Just as with all marine critters, you need to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before getting an anemone. What they truly need to thrive might surprise you. The below is based on my first hand experiences and what I learned from researching before getting my anemones.
Generally speaking, they need the same type of water conditions as SPS corals require. Anemones need: high levels of dissolved O2, a salinity at 1.024 to 1.026, a stable pH between 8.1 and 8.3, temp between 76 and 78 F, calcium between 400 and 450, dKH at 8.0 to 12.0, magnesium between 1,250 and 1,350 ppm, nitrate at 2 ppm or less (closer to 0 ppm is best), stable phosphate at 0.002 ppm or less (0 is best), and finally 0 ppm of ammonia and nitrite. Just as with most all aquatic life, stable parameters and parameters at or near the desired levels is the key to a healthy and happy tank with healthy and happy anemones.
One important thing to keep in mind is that it is best to maintain proper and balanced levels of Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium in order to have a proper and stable pH. This will help to maintain levels close to that of natural sea water. Your nitrates should be less than 2ppm (closer to 0 is best), and phosphates less than 0.002 ppm.
A) The Maturity of the Aquarium: This aspect of keeping anemones is even more important to people who are newer to the hobby as compared to seasoned veterans (and just to be clear, I’m not claiming to be a seasoned veteran here either). The reason being is that tanks that have been set up and running for less than 6 months can be prone to swings in water parameters. Most anemones cannot handle swings in water parameters very well at all.
B) Water Flow & Movement: Anemones need at least some water flow around them. They breathe by absorbing oxygen directly from the water. In the wild, anemones also need water flow to bring food to them and for carrying away wastes. Generally speaking, anemones will need moderate to low water flow. One of the most common causes for an anemone not to be happy in your tank is that they do not like the water flow around them. This will sometimes cause them to move until they find a spot in the tank that they like. Some type sof anemones are more tolerant of flows and water movement as compared to others
C) Lighting Requirements: Anemones need really good lighting to survive, similar levels to SPS corals. They will get a lot of their required nutrients through photosynthetic processes. They contain zooxanthellae algae within their tissues that will allow them to use light for nutrients. Metal halides or T5 HO fixtures traditionally have been the best choices for light fixtures. High quality LED will also provide all the lighting a anemone would need. I have had great success using T5HOs as well as good quality LEDs with my bubble tip and carpet anemones. I am currently using LEDs. Typically, if your lighting is just a little less than ideal for your anemone, you can compensate for that with some regular feedings.
There is a lot of differing opinions over what a minimum light requirement should be. I have found as a general rule of thumb, 4 watts per gallon of 14,000K or higher lighting should be a good starting point for tanks that are about 20 inches tall. Once again, that is only based on the success that I have had with my anemones.
D) Oxygen levels: Anemones do best when there is a good level of oxygen in the water. This is not very different from other requirements of marine life. This can be easily achieved by having good water movement at the surface of the water in the tank, and using a protein skimmer.
There are a few schools of thought on this as well. Some people do not feed their anemone anything and they remain healthy and grow in their tank for many years provided the lighting remains at the proper level for their anemone. In my experience, I have kept my anemones healthy and growing by feeding them about 2 or 3 times per month. You can even feed them up to 3 times a week if you want to accelerate their growth. I feed mine about weekly and they grow and spawn and seem to be thriving.
As for foods, stick to meaty foods that are high in proteins. Claims, Scallops, Shrimp, Mussels, and Krull are all good choices to offer. Stay away from silversides as much as possible. Typically you are risking potential quality issues with silversides as compared to the other above listed choices. There are other options for food, but I have not tried any of them. The below link can provide you with a few suggestions for feed anemones.
When you feed your anemone, make sure the food is small enough to easily fit in the anemones mouth. Place the food near the anemones mouth (as near as you can). I use a long pair of tweezers for this. Once the food touches the anemone, it should start to react right away. Anemones can take up to 2 to 3 minutes to take the food and put it in its mouth followed by closing it’s mouth. A stressed anemone will take longer. Just keep an eye on the other critters and fish in the tank as they usually will try to steel food form the anemone while it is trying to eat it.
Do anemones need clown fish ?………. No they do not. Anemones are perfectly fine without them. There are certain benefits to having clown fish hosting in your anemone though. Benefits like: the clownfish will defend the anemone from all other fish and some critters in the tank, the clown fish will place uneaten food on the anemone (basically feeding it) and the clown fish will gain protection from other fish by hosting in the anemone. However, both the clown fish and anemone can be perfectly healthy and happy without each other.
If you are going to get a pair of clown fish to host in your anemone, make sure you get the correct type of clown fish that will naturally host in your anemone. As a general rule of thumb, not all clown fish will host in all types of anemones.
On the other hand, an anemone can represent a risk to other tank inhabitants. They are very opportunistic feeders. Some types of anemones will grab and eat almost any smaller slow moving fish or invert that may come in contact with their tentacles. My carpet anemone for example has eaten many snails (and spit out the shells), a orange-back wrasse, and all of my cleaner shrimp while my bubble tip anemones would not eat any of them
Anemones move because they are not happy with the spot they are currently sitting in or the water quality might have changed. This can also be an indication that something is wrong in the tank or the result of something that you might have changed. If your anemone starts moving and you have not changed the lighting or water flow, there could be a problem with your parameters. Some anemones are also more likely to move than others. I’ve had bubble tip anemones that would split and then one of the new anemones would move around until it found a spot it liked away from the other new anemone. I also have carpet anemones that have not moved at all in years.
Adding a Anemone to Your Tank
If you find that you want to add an anemone to your tank after researching the requirements, I would suggest following the below steps to add the anemone to your set-up.
A) Turn off your powerheads for the first 24 hour (or so) the anemone is in the tank. This will help the anemone to settle into their new home
B) The first step would be to ensure your tank has matured and your water parameters are in line and stable as stated above.
C) Next you have to plan for a suitable spot in your tank. Some anemones prefer to attach their boots to rocks, other like to attach to the bottom glass of the tank. Some anemones also need 3 to 6 inches of substrate to dig their boot in. Research these requirements first and plan a spot in your tank for your anemone. These requirements also include lighting and water flow.
D) Now you should be ready to purchase your anemone. Pick one out at the store that looks healthy. They should have at least close to normal coloring and their mouth should be closed.
E) Next you will need to carefully take you anemone home and acclimate him to your water conditions. A dip acclimation method works best for anemones.
F) In addition to acclimating your anemone to the water parameters, you will also want to acclimate your anemone to the light in the tank. One of the best methods for that is to using some type of plastic screening that will allow light to pass through. Add three layers on top of the tank and remove one screen every 3 days or so. This will allow the anemone to slowly adjust to the light in your tank.
F) During the first few days to a week, your anemone may become very stressed while he gets used to his new home. The anemone may even hide in the rocks for a day or two or have it’s mouth wide open. This type of reaction can be expected some times.
G) Until the anemone settles into the tank, it would be a good idea to turn off the powerheads at night. In my experience, if your anemone is going to move, it will happen after you turn the tank lights off. You don’t want to loose your anemone to a powerhead if you can avoid it.
If your anemone is showing one or more signs of stress listed below longer than a week after being added to your tank, or at any time after that, you could have a problem in your set-up
A)The anemone is expelling a long and stringy brown liquid. This could be a sign the water conditions are not good and you anemone is expelling some of its zooxanthellae. This can be a serious condition. Just be sure the anemone is not expelling food wastes (keep in mind there is only one opening to the digestive system).
B) The anemone seams to shrink and expand a lot. Anemones will deflate and then re-inflate as a way of changing the water inside of them flushing out wastes. If this is continually happening (say daily or more), or if it remains shrunk for longer periods of time, your anemone might be having problems or is stressed.
C) The mouth is open when it is not eating or expelling wastes.
D) When an anemone moves into the rocks and hides from sight (with the exception of rock anemones).
F) Your anemone looks pale or almost colorless, otherwise known as “bleaching”. Basically this is another symptom / result of the anemone expelling zooxanthellae or was not properly acclimated to your tank lighting.
G) The mouth remains open or perhaps even extended although the anemone is not eating. In extreme cases of stress, the mouth will appear inverted.
H) The anemone will not attach its self anywhere in the tank.
If you anemone has become bleached (least most of it’s color) once he has been in your tank for a while and is / was happy, this is most likely a indication that something is wrong with either the lighting or water quality. Below are the most common response for a anemone to become bleached.
A) Too much light
B) Not enough light
C) Nutrient level in the water is too high
D) Nutrient level in the tank is too low.
The below is based on my experiences with carpet and bubble tip anemones. There are many other types of anemones in the hobby today, however, I have not kept any of them.
Bubble Tip Anemones (BTA)
Bubble tip anemones are among the more common anemones available in the hobby these days. In my experience, they are among the easier anemones to keep and likely the hardiest of the anemones. BTAs typically like to attach to the rocks in a spot where they can attach their boot into a crevasse in the rock and protect their boot. They like moderate flow and high lighting conditions
The most common is the red or green bubble tip, however you can get color variations from blue to orange as well. They can be easily identified by the longer tentacles (1 to 2 inches in length) with a “bubble” structure near the end of the tentacle. The size and shape of the bubble structure on the end of the tentacle will vary between different BTAs from very large to almost nonexistent. These anemones can get to be a little over one foot across which is why I would suggest a tank size of no less than 30 gallons for these anemones.
BTAs typically like to attach to the rocks in a spot where they can attach their boot into a crevasse in the rock and protect their boot. They like moderate flow and high lighting conditions. BTAs are also the most likely anemone to move around in your aquarium. Any change, even one so small that you may not even be able to test for, can lead to these guys moving sometimes.
It is also very common for BTA to reproduce in the home aquarium when kept in ideal conditions. They can produce sexually by spawning, or asexually by splitting. I had started off with one BTA in one of my tanks which ended up as 5 BTAs one year later. It seemed like once the anemone would get to close it’s maximum size, it would split and one half would move around the tank until it found a spot it liked.
If you would like clown fish, consider the below list of some the clown fish that have been known to readily host in these anemones. I found this list in reef keeping magazine
Amphiprion Ocellaris, ocellaris clown fish (all color variations
Amphiprion Akindynos, or barrier reef clown
Amphiprion Bicinctus, or two-band clown
Amphiprion Chrysopterus Blueline or Orange fin clown
Amphiprion Ephippium or fire clown
Amphiprion Frenatus, or tomato clown
Amphiprion latezonatus, or wide-band clown
Amphiprion. Mccullochi, or Mcculloch’s clown
Amphiprion. Melanopus, or cinnamon clown
Amphiprion rubrocinctus, or Australian clown
Amphiprion tricinctus, or three-band clown
The below is a pic of my rose bubble tip anemone about 3 weeks after it split. Around 1 or 2 weeks after this picture was taken, the anemone on the left moved to another spot in the tank.
These are among the more difficult anemones to care for out of all the different types of anemones. The two most common carpet anemones are the Gigantea and the Haddoni. Both are similar and can often be misidentified. It would be important to know the difference in the appearance of the two as they have some very minor differences in their requirements that might make a difference in the long term.
Gigantea Carpet Anmones
These are amount these most difficult anemones to care for. While I have only kept on of these anemones for a short time now, I had spent a lot of time learning about this anemone so I would be able to accurately tell the difference between gigantean and haddoni anemones. The gigantean carpet anemone (Stichodactyla Gigantea) will get over 1.5 feet in diameter, and will frequently get to around 2 feet when kept in ideal conditions. In the wild they can get to well over 3 feet. Their tentacles are the longest of the carpet anemones but much shorter than a long tentacle or BTA. The tentacles will be around ¼ to ¾ inches in length. I like to think of it as looking like 1960′s shag carpeting. Typically they will be a brown or sandy color but other less common colors like green, blue, yellow, purple, and pink can also be found. Even harder to find colors include red and a dark blue. They are not known to reproduce in the home aquarium.
A lot of people recommend that you will need at least a 40 gallon breeder tank for one of these guys (species only tank), but I would highly recommend nothing less than a 75 gallon would be best. They will also do best with moderate to slighting stronger flow. I have seen these guys plant themselves almost directly into the flow of a return pump line. They also require slightly more lighting levels as compared to other anemones (they are the highest demanding for light). Gigantea anemones like to plant there boot in 3 to 6 inches of substrate attaching it to the bottom of the tank. This way, if they feel threatened they can fully retract themselves into their boot under the substrate completely submerging themselves under the substrate.
The below pic are of some rare colors in Gigantea anemones that were just received at a local fish store where I live.
The below is a picture of my blue carpet anemone.
Handdoni Carpet Anemones
The Haddoni anemone (Srichodactyla Haddoni) can get as large as Gigantea growing to around 2’ in diameter. Although difficult to keep, they are not as difficult as the gigantean anemone. They have very short tentacles that look more like colored bumps rather than tentacles. I like to think of it as looking like commercial grade carpeting. Their tentacles are around ½ the length of the tentacles of a Gigantea anemone. Typically they will be a brown or sandy color but other less common colors like: green, blue, and purple. More rare colors are red and pink.
Haddonis have been known to grow very fast. My haddion grew from 4 inches to well over 12 inches in 18 months. Most people feel they will need nothing less than a 40 gallon breeder tank for a species only set-up, but I would recommend they should be kept in nothing smaller then a 75 gallon tank. They typically like to plant themselves in the sand. They also like to plant their boot in 3 to 6 inches of substrate attaching it to the bottom of the tank. This way, if the feel threatened they can fully retract themselves into their boot under the substrate completely submerging themselves under the substrate. While they have the same lighting requirements of Gigantea anemones, haddonis like low to moderate flow (less flow than giganteas).
Haddonis are one of the more aggressive feeders quickly snatching up anything the comes in contact with it’s tentacles. Their tentacles should be extremely sticking making it very hard to handle these guys. My haddoni has eaten many snails (spitting out the shells), shrimp, and a few fish.
Clown fish are the most likely to host in a carpet anemone as compared to all other anemones. If you would like clown fish, consider the below that have been known to readily host in these anemones.
Amphiprion ocellaris, or ocellaris clown fish (all color variations)
Amphiprion akindynos, or barrier reef clown
Amphiprion chrysogaster, or Muritisn clown
Amphiprion chrysopterus, or orange fin clown
Amphiprion clarkia, or clarkie clown fish
Amphiprion. Polymnus, saddleback clown
Amphiprion sebae, or just sabae clown
Amphiprion Chrysopterus Blueline or Orange fin clown
Amphiprion Ephippium or fire clown
Amphiprion Frenatus, or tomato clown
The below is a pic my red haddoni carpet anemone just after I had put him in my tank. He was around 4 inches in size then. The next few photos show him closer to his current size of around 14 inches.
And just one last note on anemone reproduction. You can search the internet and find a lot of information / instructions / examples of how to frag anemones. IMO, this is a safe practice to consider. In the wild there are only two different species of anemones that are known to commonly reproduce by splitting, all other anemones reproduce sexually.
There are some fragging examples that I found which shows recently fragged anemones a few days after being cut up. Even in some of these examples, they state a pretty high mortality rate (50 to 75%) and none of them offer evidence of how the anemones that survive the procedure are doing 3 months, 6 months, or a year afterwards. I have not been able to find creditable information to support the practice of frag anything with a mouth and a stomach and expect it to survive or remain healthy through the long term.
Below are a few links to published articles that speak to anemone reproduction. Please read them before you frag a anemone (I forgot where I found those links).
References and other good info:
If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to start a thread in our forum using the below link. If you are not already a member, please take the time to sign up and join.