You Can Save Your Reef Tank From Aiptasia... With the RIGHT Tools!
The word alone will make any reef aquarist cringe - Aiptasia Anemones are one of the peskiest plagues that can inhabit your reef aquarium because they can spread like wildfire and will deliver a potent sting, irritating surrounding corals. Often referred to as glass anemones or rock anemones, Aiptasia is technically a complete genus of anemones consisting of 17 different species. They don't grow much bigger than 1" in diameter, are roughly 2" tall, are quite transparent with a brown/pink hue, and have relatively long pointed tentacles.
What Makes Aiptasia So Bad?
In an aquarium, these pest anemones make their way into our tanks as hitchhikers and once they are big enough for you to physically see, the damage has begun.
Like all cnidarians, aiptasia anemones can deliver a sting which will cause neighboring corals to close and eventually stress to the point of no return. They are virulent and can spread quickly in the aquarium which only exacerbates the situation creating a widespread threat to your corals.
The reason aiptasia are so pesky is most certainly their difficulty to remove from the tank completely. They can reproduce asexually via fragmentation and most attempts at physical removal will simply lead to spreading the anemones around because small bits of the anemone drift away to settle elsewhere. It really doesn't take long for one aiptasia to turn into a handful and the growth is exponential from there.
Methods For Eradicating Aiptasia Effectively
Understanding how to get rid of Aiptasia starts with knowing what works and what doesn't. The approach should be tailored for the level of infestation and your particular level of experience. It goes without saying, the sooner you address the problem the easier it will be to get rid of them. Thankfully, there are a few different ways you can approach the situation.
1. Eradicate Aiptasia Using Livestock
Peppermint Shrimp - Can be very effective and great for nano reefs as long as you get the correct species that prey on Aiptasia; look for species named Lysmata wurdemanni or Lysmata Boggessi. While they are widely considered reef safe, they may find some of your coral polyps delectable so proceed with caution.
Bristletail Filefish - The "Aiptasia Eating Filefish", sometimes called the Bristletail or Seagrass Filefish, are peaceful little fish that will prey upon Aiptasia but just like Peppermints, they can also develop an appetite for coral polyps. They stay small at only 3.5" long and will do very well in tanks of 30 gallons or larger. They are also available as captive-bred which is an incredible benefit because they will acclimate easily into your tank, readily accept prepared aquarium food, and are less likely to carry any diseases.
Copperband Butterflyfish - These beautiful fish are best reserved for expert fish keepers because they have a very specific diet and can be super finicky in an aquarium. While they can be great predators of aiptasia, you will need to ensure their diet is supplemented with natural food sources to ensure long-term health in your aquarium.
Berghia Nudibranch - These are the most effective livestock option for preying on Aiptasia because they will most definitely eat aiptasia and only aiptasia. These Nudis have a voracious appetite for aiptasia and can quickly reproduce in your aquarium. Once the population is established, they can quickly eliminate ALL of the aiptasia in your aquarium within no time. The problem is that once you run out of aiptasia, that means the Berghia run out of food and won't survive. They are best reserved for large aquariums but can work in small aquariums so long as you find them more aiptasia to survive. Sharing Berghia amongst reef tank friends is a common practice for this very reason.
2. Frank's F-Aiptasia
Frank's F-Aiptasia is a topical solution that covers the anemone and quickly forms a hard crust to entrap any fragments from escaping and settling elsewhere in your tank. The anemone trapped below quickly dies and a few days after application, the solution can be siphoned out or brushed away from the rock without harming your tank.
It will likely take multiple applications because new anemones will inevitably pop up but having a bottle of F-Aiptasia on hand will usually keep them in check. F-Aiptasia will not alter water chemistry but it can kill coral polyps so be careful when applying the solution and always be sure to turn off your pumps when applying the solution. Follow the instructions carefully and only attempt to eradicate a few Aiptasia at one time.
3. F-Aiptasia & Epoxy
While Franks F-Aiptasia is one of the most effective topical chemical solutions, using a bit of epoxy can help you trap anemones that are located in difficult areas where applying a topical solution just won't work. For example, aiptasia can just as easily grow sideways or upside down on the bottom of a frag plug or rock, this makes it difficult to cover the anemone in F-Aiptasia without the solution falling off the anemone.
Using a small bit of Tunze Coral Gum topped with some Frank's F-Aiptasia can work to trap that upside-down anemone and eradicate it. Of course, this can be a little tricky but it can work with careful application.