First Time Reefkeeper – Starter Animals for the New Reef.
Starter Animals for the New Reef.
When starting a new reef tank, especially if it’s the tank of a new reef keeper, I much prefer to stick with a fairly conservative choice of animals. Although starting a reef shouldn’t be that difficult a task I think it’s safe to say its not a good idea to make the job more difficult than it needs to be, so for the first twelve months keep to the easier animals.
These include some of the first animals you’ll introduce into your new reefs. First of these are the reef friendly hermit crabs and Turbo snails that are used to help control unwanted pest algae.
“Turbo” snail is pretty much a catch-all term for any of 4 different species of snail. If you can, get a mix of the different species – the greater diversity of species the better.
Hermits come most popularly as Red Leg Hermits and Blue Leg Hermits. The red legs tend to be bigger and to cost more than the blue legs, for this reason I favour going with blue legs at the start on the basis that you want a good quantity of hermits in there so you’ll get more for your money with the blues, and as for size they’ll grow to the same size as the reds.
If there’s no particular algae problem go for equivalent numbers of snails and hermits. If you have a “hair algae” problem go with more hermits than snails, say 3 to 2. If an algal film is the problem reverse this and try 3 snails to 2 hermits.
Lysmata amboinensis – Cleaner Shrimp: – Possibly the best choice for the smaller aquarium unless you particularly fancy one of the other species below. Kept as a pair they’ll regularly produce eggs and larvae, which can make great natural plankton for the other inhabitants of your reef. They’ll nearly always be on display and when you’re working in your tank will treat you just like a large fish by giving your hands the once over in the search for anything edible.
Lysmata wurdemanni – Peppermint Shrimp: Similar to the common cleaner shrimp but seem to do better in larger social groups. May be a bit more secretive. Will mix safely with the common cleaner. These shrimps come in useful if you have an infestation of the pest anemone Aiptasia that you need to get rid of. Also they come in useful for cleaning up areas of damaged coral tissue with the potential to save corals from bacterial and protozoan infection which might otherwise result in the death.
Note: – Do be aware of the problem associated with the use of common names in the aquarium hobby. Some aquarium shops are not as knowledgeable as they should be and there is the danger of being incorrectly sold Rhynchocinetes durbanensis – Candy Shrimp (non reef friendly, will eat polyps) as Peppermint Shrimps. You do use a good marine retailer, don’t you?
Lysmata debelius – Blood or Fire Shrimp: More potential for aggression, don’t mix with other shrimp species in smaller tanks. Pairs or small groups, similar breeding behaviour but again will be more secretive than above two species. Usually a more expensive animal, costing up to twice as much as the other species mentioned.
Stenopus hispidus – Boxing Shrimp: More potential for aggression, don’t mix with other shrimp species in smaller tanks. Only keep one shrimp in an aquarium less than 150 cm. unless you are certain you have a true pair. If you have a pair they’ll be secretive except when there’s food around, will breed regularly and demonstrate devoted behaviour to each other.
Periclimenes sp. – Anemone Shrimps: Small shrimps, possibly best kept in an invertebrate only tank, with appropriate species of host corals/anemones unless you’re very sure of the fish species you intend to keep them with.
When it comes to true crabs there are two useful species of predominantly herbivorous crabs, Mithrax sp. or Emerald Crabs and Percnon gibbesi, the Sally Lightfoot Crab. The Sally Lightfoot is the more attractive and outgoing of the two species but some people find its “spideriness” a little off putting. I love ’em! Although I’ve billed them as herbivores, as with all crustacea, they are opportunistic omnivores, so if any animal is on its last legs they’ll be in at the finish. Its most unlikely they’ll be to blame, they’re just doing their job of keeping your reef clean. If you have a pest algae problem then they’ll really earn their keep.
Corals are often referred to as being difficult animals to keep but nothing could be further from the truth!
Usually I recommend “Yellow Polyps” as a good first coral. They are hardy, colourful, and above all cheap! So if you’re a little nervous about that first coral introduction – “Is the water really ok?” or “Am I about to throw a lot of cash away if I’m doing something wrong?” then this is the coral for you. It’s not dependent on really bright light though it is a photosynthetic coral; however it will appreciate additional feeding with adult size Artemia or Mysis, say every second or third day at first, increasing to daily feeding as your reef matures.
The corals to consider at this early stage are the various species of “Mushroom Corals”, “Zoanthid Polyps”, and “Star Polyps”. These species can grow successfully at the lower light levels used during the early life of your reef, they are all hardy with little in the way of specialised feeding requirements though some Mushrooms and Zoanthids will, like the Yellow Polyps, appreciate supplemental feeding
Many of these species can be used to good advantage in a new reef, in fact you could be propagating your own corals from the outset! These are all reasonably quick to reproduce themselves, increasing the size of the colony by growing onto and over adjacent rocks, furthermore in the case of Zoanthids you can often purchase a specimen where the colony is growing over a small group of rocks which can quite easily be teased apart to give you a number of smaller colonies. These rocks can be either spaced out around your reef to give the impression of more life or could be spread out in one location to increase the apparent size of the colony. “Star Polyp” colonies may also be increased from the start, in the case of these the coral grows as a mat, often pieces of this mat can be teased apart, loosely attached to small pieces of rock with elastic bands and then used in the same way as I described above for Zoanthids.
Now that you’re adding more corals, covering up undefended substrate, you can start to gradually increase the photoperiod of your reef. Increase the length of time your lights are on by 1/2 an hour to an hour, say every 3 to 4 days. Keep an eye out to see if you get an increase in pest algae, if you do just cut back the lighting time by one increment and see how things go. Eventually you want to build up to a day length of 12 hours – the same as an equatorial day, or possibly 14 hours if you’re running fluorescent lights and want to compensate to an extent for lower levels of illumination.
Always keep a good gap between the new coral and any already established; bear in mind most corals of different species are in a constant state of war and if placed close enough to touch can damage each other.
And don’t forget – your corals are all going to grow!
As time goes by start looking at the many interesting soft corals that tend to get lumped together as leather corals, finger corals, etc. Good choices here include the following: -
Sarcophyton sp. – “Toadstool corals”: – a hardy coral of distinctive shape, can grow quite large but often makes a spectacular impact as a specimen coral.
Sinularia dura – “Cabbage corals”: – a hardy coral, tends to form leaf-like colonies with few polyps, one of the few Sinularias it’s possible to identify to species level.
Sinularia sp. – “Finger corals”: – hardy corals with long finger like lobes, many different species of varying form and colours are available.
Klyxum sp. – “Colt coral/Pussy corals”: – another “finger coral” tends to grow quite large, slimy to the touch.
Cladiella sp. – “Cauliflower corals”: – slimy corals of varying form, one species is mound-like looking very much like a cauliflower, another species has the form of a finger coral but is identifiable as a Cladiella due to the way it appears a white colour when the polyps retract.
The corals are packed in the same way as the creatures you’ve previously bought for your reef although they should be at least double bagged to prevent the weight of the rock and water puncturing the bags. It’s best if you can have your coral bagged under water to preserve any sponges that may be present.
©2004 – 2009