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    Polyp Nipping and SPS, It’s Only Natural

    I frequently get asked, Do your Butterflyfish pick at your corals? The answer is always the same–Yes, all the time, but I primarily keep SPS corals. Angelfish, Butterflyfish, even Tangs may take a nip at your beloved Acropora collection, but at the end of the day the net effect on SPS is minimal. Polyp extension […]

    Chaetodon-tinkeri-hybrid

    I frequently get asked, Do your Butterflyfish pick at your corals? The answer is always the same–Yes, all the time, but I primarily keep SPS corals. Angelfish, Butterflyfish, even Tangs may take a nip at your beloved Acropora collection, but at the end of the day the net effect on SPS is minimal. Polyp extension may be forfeited when keeping fish like our polyp picking Roaops Hybrid (Chaetodon burgessi x Chaetodon tinkeri) above, however, coral growth rates, health and coloration are not. It’s a trade off for keeping such fish.

    Polyp extension will still occur at night and in areas inaccessible to fish, as occurs in the wild.  In many cases this will reveal the vibrant tissue of the coral that can be hidden by polyps. The Acropora horrida being grazed on in the video below is usually a brown shag rug, but as the Chaetodons pick at coral slime and polyps the underlying lavender and green tissue is exposed. (See the video in full size HD here).

    One important distinction to watch for with coral nipping is what is being consumed. Aquarists often fret at any picking, but many times the coral is actually not touched. The majority of the bites taken in the video are actually getting at coral slime, and not the actual polyps. This can be difficult to discern, but can be done with careful observation. Also realize that very few fish have the specialized mouths to fully eat coral polyps.

    Certain obligate coral eating butterflyfish such as Chaetodon ornatissimus and Chaetodon larvatus have specialized jaw structures that allow the extraction of coral polyps from the coral skeleton–as if plucking a hair with tweezers, leaving an empty hole in the coral. Very few fish have this ability. Most will be lucky to get just part of a single tentacle from an SPS polyp.

    If you see a fish dining on SPS slime and polyps, I say nip on. After all it’s only natural.

    9 Comments

    1. pavlo
      November 3, 2009 at 7:09 PM | Permalink

      eric, a FULL TANK SHOT of your butterfly’s nipping on acros would be wonderful! 😀

    2. Mike Clifford
      November 4, 2009 at 9:04 AM | Permalink

      Great post, it makes so much sense. So many times I see people freak out because of one nip, and yank a fish, with no long-term evidence it is actually harming a coral. That said, there are some LPS corals I just can’t keep because I have observed my angels kill them over time — but what would I rather have, acans or angels? No brainer.

      One point I might debate just based on intuition (would be interesting to see a study done), is that the nipping doesn’t impede growth. To me it seems that having polyps retracted during the day means less feeding time for the corals, which might mean growth is a bit slower. But as we’ve talked about, sometimes a bit slower growth can be a good thing.

    3. Rob
      November 4, 2009 at 10:05 AM | Permalink

      Wanted: FTS of the GB!

      Very cool video, and I agree, it’s only natural.

    4. Tim Morrissey
      November 4, 2009 at 4:12 PM | Permalink

      Yes I want an update on the tank. A list of inhabitants would be nice. I believe the last update was when fish were getting sick, so I didn’t even know the tank was running or these fish were alive. Keep us posted!

    5. November 6, 2009 at 7:36 AM | Permalink

      More information on the tank will be shared in a couple months, some changes are currently being made.

    6. Nicolas
      November 8, 2009 at 6:43 AM | Permalink

      Im constantly explaining this exact situation of nipping to a lot reef keepers. Ive kept many different butterflies that are always noted as .dangerous reef dwellers.

      I think its easier to keep these butterflies with Sps and soft corals that usually are part of their natural diet in the wild. as a lot of butterfies can die from not accepting food.

      This makes them happy meal times as there is less competition cuz all the food they need is in the tank. they eventually get an apetite for frozen food.

      Just be clever about it. The only time Ive seen major tissue consumption on damaged tissue on an acan who had been moved away from a dangerous neighboring coral. My black back butterfly only at the damaged tissue.

    7. Jeremy Maneyapanda
      November 8, 2009 at 7:01 AM | Permalink

      Excellent post Eric. Agreed 1000 million %. Somewhere along the line, SPS keepers “decided” that shaggy, abnormally exposed polyps showed healthy and quality sps, whereas, wild SPS, show a mere fraction of the polyps during the day that our captive oens do. Because of REEF FISH.

    8. anthony Leung
      December 20, 2009 at 12:54 AM | Permalink

      I have a declivis that i would say is not a coral eater but more like a nipper lol. Anyways it loves to nip on my becker colony and my oregon to the point i don’t have polyp extension does anyone know if the coral can survive without PE ?

    9. December 21, 2009 at 8:01 PM | Permalink

      @anthony,

      SPS corals do just fine with minimal day time polyp extension, as they do in the wild.

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