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The world’s favorite fish and the hero of “Finding Nemo”, clownfish, can often be found among the tentacles of anemone. However, this particular spieces of anemone is usually in the company of a small fish called the Painted Greenling. This fish serves as a bait for anemone’s pray and keeps parasites away, and in turn, the anemone protects the small fish.
This type of anemone is known under its Latin name “Urticina piscivora”, but more commonly we know it as Fish-eating anemone or Fish Eating Urticina because of its diet. They live in the cold, usually coastal waters of Northern Pacific, generally on middle and deep rocky reefs, from Mexico all way up to Alaska.
Fish-eating anemone belongs to the family of large anemone and it can grow up to 8″ to 10″ in diameter. It has a tall, bright red or maroon column without any markings or spots, adhesive pedal disk which they use to move if it’s necessary, and short white tentacles which are sometimes red or pink on tips. The oral disk is red or white with distinctive lines. They are often confused with the Painted Anemone.
These simple organisms which are cousins of corals and jellyfish are still not thoroughly explored so we still do not know how long they live. In their natural habitat, it is believed that they can live up to hundreds of years, and in captivity up to 80 years. The reproduction is performed by external fertilization of egg and sperm. It produces larva that swims away and when it lands, it attaches itself to a ground and a new anemone grows from the pedal disk. Some of these anemones reproduce asexually, by splitting.
As their name suggest, they belong to carnivores and they feed on small fish, shrimps and mussels which they capture with their strong tentacles. The stinging cells called “nematocysts” are used for capturing the pray by releasing the venom that immobilizes or kills the pray which is then put into the mouth. All the parts of the pray which are not suitable for digestion are also discharged through the mouth.
Although, International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN Red List lists their status as “Not Evaluated”, rocky reefs that serve as habitat for many types of anemones are often affected by the dangers of commercial fishing. It can be useful to pay attention to the movement of anemones – if they decide to change the place, something in that area is not right.
Seen on the rocky bottoms in and around old wooden pilings in Pacific Northwest dive sites, Fish eating anemone are ambush predators that lie in wait for food to come by. Divers can occasionally see Painted greenling lying in the tentacles of Fish eating anemone, forming a symbiotic relationship, just like Clownfish with warn water anemones.
Going by the scientific name Urticina piscivora, Fish eating anemone are part of a genus of roughly 12 species of anemone, all featuring long slender tentacles organized in circular rows, and are related to hydroids, corals and jellyfishes. Fish eating anemone range from 8-12 inches across, with the larger examples growing in areas of more available food. They can be found in waters from Alaska to southern California.
Shrimp and small fish make up it’s main diet, using it’s stinging tentacles that stun and immobilize prey. Reproduction and fertilization occur in-water, where Fish eating anemone can switch between male and female. The fertilized larvae will then float away and anchor to the ocean floor. Fish eating anemone are thought to live for 100+ years in the wild. Trawling, which was banned in Puget Sound in the 1980’s, can disturb ocean bottom where Fish eating anemone live, requiring decades for habitat to recover. Fish eating anemone are not considered threatened at this time.
Fish eating anemone make great photography subjects with brilliant colors, lots of detail, and the fact that they stay put for multiple shots. On your guided dive tour, ask your PADI dive guide to point one out, or rent a camera to take pictures.
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