A Beginner's Guide to Keeping Anemones

This is short beginners guide on how chose and keep anemones - It is only the author's experience/opinion and it cannot be guaranteed that this will be relevant for everyone or anyone at all.

This is because anemones are as individual as you or I, and one can tolerate high water flow, another of same will not - it's just the way they are.
Remember that you are taking a creature, which in general opinion is hard to keep, out of the wild, out of the ocean. If you desire to keep one of these creatures you find out as much as you can about them. If you find you just can't keep these creatures - STOP. They are not an inexhaustible commodity; they are ancient animals which may live for hundreds of years in the wild, sustaining many generations of clownfish families. That is until a keen reef keeper comes along, and kills it within a matter of weeks!!
Green Bubble Tip Anemone

There is no shame in not being able to keep anemones - some, even keepers who can maintain the most exotic of SPS corals, cannot keep anemones.

Before you buy an anemone, do as much research as you can on the animal in general, and the species you want to keep. Most aquarist use the "12 month rule" when considering if their tank is matured enough to keep anemones.

This 12 month rule allows:

a ) the tank to mature and become less susceptible to condition swings, &

b ) the aquarist to gather enough knowledge on water conditions, parameters and correction techniques, so that they will be able to give anemone keeping their best shot.


Firstly, when purchasing an anemone remember that they have been pulled form the reef and bagged, flown half way across the earth to get to your tanks - they are tired and shocked.

Reputable importers will house the anemone for at least 1 week before passing them to retailers. This 1 week period is important as it gives the anemone time to adjust and relax. Similarly when the creature arrives at the retailer, it should be given a period to rest. This rest time is very important to the anemone and should be observed, so when purchasing ask your LFS to hold it for you (offer a deposit) - this gives you the opportunity to rest the anemone and should there be a problem, it will happen in your LFS tank and not yours (not very nice, but once you're out that door the anemone becomes your responsibility, so those extra few days will help you distinguish between a healthy animal or the opposite).

Your anemone should be healthy by this time but look out for the following before making a final purchase; a couple of signs of a sick anemone are:-

  • Open, gapping mouth - An open mouth can be classic sign of a dying anemone, a final gasp of life!
  • Foot or body tears - invite bacterial infection and almost never heal
  • Pale colour - lost or expelled zooxanthellae?
  • Rolling around unattached - pedal disc (foot) damage?
  • An anemone that doesn't react to stimulus - generally not a good sign.
A deflated anemone may not indicate a problem, however it is recommended that you ask for a further day in the LFS tank to make sure that it has just routinely deflated and is not sick.

When you are happy that the specimen in question is healthy, and you want to purchase it, do so. Conscientious LFS will house their anemones in a tank with either a Velcro like substrate, or a very course gravel, thus making it a lot easier and safer to collect the animal from the tank. If they are housed in a tank with rocks, and the anemone has a hold on one, offer to buy the rock.

If it is not practicable to purchase the rock, the LFS must remove it manually. This should be done by gently shocking the animal to deflate (watch for the shock - a good sign) and easing it from the rock gently. This should be done with the thumb in a massaging motion, no objects other than that should be used. If done properly, and with an anemone with a good hold is being purchased, the process could take an hour or upwards to complete. Tearing the pedal disc (foot) at this point would be disastrous - a certain invite to bacteria followed by death (not good).

Once in the bag, get home as soon as possible. When in a bag, an anemone continues to expel used water, which may be loaded with waste matter, also discharged nematocysts (stinging cells). Oxygen also continues to be used. Combined, this makes the water foul - not a nice place to be!


When at home open the bag immediately to allow oxygen exchange. Acclimate to the temperature in your tank for about half to one hour by floating the bag. Now start to add a little water bit by bit (say 10% every 15 minutes) to allow for adjustment to your tank parameters.

After around 2 - 3 hours you should be able to release the anemone to the tank.


Reading up on your preferred anemone will give you an idea of where they would ideally like to live in your tank, but here is a very short, general guide.
  • Bubble Tips have particularly soft columns so liked to feel surrounded. A favourite thing for them to do is to squeeze into a crack of the living rock and only show they're oral disc to the world. You can encourage a bubble tip to stay in once place by allowing it to feel safe. It may find its own cavity, all well and good. If not try placing it to a structure which has an underhang, then it can peep out from underneath, or create a suitable hole in the rockwork for it to squeeze into.
  • Stichodactyla Sp (carpet anemones) seems to like to having their foot wedged between the substrate and a rock on the tank floor. This again facilitates retraction to a safe place if needed. The speed at which this anemone can retract and deflate is astonishing!! An exception to the foot in the substrate is the Gigantic carpet anemone (S Gigantea), which can also favour rockwork. This is a rarely imported anemone however.
  • Macrodactyla Doreensis likes it foot an column buried deep in the aquarium substrate.
  • Heteractis Magnifica's like being high in the tank, often on top of the highest rock, or on the tank wall with its oral disc directly beneath the tank lighting.
  • Heteractis Malu/Crispa seems to like being on the tank floor, with its foot buried in the sand, or under a base rock (or both).
Once in the tank and in the desired place (however it may move to somewhere it wants) leave the creature alone for the 1 week "resting period". This is very important in anemone health. Don't feed it, touch it - anything - just leave it!

Exceptions to this is if the anemone is in danger; then you should intervene to make is safe. Another is if it has lost its zooxanthellae (see below); you should start to feed as soon as it will take the food.

An important general rule here - disturb the anemone as little as possible from day one. Don't shock, don't move it, don't force into anything it doesn't want - LEAVE IT ALONE. An anemone that is constantly bothered will turn face up and die - simple as!

A common trait for newly introduced anemones (especially BTAs) is to wander about trying to find the perfect spot. It must be able to satisfy the following conditions for it to settle down - light, food, and flow. make sure you have all three right within the tank, or the anemone may wander forever and stress out, leading to death.

After the first week or so, if you believe it is settled, feed a little. Almost any meaty fare can be used, and you will know if your anemone doesn't like anything - it will spit it out!! You can use mussel, squid, gamma fish, brine shrimp and whole cockle. Feel free to try any sea faring meaty food.

When feeding, allow the food to drop or drift into the tentacles, at most little press into the tentacles using a planting stick - wobble it a little to elicit a feeding reaction (looks like a little like a "shock" but less dramatic). Food should never be forced into the mouth of the anemone - you will do untold amounts of damage to the mouth and actinopharynx (posh word for the multi-purpose sac inside which can be a stomach, digestive cavity, bowel and even a reproductive sac)





A survey has shown that many successful anemone keepers light their tank at a level of 4 watts per gallon. This is not really a reliable way to tell if you have enough light for your anemone. Metal Halide lighting is preferred and in my opinion essential for anemone health. It has been heard of an anemone kept in a tank with a number balanced tubes and over-indulgent feeding. However, there is no reason to subject an animal that is used to bright illumination in the tropics, to anything else.

For example, Heteractis Magnifica loves light, and serious anemone keepers will not even consider keeping this animal in less than 400 watt metal halide lighting!

Bubble Tip Anemones (E Quad or commonly know as BTA) on the other hand, can do very well under strong T5 lighting. Read up on your preferred anemone and find out what lighting it needs.

You may notice a colour change (usually a darkening or increase in intensity of existing colour) under bright lighting and this is a sign of zooxanthellae production. (zooxanthellae is a primitive algae that live within the tissue of a number or corals, clams anemones etc. It utilises waste products from inside the animal (ammonia wastes) and converts them into food, releasing an amount of glycerol and organic acids which the anemone shares.)

On the flip side, if lighting is not adequate, a loss of zooxanthellae will occur and the anemone will "bleach" or lose it's colour. This is a bad thing, and if this happens you should look to rectify this immediately.

If an anemone wanders looking up-stretched or seeks the highest point in the tank - it may need extra lighting. (In the case of Heteractis Magnifica it will normally seek the highest point in the tank an may not need more lighting)

On the other hand, the anemone may go into hiding, away from the light - this may be it's way to deal with the shock of bright light again, but they should come back out in a position they like. If, however your anemone has not re-appeared after a week or so, (which happens) suspect the worse and set about finding it. This behaviour is often displayed in sick anemones. You may wish to turn it's rock, or delicately move the rock to another area of the tank.


SG need not be adjusted from the normal level maintained for tank mates, however it has been noted that higher success has been achieved using full strength sea water at around 1.024 - 1.026


Should be ample if performing water changes at the correct level per week/month. People have theorised that the following are essential for anemone health - zinc, selenium, iodide iron, even copper. Interestingly enough, a survey from Joyce Wilkerson states that people who used normal tap water to make up they're tank water had higher success in keeping anemones alive for more that 24 months. This is not advised by myself, as tap water can contain harmful substances that may cause death or pollution in a reef tank.


Nothing out of the ordinary here. Anything within a rang of say 24oC to 26oC - a steady temperature is more important than an exact level.


Very important in anemone health - without one they will wander round the tank forever. Current is used in the wild to enable the anemone to catch prey swept through it's tentacles. It also helps to rid the anemone of waste products and mucus, helping to repel bacteria. A moderate to brisk flow is generally appreciated, but it does vary between anemones. You will find that the anemone will choose where suits it best. Heteractis Magnifica appreciate very strong flow indeed. Don't blast them round the tank, but be sure to provide a flow suitable to their needs.

VERY IMPORTANT - Powerheads suck, literally and figuratively sometimes, and it is not advised to keep anemones with them. With their tendency to roam the tank looking for the best sunbathing spot there is the danger of it being sucked into the impeller and damaged. Find an alternative way of water movement such as a closed loop system.


Should be at a level suitable for most reef tanks, with efforts to keep them optimal. By aiming for the best water conditions possible, you will give your anemone the best chance of long term survival in your tank.

Optimum water parameters are generally accepted as:

Ammonia - 0
Nitrite - 0
Nitrate - <10mg/l, preferably 0
PH - 8.1 to 8.3
Calcium - 400 to 475 mg/l
Alkalinity - 7 to 10dKH


This is a very individual choice which should be made together with your anemone. Offer food once a week to start with - this will condition the anemone. After that, well, you could continue to feed, or reduce to occasionally.

With adequate lighting, anemones do not need such gross feeding as once a day or once a week even. You have to find a balance between feeding, pollution and anemone health.

If an anemone is healthy it will grow. This can be a good indicator if it is receiving enough food. Some grow by utilising tank lighting only. If you have an anemone that grows without food then reduce you feeding to only monthly, or bi-monthly - to ensure that it receives all elements that cannot be obtained from the light (like fats and proteins)

If an anemone shrinks, then it is not receiving enough food (and or light).

PLEASE make an informed decision about your feeding regime though. Just because near starvation works for some, does not mean it will for you. You must watch your anemone carefully. If you feel you have a nice healthy specimen, decrease direct feeding, if however this causes your anemone to shrink, step up feeding again.

It is very tricky to get this right so if you're not sure, feed little an often. Your anemone will tell you when it's full by not accepting the food.

Feed a varied diet, as you would your fish. Variety can be the spice of life!!


If you want to keep clowns make sure that your anemone is around three time bigger than your fish – clownfish can be very boisterous, and mean to anemones, and as said earlier a bothered anemone will just turn face up and die.

Some clowns will only take up residence in a specific anemone. Here is a short list of which clowns take up residence, in which anemone, in nature:

Entacmaea Quaricolor

  • A Bicinctus
  • A Clarkii
  • A Ephippium
  • A Frenatus
  • A Melanopus
  • A Tricintus
Stichodactyla Sp
  • A Bicinctus
  • A Clarkii
  • A Occelaris
  • A Percular
  • A Perideraion
  • A Sandaracinos
  • A Sebae
  • A Tricinctus
Macrodactyla Doreensis
  • A Clarkii
  • A Perideraion
  • A Polymnus
Heteractis Magnifica
  • A Akallopisos
  • A Bicinctus
  • A Clarkii
  • A Melanopus
  • A Nigripes
  • A Occelaris
  • A Percular
  • A Perideraion
Heteractis Malu
  • A Clarkii
Heteractis Crispa/Malu
  • A Bicinctus
  • A Clarkii
  • A Ephippium
  • A Melanopus
  • A Percular
  • A Perideraion
  • A Polymnus
  • A Sandaracinos
  • A Tricinctus
Finally, keep an eye on the anemone and learn how it behaves, if it's habits changes suspect poor water quality or conditions, test and look to remedy.

A decomposing anemone will quickly pollute your tank like you wouldn't believe. Once on deaths door it will turn white turning into slime - REMOVE it immediately unless you want a massive ammonia/nitrite surge.

Related Information

A Beginner's Guide to Keeping Anemones

Recent Experiences with Bubble Tip Anemones