We take so much pride and care in our marine reef aquariums, not to mention the money involved to ensure that our tank is up to speed with the latest in technological advances to make things easier and better for our marine inhabitants. To think that we may have introduced something bad into our tank would be like putting sand in our cars gas tank-detrimental! Many times we are able to comb our live rock, sand and corals to ensure that their isn’t something bad growing or living there. However, we are human and unfortunately are not able to catch many of these critters before we place them in our tanks. Moreover, often these things don’t grow, or multiply until a period of time down the road after the damage is done. Yes, there are things we can do to avoid and ward off these events of evil creatures entering our happy tank such as setting up a quarantine tank, more thorough inspection or performing a fresh water dip, though these don’t always work 100%.
Not all of the hitchhikers that arrive alive to our home are considered bad. Through the process of die off where live animals die in transit from one tank to yours, often times it doesn’t wipe out an entire population or various organisms residing on or in the rock or coral itself, which can be a good thing. In the case of sponges especially, many of them will die when exposed to the ambient air for too long as they are unable to cope with air that has entered it tissue. However, as life so often is, some of these sponges end up coming back after a period of time almost magically.
With the diverse multitude of living organisms associated with the live rock and sand that we purchase for our reef tanks, it is no wonder that we see, or may never see, such a unique array of living microscopic or larger lifeforms grow and thrive in our tanks in due time. Some of these will be beneficial, some will be bad for our reef biotope while others will be ugly to many of us in appearance however, often will play a significant role in the symbiotic chemistry and overall success of our tanks.
Listed below are a few such animals that may or may not be evident on the rock or sand that we purchase for our tanks:
Sponges, tunicates, various pods and plankton, bristle worms, fanworms and featherdusters(sabellid), spirorbid worms, terebelid worms, foraminiferans, serpulid worms, sipunculid(peanut) worms, spaghetti and medusa worms, limpets, chitons, stomatella, vermatid and cerith snails, brittle and serpent stars, anaerobic nitrifyers, epiphytes, macroalgae and other vascular plants, bacteria as well as a whole line of other worms, microcrustaceans, benthic animals, various filter feeders and mollusks to efficiently and effectively clean your water by extracting nitrogen and ammonia, phosphates and other dissolved organics while recycling detritus and waste products into useful food stuff for other living organisms within your tank.
THE BAD> Crabs such as those that are accompanied with big claws, Mantis shrimp, microalgae, hydroids, aiptasia and mojano anemones, flat worms, fire worms, polyclads, ovulid snails, Whelks, Cone snails, tulip snails and pyram snails. These for the most part will wreck havoc on your tank population often times consuming other beneficial sessile invertebrates especially.
THE UGLY> Many of these so called ugly animals are considered beneficial though the sight of seeing many of these takes you back to one of those scary horror stories or science fiction novels about alien invaders from a far off place. Most of your worm species would be entered into this category. The various pods and planktonic foods that live on or within the porous rock are not very attractive to look at either.
All in all most of these so called “hitchhikers” that become introduced in our tanks are beneficial in some way and play an important role in the overall chemistry, health and vigor of our tanks! Before getting carried away or freaked out about something in question residing on your live rock or sand, investigate it first, as much of the animals in question are truly unique and beneficial.
Again, by inspecting your rock, sand and corals before placing them in your tank, you can cut down on the chances of unwanted pests being introduced unwillingly into your reef tank. Quarantine and dipping will also work well along with the curing or uncured rock!