Aiptasia | The Pest You Couldn’t Get Rid Of

Mention the word ‘aiptasia’ to any experienced reefkeeper, and you’ll get a few different reactions:

“I’ve never had them, but they can’t be all that bad.”

“I have a few of them, but they don’t seem to be bothering anything in my tank.”

“They’re a total pain in the butt! No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get rid of them.”

For most of my years keeping marine aquariums, I’d never had a problem with aiptasia. Sure, one would crop up once in awhile, only to go away or relocate itself to a part of my tank where I couldn’t see it anymore. And none ever sprouted up next to any of my corals to irritate or sting it. You might say that I had a pretty nonchalant relationship with aiptasia.

Aiptasia

It all starts with a single head of Aiptasia

I was one of those lucky few that would always say, “Aiptasia? Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.” I had, literally, never more than one or two heads of aiptasia in my tank at any one time.

That is, until that fateful day, when I added a small frag of zoanthids that I got as a gift from a fellow colleague at work who also happens to be a reefkeeper.

I regard this guy as a a very experienced hobbyist — heck, he even owned an LFS for a number of years, back in the day. The pictures and videos he showed me of his tank at home were brimming with healthy corals. Zoanthids, palythoa, trumpet corals and even sun corals were multiplying continuously, sprouting new polyps.

But he never told me that something else in his tank was multiplying continuously as well. He had an aiptasia problem.

Quarantine | Your Best Bet Against Aiptasia

The little frag of blue zoanthids he gave me had a head of aiptasia poking out from amongst the zoas. I noticed this only a day after adding the frag to my tank. This is what I get from not following my own personal rule about quarantining everything.

Want to prevent aiptasia from getting into your tank? Quarantine every frag of coral that comes with a piece of rock attached, at least for a few days, before you put it in your tank!

Manual Removal Of Aiptasia

I removed the frag from the tank and, of course, the aiptasia withdrew quickly into the rock. I told myself I would get it with a pair of tweezers once it came out again so I put the frag into a small container of aquarium water and waited. I managed to get a good grip on the aiptasia, close to the base to get at the very root of the animal, and removed it with the tweezers.

The dreaded aiptasia!

The dreaded aiptasia!

I returned the frag to my tank and things seemed fine for a couple of weeks.

The aiptasia I thought I had removed completely, had returned. These things have remarkable regenerative abilites. I’m no scientist, but I would wager that if the DNA of aiptasia were analysed and synthesized, you would have the cure for a number of incurable degenerative diseases in humans right there.

(And if this little hint points you in the right direction in your PhD research, don’t forget to drop me an email at saltwaterhobby@gmail.com. I’ll give you directions as to how to make a substantial donation to this website!)

Not only did the aiptasia return, but a couple of new tiny buds of aiptasia were now peeking out from the live rock I placed the frag on.

Joe’s Juice Aiptasia Eliminator

I decided to get some Joe’s Juice Aiptasia Eliminator from my LFS — it was all they had so far as any kind of aiptasia buster.

Joe’s Juice comes with a syringe and a curved needle. You draw the thick, white fluid into the needle and apply the needle right into the ‘mouth’ of the aiptasia to give it a little shot. The formula is apparently appetizing to aiptasia and once they gobble it up, they die.

aiptasia colony

Aiptasia colony – plague proportions!

My application of Joe’s Juice looked promising at first. After 30 minutes, the larger, original head of aiptasia turned a dull grey and seemed to be withering. The smaller aiptasia heads withdrew into the rock too quickly and I didn’t get a shot at them.

But after a few days, the main aiptasia head was back, and none the worse for wear! What happened to grey and withered? Rather than try Joe’s Juice again, I decided I had to try something else to get at this resilient little fellow once and for all.

Trying To Get Rid Of Aiptasia With Lemon Juice

I let things slide for a weeks, until I started noticing new aiptasia sprouting up in other areas of my tank. Worse, some were growing right next to my blastomussa and acanthastrea corals, causing some of the polyps to retract. The coral polyps were actually trying to pull away from the aiptasia, no doubt in response to being stung.

I had a few options at this point — vinegar, lemon juice or boiling water, all directed right into the mouth of the aiptasia, or into the crevice where it resides.

I chose to go with lemon juice. The video below shows the aiptasia flinching as I applied the lemon juice directly onto the aiptasia with a Kent Marine Sea Squirt feeding prong. And just like with Joe’s Juice, the aiptasia turned grey and withered after about 30 minutes. I juiced as much of the other aiptasia as I could see, continuously checking my pH probe for any fluctuations — acid from the lemon juice can lower pH and alkalinity in a tank.

I must say things looked very promising after the lemon juice treatments. No aiptasia were to be seen for several days after the lemon juice blitz.

But guess what — within a week, the smaller aiptasia were back in full force, with the larger aiptasia taking a while longer to bounce back.

And bounce back they did. I noticed yet more tiny buds of aiptasia forming in other areas of the live rock in my tank. It was as if the aiptasia were saying to me, “Thanks for the Vitamin C, buddy, but we’re fine now!”

Little buggers.

This evidence might be totally anecdotal, but from what I gathered, aiptasia seem to multiply when threatened, releasing spores into the water to form new aiptasia buds! No wonder some people have only a few aiptasia in their tank while others have a plague.

The ones with the aiptasia plague have been trying to remove their aiptasia by chemical means!

Copperband Butterflyfish | The Ultimate Aiptasia Buster

I was at my wit’s end. And it was about this time that my LFS had a shipment of Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) from the Philippines.

I’ve always hesitated to add a Copperband butterflyfish to my tank for a number of reasons — not all Copperbands are reef safe, many will not feed on frozen or prepared foods and will slowly starve to death, and not all will eat aiptasia.

The odds were against me (and the fish), but it was as good a time as any, I figured, to give one of these fish a try.

I picked out the most robust looking specimen, brought it home and started its two week quarantine. I put a piece of live rock with four or five tiny aiptasia into the 30 gallon quarantine tank and hoped for the best. After hiding behind the rock for a couple of hours, the fish started to eat a few pieces of frozen mysis I put into the tank and it even started to peck at the live rock. By the next day, I couldn’t see anymore aiptasia!

I must admit, I was totally impressed by this fish. I couldn’t wait to see what it would do to the aiptasia in my tank once its quarantine was over.

At this point, I will say that I was just very lucky with this particular fish. There is no way that I can guarantee that you will have the same success with a Copperband butterflyfish in your battle against aiptasia.

Once I added the Copperband into the tank there was the usual initial chasing and harrasment by some of my other established fish. But the Copperband held its own, hovering quietly in a corner of the tank, swooping out to eat a few pieces mysis during feeding time and occasionally venturing out to the live rock to peck at the aiptasia.

copperband butterflyfish eating aiptasia

My aiptasia eating Copperband!

And by the very next day, there was not a single aiptasia to be seen!

Not one.

And that is no exaggeration.

And thankfully, my copperband doesn’t seem to have a taste for coral polyps and leaves my LPS and zoanthids alone.

Should You Get A Copperband Butterflyfish To Get Rid Of Your Aiptasia?

My answer to this question is ‘only if you have an aiptasia plague’.

As mentioned earlier, not all Copperbands will eat aiptasia, or even eat frozen foods for that matter. If your LFS is able to demonstrate that their Copperbands are feeding on prepared foods as well as aiptasia, all the better.

Bear in mind also that many Copperband butterflyfish are not reef-safe, and will nip and peck at your corals, resulting in their demise.

Aiptasia And High Nutrient Environments

Aiptasia seem to thrive and propogate in high nutrient environments, so if you have a few aiptasia, try to limit your the food you put in your tank. Avoid overfeeding your tank, especially with pellet or flake foods, or zooplankton products such as frozen rotifers or Cyclopeeze.

Manually Removing Aiptasia

Even if your aiptasia have reached plague proportions, do not try to remove them manually or with chemicals as attempts at removal could very well trigger the release of spores causing an aiptasia epidemic.

The only kind of manual removal of aiptasia I can recommend is removing the entire rock it is on. Either throw it away, put it back in the ocean, or pour boiling water thoroughly over the rock to kill the aiptasia.

Depending on the size of your tank, there is some risk of an ammonia, nitrite or nitrate spike due to the die-off of other organisms on and within the live rock. This is especially true of nano tanks or aquariums that are less than 30 gallons.

 

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