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Carpet anemones: Beautiful, fragile, and deadly

By Leonard Ho - Posted Oct 16, 2013 09:00 AM
Anemones of the genus Stichodactyla are some of the most colorful inverts in the sea, but they're also notoriously poor shippers, and those that do survive their trek from sea to aquarium can turn out to be deadly additions to your reef.
Carpet anemones: Beautiful, fragile, and deadly

Sexy shrimps are one of the few animals that can avoid the deadly sting of carpet anemones. Photo by Brian Low.

Of all the Pacific hosting anemones I've kept in my thirty years in this hobby, none captivate me more than the carpet anemones, S.gigantea and S.haddoni.  Their neon colors, massive sizes, undulating disk forms, and stubby "shag rug" tentacles really speak to me.

But those beautiful tentacles pack lethal power.  Stichodactyla anemones possess some of the most potent stings of any photosynthetic invert.  Anyone who has ever touched a healthy carpet anemones knows just how sticky their tentacles are.  Many aquarists have attempted carpet anemones only to learn their new prized centerpiece is a deathtrap for fish and mobile inverts sharing the aquarium.  Take, for example, this poor powder blue tang vs carpet anemone:

If you're wondering why the aquarist didn't help save the struggling tang from the anemone, there was virtually no chance the tang would have survived the tissue damage caused by stings from a carpet anemone.  The sting is that potent.

Furthermore, having attempted multiple carpet anemones and visited countless Los Angeles wholesalers myself, it's abundantly clear Stichodactyla are fragile and ship poorly in comparison to other Pacific hosting anemones.  Many carpet anemones arrive bleached, mouth inside-out, and/or melting away necrotising from bacterial/protozoan infections.  It's not a pretty sight.

It's hard to resist these colors.
It's hard to resist these colors.
It's my opinion carpet anemones should only be attempted by advanced aquarists and only if the anemone is hosting clownfish who can chase away fish from their own death-by-anemone.  I should note that even clownfish aren't safe.  I've heard multiple first-hand accounts of carpet anemones eating clownfish, even suddenly making unexpected meals of clownfish they've hosted for months/years.  Carpet anemones should be fed regularly to curb their voracious appetites.  I also recommend moon-lighting to help fish navigate at night without accidentally bumping into carpet anemones; Just one flirting touch could spell doom.  And always keep in mind these two species get huge, so careful planning (or ideally a species-specific display) is required for carpet anemones and their tankmates.

To be honest, I believe these magnificent animals should not be harvested for home aquariums.  They have dismal mortality rates, and the few that live often end up taking lives of their own in captivity, so it's really a lose-lose proposition.  Beautiful animals ... but deadly one way or another.

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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