Clownfish Anemone Adventure

About seven months ago, I decided to try my hand at saltwater reef keeping. I knew from the start that I wanted to get a pair of clownfish and a host anemone for them to live in as the centerpiece. Alright… So having written that, the experienced reef keeping community is now reading this and shaking its collective head because this is so typical of new saltwater hobbyists. It seems like just about everyone in the world has seen “Finding Nemo” and suddenly decided that they, too, want an aquarium with clownfish and an anemone. This is really a shame because to most of these people the clownfish are the first priority, while the host anemone is just some pretty flowing thing for them to live in. What they don’t know is that keeping clowifish is easy, but keeping host anemones is hard. Damn hard!

In fact, it has been reported that only about one out of every one-hundred host anemones in captive systems survive. Still, I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so even after doing the research and discovering that my chances for success were bleak, I decided to move forward with my plans. I set my 37 gallon tank up, mixed up a batch of salt water, and filled it up. I placed an order for 40 pounds of Marshal Island live rock, and a protein skimmer. I did some nice reefscaping with the rock, setting it right on the glass bottom of the aquarium, and fired up the protein skimmer. The next day, I picked up one bag of live sand, and two bags of Red Sea Reef Base for substrate. This resulted in the requisite 2.5 to 3 inches of substrate needed for NitrAte reduction.

At this point, there was nothing left to do but wait for the tank biology and water quality to stabilize. I watched the Ammonia spike, then the NitrIte, and finally the NitrAte. Once the NitrAte levels had fallen to 0, I placed my order for a mated pair of True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula). It took several weeks for them to arrive, but when they did, I knew the they were worth the wait. $100.00 later, I was the proud owner of an amazing mated pair of Soliman Island clowns.

My research had indicated that these fish do NOT acclimate well, and I definitely found this to be true. When I brought them home, my salinity was exactly the same as that of the dealer. I used the drip method of acclimating them over the period of one hour, but it would still be several days before the fish had settled in and stopped showing signs of stress. Several weeks passed as I conducted more research on host anemones, so lacking anything more suitable, the two clowns decided to host on my powerhead.

In nature, Amphiprion percula host on the following anemones:

Heteractis crispa (Purple Long Tentacle Anemone)
Heteractis magnifica (Magnificent Anemone)
Stichodactyla gigantea (Giant Carpet Anemone)

Unfortunately, these have an especially poor tract record in aquaria, and as such, are definitely not recommended. Even the public aquariums have proven largely unable to sustain these varieties for any length of time.

ORA, the leading producer of clownfish, recommends either of the following for Amphiprion percula:

Entacmaea quadricolor (Bubble-Tip Anemone)
Stichodactyla haddoni (Haddon’s Carpet Anemone)

My first inclination was to go with Bubble-Tip Anemone, but these have a tendency to wander around the tank, stinging everything in their paths. Since I wanted to keep corals in the same tank, I didn’t want to run the risk of loosing everything to a fickle anemone that couldn’t settle on a place to call home. Therefore, I decided to go with the slightly more difficult to keep, but much more stationary Haddon’s Carpet Anemone. First, however I had to upgrade my lighting to to a 24 inch Nova strip containing four T5 bulbs. it even has the nice moonlight LED’s for nighttime viewing.

My big, green anemone showed up, and my local dealer had the incredible foresight to allow it to attach to a coffee can lid rather than the glass of their holding tank. I brought it home, and that night it moved off the lid and planted it’s foot firmly on the glass at the bottom of the tank. Many months later, it has still not moved an inch.

The next day, it was open and happy, but to my dismay, the clowns wanted nothing to do with it. They were still hosting on the powerhead, so in an effort to get them closer to what I had hoped would be their new home, I placed a large piece of PVC pipe next to the anemone. Slowly, they began to host on the PVC, but months passed, and they still wanted nothing to do with the anemone. I knew this was a risk, but it was sure a bummer to have gone to all this trouble only to have the perculas refuse their host.

In the meantime, I added a Fire Shrimp and a really nice piece of Pink Hammer Coral to the tank, and was met with general success. Everything was healthy and thriving, but the clowns stubbornly refused to adopt the anemone. I had more or less given up, when I got a call from Courtney last week while I was at work, telling me that “the clownfish had finally started hosting!!!” I could not believe my ears, and raced home after work to see. Sure enough, there they were, living happily in the anemone.

15 thoughts on “Clownfish Anemone Adventure

  1. That is a very interesting project you have embarked on. It would be neat to see the whole system in action. I still don’t see what’s so funny about clownfish though.

    The tank climate must be highly dependent on pumps, heaters, and such; do you have a UPS system to protect your fishies? If not, you might consider an electric eel.

  2. I’ll have to take some pictures of the whole system. It’s pretty cool, but everything still looks a little unorganized.

    Constant current is pretty important, but not nearly so much as the heater. If the temp drops it could really cause some problems, so I really should invest in a UPS for it. I kinda like the idea of the electric eel though.

  3. I heard that Clarkii clowns will host a condylactus anemome. My oscellaris wants nothing to do with the condy so i bought the clarkii home. almost immediatly he showed interest in the condy, occasionally sniffing at it and sort of staying in the area, while fending off a not too happy oscellaris. i thought they were going to fight. the very next morning before the lights came on, i witnessed in te moonlight, the two clowns swimming together, a few inches away from the anemone. its only been one day, but i really hope this fis hosts the anemone, but one thing is for sure, the two different clowns have started a nice friendship. maybe the clarkii will host and bring the oscellaris with him…

  4. in sebastion L’s case, i think your picasso’s will eventually host if they are overing over it like that. How long have they been doing that???

  5. Cliff, I’m interested in a setup similar to yours and am happy to see that yours was so successful. My question is, do you use a powerhead? Also, how do you stack live rock without it topping over? Can you post or email me some pictures or videos of your tank I’d love to see it! -Marcus Acosta

    • Hosting clownfish depends on the anemone you choose and the quality of your water. Take into consideration if the clownfish was wild caught or captive bred, if it were to be captive the host instinct might take longer to kick it as if it were wild caught. Every clown I have attemped to host has worked out. Any questions let me know.

      • Hello seth,

        i also have the same problem… my two clowns wont move away from one of my powerheads at the top of the tank.

        i have lots of live rock with plenty of caves and hiding space also a few large mushrooms.

        will they always stay near the powerhead or are there things i can do to tempt them into the heart of the tank?

        all the best


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