What are Aiptasia and How Do You Get Rid of Them?

If you’ve had a reef tank for any real stretch of time, its more likely than not that you’ve seen an aiptasia anemone, and usually if you’ve seen one, then you’ve seen many.  The most common way for these pests to make their way into your tank is as a hitchhiker with new corals, live rock or macro algae. Although they can be easily avoided by following standard quarantine procedures and dipping your corals, realistically most of us tend to just drop our new aquatic friends into our display after a quick acclimation without sweating the rest.  This sort of practice gives the little nems the perfect opportunity to infiltrate your tank and multiply.

There’s a variety of products and equipment out there such as Aiptasia X from Red Sea, Joe’s Juice and the Majano Wand.  Each of these work great in their own right but will require constant use to make sure that you have truly ended your infestation.  Much like how cats would be kept around barns to get rid of rats, there’s a few choice creatures you can keep in your tank to get rid of an aiptasia problem or even prevent one from starting in the first place.  So let's take a look at our line up!

The Crew

Peppermint Shrimp

Peppermint Shrimp to get rid of aiptasia
Photo Credit Felicia McCaulley

First up we have the peppermint shrimp.  These voracious little shrimp will cruise around your tank eating all kinds of detritus, parasites, and most importantly aiptasia. Although they will eat any size aiptasia, they are great at taking down little ones and can help prevent an outbreak without you ever knowing. Peppermint shrimp are typically considered to be reef safe and should get along with other peaceful species. One of the best parts of the shrimp is that they come in at a reasonable price point and are very easy to take care of meaning that they can be an easy long term solution to an invasion. If you run out of aiptasia in your tank, they will happily chow down on standard foods and wait for the next crop of nems to grow.

Unfortunately, peppermint shrimp, just like everything else can present the occasional problem meaning that they aren't a perfect solution. Although they are considered reef safe, when underfed they have been known to pick at the occasional coral polyp. Alternatively, if you keep your shrimp fat and happy with normal food, they may show no interest in the aiptasia. It is also good to remember that they are pretty vulnerable to any fish that like to eat crustaceans so make sure to be careful when adding them to your system.

The biggest problem when it comes to using peppermint shrimp as aiptasia control isn't even the shrimps fault. As you have probably learned with fish and corals by now, using the common name for an animal can be tricky. You can ask five different people the name of a zoa and you will get five different names. Oddly enough you can also ask the same people the name of five different zoas and still somehow end up with only one name. Peppermint shrimp have now also fallen victim to the highly non-specific practice of assigning common names to species. What you are going to want to look for is Lysmata Wurdemanni (or Lysmata Bogessi) as these will be your peppermint shrimp that will go after aiptasia. There are a number of other shrimp out there such as the camel shrimp which look a bit like our friends the Wurdemanni, but the ones that you really need to watch out for are Lysmata Rathbunae who are also of course sold under the name peppermint shrimp and have zero desire to go after aiptasia. Make sure that when you are seeking out shrimp to rid your tank of pests that you ask the right questions and are sure your are getting the correct type of peppermint shrimp, the Lysmata Wurdemanni.

Pros

  • Very cost effective
  • Low maintenance
  • Will continue to act as clean up crew after aiptasia have gone

Cons

  • May go after corals if underfed
  • May not eat aiptasia if overfed
  • Can fall victim to large predators
  • There are peppermint shrimp impersonators that wont touch aiptasia

Copperband Butterfly

Copperband Butterfly Fish
Photo Credit Felicia McCaulley

Copperband Butterflies are probably the most beautiful addition you can make when it comes to aiptasia elimination. These Fish really do make a great addition to larger tanks that are having aiptasia issue. They are voracious eaters when it comes to anemones and can take care of an infestation relatively quickly.

Unfortunately, Copperbands come with a few issues after this point. They really love to eat anemones. The problem is that this love can extend past just aiptasia and can include many prized anemones that you actually want in your tank. For those reefers that also keep species of feather duster worms, you may also unfortunately that they have all become snacks for your copperband. The eating woes don't just stop here. Outside of invertebrates, copperbands are notoriously picky eaters. They are known to be very shy when feeding and may need a wide variety of foods presented before they find something they like.

Copperband butterflies are also pretty stress prone fish. Try not to keep them with other stress inducing fish and make sure there are not housed with conspecifics or other similar butterfly fish.

Despite these issues, if you have a large enough tank that is well suited for them, Copperband Butterfly Fish are a great choice to eliminate aiptasia is big tanks and really are an aquarium jewel.

Pros

  • Highly effective at eliminating aiptasia
  • A beautiful fish community overall

Cons

  • Can be very difficult to feed
  • Grow rather large
  • May attack other invertebrates such as desirable anemones

Aiptasia Eating Filefish

Aiptasia Eating Filefish
Photo Credit Felicia McCaulley

Filefish are some of the more strange looking fish in the aquarium hobby and come in many varieties. The Aiptasia Eating or Bristletail Filefish is one of the most practical and is a great option for clearing an infestation. These little guys tend to top out around 3-4 inches making them a good choice for tanks as small as 30 gallons. Being on the more shy side of the reef spectrum, it may take a few days after they are introduced to a tank to start to go after the problem anemones, but once they are comfortable they will go to work.

As with many other aiptasia eaters, these filefish have been known to sometimes pick at polyps on corals from time to time. They are also not obligate aiptasia eaters. This means that their diets will need to be regularly supplemented with additional nutritious options to keep them healthy.

One of the best parts about these little guys is that they are actively being captive bred. Fish that come out of captive breeding facilities tend to be healthier and more resilient during shipping which means that you will receive a healthier fish after purchase. They also tend to be much better about accepting food as they have been aquarium fed since birth. Being captive-bred also means that they not harvested from the ocean helping overall sustainability for the hobby.

Pros

  • Non-aggresive to other fish outside its own genus making it a great tank mate
  • Stays relatively small
  • Can be trained to eat a variety of food
  • Are available captive bred

Cons

  • Can Potentially nip coral polyps
  • Combination of shyness and camouflage may mean you won't see them often
  • May take a bit to get comfortable before eating aiptasia

Berghia Nudibranch

Berghia Nudibranchs are possibly the least know aiptasia solution while perhaps being the most effective. These small sea slugs eat aiptasia and only aiptasia. The combination of their small size (approximately 1 inch) and their nocturnal behavior means that you will rarely see any nudibranchs eating aiptasia, but over time you will definitely see the results over time.

Once in your tank for a few days, the nudibranchs will lay eggs and a week or two after they hatch the babies will begin to feast on the aiptasia as well. One thing that makes aiptasia so difficult to deal with is that they will hide and multiply when they feel threatened. Forunately these baby nudibranchs are microscopic and can follow the nems wherever they go making them expert exterminators.

As berghia only eat aiptasia so unforunately once their food supply is gone, they will starve to death over time. If you are able to find them and remove them forom your tank, its always a great option to pass them onto a fellow reefer who is also dealing with aiptasia problems. These little guys can get pretty expensive, especially when dealing with larger tanks so its always great to pay it forward to other hobbyists.

Pros

  • Highly effective solution to aiptasia as its the only thing they eat
  • Very small so they are a great option for any tank size

Cons

  • Can be expensive for how small they are
  • Small and slow meaning that aiptasia removal is slow in larger tanks
  • May wind up as a snack for certain other livestock
  • Only eat aiptasia so will die out once the problem is gone