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Trevor 7/09/03 3:43

Clown Fish are enjoying great popularity due to the movie "Finding Nemo" As always, with aquarium Clown Fish, there is an accompanying demand for anemones. Unfortunately, all anemones are not suited for captivity.

Anemones and Clown Fish have a well-known relationship. In the ocean, the Clown Fish are protected from predator fish by the stinging tentacles of the anemone.

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Here's a simplified version of the relationship: the anemone receives protection from polyp-eating fish, like Butterfly Fish, which the Clown Fish chases away. The anemone also gets fertilizer from the feces of the Clown Fish. It is a near-perfect symbiosis. People have always been fascinated by this relationship.

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I think this fascination stems from the fact that human beings lack the ability to understand any other organisms. We have no perfect relationship with any other animal. Even our relationships with animals such as dogs are inherently unequal. As humans, we must live alone.

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Evidence of both this fascination with the anemone and the human lack of understanding for other animals can be seen in the anemone trade. Every year, thousands of Clown Fish-symbiont anemones are ripped from the ocean and sold in pet stores.

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Why is this anemone collecting a huge misunderstanding? IT IS Because many Clown Fish anemones do not live in captivity.

Recently, Joyce Wilkerson took a survey on captive anemone life span. Only 5 percent of hobbyists with 2-5 years of experience had been able to keep anemones alive for more than two years, and only 1 out of 32 anemones lived for more than 5 years. The anemones simply aren't surviving.

Clown Fish anemones (of the species Entacmaea, Heteractis, Stiochodactyla, Macrodactyla and Crptodendrum) have very specialized requirements. Some are from shallow water and need direct sunlight. All are capable of crawling around the tank and injuring themselves. All also need direct feeding in large quantities. And even aquarists who are able to meet those demands are not able to keep anemones alive.

CLOWN FISH LIVING IN CAPTIVE RAISED XENIA
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When an anemone dies in an aquarium, it releases massive quantities of toxins that could decimate every animal you have in that aquarium. These anemones are fundamentally unsuited to aquariums.

Despite this, thousands of anemones are raided from the ocean. This is a tragedy, because in the wild, anemones can live for hundreds of years. They also reproduce very slowly. When an anemone with a 60 or 70 years ahead of it is taken from the ocean and left to die in an aquarium in just several months, it is a tragedy.

When an anemone is not given the chance to produce offspring, it is a tragedy. If we keep up these destructive collecting practices, there will be no anemones left in the ocean. They simply do not reproduce quickly enough to keep up with the demand of the pet trade.

Anemones should be placed in the same category as whales, panda bears and black rhinoceroses: these huge beautiful animals cannot be killed indiscriminately. Imagine a vendor trying to sell baby panda bears to keep as pets in a living room. This vendor would find himself the target of million dollar lawsuits, and would be reviled by animal-lovers everywhere. Keeping pandas in a living room is ridiculous and cruel. Yet, when many large anemones are taken and put in aquariums, it is the exact same situation.

CLOWN FISH LIVING IN CAPTIVE RAISED XENIA
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The appalling destruction of these animals is made even more awful because of human misunderstanding of Clown Fish anemone relationships. If we continue taking anemones from the wild, some Clown Fish may go extinct.

If a Clown Fish in the ocean doesn't have an anemone to use as a refuge from predators, that Clown Fish will die very quickly. When we take anemones from the ocean, we are immediately killing off two different animals.

Perhaps the worst part of this oceanic pillaging is that captive Clown Fish do not need anemones. Do not let a fish store or an "expert" tell you that Clown Fish need an anemone in an aquarium. They absolutely do not. In the aquarium, there are no Clown Fish predators, and so the protection from the anemone is unneeded.

In captivity, there are many other cnidarians that make excellent hosts for Clown Fish; SallyJo has done extensive research on Sarcophytons as an alternate host. We have Clown Fish here at GARF that have even taken up residence in Xenia and mushrooms.

CLOWN FISH LIVING IN CAPTIVE RAISED XENIA
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Of course, you don't even need a cnidarian to raise Clown Fish. In commercial hatcheries, these animals are successfully bred and raised in bare tanks.

We must not take any more large host anemones from the ocean. It is absurd that we do this in the first place, since captive Clown Fish need anemones about as much as they need a bicycle.

Despite all the evidence of anemones dying in aquariums, they are still offered for sale. When I was doing research for this article, and typed in "carpet anemones" to the search engine, web pages offering these animals for sale came up often. This is, quite simply, disgusting. You may be asking yourself, "what can I do?" As a hobbyist, there is a lot that you can do to stop this injustice from occurring. These anemones are being taken from the sea in the name of the hobbyist, because there is a demand for them. Do not buy an anemone.

We aquarists have power in our pocketbooks. If we refuse to support the irresponsible pet stores and suppliers that collect anemones from the wild, they will stop buying anemones quickly.

Even if you have no interest in buying an anemone yourself, be wary of shops that carries them. Tell the owner that you refuse to support the killing of anemones.

If we work together we can protect the ocean and end this abhorrent practice.