producing domesticated xenia

the birth of the pbcx

It is hard to believe how fast a month goes by when playing in ones indoor reef. Winter 2009 is gone and Summer is here. I find myself fighting between spending time with my reef and wanting to weed and plant my garden.


This issue LeRoy has given me the pleasure of writing about the animals that captured my heart from the very beginning. We were visiting tanks across the USA in 1994 and we ran into this animal that was called a Xenia. It seemed that once you could get the animal to survive in a reef setting that they would indeed thrive. We tried our hardest to get some into our genetic bank. However the wild ones did not seem to ship well or recover from the stress. Perhaps it had a little to do with the time of year that we chose to get the Xenia bug.

In 1994 my first tank was quite empty, and I was always stealing babies from LeRoy's show tanks. One day he called me to look at this most gorgeous Xenia that had ever graced GARF's tanks. A shipment had just arrived and LeRoy placed this remarkable baby in his 135-gallon system. The animal was light pink and pulsing. However it was kind of lying over due to its size and the stress from shipping. I watched LeRoy carefully prop the animal up and we both crossed our fingers that this guy would make it. We had already poured about $1,000.00 in extra shipments trying to get a Xenia that would live long enough for us to figure out how to keep it and then propagate it and then share it with others.

We know that any animal that makes it all the way to Boise, Idaho has to be a strong strain and one that will be easier to domesticate. Wild Xenia were very slow to adjust to the stress involved with keeping animals in a closed system. It is hard to remember back to those years for some of the Xenia we have domesticated have become what I call weeds. I remember asking questions on how to raise these animals or at least keep them beyond a one-month period. Even the captive raised ones that we purchased did not seem to grow and flourish and they certainly did not give us much to propagate.

I was saddened by the refusal of people to share information. Not only would they not share how to care for this animals they would not consider giving me tips on propagation, it was considered a trade secret. They felt if they told one person their secrets that their fortune would be lost. One of the true elements of keeping a Xenia alive in a closed system is propagating them often. Giving the Xenia a hair cut and spreading the risk to more than one tank is critical.


GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION I believe we should not have any animal from the wild that we can not keep in captivity. Once that goal has been achieved we should all be willing to share these results. Animals once felt to be impossible to keep in a reef tank are now common. We have all grown and accomplished great things but we must remember the gift of sharing.

To me it is not important who pioneered the processes, or was the first to do something, we must share these results to safeguard and share the animals with others. We have found that by sharing information even more ideas are generated. The sustainability of keeping the animals in closed tanks around the World becomes a reality. We should not have animals available to hobbyist if we are not willing to tell them what they need to do to keep them alive. Ops, I am jumping ahead of the story for at this time we had not been able to keep one strain of Xenia alive.

All I knew about this pink colored Xenia was that it was a wild animal that came all the way from Fiji. I had dreamed about this Xenia, I had my heart set on the perfect spot to place it in my show tank. I worked out a scheme all night long on how I was going to get a piece of that animal without LeRoy knowing. I did not want to get caught again with my hands in his tank. I knew this to be a very delicate animal and one we wanted to survive but had very little success with. I went into work early the next morning making certain I arrived before LeRoy:)

I went straight to the tank that housed this lovely creature, but I was deeply saddened when I looked into the tank. The animal seemed to be melting away. Polyps were being blown across the tank and the mother colony was nothing but a slimy blob that was dying. I decided right than and there I was not going to let this animal die so quickly I was going to catch some of these polyps and try my luck at keeping it in my tank. For maybe if I love it enough it will live!

I went right to work. I got my turkey baster, a bowl, and began to pray. I took water directly from the tank I was working in; I caught about two of the many hundreds of polyps that had already melted away from the mother colony. I was so busy trying to save just even one little piece

I had forgotten about everything I had planned the night before. I carefully cut a piece of bridal veil netting pulled out a small rock from my tank, tenderly placed the polyp on the rock and covered it with the netting, and held the netting in place with a rubber band.


Mind you we had tired to glue pieces of our pervious strains with no luck and no one was willing to share their secrets so I had to think fast. It was at about this moment that LeRoy walked into the office, he too must have been thinking about this animal for I saw his heart drop that yet another Xenia had met it's fate at GARF. I did not have the heart at this point to tell him that I had rescued a couple of polyps and had them securely fasten in my show tank. All I heard him say was that we would never get any more Xenia for they just were not meant to be in Boise Idaho.


I watched all day to make certain the polyps were still alive and hardly slept that night. I went into the office early, even before the lights came on, to watch to see if the babies were still holding on. Not only were they holding on they had doubled in size! If I remember right it took me about a week to call LeRoy into the office. I told him to sit down and I excitedly began to tell him step by step what I had done. He could not believe it. He looked in my tank, wiped away a tear from his eye and that smile was carried with him throughout that day. We decided to look into this tank where the mother colony had crashed and from all the hundreds of polyps not counting the two I had stolen, we found two little babies that had attached themselves to rock in this tank.

They would have been lost for other animals were shading them, but we actually took those little babies, and glued them up where the mother colony was displayed. It sounds easy now, but I did shed many tears over this incredible animal. We feel deeply privileged to have them grace our tanks and have them in each of our over 40 separate systems. Now four years down the road, I am proud to report that the Fiji Pom Pom Xenia is in many tanks across the USA and we are at least 20 generations away from the Mother colony. In fact the little polyps that I had saved are still alive and pulsing, not to mention it has mothered literally thousands of babies to date!

One of the orignal polyps in LeRoy's 135 one is still allive. The other one was a mystery for a while. I walked into the office and LeRoy was so upset one of his xenias was gone, he was trying to figure out who took it, and of course he had to ask me first for I am usually at fault. I swore up and down that I did not move it or take it. At this point LeRoy was very angry, for he knew it was there yesterday. I went to the source, the tank with the missing xenia. This is when I encountered a decorater crab that wanted to showcase this animal on his back.

After this experience I began to gain the confidence that was needed to learn about this animal and its needs. I found that it needed Iodide and began to use Sea Chem Reef Plus twice a week in my tanks, and even a little more when I was cutting the animals. I would give them a swig to heal the freshly made cuts. I found that the Xenia does not like to be in a tank that has temperatures above 80 degrees. They like some water movement and will grow in any lighting.

I have domesticated them so much that they will actually move to a different place in my tanks by laying down their stock and move among the rocks until they are were they want to be. You can really tell when the Fiji Pom Pom is most happy the polyps provide a constant pulse as if it is catching nutrients from the water. We have noticed that the pulsing polyps act as fiber optics that transmit light to the center of the colony.

The next Xenia I was given did not seem to have much of a fighting chance. But I think LeRoy learned by now if the animal stood a chance at all it was better off in my tank or at least in my hands. So I was not up scheming how I was going to get this animal that night. We know this Xenia as the Giant Two Colored Bali Xenia. It is not so much of a pulser, it is a fast grower but it is the hardest to propagate successfully.
We now have him in about seven of our systems and have about ten little clones growing out to share with others. He is by far the most difficult to sustain and propagate, and he has been in our genetic bank for almost three years. He is two toned in color and can be placed right next to any other Xenia. The color is almost a peach with a slight shade of almost orange. He seems to like more light and water movement than the Fiji Pom. GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

This animal is very hard to find and I have not heard nor seen any other than the ones that we have passed around to other individual tanks. I have found that by treating the freshly cut Bali with the SeaChem Reef Plus after each cut my success rate goes up.
GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATIONI made 30 cuttings from the mother and about 22 of the babies made it. One has to be very careful when propagating from the mother colony; she does not like her whole head cut off the stock. I cut about half of the head off the stock and quickly cut the head into big pieces again securing them in place with the bridal veil netting.

We are hoping that the further we get away from the mother colony that each generation will become easier to propagate, ship and that it will thrive in our captive reef systems.

This is not an animal we have in stock very often. And we seem to have an endless waiting list for this guy. For this reason I have spent a great deal of my time getting him into more tanks so that I can cut from other colonies and give mine a rest from time to time.

We have over 13 different types of Xenia at GARF; they all have their own story and their own needs. Some of these 13 I do not have in my tanks for they grow like crazy and can become a problem in a sps tank. For one must remember, they do grow fast and they will spread like wild fire. Since starting our farm we have found that corals which we call weeds are great for farming but one must keep a handle on their growth for if left alone in a show tank that will be all you would have left in the tank. As with gardening, every garden has a weed, no matter how much you manicure it there always seems to be one more. At this point I am extremely proud of our Xenia collection.

LeRoy built me a cutting unit that has room for 1500 corals to be grown out at one time. I have taken the opportunity to make this my Xenia unit. That way I have the brood stock growing in the unit and do not have to continually cut directly from my show tank to keep up with all the orders. I cut directly from the grow-out tank, which has made my job that much easier, and I can keep up with the sales quite nicely. Do to my focus on wanting to share the Xenia with others, I spend a great deal of time cutting and raising these little guys. GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

It is a huge commitment to provide the care for so much brood-stock for one step can not be ignored or you will loose the entire crop.

GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATIONIt is extremely hard to take the perfect picture of one of our prized Xenia. I know for I have tired. The other thing that has been amazing, at least to me, is how these animals change in different systems.

Depending on what type of lighting being used and the type of supplements used the animal changes color, grows differently or even pulses differently.

It became harder and harder to keep track of which Xenia is which when I started to spread them out among our other tanks. I decided that the best way for me to keep track was by dyeing the plugs we use for growing them out on different colors for different strains of Xenia. This did not work because it seemed we never had enough different colored plugs on hand. So my next choice was to use different colored rubber bands and that works quite well.

Almost all of the 13 different types of Xenia we have on display at GARF pulse, grow fast, and bring constant beauty to any reef tank. They get along good with other animals but you must remember to give them plenty of room to grow. The next challenge that needs to be met by the owner of these animals is to learn how to propagate them. To sustain them you must continue to prune them. I do this by cutting the entire head about 1/4" from the top of the stock. The stock begins forming new polyps that you can see after the first week. Before you know it the whole head has grown back with as many polyps as you just cut off.

I take the head that was removed from the mother colony using water from the tank I took the cutting from. I cut the head into as many pieces as I want, leaving about three to four polyps on each plug for faster grow out and to make sure they stay inside the netting. Using the bigger holed netting, I cover the Xenia polyps with the netting tightly secured with a rubber band. I place this new baby in my cutting unit with the power head current going above the animal. In just 10 days to two weeks you can remove the netting, the animal is fully attached and ready to go out to a new home. Some of the Xenia attaches faster than the 10 days it just depends on which ones you are working with. GEOTHERMAL AQUACULTURE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

It is this animal however that constantly reminds me what farming is all about. The Xenia can not pull off the netting by themselves nor can they propagate by themselves, nor can they add the proper amounts of Iodide they need or keep the tanks cool enough to survive. A farmer does not just go out on the farm and plant his seed only to forget to water it. A farmer has to keep the weeds down, plan for his next crop and work countless hours to make a living. Some days I go into the office and would love to play in the tanks but I have to pull over 300 pieces of netting off my Xenia. Or I have to sit down and cut all the netting, it reminds me that one most love what they are doing to remain committed to farming these incredible animals. I believe keeping the pH of a tank as stable as possible also helps with the Xenia pulsing.

This animal is also a great indicator about the health of a tank. If an animal is going to show signs that something is wrong with the system this is the first one to give you the signal. This past summer when LeRoy was out of the office for long periods of time I was the soul care giver to the tanks. I can walk by a tank and just look into it and know when all is right and when something is going to be deadly wrong. I walked by one of the garage tanks, the pink creeper Xenia was laying flat on the rock I knew something was wrong. I called LeRoy. If I had not walked by and paid attention all would have been lost in that system.

The power heads had stopped working and were not creating oxygen by moving the water. The stalled Power heads were heating the system. This is just another reason to love and care for these animals. To me there is no prettier animal to be displayed in a reef tank. People always point to them and can not believe their constant movement in the tank.

If one were to ask me which Xenia I like the best, well to be honest my reply would probably be the one I don't have yet:) Each animal displays its own rhythm and actually dances to any music played. Some grow huge stocks, some creep along the rocks, some grow many stocks, some are short, some are tall, but they all are beautiful animals and ones we need to share.

I have Xenia that I named the Portland Pulser. It received its name when LeRoy and I were teaching at a seminar in Portland. A man came to the meeting with a bag of these animals to trade with us. This Xenia is easy to propagate, it grows fast and it is a constant pulsar. The Portland Pulser is darker in color, it has a yellow stock, it likes light, and it spreads a great deal. I also cut this animal by removing the entire head from the stock. The stock grows a whole new head. This animal has been at GARF about three years and I am proud to report that we are many generations away from the original clone we received.

I love the way these animals reflect in the water surface. You must remember to propagate this animal or it will take over and outgrow almost any animal. It does not sting the sps corals nor do they sting it but you must keep them both in check. This animal attaches itself to the plug within seven days. The netting must be removed on time or the animal will stick to the netting and not the plug.



In the this picture there are a few other Xenia. One is from the Smithsonian, I feel lucky we got our hands on this animal before their exhibit was shut down. This animal looks a great deal like the animal Julian Sprung calls the silver tip. For it is two colored and has a bright silver line in each polyp.

I cut the head off the stock and cut the head into many pieces using the bridal veil netting for attaching it to the plugs. This animal also attaches in about seven days.

You can actually increase the price of the product you are farming if you add more than one kind of Xenia to the plug. I do this at the time I am placing the bridal veil netting on; I use one cutting of one type and one of another.

When removing the netting in seven days you can see two different types of Xenia. They will grow nicely together and will not harm each other. If one was to ask me how many Xenia are too many, I would say you could never have too many. It is always nice at the end of my day after cutting and attaching the Xenia; LeRoy comes to me with an empty bowl and says with a smile on his face do you have any Xenia for the poor. By this time I am so tired of propagating these creatures that there are about three different types of Xenia on the last couple of plugs. I gladly give the rest to LeRoy for his Xenia Bed Filters. I have never forgotten if I had not had that first wild polyp from his tank I would never have come as far nor risked caring for so many different types of Xenia.


Now I could devote an entire chapter to the Beautiful Pink Creeper Xenia, this animal adapts better than any Xenia I have studied. It will grow on the glass, spread from rock to rock, and will reach a height of about an inch and a half. It took us countless tries before we found the perfect tank to sustain this animal. We started caring for this animal about four years ago, and had a very difficult time maintaining its health. If one was to ask me what turned us around to the success we have with keeping this animal I would have to give all the credit to SeaChem and the use of the Reef Plus.

I found out through all of my quests for information that Iodide was important. I had heard of people using lugals solution and many of those people ended up crashing their tanks. I found that SeaChem Reef Plus(tm) gave me the ability to not over dose. I am able to sustain a vast amount of Xenia without causing problems to any of its tank mates. One does have to remember to place the SeaChem Reef Plus(tm) in the refrigerator after opening the bottle.

We have a Reef JanitorTM special in place at this time. We are giving away a free Beautiful Pink Creeper Xenia with any janitor order.

The beautiful creeping Xenia grows flat and spreads over rock so it does need to be cut back for she does grow quite fast. She will outgrow other animals in the tank. This is a great addition to the coral farm project. We have found that the Xenia growing on the glass can be scraped off with a credit card. If it is growing and spreading on rock you can break off a piece of the rock and glue that rock directly on a plug. You can even drop rock with nothing on it in the middle of a growing colony and it will spread unto the rock and be ready for sharing with others in a very short period. We have a couple of strains of this Xenia. Some look very pink and are beautiful. The other creeper Xenia has a yellow tint and it is spreader and a great addition to any reef tank. You can place just about any animal next to this animal just make certain you give this guy room to grow. It is a great addition to tanks that are bigger and have a great deal of space to be filled.

We have a Reef JanitorTM special in place at this time. We are giving away a free Beautiful Pink Creeper Xenia with any janitor order.


We try our best to focus our Xenia sales when the weather is perfect and we know that the box will not get too hot or too cold. However, it is amazing how each generation of Xenia becomes stronger and can sustain so much more than the wild colony. We like to make certain the person receiving this animal has the tank conditions the animal needs for survival.

They can actually go into a system when the tank is young. The cuttings we share are not huge because if you ship an animal that is too big it does not ship well and has little chance of surviving. Out of all the Xenia at the Foundation this is by far the fastest grower, and one with of the most pastel of colors, perhaps we will name this the Easter Xenia.

In some of the pictures in this article you will see the racks that LeRoy has built to hold the plugs for grow out in our cutting units. LeRoy uses his cuttings as a Xenia filter for his 150-gallon unit. I have a three 40 gallon tank unit - spaced three high. It houses about 1,500 cutting. My system has an Eco sand plenum in the bottom tank; the other two tanks have bare bottoms with just the racks sitting in them. To my surprise the bottom unit with the plenum is growing dozens of Fiji Pom Poms and other Xenia right out the sand. These colonies resulted from a polyp escaping from the netting and attaching to the sand or empty shells on top of the plenum, LeRoy calls this a true Xenia filter. It is in this unit that I grow out all of my brood-stock to take the burden off of my show tanks. I can now focus on growing as many Xenia as the Foundation can use.

I can grow all different types of Xenia in the same unit and as I stated above some of the plugs have more than one on them. I have found that placing some rock up to the racks help the snails and hermits get to all places in the unit and keep the plugs algae free. Each unit holds about 12 racks, has eight 40 watt lights and has generated many babies over the one year of its operation.

When landscaping your reef you can easily place different strains in the same tank and watch them grow almost daily. The Xenia add color and movement, and they are ready for propagation in a very short period of time. If you think the animal does not look healthy look for the cause of the problem right away. We have found not adding enough Iodide to be a problem for the animals. Heat is the main problem! I don't care how you do it, you must not let the tank get over 82 degrees or the animal will look like it is melting. We keep these animals in tanks that have VHO lighting, Power Compacts, Metal Halide lighting, and 40-watt lights.


Cutting or pruning the Xenia about once every six months will make the mother colony keep smiling back at you for years to come. It seems so rewarding to share animals with others who love to get their hands on these incredible animals. I will never forget how hard it was for us to keep one of these remarkable animals alive, and I hope that by writing this article and sharing our harvest with you it will make your experience just as rewarding. One more fact that should be taken into account, if you have a small tank from 5 gallons to 10 gallons the maintenance of this animal will have to be your first priority for they will outgrow your unit if left alone.

We have developed nicknames for the many types of Xenia we have in our genetic bank. One came from a coral farm that has a leather feel to it. We fondly named it the clicker. The polyps seem to click open and closed. It does not open as widely as the Pom Pom and has a very slow pulse. This animal is almost the same color as the Pom Pom but does not have the bold polyps that take your breath away. It is not a fast grower but it has a great color. It is one that would be excellent for smaller systems when one is concerned about bio-mass. We propagate this one by cutting the head off the stock and using the bridal veil netting. When placing the netting over the animal make certain polyps are face up. With this animal it is important to get several polyps with each cutting. By making bigger cuttings it seems to attach better and because it is a slower grower it makes it available for customers a little faster. We are working on getting more of these animals available for we do not have a great deal of these on hand at any given time. We have had this animal about two years.

A recent favorite Xenia is the Red Sea Xenia. This guy is another great pulsar and has grown rapidly in my oldest system. When it arrived at the Foundation LeRoy had given up any hope because you could not even see a polyp on the rock. It looked like a small reddish smudge of toothpaste.