Sea Urchins: Unusual Algae Eaters

Brandon here. Many aquarists that come through our fish room will ask what we recommend as algae eaters for their reef.  The answer is usually the same: snails, hermit crabs, or maybe a lawnmower blenny.  One of the most efficient algae eaters found on the reef is usually overlooked, the sea urchin.

Sea urchins are relatives of starfish and sea cucumbers, belonging to the phylum Echinodermata.  They are generally covered in hard spines for protection, little clawed arms called pedicellariae which are used to remove debris and detritus from the urchins’ skin and can also aid in protection, and tube like feet used for moving across the substrate.  Their mouths are surrounded by a structure called Aristotle’s Lantern, which is used for scraping rock and breaking food apart.  The Aristotle’s Lantern is what makes some urchins such efficient algae eaters.

Green Variagated UrchineWhile not all sea urchins eat algae, and not all that eat algae are desirable for a reef tank, there are a few that would make a great addition to the aquarium.  The Variegated Green Urchin, Lytechinus variegates, stays relatively small and clears live rock of virtually all types of algae.  One urchin that we use in some of our display tanks here at the store is the Tuxedo Urchin, Mespilia globulus.  These urchins also remain relatively small and do a number on different types of algae.  Another extremely efficient, algae-eating urchin is the Longspine Urchin, Diadema setosum.  These can grow very large, and have spines capable of puncturing skin and leaving a painful injury.

 Here are some urchins to avoid in the reef tank.  Rock-boring Urchins, Echinometra lucunter, do little to clean up algae.  They spend most of their time chewing holes in live rock.  Priest Hat Urchins, Tripneustes gratilla, are generally considered reef safe, and will even do some scavenging, but they can also grab immobile fish and inverts for dinner.  One urchin that we do not carry here at That Fish Place, the Flower Urchin, Toxopneustes pileolus, is very beautiful but can inflict a potentially deadly sting.  It is covered in what appears to be little flowers, but are actually pedicellariae.  These specialized pedicellariae have three jaws on the tip, each of which is hollow and filled with venom.  Upon contact they snap shut and inject venom into the skin, which causes extreme pain and even muscle paralysis, which could drown an unsuspecting diver.

Urchins are not for everyone.  While they will clean up most types of undesirable algae, they can also scrape coralline algae from the rock work, leaving it white and bare.  They also require good water quality in respect to temperature, salinity, and other factors.  Always be sure of the urchins’ specific requirements and adult size before purchasing.  Whether you have a reef tank or not, urchins can make very interesting additions to the aquarium.

Recommended Meds for Arowanas & Transferring Saltwater Tanks – Common Aquarium Questions

Back with some more FAQs sent to our Marine Bio staff.

Thurman wrote:

I’m raising a baby silver Arowana.  I would like to know, what meds do you recommend to keep in stock, How effective are vitamins, and are any water treatments needed besides prime or salt ? What is black water?

Marine Bio answered:

Some Meds I recommend keeping on hand are Kanaplex, Sulfathiazole, and Quick Cure.

These products treat a wide spectrum of diseases and are all very effective. Beyond all things, water quality and temperature stability will be the most important things for your arowana. Vitamins are completely subjective. Some people use them. I personally do not. A good food will have everything he needs to stay healthy. Try to get him off of live food as soon as possible. When they are small, floating pellets work pretty well. Just make sure to get small ones.

Black water is the term for the coloration and conditions found in parts of the Amazon River. There are natural organics, acids and tannins that leach into the water from wood and soil to create very soft water that is colored almost like a dark tea. There are several products that can simulate these conditions for you if you prefer.

Ryan wrote:

I currently have a 30 gallon bow-front salt water tank with one Condylactis Anenome, some Mexican turbo snails, live rock and blue legged hermit crabs. I wanted to transfer everything into a 75 gallon tank. But I just lost all of my fish to ich. Should I use new crushed coral, or use the old stuff from my little tank? What would be the safest way to know I won’t get ich again? I will set up a hospital tank, but I don’t want to have the same problem in my 75 gallon.

Marine Bio Responded:

Since you have recently had ich in your 30 gallon tank, there can always be the chance for another ich outbreak since the encapsulated cysts can hang around in your tank for several weeks. If you transfer the sand from your 30 gallon to your 75 gallon, you increase the chance of having another outbreak.  If you start with new sand, and add a new fish without quarantining them, you still have a risk of getting ich in that tank as well.  If it has been over a month since you have had fish in your tank, I would probably go ahead and add the sand from your 30 gallon tank just because of the good bacteria that is thriving in it. It is up to you if you want to buy brand new sand and start over, or use what you have and add new to it.  There are pros and cons both ways.  Ich is very tricky, the best thing you can do is quarantine and keep the conditions in the tank pristine.  Poor water conditions and stress may prompt an ich outbreak too.  You may want to keep meds on hand in case of any problem, just be sure you’re using a reef safe medication or remove your inverts to treat in the event of a recurrence.

Cyclop-eeze: Big power in a little body

One of the best products to be introduced to the aquarium food market in recent years is something that you can barely see.  Cyclop-eeze are a microscopic decapod (ten legged) crustacean that have unique nutritional value.  Most aquarium hobbyists are familiar with brine shrimp, a staple food for aquarium use for many years.  Fish breeders and advanced hobbyists have long used fresh hatched brine shrimp, or nauplii, for raising baby fish, feeding planktivorous fish, filter and particle feeding invertebrates.  While brine shrimp are readily available in many forms, and their nauplii are relatively easily raised, they have limited nutritional value, and must be supplemented, enhanced, or fed in large quantities to gain satisfactory nutritional value from feeding them.  This is where the emergence of Cyclop-eeze as a viable food source has made a real impact.

Cyclop-eeze can have more than 40 times the omega 3 highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA’s) than that of brine shrimp nauplii.   Cyclop-eeze also has the highest know levels of Astaxanthene, a critical biological pigment that not only gives the organism a striking red color itself, but when fed to other organisms is a most powerful color enhancer.  Research has also shown that the Cyclop-eeze organism has high levels of Betaine, and other natural attractants, which make it irresistible as a food source.  The Cyclop-eeze is a truly amazing little crustacean, packing nutrition, color enhancement, and attraction in one powerful little natural package.

The Cyclop-eeze is harvested in a remote arctic saltwater lake that is free of other organisms or pollutants, and in fact remains frozen in winter months.  When the ice thaws in spring, natural plankton blooms signal the Cyclop-eeze to hatch and reproduce, which lasts all summer.  The adults are harvested at their peak nutrition and instantly frozen to preserve all their goodness.

Cyclop-eeze are available in this frozen form, as well as freeze dried as whole organisms, which can then be used in either form to feed small or baby fish, feeding planktivorous fish,  as well as filter and particle feeding invertebrates.  Processed Cyclop-eeze is made into flake food and granules for feeding larger fish.  Cyclop-eeze extract oils (CEO) are also used as ingredients in a variety of other products as enhancements to other food and pharmaceutical products.

Give them a try; I think that you will be pleasantly surprised with the results that you will see with using this amazing food source.

Until next time,


Algae and Plants for Brackish Water Aquariums – Part II: Adapting Freshwater Plants to Brackish Aquariums

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Please see Part I of this article for information concerning typical brackish water plants and algae.

A number of well-known freshwater aquarium plants adjust quite nicely to brackish water.  Given the great variety of species that are available, I’m sure many others will be found.

Experimenting With Freshwater Plants

If you are of a mind to experiment, first research various natural habitats, keeping an eye out for plants that thrive along coastlines, estuaries and in other such situations….these might be exposed to salt water during floods or at high tide.  In general, freshwater plants with waxy leaf and stem coverings make the best prospects with which to begin.

Bear in mind that the change from fresh to brackish water is an extreme one, and can easily shock your plants.  Treat them as you would a new, delicate fish and increase their exposure to brackish water gradually.  For untested species, you might consider dripping brackish water into the plant’s tank via a section of airline tubing during the acclimatization period.

Anachris (Egeria) densa

Much favored by freshwater aquarists and a standby for grammar school science experiments, Anachris is very hardy and highly recommended for use in brackish tanks.  Most agree that it is the most likely of all freshwater plants to thrive in this foreign environment.

Anachris grows well as a rooted or floating plant and, in strong light, can add an inch or more a day to its length.  Cuttings taken anywhere along the stem will grow into new plants.

Temple Plant, Hygrophila corymbosa

This most attractive of aquarium plants does very well in brackish water, but is considered a delicacy by snails, hermit crabs and many fishes.  It and related species, which are native to South and Southeast Asia, can be propagated from cuttings and grow best under bright lights.

Cabomba aquatica

Another popular freshwater plant, this South American native has delicate leaves which cannot withstand the attentions of herbivorous fishes and invertebrates.  However, when housed with halfbeaks, mudskippers and others that will not molest it, Cabomba makes a fine addition to the brackish aquarium.

Aquatic Grasses – Sagittaria and Vallisneria

Sagittaria, relatively impervious to salt water damage and unpalatable to most organisms, is one of the best freshwater plants to use in brackish systems.  The widely-available grass Vallisneria does very well also, even under subdued lighting, but is considered a tasty food by many aquatic animals.

Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum

Reaching 10 feet or more in length in the wild and equally at home in cold and warm water, this hardy survivor is an excellent candidate for brackish water tanks.  It can get by in dimly-lit aquariums, but in such situations its foliage will pale considerably.

Water Sprite, Ceratopteris thalicroide

Even in such an unnatural environment as brackish water, this plant will grow quite vigorously if kept warm and under bright lights.  It can be maintained either floating or rooted, and in different situations will develop rounded, bulky or fern-like leaves.  Water sprite’s prodigious rate of growth often compensates for the attentions of plant-eaters.

Chain Swordplant, Echinodorus tenellus

This attractive plant spreads rapidly via runners (hence the “chain” portion of its name) and is fully grown at 4 inches in height.  As is true for its larger relatives, the chain sword requires warm water and a well-lit environment.

Further Reading

Anachris (Egeria) densa is widely introduced in the USA and elsewhere.  The University of California has posted an interesting account of its natural and unnatural history at


Please write in with your questions or to relate your own experiments with aquatic plants.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Breeding Parachromis dovii – The Wolf Cichlid

Hey folks Jose here, we are going to talk about one of my favorite bad boys (and girls), the Dovii, also known lovingly as the Wolf Cichlid. The Dovii  hails from Central America in Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Males can reach sizes up to 28 inches, while females are much smaller at 15 inches. In the wild, the species is an opportunistic piscivore, feeding on smaller fish. This is an easy fish to keep, as long as you have the space and get a compatible pair.

In juveniles, sexing is tough but can be done.  When I picked out my pair at 2 inches, the male was a little larger and he had black dots below the lateral line where as the female had none. In the store’s aquarium, the male was tough on the female, but a week after they went into my 40 breeder, the roles were reversed. They were shy at first, hiding under the caves that I provided for spawns.

Feedings are a blast. They eat everything! The main diet I feed consists of a marine pellet food made by Pretty Bird called Color Up, Prime Reef flakes, and the occasional (once a week) feeding of live crayfish. Now let me tell you how fast they can grow.  The male was 2 inches long and about an inch and a half high when I got him. I have had him for about seven or eight months, and feed them 2 to 3 times a week, and now the male is about 6 inches in length and close to 3 inches in height! They can really fill out fast!

So now they’re spawning. The spawning was not as bad as I thought it would be. The female was almost gold-yellow with dark barring, and close to her vent she started to take on a black coloration. The male’s coloration became a lot more vivid, but the most striking feature setting him apart from the female (wow) was that his lips and fins turned blue!  The Wolf Cichlid’s courting and mating dances consisted of a lot of gill flaring, head shaking and jaw locking.

I provided caves and PVC pipe for them to spawn on, but the female decided  that she was going to lay the eggs on bare glass. OK with me, because they’re easy to spy on there.  I think I’m on batch number 7, and in each batch (laid like clockwork around the end of the month) she numbered close to 200 fry. Not bad for a 3 inch female, though adult females can produce up to 1000+ eggs at a time. The parents are very protective over the fry, even attacking my hands when I’m working on the tank. Oh, did I mention the Dovii live with two Synodontis catfish that happen love the taste of fry? I have not saved any of the prior batches because of space limitations, but my roommate let me borrow his 10 gallon planted aquarium this time, so I was able to net out 30 fry to grow out. The fry are fed crushed flakes, crushed freeze dried brine and crushed freeze dried mysis shrimp. As of right now, it looks like another batch of eggs is on the way!

Until next time,