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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.

Most Stichodactyla 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.

Carpet 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.

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008