Anemone Flower or Predator?

By: Ashley Gustafson


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The sea anemone (pronounced uh-nem-uh-nee) may look like a beautiful flower but don’t be fooled. Anemones flowers exist, but the sea anemone is an ambush predator, meaning it patiently waits for its prey to pass close enough to get caught in its venomous tentacles. Their prey consists primarily of fish unfortunate enough to get caught in their allure. They can also eat mussels, worms, and zooplankton such as copepods or marine larvae. They are invertebrates that are closely related to other cnidarians like jellyfish and coral. While they may exist free floating, anemones are most commonly found attached to hard substrates like rock or coral. Like their cousin the jellyfish, the anemone’s tentacles surrounding its mouth are full of stinging cells that with even the slightest of touch trigger it to inject its victim with a neurotoxin. This neurotoxin paralyzes the victim allowing the anemone to easily pull its food into its mouth to eat. Anemones are found all throughout the world’s oceans with the majority residing in coastal tropical waters. With over 1,000 documented sea anemone species it is no wonder they are so diverse. Sea anemones can range from only half an inch long to 6 feet long. Also, they span the rainbow in colors from orange to pink to purple and so on. They can vary the depth at which they are found as well as the amount of sunlight they need to survive.

Since anemones are most commonly stationary it is common for people to think that they are plants or not living at all. The anemone is an important part of coral reef systems and coral reef organisms. The most famous example of a symbiotic relationship including an anemone is an anemone and a clownfish. Pixar’s Finding Nemo introduced this relationship to billions when introducing the main character, a clownfish, and his home, the anemone. Clownfish are immune to the anemone’s sting since they are protected by a thick mucus layer. Therefore, they can safely reside within the anemones tentacles protecting them from predators that lack the same mucus coating and would be stung by the anemone if they got to close. This is an example of a mutualistic symbiotic relationship because both parties, the anemone and the clownfish, benefit from the relationship. While the clownfish gets a safe place to live from potential predators, the anemone gets scraps from the clownfish’s meals.

Due to the popularity of this relationship, Aquarium hobbyists often try to have anemones in their aquarium. Clownfish make wonderful aquarium fish as they are colorful, relatively hardy, and interesting to watch. However anemones, even in the best water conditions, can be a struggle to maintain. Anemone care can be tricky since sea anemone’s have a very slow metabolism. Because of this they are often very slow to show signs of distress making it very difficult to troubleshoot problems in time to save the anemone. Anemone care requires large amounts of light which requires higher watt bulbs and more bulbs than you would have over a standard aquarium. Also, anemones do best in waste free water so having an efficient protein skimmer is a must. While anemones are difficult to maintain in an aquarium setting for long periods of time, some species have been found to be kept more successful than others. Some of these species include saddleback anemones, bulb anemones, and long-tentacled anemones. Another example of a common anemone used in reef aquaria that is easy to care for is the rock flower anemone.

The rock flower anemone or the rock anemone is from the Caribbean. They come in a wide variety of colors and have tentacles with a beaded or bubbled appearance. The rock anemone ranges from 2 to 3 inches and can live alone or in groups of several individuals. The flower anemone can attach to a rock substrate or can burry themselves in the sand only leaving their mouth and tentacles out. These anemones are less prone to wander than others so they make excellent additions in a reef aquarium. Like all anemones the rock anemone is a carnivore and will eat mussels or freshly chopped fish in an aquarium setting.

Anemones are beautiful, eye-opening creatures that exemplify how vast the categories of “life” and “animals” are. Because of this they are often highly sought after in the world of commercial aquariums. It is important to remember the complexity of these organisms and to do thorough research before obtaining an anemone of your own.



Sea Anemone Care: a Basic Introductory Guide