Sea Cucumber

At the same time we purchased our Nassarius snails, we also purchased a Sea Cucumber.

This particular type of sea cucumber is called a Tiger Tail Sea Cucumber. They range from gray to brown, depending on the specific type of species and are covered in spines called papillae. Their maximum size in a reef aquarium are 12 – 18 inches, and in the wild get as long as 6 feet! They are omnivores (eating both meat and plants) originating from the Indo-Pacific oceans. We purchased this one to help clean up the detritus on our sand bed. The general rule about stocking a reef tank with sea cucumbers, is to have no more than 3 inches of cucumber to 20 gallons of water. They also need fine sand (sugar or slightly larger) and prefer a deep sand bed. Another interesting tidbit; sea cucumbers breath through their anus!

There are a three main types of sea cucumbers; filter-feeding, deposit-feeding, and medusa worms. The Tiger Tail is a deposit-feeding sea cucumber that takes sand in through a mouth at one end, and deposits clean sand castings out the other end. If sea cucumbers are not getting enough food, they will shrink in size. This is one of the first signs that there is not enough food present to sustain the sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers can go for quite a length of time without eating and are capable of digesting themselves to ward off starvation. It is important that we note what size he is initially, and keep an eye on his size (when we see him), as well as look for the presence of castings.

The coolest feature about sea cucumbers, is their ability to change the consistency of their bodies. Their body tissue is controlled neurologically, allowing them to make their body rigid, or very soft. This is how they can get themselves into very tight spaces. For example: they can literally drain themselves into a hole much smaller than they are, and then make their body rigid so they can’t be pulled out. A great defence mechanism if you ask me!

There is a second defence mechanism in where a sea cucumber violently ejects their “guts” (all or a portion of  the fore or hind gut). Sea cucumbers can regenerate these “guts”, but need quite a bit of time to do so. This expulsion is why many aquarists won’t put sea cucumbers in their tank. When certain species of sea cucumbers expel their Cuvierian tubules, which is essentially a defence organ, there is a soup of toxic chemicals that are also released. This is what is known as “cuke nuke” among aquarists. These type of chemicals can kill fish if not handled in a timely manner. That being said, a sea cucumber will only release these tubules when the sea cucumber feels very threatened. The chances of this happening are pretty low from my reading.

In the unlikely event that this would happen, performing large water changes, heavy skimming, and running a carbon filter will help to remove the toxins and cause little damage to the reef if caught quickly.

We discussed all of this with our LFS prior to purchasing the sea cucumber, and was told that yes, it is a possibility with some species of sea cucumber, but very unlikely with a Tiger Tail.

 

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Nassarius Snails

The Mexican Turbo Snails did a great job cleaning up the hair algae in our tank, but with all that input, there is bound to be output; and boy was there a lot of it! To help clean up all the extra detritus (fish poop) we certainly don’t want in our tank, we decided to purchase Nassarius Snails on our return to the LFS.

These little scavengers not only eat detritus, left over fish food, and decaying organic matter, they also burrow into the sand and help to stir up and provide adequate oxygen to our DSB (deep sand bed). Our snail population in our tank is down, so we added 12 of Nassarius. They are about the size of the tip of my finger and don’t get much bigger than a thumb.

Nassarius snails burrow in the sand, breathing from a syphon that protrudes from the substrate. You can see in the picture below the black tube-like syphon from a submerged snail. (There is gray also one in the back left of the photo)

When they are submerged and food is introduced to the substrate, they pop up from the depths in search of it. I have also seen these snails refereed to as Zombie Snails for this reason.

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Snails that eat Hair Algae

When we had Emerald Crabs, they were great at decimating hair algae, which we are currently having a problem with. Since we no longer have Emerald Crabs (you can read about catching a crab here), we decided to take a trip to our LFS to see if they could recommend anything that would help keep it under control.

What we decided on were Mexican Turbo snails. The reason we chose these snails, is because they are able to eat long hair algae. We have other snails in the tank, and have seen them eat algae, but not long strands of hair algae. These Mexican Turbo snails are quite large, most more than 2 inches wide, and within a week had the hair algae under control.

courtesy of CatfishCharliesfish.com

You can watch one eating in the video below.

They have what is refereed to as a “trap door”, which seals them in their shell. You can watch a video below of one deciding whether it is safe to come out or not.

After only a week, we took 5 of them back (leaving one in the tank to help out with some remaining hair algae), and received credit towards our next purchase.

 

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Our Scooter Dragonet is eating fish pellets!

We have spent weeks catering to our Scooter Dragonet’s finicky eating habits by feeding him only live food such as Reef Pods and Brine Shrimp. We even made him a special feeding container and put it in the corner of our aquarium, tolerating its ugliness until we could make sure he was eating enough to survive.

We are thrilled to report that as of Monday, he is eating pellet food! This may not sound like a big deal, but it is such a big deal. Many aquarists report that the biggest hurdle of keeping a dragonet, is getting them to eat food that isn’t alive; food that is nutritious and easy, such as the fish pellets we feed all the other fish. We will no longer have to prepare special food, or use a special container just for him. We will no longer have to try different types of frozen or freeze dried food to see what he will eat and will not eat. We are ecstatic and also relived to know that he is eating food that is so much more nutritious for him than the Brine Shrimp we had been feeding. This seemingly simple change means that he should survive for quite some time in our tank!

We had to get a video, of course, of him eating a pellet, otherwise no one would believe us! (Apologies for the darkness)

 

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Peanut Worm!

While trying to catch suspicious snails in our tank one night (more on that later), we spotted what we think is a Peanut Worm or Sipunculida. He was not in a position for us to be able to remove him for closer inspection, but we did get a good look at him for identification. Here is a picture of a Peanut Worm, unfortunately not from our tank, courtesy of BeakerBob at Reef Central Forums.

Courtesy of BeakerBob at Reef Central Forums

From our reading, this worm eats leftover food and detritus (waste). He is just another hitchhiker we have come across from our live rock. You can read the forum post and view more pictures we found of the Peanut Worm here.

It’s always fun to find new things, and even better when you find out they are good to have in your tank! You can read about some of our other hitchhiker’s we have found here and here.

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Dissappearing Coral

Within a week’s time, our King Midas Gold Zoanthids have completely disappeared. Each day a few more polyps would shrivel and simply be gone the next time we looked. We were perplexed as to the reason, as all of our other corals seemed to be OK.

    

Up to this point we had been dosing for KH, but not as regularly as we should have. All other water parameters were within normal range. We took a water sample to our LFS for them to perform water tests for us. What they found was that our KH was quite low, and that was probably our culprit for the disappearing Zoanthids.

We now make sure that we are more diligent about our KH dosing. With the amount of coral we have, and the Coralline algae we have continually spreading, it is a constant struggle to keep it at adequate levels. We may be purchasing our dosing product in bulk very soon!

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Feeding our Scooter Dragonet

I had written previously about our newest addition to our aquarium, a Scooter Dragonet, and promised to write further concerning his feeding.

Dragonet’s are considered finicky eaters, preferring only live food, so to begin we purchased some Reef Pods to help increase the natural population in our tank. These pods can be found at a company called AlgaGen. Ideally, you would dump them in once the lights were out at night, so the fish wouldn’t eat them all, but we received them in the middle of the day, and because they are time sensitive, we decided to call AlgaGen to see how best to handle them. Not only did a real person pick up immediately when I called, they were amazingly helpful and knew about keeping a reef aquarium. You can find this product at AlgaGen.com.

    

We ultimately decided to turn the lights out in the tank before dumping them in. Doing this tricks the fish into thinking that it is night time, and they all retreat to the rocks or their “beds”. Once the fish were settled in, I dumped most of the bottle in the display tank. This allowed for the pods to have a chance at getting to the rocks and hiding before being detected by the fish. We added the rest of the bottle to the middle section of our sump where we have live rock and algae for them to hide and survive, and hopefully populate. Eventually they will get pumped from the sump into the display tank. It should also be said that only one type of fish that eats pods should be kept at a time so they do not compete for the same food source, unless, of course, you have a massive aquarium.

To help wean our Dragonet from live food we also purchased some Brine Shrimp eggs (I remember them as Sea Monkey’s when I was a kid), found at our local pet store, while we train him to eat non-live food. These brine shrimp come in a package or bottle. Each manufacturer’s instructions are a little different, but basically you add some eggs (a little goes a long way) into a salt mixture and let incubate and aerate for 24-48 hours. After that we keep them in the refrigerator, which helps keep them alive longer (roughly a week), and slows them down a little for the Dragonet.

Our photo above shows a two liter bottle with the bottom cut off, screwed into an adapter with an aerator that we purchased as a “Brine Shrimp Kit”. There is a thermometer hanging on the bottle, and a light overhead. We placed the whole thing into an aquarium in case of an accident.

Dragonet’s are also very slow, deliberate eaters, which makes them hard to feed when other fish are present, as they will not compete for food. To help with this we put a container in our aquarium for only him to go and eat. A turkey baster fits perfectly into the modified pipet, allowing us to squirt food into the container.

This idea was mimicked from other ideas found on the internet. He learned very quickly that this is his place and visits it often, especially at feeding time.

Because Brine Shrimp are not very nutritious, and because we need to wean him off of live food, we mix the Brine Shrimp with products such as Mysis Shrimp, Arcti Pods, and Tigger Pods from Reef Nutrition to see what he likes and doesn’t like. I have watched videos online of Dragonets eating pellet food, and yet have read forum after forum of other aquarists having no luck keeping Dragonets because they can not train them to eat non-live food. I think it is simple luck as to whether you happen to buy a less picky Dragonet.

So far for us, our pod population is keeping him alive, as well as the Brine Shrimp. He also will eat Tigger Pods by Reef Nutrition (which is not a live food), but not much of anything else that I can tell. We will plan on purchasing more pods for our aquarium over the next few months, as well as continue to introduce him to other types of food to see if there is anything that triggers his appetite.

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Investigating “Bugs” Crawling On Our Coral

Recently, we noticed that our Chocolate Mint Chip Zoanthid Coral had seemed agitated and had been closed more often than open over the past few days. We have found that when the aquarium lights go out for the night is the best time look for any pests in the tank. Using flashlights, we noticed little “bugs” crawling on the coral. We decided to remove the coral and perform a coral dip to get a closer look at these “bugs”.

Corals can be dipped in solutions to help remove algae as well as any bad creatures that are hitch-hiking onto the coral, such as a Xenia eating worm we once found on our Pulsing Xenia. From reading forums, some aquarists always dip after purchasing a new coral before placing in their display tank, and some dip only when there is a problem with the coral. There are many types of dips ranging from home-made solutions to specific manufactured products. There are lots of opinions about both, but what everyone can agree on is that you need to be careful because corals can be damaged from dips if exposed for too long. We did some reading about dips for this type of coral, (I should note it is not recommended for all types of coral so make sure you do your research) and found that some aquarists use a 4:1 mix of RO/DI water to hydrogen peroxide to help remove nuisance algae. This is perfect if you need a dip right away as hydrogen peroxide can be found in almost everyone’s medicine cabinet. A 3-5 minute duration seemed to be what most people use, so we decided to give it a try.

As the coral was sitting in the dip, a few tiny “bugs” came crawling off the coral. The hydrogen peroxide didn’t kill them right away as I would have suspected. They were crawling all over the container. We used our microscope to capture some photos on this little guy to help us determine what he was.

We believe he is a Sand Skater, a type of Crustacean that runs around eating organic matter from the sand. We were glad to know he wasn’t another pest, but rather a good thing to have in your aquarium.

We also captured a video of him moving his legs around. Not the best video, but interesting to see how his anatomy works. Click the link below.

This is another fun aspect of keeping a marine aquarium. Things like this pop up regularly. We have learned to not freak out and to just take it in stride as the whole process is a learning experience.

 

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