AQUARIUM ENLISTS CORAL GARDENER

Aquarists at Bristol Aquarium have enlisted the help of a fishy Alan Titchmarsh to help keep a living coral garden clean.

Staff at the Harbourside attraction noticed an invasive species of anemone, known as aiptasia, had started to colonise one of their tropical soft coral displays.

In a bid to control the unwanted invader, they have decided to bring in ‘Titch’ – a species of tropical marine fish known as a Burgess butterflyfish renowned for its ability to control anemones.

“Titch will help to reduce the population of aiptasia in the display which are threatening to take over and damage the corals and, potentially, the entire ecosystem of the display,” said aquarist Becs Smith.

“The great thing about using a fish to reduce numbers is that it’s a natural process and means we can minimise the amount of human intervention and disturbance to the display.

“In one experiment an aquarist introduced a butterflyfish into a tank with more than 3,000 aiptasia in it. Within five weeks numbers had been reduced to just nine!” she added.

Butterflyfish get their name from their brightly coloured and patterned bodies. Many also have eyespots on their flanks and dark bands across their eyes, similar to the patterns on butterfly wings.

The Burgess butterfly fish are found in both The Pacific Ocean. The fish usually live alone, in pairs, or occasionally in small groups.

Aiptasia are introduced as hitch hikers in our aquarium. Often small specimens come in inadvertently on live rock or attached to the base of corals.

Aiptasia are members of the phylum cnidaria, the same family as jellyfish, and have a stinging cell. Corals coming into contact with aiptasia will recede and show signs of distress, leading to death. They can also reproduce quickly, over-running an aquarium in a short period of time.