How to Get Rid of Aiptasia Anemones

Aiptasia sp. are largely considered pests in the reef keeping world and they will sting coral and fish and propagate quickly.

Let’s all gather ’round for a little aquarist gripe session, shall we? Who wants to go first? ME ME ME! I’ll go first.
I am standing, I am addressing the group.

“Hi. My name is Melissa and I am a saltwater aquarist. I have Aiptasia.”

The horror stories on the Internet describe Aiptasia as the Biblical equivalent of a swarm of locusts destroying the world as we know it.

Aiptasia sp. are largely considered pests in the reef keeping world. They are anemones that will sting coral and fish and propagate quickly. Aiptasia can take over a reef tank in short order.

I recently became personally and profoundly acquainted with aiptasia. Lemme tell ya something. . . Aiptasia is not a Biblical swarm of locusts that swoops in and destroys your tank life then leaves. No, it doesn’t leave. It doesn’t die.

Aiptasia is more like Friday the 13th part 17, because dear readers, these creatures just won’t die. No matter how many times you try to kill them, they will not go away.

You think it dies. You see your Aiptasia sprig wither and die from some remedy you read on the Internet only to discover a week later three more sprigs in different crevices of rock – all wearing Jason Voorhees hockey masks.
I noticed a small sprig of Aiptasia growing in my live rock one night and I thought, “Huh. That’s weird. I think that’s aiptasia.” I wasn’t 100% sure. I am horrible at identifying plant life. I was at our local fish store and admired a nice little plant growing on their live rock, asked the guy how much it was because I wanted it. He said, “Oh no. You don’t want that. It’s a glass anemone. It’s poison.” Dude. Those guys could’ve made a fortune off me. Good thing they’re nice guys.  The new little Aiptasia didn’t grow much at first and there was just one, so I wasn’t in a super big hurry to destroy it. 

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Aiptasia Anemone

On a later trip to a different, less local fish store, I asked the guy behind the counter what he thought about my Aiptasia plight. He eagerly sold me a bottle of some liquid magic for $9.99 and told me to handle my Aiptasia business and quick before it poisoned everything. He said it in such a grave and stern way, while pushing the bottle into my palm that he kinda scared me. So I went home, read the directions: Turn off jets, shoot directly at Aiptasia, safe for other tank life, leave jets off for half hour, if Aiptasia does not immediately die, wait 20 minutes administer larger dose. . .  and made my first attempt to kill the vermin.  Yeah, vermin, that just weeks before, I was willing to shell out money to put INTO my tank. What a dork.

I watched the Aiptasia jerk and try to shrink back into the rock crevice but it shriveled up, jerked one last time and died. DIE, aiptasia! DIE DIE DIE.

I stood there watching it in the throes of death and feeling rather proud of myself for handling a tank pest situation said smugly, “Who’s your daddy, Aiptasia?”

Referring back to the Bible: Oh yea, oh yea, those who professeth to kill the Aiptasia of thy brethren, know this yea who profess in the streets over thy tanks, “Pride goeth before a fall.”
A week later there were three or four more Aiptasia anemones growing in different live rock and one brazenly nestled in my zooanthid colony.

“Who’s your daddy now?”

I tried the lemon juice with hot water trick, the hot, hot water trick, another liquid bottle claiming to kill Aiptasia within 20 minutes and they all failed to kill the hated Aiptasia. I had more growing in my tank after each treatment.
It occurred to me that while the Aiptasia is dying it must release some form of particle. That has to be why all the remedies call for you to turn off your jets and allow the Aiptasia to die before turning the jets back on. However, if the reason to turn off your jets is to prevent the spores from moving about with the water flow that’s a flawed theory. Here is why: Any body of water, no matter the size, has a flow. It has something to do with gravity, sea level and currents. I learned it in college in my geography class and again in oceanography and geology. Have you heard those wacky post-earthquake stories about people’s pool water becoming mini tidal waves and flooding their homes? It’s because the water’s natural cadence will start to rock with the earth’s shifting and when it gets moving it is pendulum like. This is a very simplified explanation for the nature of water. For more information, please see my good friend Google or my college professor Joe Ciccone

So, the Aiptasia particles gliding on the natural current of your tank water, jets off or not, will flow through your tank until they can grab a foothold in some live rock and grow.  This is why I believe these remedies do not work.
Let me confess, saltwater friends, because I love your faces all so much, this Aiptasia particle thing is my theory. It is my educated guess as to why it is so profoundly difficult to get rid of Aiptasia. I haven’t researched the biology of Aiptasia-I probably should-but right now I’m talking to you. That would be so rude if I just skipped off into the Internet to do some kind of biology research.

But wait!!!
There is hope.
There is always hope!

I found a way to rid my tank from this nuisance, the Hated Aiptasia. My boyfriend went to his most trusted source for everything, Craigslist (I don’t know how Craigslist always works for him – it’s the weirdest thing-weirder than pool water tidal waves) and found a guy, pretty local, who sells Berghia nudibranches (Berghia verrucicornis).
The heavens open, the angels sing, a solution is found.

Initially, my man was going to buy one but after some discussion bought three nudibranches instead. We were told they might die immediately entering the tank water, so a careful acclimation process was critical and he decided there was strength in numbers. It was a solid decision. Once acclimated, the nudibranches went into the tank and like secret covert operations guys were never heard from or seen again.

I looked for them for weeks to no avail. The guy on Craigslist told us they would disappear and to wait at least a month to see any noticeable difference. Almost to the day, a month later, we noticed the first of the Aiptasia disappear. One by one, the stealth nudibranches took out the Aiptasia like sniper fire. I have this very vivid imagination where I see things like ninja Berghias taking out the poisonous Aiptasia to a Mission Impossible soundtrack but the truth of it is, they were probably just crawling along, munching on Aiptasia stalks the way a turtle might munch on stalks of grass.

Some of the Aiptasia were rather large and hearty by this time, yet we didn’t see the nudibranches eating them or crawling about. My man pointed out a couple of wan Aiptasia anemones but weren’t sure if they were really dying or if it was wishful thinking. Some of them changed color, became listless then disappeared. The last one to go was front and center in my tank and was a monster. When it was gone, my man and I looked the tank over several times and for several days afterward. . . nary an Aiptasia in sight. 

This house is clean.

The Berghia nudibranches only eat Aiptasia, so now that the Aiptasia is gone, I am quite certain our nudibranches will go the way of the Samurai, as well. I didn’t even get to thank them.

So, after all the tricks of the trade, the chemicals, the voodoo ritual. . . oh wait. . . yeah, we didn’t do that. . . in the end the only solution that worked to get rid of our pestilence of Aiptasia were three super ninja, super stealth nudibranches.
I should probably provide that Craigslist nudibranch guy’s information. The nudis are relatively inexpensive when you find them locally and compare the cost to the chemical products that don’t seem to be the best solution. However, they aren’t so easy to find locally. To have them shipped you pay a small fortune.  Yeah, I should definitely look that guy up again but that’s research. Ugh. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

One more thing. . . be sure the nudibranches you get to kill eat your Aiptasia are the Berghia variety. Else, you’ll have a tank of cool looking nudibranches and a ton of Aiptasia that isn’t going anywhere.

Article Categories:
Fish · Reef Tanks