The Carpet Anemone: One Spectacular Flowering Animal

The Carpet Anemone represents, yet another, one of those gorgeous, unique and often desirable marine aquarium inhabitants. Often times these anemones are beautifully colored and grow very large in size and will make a magnificent spectacle when witnessed with a host Clown or Damselfish living within its tentacles. Carpet anemones are classified in the family Stichodactylidae and their are three different species of carpet anemone that makes up the stichodactyla family: stichodactyla gigantea, haddoni and mertensii. Each one of these carpet anemones is unique in its own right due to husbandry requirements, species of fish hosted, hardiness, appearance and distribution. For the most part, these anemones are commonly encountered in the Red Sea, Micronesia, Eastern Africa, Madagascar, S. Japan, Fiji, Melanesia and Australia.

I would like to mention that their is one other species of “carpet anemone” that is very different from those mentioned above! This carpet anemone hails from the Caribbean/Atlantic Ocean and is NOT to be confused with the other three species of stichodactyla anemones. This species called stichodactyla helianthus, or “sun anemone”, is very detrimental to a reef or other type of marine captive environment. Containing numerous small tentacles, this anemone is often confused and sold as a corallimorph, or mushroom polyp. This potent stinging anemone should not be mistakenly purchased for your tank as this anemone will surely kill any fish it comes in contact with, EVEN CLOWNS and DAMSEL FISH!

The mystic, beauty and fascination associated with any number of the desirable species of Sea Anemone is cause enough for one to branch out and experience the thrill and enjoyment provided by these flowering animals. However, before you sign off on your computer, jump into your car and head out to your local pet shop to purchase one of these anemones, their are some critical variables that must be addressed before an attempt at one of these animals is employed.

First of all the size attained by carpet anemones can be astronomical. These giants can reach a meter across their oral disc with hundreds of potent stinging tentacles. If one doesn’t have a tank that is at least a couple hundred gallons in size, the possibility of maintaining one of these beauties successfully for any period of time dwindles. The immense size combined with the fact that these anemones seem to always be on the move can pose a problem for those with smaller tanks and sessile inverts and corals. The potential exists, for the carpet anemone to come in to contact with other living animals causing injury or possibly killing your prized possessions. One needs to be extremely careful of a mobile anemone getting sucked up in power heads or overflows, that can alter water quality and flow, make a big mess and possibly kill your anemone and other tank inhabitants.

Lighting is a big issue with carpets or other anemones and is one of the biggest mistakes and misconceptions by those aquarists that try to incorporate an anemone into their aquarium. You have to look at the overall big picture in terms of where these anemones live in the wild. Shallow water biotopes that provide intense sunlight for the better part of the day should raise the proverbial red flag in our minds, as to the importance that strong lighting portrays on our ability to house a carpet anemone for any length of time, successfully. Metal halide lighting will make the most sense by providing the best scenario for maintaining a carpet anemone due to the intense photosynthetic available(PAR) and usable radiation(PUR) which, for all intent and purposes, are synonymous with light intensity. Without an intense lighting scheme, I would strongly resist the urge and temptation to incorporate a carpet anemone into a captive environment. The carpets contain a symbiotic single-celled dinoflagellate called zooxanthellae, that lives within the anemones tissue and aids in nutrient fixation through photosynthesis. This trade off offers the zooxanthellae protection, a place to reside and food through sunlight and ammonium while the anemone receives carbohydrates, amino acids and other key nutrients for its survival.

Water quality is also an essential and integral part of the success or lack thereof of your carpet anemone. The employment of am effective and efficient protein skimmer and ozonizer is crucial to the stable and ideal water parameter issues desired and needed by carpet anemones. Weekly water changes, proper water replenishment and carbon regimen will greatly enhance the survival rate of a carpet anemone.

Feeding of carpet anemones is not a “must do” event in the overall health and success of a carpet. The absorption of dissolved nutrients as well as those nutrients provided by host zooxanthellae is often times enough, though the periodic offering of krill, silversides, clam or other protein rich food can aid in the production of mucus and other nutritive needs possibly.

Stichodactyla gigantea is probably the hardiest out of the three species of carpets for the captive environment. They are represented by an oral disc that is mainly tentacle free, except for the outer area of its disc. Their tentacles are short, tapering or blunt in appearance. Their verrucae(bumpy protrusions on the base/upper column of the anemone-sometimes aids in attachment) are non-adhesive and blue to maroon in color. The gigantea require fine sand and a deep sand bed for the burying of its narrow column which it attaches to a hard surface beneath the substrate. The mouth of the gigantea is often times obscured and folded and only visible in times of digesting large food items. The colors attained by gigantea anemones are normally a tan or cream colored oral disc with blue, purple, pink, green or brown tentacles. This anemone lives in very shallow regions of natural reefs, hence their strong ties to intense lighting in a marine aquarium.

Stichodactyla haddoni is the second species of carpet anemone. Their are two distinct characteristics that separates the gigantea and haddoni anemones. The tentacles of the haddoni anemone are usually two-toned, band-like and bulbous. The robust internal tentacles are smaller in length than the exterior rings of tentacles of the oral disc. The central mouth region of the haddoni anemone is tentacle free(10-20mm) with the mouth being more visible than of the gigantea. The column is larger that that of s.gigantea and the anemone is able to completely retract when provoked or disturbed. This anemone also requires a sandy substrate and is from deeper water areas of the reef, so lighting conditions are somewhat distorted and can afford the aquarist a little flexibility as far as lighting is concerned. Verrucae is same color as column or light rose to violet and they are not sticky either, though the tentacles of this carpet anemone are highly adhesive.

The last species of stichodactyla, s. mertensii hails from deeper water biotopes and attaches itself to rock instead of Burying its column in the sand. Short, uniform colored tentacles occupy the whole oral disc and are not sticky. Magenta or orange colored longitudinal rows of verrucae are evident and afford the anemone an effective means of attachment to crevices within rocks in a reef. The column of s. mertensii is cream, tan or white with a small petal disc. Often times you can not see the column of mertensii anemones as they bore their column deep in the rocks to tightly attach itself.

Two words of caution for those that after reading this article feel that a carpet fits into their budget, tank diversity, with equipment selection, tank size and dedication. These anemones do have their predators will make a meal out of them or at the very least stress out the anemone. Holacanthurus and Pomacanthurus Angelfish, Triggerfish, large Puffers, Wrasses and crabs are not to be trusted.

Secondly, their are times when a carpet anemone, especially s. haddoni, will be spotted in a vibrant red, yellow or blue coloration. These anemones are, often times, dyed as a marketing and selling tactic, that ultimately will kill the anemone in due time. Try to avoid these dyed anemones. Also, avoid all white colored anemones, as this is a sure sign of a bleached anemone that has disbursed its endosymbiotic algae and will likely die, even if you have recreated a suitable home for it in your tank, the likeliness of the anemone regenerating and reincorporating its symbiont’s is nil.

Remember that the species of damsel and clown fish vary from anemone to anemone. Also, an anemone doesn’t need to have a clown or other anemone fish reside in it for the anemone or the clown fish,for that matter, to thrive.

These are remarkable animals and if the right efforts, dedication and equipment are employed, you can have success with one of these unique and gorgeous flowers of the sea.

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