Anemone Fragging Time | How to Tuesday
Propagating Bubble Tip Anemones is easy, cut them in half and now you have two. It really is that simple. The challenge lies in the husbandry and raising these little Cnidaria up to be of healthy size to cut again and continue the cycle of sharing with friends and maybe even turning a profit.
For some of you, cutting the anemone with a razor blade might seem cruel or make your stomach turn but quickly cutting with a razor blade or scalpel is likely far less stressful than the natural binary fission process that occurs in the ocean.
Anemones in general are amazing creatures when it comes to reproduction. Depending on the exact species, they can reproduce sexually or asexually, via budding and fragmentation and then of course fission, a fancy name for splitting which is what hobbyists force to happen in captivity by cutting them.
The following advice is best for Bubble Tip Anemones specifically because they are hardy and tend to propagate with this method of cutting quite well. If you are keeping some other species of anemone, be sure to research first because some anemones will not take to this cutting process all that well.
How to build an anemone propagation system
When propagating BTA (Bubble Tip Anemones) it is best to keep a dedicated system, separate from your display, if you have the desire to create more than one or two and then share or sell them. Any tank will work but something without overflows and strong open volute type pumps is best. Overflows and strong powerheads with exposed propellers can make quick work of an unsuspecting anemone just trying to find it’s happy place.
Large hydroponic trays are great for this purpose, the rolling racks are not crucial but are nice because you can roll them around and also include a light bar for securing your lights. The best place to find something like this would be a local hydroponic shop which should carry a variety of plastic tray sizes and the rolling racks as well.
The shallow trays are ideal because of the large available surface area and minimal water volume. This means you can house a ton of anemones while also keeping water changes and life support equipment to a minimum. The smooth surfaces also allows you to remove the Bubble Tips fairly easily should they attach to the tray.
Filtration and life support
Filling the tray with some biological filter media like these Marine Pure Spheres is a clever trick because they serve two purposes. Biological filtration and a substrate for the anemones to attach too.
Rubble rock or crushed coral will work as well but simply does not provide anywhere near the amount of surface area as this Marine Pure media because of the internal pore network. The regular shape of the spheres also makes it a bit easier to dislodge the Anemone's foot with minimal damage when you need to remove them.
We used a couple of low-profile Cobalt NeoTherm heaters to match the tropical water temperatures these Bubble Tips prefer.
A couple of low cost MJ1200 powerheads work great to move the water. Securing foam pre-filters to the pumps intake will help reduce the chances of wandering Anemones getting sucked in and chopped up by the pumps. Some strong wide rubber bands are nice to hold the foam in place and makes it more difficult for the Anemones to squeeze through.
Attaching a simple wave maker or timers to the pumps can effectively randomize the flow patterns in the tank helping to further mimic natural conditions. Rotating flow nozzles are also a great way to get some more natural flow patterns.
You have a ton of options for lighting and anything with suitable output for a reef tank will work. We chose a couple of the popular Kessil A360 LED lights for the small profile and substantial output. The pendant style LEDs are also lightweight and really easy to hang from the light bar.
Substantial output is required for anemones and widely agreed you should be lighting in the SPS territory of 250 - 350 PAR. Being a shallow container this should be easy to achieve throughout the entire tray but also can be easy to over light and using a PAR meter to dial in the LED output is a smart idea.
After getting all of the equipment together, it is time to add some saltwater and begin cycling.
You do need to establish a bacterial population on the media and after 4-6 weeks you can add a couple of fish if you wish. Fish will keep the biological foundation stable in the tank and help feed the anemones as well. Fish are not critical to a system like this but do help, just don’t everdue it, 1-2 clownfish or something similar is likely all you need.
Once cycled, you can start to add your nems, you can start with a single specimen but gathering more than one will certainly help get your endeavour off the ground quicker considering most anemones can be divided every 4-6 weeks +/-.
You now have an effective BTA propagation system!
How to cut an anemone
Slicing the anemone is straightforward but must be done with care.
2. Place the anemone flat on your cutting surface, foot side down. Then spread the tentacles exposing the mouth.
3. Firmly and precisely cut right down the middle through the center of the mouth in a single motion. Do not make a sawing in motion and do not crush or squish the anemone, both of which will further damage the tissue. You want a nice clean cut.
4. Place each half into a specimen cup or container full of saltwater.
5. Transfer the freshly cut Anemones back into your propagation tray.
How to care for anemones
You will be amazed at how quickly the new cuttings form into a miniature version of it’s predecessor. Observe and give them a few weeks to heal completely before attempting to move them again.
After a few weeks of healing time you can begin spot feeding the anemones, anything from pellets to mysis shrimp is great. Frozen foods will provide the most natural like nutrition and Hikari Jumbo Mysis is a favorite here at BRS. If you don’t have access to frozen foods, freeze-dried krill soaked in Selcon is a great alternative.
A handful of weeks later they should be the same size as before you cut them and you can start all over again. It is best to only cut larger more mature anemones, smaller nems tend to have a far less success rate when cutting.
Water quality is important but with only a few fish and no corals consuming elements and building stony structures, small water changes are really the only required maintenance. Major and minor elements will not fluctuate like what you would see in a fully stocked reef tank with stony corals.
Waste parameters need to be monitored and consider the fact that you are sort of broadcast feeding the anemones and food loss is bound to happen which will contribute to nutrient levels. Alongside that you don't have powerful filtration equipment so the small frequent water changes are going to be key. If left unchecked, elevated nutrients combined with powerful lighting will promote nuisance algae growth.
Where to sell anemones
The easiest most consistent way is to supply your local fish store. Establish a relationship with the owners and employees because getting in can be tough. Fish stores need a reliable source and don’t forget they run a business to make money to support themselves and their employees.
Tell them how many you can produce per month and show them a few of the actual Anemones you have available for sale. It is smart to establish some benefits of your service over other wholesalers available such as free delivery, almost zero mortality because the animals are captive grown and go through minimal transport and handling compared to being flown all around the world and being held in multiple holding tanks.
If you get shot down, be polite and try again in a month or two. A good gesture of trading/donating some frags on occasion and buying some stuff from the store would not hurt. Most of us have relationships with at least one local store already, so that would be your best place to start. If not, start to be a regular and strike up “fishy” conversations prior to even mentioning your anemone endeavour. Establishing a reputation among local hobbyists via your local aquarium club can be an excellent way to sell anemones locally as well.
Selling on aquarium forums, facebook groups or online marketplaces is also an option but shipping comes into play which adds a whole other level of possible problems and requirements so just be prepared for what may come if you decide to go down this route.
For more Anemone eye candy, check out our video series about building the Clownfish Harem Tank in the lobby here at BRS which was full of Bubble Tip Anemones and designer clownfish.