One of the first fish we acquired was a gold band maroon clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus). We named him Archie. There is something very special about the clownfish in general. Thinking back over the fish that have come and gone during our aquarium days (make the sign of the cross or pour beer onto the ground – it’s your call) my opinion is the clownfish is a fantastic first fish. They eat well, they live well, they are hearty little fish and there’s a bonus with the clowns. Many of them will host anemones. Most will try to host a frogspawn or a healthy torch until they get an anemone.
Hosting is truly a wonder of nature. A symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship develops between clowns and anemones in many ways. The clowns will feed their anemone nest and stimulate water circulation in the area around it. The anemone provides a nest and eats the clown’s poop. Yeah, maybe this isn’t as mutually beneficial as we think. I am simplifying here – there are some really cool things that go on with mucous and algae and dead tentacles, too. Our Archie is an excellent host. He is the Martha Stewart of the aquatic world. If this fish could talk he would smile at you and say, “It’s a good thing” while sweeping the sand in front of his anemone. In the early saltwater days we didn’t have an anemone so Archie would wiggle around in our teeny tiny little frogspawn (Euphyllia spp.) He was basically ruining the coral’s life.
One fine day my man brought home a small bubble tip anemone. We put the anemone, still in the plastic bag, into the tank to acclimate it. Archie saw the anemone, still in the bag, before we even put him in the water. When we placed the plastic bag into the water Archie immediately swam to it and began to fish dance. He wriggled and flipped his fins, splashed the water and dipped and dove in front of the anemone.
We’ve added several different species of clowns to our saltwater world and I can tell you now aquarist friends and saltwater neighbors, this has never happened with any of the other clowns when we’ve introduced an anemone.
Archie took really good care of the anemone. When we fed the tank Archie would grab whatever was being served, dart back to the anemone and toss the food into the anemone’s mouth then rush out for more. When the anemone had enough Archie would feed himself. Archie had this habit of “sweeping.” It was maddening. He would go out in front of the anemone and swish his tail back and forth in the immediate area, kicking up sand, sometimes displacing the sand so that our live rock would tilt. The sweeping is actually the clowns way of improving water flow around the anemone. He might even be kicking up algae or other food particles in the sand for the anemone to grab with his tentacles.
That’s the amazing nature part. There is a reason for all the fishy behavior.
Archie hosted our anemone so well the little green bubble tip became Monstro, gigantor of the sea, eating battleships for dinner. That’s an exaggeration. But, wow, he was pretty big. So big, in fact, that when Monstro would stretch out across the tank he was soaking up all the light and our coral began to suffer. My man made a nice little deal with the guy at Happy Fish pet store down the road. He traded Monstro for a cute little pink bubble tip anemone.
Archie was devastated. We stole his home, his reason for life. He didn’t immediately jump into the new anemone like he did with Monstro. He didn’t get excited and dance around the tank when we acclimated it. I worried he wouldn’t host the anemone. He didn’t seem to want to. He swam by a few times seemingly uninterested. Within a week he was back to being Martha Stewart. There is something I’ve learned in spades with this hobby and that is PATIENCE. The most recurring lesson is patience.
So the new anemone liked to move back and forth along the back side of the tank across the rock. Every once in a while I would assume the anemone had found it’s forever home so I would add coral to the rock crevices. As soon as my hand left the tank Archie would pick up the new coral frag in his mouth and toss it into the sand. I’m convinced this is the reason my bird’s nest died.
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My Man would point at Archie through the tank glass. Sometimes, he would even say, “Sssst” if he caught Archie moving toward a piece of coral with his mouth open. It was hilarious watching this fish taming. I’d say, “Oh my gosh, Babe! Are you kidding me right now? You can’t ‘Ssst’ a fish!” But you can, friends, you can. Because pointing at Archie and “Ssst-ing” worked. When the Man would point at Archie through the glass, Archie would close his mouth, put his fins in his pockets and casually swim away while sheepishly watching us through the glass. Archie’s smarter than the average fish. He started waiting until we went to bed then he would redecorate the coral before nestling into his anemone nest for the night.
Archie’s fellow gold bands tend to have a reputation as rough fish when it comes to anemones. Apparently, a good number of the fish rush into the anemones, bouncing into them repeatedly. I think linebacker in a bounce house rather than Rico Suave on a first date. Archie is very suave. Since Archie we’ve brought home a pair of ocellaris clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris), think “Finding Nemo”, and a pink skunk clown (Amphiprion perideraion). None of these fish host any of the anemones that have been placed in their tanks. They wriggled around, dove in and out of the anemones but at the end of the day the ocellaris pair alternate between our frogspawn (which is much larger now) and a large torch coral in the back of one of the tanks.
Word on the street is that tank-raised clowns will not immediately host. Here’s where that patience lesson kicks in. There is a difference between a clown that hosts an anemone and one that will swim in and out of it. The pink skunk clown swims in and out of the anemones, especially to hide from the blue tang but he doesn’t take food to the anemone or fan the water. It isn’t the end of the world but the magic that happens when your clown starts to host is worth the time.
There are ideal combinations of anemone and clown species for hosting. I’m pretty sure we got really lucky with Archie. The new anemone has grown to roughly the size of Monstro and Archie hosts three anemones in one tank now – along with his new mate. We successfully paired our gold band maroon clown. Archie is now a Party of Two.