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An ode to the Tuxedo Urchin

By Leonard Ho - Posted Feb 24, 2014 09:00 AM
If you're searching for a prolific marine algae grazer that feeds on almost every type of algae, is reef-safe, stays small, doesn't bulldoze, and is fairly hardy and long-lived, I present the tuxedo urchin for your consideration. Here is my tip of the hat to my favorite reef cleaner, Mespilia globulus!
An ode to the Tuxedo Urchin

A tuxedo urchin wearing a fancy "hat" as they customarily do. Photo by Bernard Dupont

It took me almost two decades to discover Mespilia globulus.  I'm one of those aquarist who tends to stick with what I know.  When it came to cleaner crew, what I knew was snails, sea cucumbers, emerald and hermit crabs.  The fact is most packaged cleaner crews sold by livestock retailers right now still only include a combination of these aforementioned invertebrates.

And that's a real shame because one of the best reef cleaner is the tuxedo urchin, Mesipilia globulus.

While all the popular invertebrates perform admirably in their "dirty jobs," each are not without their drawbacks.  Yet, try as I might, I can't find any drawback to tuxedo urchins.

  • They are guaranteed to vigorously graze a wide assortment of algae, and they do so continuously (contrary to some reports that M.globulus is only active at night).
  • Tuxedo urchins will graze any hard surface: rocks, glass/acrylic, or equipment such as powerheads. These urchins do not damage acrylic or silicone.
  • They're as close to 100% reef safe as any organism comes. The same can't be said of crabs or some other urchins.  You aren't ever going to see an urchin kill a snail for its shell.
  • These urchins grow no larger than about two to three inches (5 to 7 cm).
  • With their hundreds of spines and tube feet constantly sensing their surroundings, they also avoid bulldozing rock and coral (even freshly planted frag plugs).
  • These urchins are hardy unlike some of their echinoderm relatives.
  • As far as urchins go, tuxedos are pretty gentle on coralline algae.
  • With their pinstriped appearance, tuxedo urchins are attractive ... until they decorate themselves with algae and debris to serve as camouflage.
  • Their mouths are on the bottom and their anuses are on top.  Alright; this is neither a positive or negative.  It's just a fun factoid!


Although tuxedo urchins are not as sensitive to water parameter fluctuations as most echinderms, gradual acclimation is still recommended.  Often times you can artificially induce tuxedo urchins to spawn with rapid changes in water parameters such as after water changes or during its introduction to your aquarium.  Aside from this phenomenon, there's really nothing extraordinary about caring for tuxedo urchins.  If your aquarium can support other inverts, it will support M.globulus.

When my Tunze Streams get dirty, I simply put a tuxedo urchin on them and within a day a pump is completely clean of algae.  One urchin can clean my 52x28" back glass (where my magnet cleaners can not go) within 72 hours.

It took me far too long to try my first urchin.  If you're still using snails and hermits for your cleaner crew, give tuxedo urchins a go.  Add a bit of class to your marine aquarium!

Tuxedo urchins will often extend their tube feet (which are totally harmless) when searching for new paths to go.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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