learn to avoid an anemone or stinging coral once they’ve come in contact with it. The risk involved in keeping cnidarians with seahorses is therefore twofold, Debi: (1) the risk that they will be badly stung during that first contact before they realize the anemone is a danger, and that their injury may allow secondary infections to take hold where the integument has been damaged, and (2) the risk from pest anemones (Aiptasia or majano) becoming so numerous that they cannot easily be avoided and that the seahorses repeatedly blunder into them (perhaps after dark or when an unpredictable current whisks the seahorse against the nematocysts). So the greater the number of the anemones confined with the seahorses within a limited amount of space, the greater the risk that they will eventually be severely stung or repeatedly stung, to their detriment.

That’s where the other discussion thread you came across is dead wrong in my opinion, Debi. In my experience, the population of Aiptasia anemones in an aquarium is NOT self-regulating or self-limiting whatsoever. Quite the contrary – they grow like weeds, can reproduce asexually as well as sexually, and can quickly take over an aquarium by sheer numbers. They are not like hydroids, which only become pests in nursery tanks or dwarf seahorse tanks that are receiving daily feedings of newly hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) that are suitable for filter feeders. The Aiptasia anemones spread by fragmentation and can regenerate an entire individual from a single cell. Aiptasia anemone contain zooanthellae (symbiotic algae cells) and their tissue that give them the ability to produce food via photosynthesis, and they also capable of absorbing nutrients from the aquarium water. So please don’t rely on the Aiptasia anemones to control or limit their own population – that ain’t gonna happen, and if they have favorable conditions, they will quickly take over an aquarium.

In short, I would take some means to control the Aiptasia anemones in your seahorse setup as soon as possible, Debi, and I would favor biological controls over chemical controls in most every instance. In your case, I think the peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) would be a very good option. Your large cleaner shrimp, which are active during the day, will clean up all of the leftover Mysis so that your peppermint shrimp will not be able to satisfy their appetite with gourmet Mysis shrimp when they come out after dark to work the night shift for your cleanup crew. Deprived of juicy Mysis by the daylight scavenging on your cleaner shrimp, the nocturnal peppermint shrimp are bound to resort to chowing down on any of the smaller Aiptasia anemones in the tank, thereby helping to control them.

The peppermint shrimp will often avoid really large anemones – greater than an inch or two in the diameter of the oral disc – but you can take care of the biggest Aiptasia anemones yourself by administering lethal injections, Debi, and between you and the peppermint shrimp, you should to have the Aiptasia infestation under control.

Good luck!

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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