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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

January 26, 2011

"Creepy Crawly" Uses in the Invertebrate Ecosystem

By Patrick Donston

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Do you want a more sophisticated sales person on the floor, especially when it comes to younger, less-experienced aquatic staff members? Teach them the uses of critters in reef aquariums and why a hobbyist would benefit to purchase them. The knowledge and facts they portray about the animals makes a tremendous difference in consumer confidence and sales. I've listed some of the more sought after cleaners/invertebrates the general reefkeeper wants. Use this list, copy it and give it to your staff. Let them memorize it and test them on it. Bring in some of these "creepy-crawly" denizens and watch them sell.

Blood/Skunk Cleaner Shrimp: These crustaceans are purchased mainly for aesthetics, but are known to be cleaners of fishes. They may help prevent or cure crypt or oodinium in reef fish inhabitants. Cleaner gobies are another option for this purpose.

Peppermint Shrimp: Known to eat Aiptasia, which are pest anemones. Caution must be considered as I have found them to be destructive on larger sea anemones—e.g., bubbletips; even zooanthids, such as button polyps, mushrooms and xenia, can be at risk.

Banded Coral Shrimp: Used pretty much for aesthetics only. They can be aggressive toward other shrimps and especially their own kind.

Emerald Crabs: Algae grazers. They will kill each other if there is not enough space or live rock provided. If all algae are eaten their diet must be switched to "Crab Cuisine."

Sally Lightfoot Crabs: Algae grazers. They can be aggressive toward each other as well as soft corals, polyps, xenia and mushrooms.

Blue/Red Leg Hermits: Algae grazers. I do not recommend mixing blues with reds as reds are larger and more times than not, kill the blues. Blues are great options for nano reefs. These crabs must be fed "Crab Cuisine" at least two to three times per week as algae alone will not sustain their diet.

Spiny Blue Lobsters: Mainly aesthetics. Great detritivores and have small claws, thus are usually harmless to other crustaceans and fish.

Red/Purple Lobsters: Same as above, except they do have larger claws and can harm small fish and other crustaceans.

Pistol Shrimp: Live sand diggers. They dig holes and burrow throughout the sand. They will pair with a watchman goby (if appropriate). Make sure a customer’s tank has sand as they do not do well in bare bottom reefs.

Horseshoe Crab: Great sand burrowers. Customers with live sand want animals that will turn or sift the sand. This helps keep the sand clean of micro and cyano algaes. They get quite large and can actually burrow under live rock making reef shelving unstable. J. Sprung believes they are not appropriate for captivity because of their voracious appetite, which cannot be compensated by a novice aquarist.

Arrow Crabs: Mostly for aesthetics. Some believe they will eat small bristleworms. They can fight with banded coral shrimp and other conspecifics. They may eat polyps, xenia or soft corals.
Feather Dusters: Aesthetics only. They are strict filter feeds and should have some sort of trace elements added to the water. They will glue themselves to properly secured rocks.

Flame Scallops: Aesthetics only. They are filter feeders (see above) except they are mobile and can move around the tank. They are harmless to anything, but usually do not live more than six months.

Turbo Grazers: Algae grazers. These are larger snails that I usually don't carry because they are found in cold waters. My experience has shown their mortality rate is very high in tropical reef systems. Let customers know there are better options. (See next)
Star/Astrean Snails: Algae grazers. Smaller snails from tropical waters. Take caution adding them with larger hermit crabs as they can be eaten.

Nudibranchs: Extremely difficult to care for. Plain and simple, they die, which is why I generally do not carry them.

Conchs: Algae grazers. (See above star/astrean)

Nassarius Snails: Sand sifters and detritivores.

Tigertail Cucumbers: Sand sifters. Do not sell to bare bottom aquariums. They do not get very large.

Sea Urchins: Algae grazers. They may puncture or knock corals off rocks while moving about. The most preferred urchins I find for reef systems are tuxedos and Caribbean pin cushions.

Sand Stars: Sand sifters. Sometimes they are not very hardy. Never sell one missing arms.

Linkia/Fromia Stars: For aesthetics and reef safe. Unlike the large armed stars--such as chocolate chips, Bahama, etc., which act as predators on the reefs--linkia and fromias use their thin arms to eat bacterial slime and detritus on live rock. They must be handled with care because they are sensitive to human skin oils. Always grab them with a bag over your hand.

Brittle/Serpent Stars: Known detritivores, although larger serpent stars have been known to grab small fish and eat soft corals. Small brittle stars are probably a better option.

Sea Apple: A sea cucumber that acts as a filter feeder. Same as their cousins, the pink or small yellow cucumbers, they have very little cleaning advantages and most purchase them for aesthetics.

Caution: They contain toxins that, if they die in an aquarium can pollute the entire tank and kill the other inhabitants.

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