Re:aiptasia sting

Pete Giwojna

Dear Faith:

I am very sorry to hear that one of your seahorses has suffered a severe sting from an anemone.

There is not a great deal that can be done in such cases, Faith, but if you know where on its body the seahorse was injured, you may be able to provide it with some quick relief. Because seahorses are benthic fish that orient to the bottom and use their tails to cling to convenient objects on the substrate, most stings from Aiptasia rock anemones involve the tail of the seahorse. If this is true in this case, Faith, then you can provide your pony with some immediate relief from her stings using ordinary household vinegar from your kitchen.

Just pour a cupful of vinegar and completely immerse the affected seahorse’s tail in the vinegar, taking care to keep its head and upper body well clear of the vinegar. 10 to 15 seconds immersion of the affected area in the vinegar will do the trick.

If a different part of the body was stung other than the tail, you can very carefully pour vinegar over the injured area drop by drop using an eyedropper, providing you can be sure that none of the vinegar will get into the seahorse’s gills, eyes, or mouth. Again, just a few seconds of exposure to vinegar is all that is needed. Return the seahorse to the main tank as soon as possible after rinsing off any residual vinegar with freshwater.

The vinegar is helpful for a couple of reasons, Faith. First of all, it will deactivate any of the stinging cells (nematocysts) from the Aiptasia that are still intact, preventing them from firing and doing any further damage. Secondly, it will break down the complex proteins in the venom, providing immediate relief from the pain of the stings.

The acidity in the vinegar naturally tends to denature toxins associated with envenomation from cnidarians such as jellyfish and anemones, providing quick relief. Such toxins are typically complex enzymes and macro-molecules, and the acidity can disrupt links in these chains and alter them on the molecular level, changing their shape and rendering them relatively harmless. The long-chain protein molecules in the venom can do no more harm once they have been deactivated in this manner.

If you are still unable to get a new Hippocampus kelloggi to eat after treating it stings, then your best option would be to try tempting her to eat using choice live foods. Red feeder shrimp or Hawaiian volcano shrimp (Halocaridina rubra) are ideal for this, as are live Mysis and post-larval shrimp. But Gammarus amphipods are even a live adult brine shrimp are worth trying.

If she refuses even choice live foods, Faith, then I suggest that you try force feeding the pony by hand. By handfeeding in this case I mean holding one entire, intact (whole and unbroken) frozen Mysis that you have carefully thawed in your fingertips and then placing the tail of the Mysid directly in the mouth of the seahorse. Many times the seahorse will simply spit it out again, but often if you can insert the Mysis into her open mouth far enough, her feeding instincts will kick in and take over so that she slurps up the frozen Mysis almost reflexively. That’s a much less stressful and less invasive method of force feeding a seahorse that sometimes works well (especially if the seahorse is accustomed to being hand fed and doesn’t shy away from the aquarist). Force feeding the seahorse by hand sounds much more difficult than it actually is, and seahorses will often respond well to this method of feeding, Faith. Even the professional curators at the large public aquariums will use this technique when their highly prized (and very expensive) seadragons are experiencing problems with weak snick, as explained in the discussion thread below:

<open quote>
Over the years, we have seen mouth problems develop in some of our dragons. Sometimes it’s attributed to injury. Sometimes we don’t know what causes it, but we are often successful in getting them to recover on their own with just supportive feedings until we observe that they are back to catching food normally. Sometimes this can take a long time…as in a month or two of force feedings before they are back to catching enough on their own to sustain themselves.
Although I have not had experience force feeding ribbon dragons, I have both force fed and tube fed leafy and weedy seadragons. Typically, we force feed numerous frozen mysids to a sick dragon up to 3 times a day. By force feeding, I mean that we very gently place a mysid in the mouth of the animal and then lightly hold a finger in front of it so that it can’t easily spit out the food. Usually they learn pretty quickly that they are getting food this way and start to slurp mysids up as soon as they are put in their mouth. I usually try to get 6-10 mysids in per feeding. It takes good eyesight and a steady hand to make sure you don’t injure their mouth with this method. We have also tube fed using a thick slurry of cyclopeeze or pulverized and moistened pelleted food…usually giving around .3cc per feeding…though it’s dependent on the size of the animal. I think we usually use a 2-3mm french catheter cut down to fit on a small syringe. Again we do this 3 x day. We find that the animals do better with the frequent feedings and usually they go right back to searching for food after being released.

Teryl Nolan
Aquarium Supervisor
SeaWorld Florida
7007 SeaWorld Drive
Orlando, Florida 32821

<close quote>

If force feeding your little female by hand to provide it with nutritional support proves to be impractical, Faith, then tube feeding is probably the next best option. Let me know if the tube feeding becomes necessary, and I can provide you with some additional instructions to help guide you through the procedure.

In addition to tending to the injured seahorse, Faith, you will also need to eliminate the Aiptasia rock anemones from your seahorse tank in order to prevent a recurrence of this problem I would recommend a combination of biological control supplemented by lethal injections for your ear education program.

The biological control can be provided by peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) or by Berghia nudibranchs, both of which are very effective in chowing down on the smaller Aiptasia. As you know, peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) are excellent tankmates for seahorses and will do an excellent job of eliminating small Aiptasia rock anemones, making them invaluable in helping to control the Aiptasia in the long run. But large Aiptasia anemones are often too much for the peppermint shrimp to handle, so I usually recommend a combination of biological control and lethal injections when Aiptasia anemones appear in a seahorse tank. The aquarist can dispatch the larger Aiptasia rock anemones by administering the lethal injections, and the combination of the hobbyist killing off the larger specimens while the peppermint shrimp mow down the smaller ones will usually eradicate even a heavy infestation altogether in a matter of weeks.

Aiptasia rock anemones can easily be killed by injecting them with a number of solutions — Kalkwasser, boiling water, lemon juice, a number of commercial products — and there are also products such as Joe’s Juice which you add to the aquarium water to eliminate the anemones without injecting. In cases where hobbyists have had a problem with Aiptasia rock anemones stinging their seahorses, I usually suggest using a combination of such injections and biological control to eradicate the pesky anemones.

There is a product called Aiptasia-X that is very effective in destroying the Aiptasia rock anemones and it is safe to use with seahorses, but it is not safe to use with certain invertebrates, so I cannot tell you if that would be an option for your particular seahorse tank without knowing whether or not you are keeping soft corals, starfish, are sensitive snails in your setup.

I should warn you that attacking Aiptasia anemones with sharp, pointed instruments and ripping or tearing them apart will NOT be enough to kill them. Aiptasia anemones can reproduce by budding and by fragmentation of their pedal disc or foot. So it isn’t enough to destroy the head (oral disc) of the anemone, you must eliminate the entire foot or it will simply regrow from the pedal disc and even spread if the pedal disc was fragmented during the assault.

Best of luck resolving your Aiptasia anemones problem, Faith.

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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