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How to Get a Clownfish to Host an Anenome

Table of Contents

Ah… the iconic first day at school scene from Finding nemo.

No single piece of media has done more to bring new aquarists to the hobby.

Known as the “Nemo Effect”, clownfish sales launched to a 90% increase shortly after the movies release.

Regardless of what caused you to recreate the clownfish-anenome pairing, there is no worse feeling than coming home with a brand new clown and anemone, putting them in your tank, and them failing to cooperate.

Whether this describes your situation right now, or you’re trying to prevent this from happening, this articles got you covered.

We’ll cover:

  • Dive deep into the behavior and factors that encourage clownfish to host an anemone
  • Providing you a list of which types of clownfish match with certain anenomes
  • Tactics for getting them to pair
  • And more!

The Symbiotic Relationship

Ocellaris Clownfish

If you’ve ever watched reef or ocean documentaries, one of the most fascinating sites is schools of different types of fish swimming around the reefs.

But you’ll almost never see a clownfish swimming around freely like other fishes, as clownfish aren’t great swimmers and are mostly stationary. They don’t often swim beyond their home turf, which is usually an anemone.

On their own, clownfish would make great food for other larger fish that hunt around the reef. 

It’s not clear how the clownfish stay unharmed by the stinging tentacles of anemones, however some claim clownfish secrete a type of mucus making them immune to the stinging cells of the anemone.

Another common theory is that clownfish covers itself with the anemone mucus to fool the anemone into thinking it’s a part of itself hence remains unharmed.

Just like every other symbiotic relationship in the wild, it’s not only clownfish that receive benefit.

The anemone benefits as well.

Clownfish keep the anemone safe from fish that may develop appetite for anemones, and also keeps the anemone clean from debris and dirt.

By swimming along the tentacles, clownfish also aerate the anemone by swimming on its surface, keeping the anemone fresh and oxygenated.

Anemones are also regularly fed by the clownfish through their feces.

In fish tanks, you may even notice during feeding, clownfish will toss food in the direction of the anemones to get caught up in the anemones tentacles, and eventually, their mouth.

Getting The Right Match

Clownfish Hosting Infographic

Now that you understand the relationship more, you’re ready to recreate it in your tank.

One of the most important factors to consider while trying to get your anemone and clownfish best buddies is to check the compatibility of a certain anemone type with certain types of clownfish.

Clownfishes don’t host a random anemone and vice versa.

Some clownfish species are more likely than others to host anemones. For example, Ocellaris Clownfish are notorious for being one of the more difficult clowns to host an anemone, whereas Cinnamon or Saddleback clowns are much more ready to host anemone.

Below, we’ll list some of the most common anemone and clownfish matchups to know about.

Bubble Tip Anemones

Bubble Tips are one of the most versatile anemones when it comes to the quantity of matchups it allows for. 

They come in red, tan, brown, green, and may other variations!

All 12 of the main aquarium species of clownfish have been known to host bubble tips. 

Luckily for reefers, they are also some of the mosrt beautiful and beginner friendly anemones

Carpet Anemones

Carpet Anemones are also known to be one of the more flexible anemones when it comes to the number of pairings. 

But they aren’t as common as some other anemones types in the reef tank hobby.

Clownfish species that have had luck hosting carpets are Ocellaris, Yellow Tails, Perculas, Skunks, Saddlebacks, and more!

carpet anemones

Sebae Anemones

Sebae anemones are another type of anemone that will bond well with a large variety of clownfish.

The most common type of clownfish to host these are you guessed it, Sebae Clowns. 

Success has also been had with pink skunks, Perculas, Saddlebacks, and more!

Pink Tips

Pink tips are not known to commonly host clownfish, so we would not reccomend getting one if your goal is for your clowns to host it.

If it ends up happening in your tank, thats great, but do not bet on it happening.

There have been some reports of Maroons taking to Pink Tips, but you’ll have to test it yourself.

Clownfish and Anenome Misconceptions

There are also some misconceptions about hosting behaviour of clownfish and anemones.

Neccesary Bonding

For instance, a clownfish doesn’t need an anemone to survive, and an anemone doesn’t need a clownfish to survive. 

The relationship benefits both and increases the chances of survival in the wild. But there exists clownfish that live outside of anemones, and there certainly exists anemones without any clownfish in them.

Captive Bred Won't Host

One of the most common misconceptions regarding captive bred clown fishes is that they are less likely to host anemones.

This is definitely not true, and a potentially harmful myth, as it may lead to more clownfish being taken from the ocean.

At OtterAquatics we HIGHLY encourage the purchase of captive bred livestock, and the growth and development of the captive bred industry.

In my first, and one of my current tanks, I have a captive bred clownfish that hosts an anemone just fine.

Anemone First vs Clownfish First

It doesn’t really matter what step you do first, but there are some things to think about when it comes to the order.

Anemone First

rock flower anemone

Anemone first might be a slightly easier method as when clownfish are introduced to a new tank environment, it’s highly likely they will seek shelter into the anemone as their basic instinct. Fishes are stressed and often scared when introduced to a new tank. 

The issue with this ordering, is that you want to be careful when placing an anemone into a newer tank, as the water parameters are likely still fluctuating. Anemone are very sensitive creatures, and want stability. So it’s likely beneficial to wait to place one into your tank for at least three months.

Clownfish First

Now if an Anemone is introduced into the tank with clownfish already there. It might be a little harder to get them to host.

This is due to the behavior we mentioned above where once clownfish “host” or establish home territory, they typically stick with it.

That being said, clownfish first might be the better option for newer tank systems. 

Not everyone is going to want to wait three to six months to get their anemone in the tank, but want to get their clownfish in right away, maybe even as their first resident.

Hosting Methods

With most of the clownfish and anemone wisdom out of the way, let’s dive into methods of how we can actually get anemones and clownfishes to live happily ever after.

Reintroduction Method

This method entails taking your clownfish out of your tank for a few weeks, and reintroducing them back into it, with the goal of them forgetting their previous home and starting the process all over again.

Many reefers have reported that when moving their tanks or homes, and setting the tank back up again, clowns have discovered their anemones that way.

The Direct Deposit Method

The direct deposit method occurs once an anemone has been settled in the tank, and it’s time to put your clownfish in.

Using a tube, or even just your hands, you deposit your clownfish into the tank directly ontop of the anemone, with the goal of leaving them no other choice but to brush up against the anemone and learn where it is.

This method can be pretty stressful with the fish so we’d reccomend trying it sparingly.

The iPad/Mirror Method

The iPad / Mirror trick can also be used where you put a mirror against the clownfish by the tank screen which might trigger flight or fight response where the clownfish might feel like another clownfish is invading its space and as such it will try to seek shelter in the anemone.

Very similarly, you can play videos of other clownfish hosting anemones on your iPad or tablet against the screen to trigger the same response.

This method has varying success but is worth a shot.

The Patience Method

This isn’t necessarily an actual method, but more just a reminder to be patient.

Here’a story from Austin, the site founder.

“When I first tried to recreate the symbiotic relationship, I came home from my LFS with a green bubble tip anemone and a clown. The LFS owner had told me this combo was guaranteed to pair, which sounded too good to be true.

I placed them both in my tank and tried all of the methods listed above.

As you probably guessed, none of them worked instantly, and I wanted nothing more but to run back to the LFS a few days later how he scammed me into purchasing the combo with his guarantee.

Luckily, I did not do this and left for a vacation.

When I came back two weeks later, as you can probably guess, my clownfish was hosting his anemone and the rest is history.”

So as the story suggests, patience is the most important thing when trying to make this relationship happen.

Feeding Method

Another tactic thats been reported to work is abstaining from feeding your clownfish for a few days, and then placing some food inside the anemone.

Considering the increased level of hunger the clowns will have, they’ll be likely to chase the food directly into the anemone and discovering it that way.

Concluding Thoughts

Last but not the least it is important to remember that in reefkeeping patience is what pays off.

Animal behavior is unpredictable and hence it is not set in stone that the hosting behavior might be exhibited by your favorite pair of clownfish.

So in time it might happen or it may not, but only trial and error can tell.

  • Welcome

    My name’s Austin, and I created OtterAquatics to teach aquarists of all skill levels on how to succeed in the hobby.