Re:Clown Fish & Aiptasia

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tammy:

It sounds like your 85-gallon extra tall aquarium is progressing nicely! The aquarium parameters you listed are excellent, and you needn’t be concerned about the low level of nitrates in the tank. We like to keep the nitrates below 20 at all times and below 10 whenever possible, so your reading of 2 is really very good.

Aiptasia rock anemones are pretty much inevitable when you begin stocking an aquarium with live rock and macroalgae. A few isolated Aiptasia rock anemones won’t pose a serious threat to any of the larger seahorses such as Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus), which will be careful to avoid them.

However, Aiptasia rock anemones can rapidly increase in number and become a threat to seahorses when they are so numerous it is difficult for the seahorses to avoid coming in contact with them. The danger is not that the Aiptasia will capture and consume a small seahorse, but rather that their stinging cells or nematocysts can penetrate the integument of the seahorse and leave it vulnerable to secondary infections. So it’s a good idea to remove them on sight and take measures to control the spread of the pesky rock anemones.

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 (e.g., Joe’s Juice) — and in the tank like yours that’s difficult to work in, Tammy, I would recommend getting a colony of peppermint shrimp to do the work for you.

Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) will do a fine job of controlling Aiptasia rock anemones and they do great with seahorses. They are popular additions to a seahorse tank because hobbyists like to use them to augment their cleanup crews and add a splash of color and activity to their tanks. Aside from their utility as attractive scavengers, they often perform a useful service by grooming the seahorses, which is fascinating to watch, and regularly reproduce, releasing swarms of nauplii many seahorses love to eat. Peppermint Shrimp are especially popular because they are natural predators of Aiptasia rock anemones and do a wonderful job of eradicating these pests from the aquarium.

One rule to keep in mind when buying your Peppermints is to select the largest possible cleaner shrimp for your seahorse tank(s). Seahorses will actively hunt small cleaner shrimp and they are quite capable of killing shrimp that are far too big to swallow whole, so the cleaners need to be large enough that they are not regarded as potential prey. Add a few good-sized peppermint shrimp to the seahorse enclosure and they will happily clean up all of the smaller Aiptasia rock anemones. If you pitch in by periodically injecting the largest Aiptasia, you will soon have the Aiptasia rock anemones under control.

I don’t know of anyone that sells cultured peppermint shrimp, Tammy, but that’s all right — there is little or no danger of contamination from these decorative shrimp. That’s because peppermint shrimp and invertebrates in general are not susceptible to the same pathogens and parasites that plague seahorses and other marine fishes. If they were carrying any of the parasites that could bother seahorses, it would be as hitchhikers, and that’s unlikely because those same parasites normally cannot survive long without a suitable fish host. So you can relax and pick out the healthiest peppermint shrimp from your LFS or any convenient source. Just make sure you get nice big ones.

When setting up a new aquarium, it’s best to avoid running your protein skimmer or making water changes until after the tank has finished cycling and the biofiltration is fully established. Once the aquarium has cycled completely, you can fire up your protein skimmer and begin making regular water changes.

When it’s time to perform water changes, smaller, more frequent water changes are always preferable to large water changes that are done less frequently. So I like your schedule of making small three-gallon water changes twice a week very much and I think that’s a great way to go about it, Tammy.

You can order some "Nemo" clownfish (Amphiprion occelaris) from Ocean Rider anytime after your tank has cycled and the biological filtration is fully established.

Best of luck with your new seahorse tank, Tammy!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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