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Sea anemones with an enlarged oral disk covered
with small tentacles are often called "Carpet
Anemones" as they give the appearance of
being made of a shag carpet. Most carpet anemones
found in the reef aquarium hobby are specimens
of several species found in the genus Stichodactyla;
however, there are many other carpet anemones
found throughout the world.
are quite large animals, and the largest are
ones that act as "host" anemones to
the clownfishes of the Indo-Pacific. Fully adult
animals are seldom seen in the hobby, but the
three most common Stichodactyla species,
S. gigantea, S. haddoni, and S.
mertensii all reach diameters of 18 inches
or more. Individuals of S. mertensii
may have disk diameters exceeding 40 inches.
These three species also will serve as natural
hosts to numerous species of clownfishes in
the genus Amphiprion.
Their hosting symbiosis notwithstanding, these
are predatory animals and all of these species
have been documented to eat fish in reef aquaria.
They will do well in aquaria if they are given
clean water with normal reef salinity and temperatures.
By and large, carpet anemones are animals that
are found either living in sand or in rocks
adjacent to sand. They prefer to have their
pedal or attachment disks fastened to rocks
below the surface of sand, and all of them normally
will retract under the surface of sand if they
are threatened. In aquaria some individuals
will periodically retract below the sediment
surface daily, others will never be seen to
do so. Stichodactyla mertensii will often
be found in nature living with the pedal disc
buried deep in a rock crevice, and this is the
only one of these three species that will do
well without being in a sand bed.
All species will thrive on a diet of fish or
large meaty foods like shrimp and should be
given whole foods, including the skeleton and
guts. These are large animals, often their living
mass will exceed most of the other animals in
a reef aquarium combined. While they have a
relatively low metabolic rate, they still need
a lot food, and as a byproduct of this they
produce a lot of ammonium ion as waste. The
take home message is that these are animals
that need a tank that is well equipped to handle
excessive amounts of nitrogenous waste.
anemones are spectacular animals, but they require
a dedicated aquarist for their care. They don't
need a lot of care, but they do need some specialized
conditions. They are not good animals for a
community reef tank; they can and will sting
and kill corals as well as eat many reef fishes.
Nonetheless, they can be kept in such a system.
They do best, however, in a system designed
around them as the large, centerpiece animals
that they are.
Text by Ronald L. Shimek, Ph.D.
Photos by Reef Central members.