Reef Problems

Beaded anemone, heteractis aurora

Beaded anemone, heteractis aurora

The one thing I’ve yet to experience in one of my tanks is a successful anemone-clownfish pairing.  Corny as it is, I’ve always wanted to be able to look over at my tank and watch the symbiotic relationship of a pair of clowns with a host anemone.  I’ve had fish lay eggs, coral frags grow into colonies, I’ve even had corals spawn, but no hosting.  In the ocean, clowns always have a host anemone, that’s how they survive.  They’re pretty tough little fish, but they are little and they aren’t fast.  So they basically live on/near and lay their eggs on anemones, bringing it food, and in return the anemone offers them protection, stinging or eating other fish that come too close.

In tanks, clownfish don’t actually need anemones, the nems don’t really need the fish, and most clowns bought and sold now are aquacultured, spawned in tanks, no experience with the ocean. I’ve had many reefing friends talk about the wonder of their clowns’ instincts, how they brought home a nem, placed it in their tanks, and their clowns dove in those tentacles within an hour, blissful.  Not me.  I’ve had two bubble tipped anemones.  The first one was stunning, but the pair of clowns I had at the time weren’t willing to give up their special relationship with the mag-float (basically an algae cleaning pad stuck on a magnet for easy cleaning of the glass) in order to live in the anemone.  After several months, that nem decided it needed more privacy anyway and jammed itself into a hidden crevice in the rocks, never to be seen again.  There’s debate as to whether or not anemones actually need to be fed, but either way they need strong lighting to survive.  Anemones are hard to keep in home aquaria under the best of circumstances, and their survival is always questionable.

Last year Husband bought me a beautiful rose bubble tipped anemone for Christmas.  These clowns weren’t interested either.  Unfortunately, my pair of skunk cleaner shrimp were way too interested, tugging and nibbling on his tentacles until those fuckers harassed that nem to death.  When he died, he nuked the tank with his own special chemical warfare and took the majority of coral with him.  That particular pair of shrimp were very aggressive together, dancing through the tank like enforcers.  This Thanksgiving, one of the wrasse decided he’d had enough, and by the time my family was eating pumpkin pie, the tank inhabitants were enjoying their own cocktail hour with an all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet.

Now the mean shrimp are gone, so of course I wanted another nem.  Add in that the clowns are displaying mating behavior, it seemed like perfect timing.  This time I decided on a different type of anemone in the hopes that I’ll be more successful, and got the beautiful yet surprisingly budget-friendly beaded nem in the photo at the top of this post.  Perfect spot all picked out, acclimated and placed him.  My incredibly shy and well behaved fire shrimp decided she didn’t like him so close to her, and proceeded to begin eviction proceedings by way of tugging and nibbling.  Are you freaking kidding me?

Anemones are weird.  Dangerous to so many creatures, they’re quite delicate.  They’re also mobile.  They’ll “walk” around the tank if they don’t like where you place them, looking for a spot to call home.  They have a “foot” that they attach to rock, sand, or corals, and once they attach it’s very hard to get them to move unless they want to without tearing their foot.  If the foot tears, they die.  They can stay in one spot for years.  Needless to say, this anemone decided he did not like the spot where I placed him, and has been walking around trying to decide where he wants to settle.

The foot.

The foot.

He seems to have picked a general area, but not the exact spot. At least the fire shrimp is ignoring him now.  It doesn’t help that he apparently doesn’t like my choice of food.  Every evening I feed the tank, and when the bits settle on/around him, he lets go of where he’s begun to attach and flips himself upside down so none of the food gets stuck on his tentacles or lands in his mouth.  He could just keep his mouth closed.  Today I figured out he prefers fresh food to frozen.

The open circle in the middle? That's his mouth. The black bit coming out of it?  A snail shell he's spitting out now that he ate the snail.

The open circle in the middle? That’s his mouth. The black bit coming out of it? A snail shell he’s spitting out now that he ate the snail.

The male clown has indeed decided hosting is a lovely idea.  Not with the anemone, of course.

Why snuggle up with a big comfy anemone when you can rub all over a snail instead?

Why snuggle up with a big comfy anemone when you can rub all over a snail instead?


  1. Y’know, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that anemones were mobile on their own.

    We never had shrimp, but we did have crawfish, and they killed the lovely Silver Dollars (not sure if that’s even the real fish name) that we had. Then either the tulip headed water snake or the eel of indeterminate origin killed the crawfish. It’s rarely boring, anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never boring! I can (and do!) lose hours watching the tank 🙂 My guess, whichever critter was meaner is the one that killed the crawfish–they’re pretty mean and hard to kill 😛


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