talking points for nature guides
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Phylum Cnidaria > Class Anthozoa > Subclass Zoantharia/Hexacorallia > Order Actiniaria
index to talking points for nature guides
For nature guides: introducing sea anemones
updated Dec 2019

Don't step on the sea anemones!
Small sea anemones like the banded bead anemone make a good 'first station' to sensitise visitors to the fact that every inch of the shore is alive.

What are sea anemones?

  • Can you guess? Are they animal or vegetable?
    • Yes they are animals: each soft coral is a colony of many tiny animals called polyps.

    • In a way, they are kind of vegetables too. Many soft corals contain tiny algae inside their bodies. The microscopic, single-celled algae (called symbiotic zooxanthallae, pronounced 'zoo-zan-tell-ay') undergo photosynthesis to produce food from sunlight. The food produced is shared with the polyp, which in return provides the algae with shelter and minerals.

A closer look at sea anemones

  • That's just a blob, it's not an anemone! At low tide, some sea anemones can tuck their tentacles into their body to avoid drying out. So they just look like a blob. Let's look at some, here in this pool of water, that are still expanded.

  • Flower Power! Although the animal looks like a flower, it is actually quite fierce, to small animals anyway. Sea anemones are closely related to jellyfish. In fact, it's like an upside down jellyfish, with the tentacles facing upwards. And like jellyfish, sea anemones also can sting. Many use their stingers to catch food.

  • Where is the mouth? A sea anemone doesn't have an anus. It has only one opening. Food goes in, and wastes go out, of this single opening. This opening is in the centre of a ring of tentacles. To be polite, we call this opening the mouth.

  • Can they move? What you first see is just the tentacles. The sea anemone is typically like a mushroom, with a long body column. This body column can be buried in the sand or hidden among crevices among stones. If the sea anemone is unhappy where it is, it can let go and drift to find a new location. Small ones on hard surfaces may glide slowly.

Sea anemones are important to the ecosystem

Sea anemones are important to the ecosystem

  • Some large sea anemones are homes to animals.
    • 'Nemo' or clown anemonefishes are often seen in large sea anemones especially in the southern islands.
    • Anemone shrimps are also seen in carpet anemones on many shores.
    • Tiny anemone shrimps are seen on carpet anemones on our Northern shores.
    • Many animals also hide UNDER the sea anemones: snapping shrimps, small fishes.
    • Please do NOT remove or disturb animals living in or under the sea anemone. Just point them out to the visitors.

Sea anemones and you

  • The aquarium trade also has an impact as large sea anemones are harvested from the wild for the trade. This hurts the reefs as large sea anemones are homes to other animals, among other roles in the habitat.

Sea anemone myths to dispel

  • Not all sea anemones can regenerate by splitting into two. So please do not cut a sea anemone up. Instead of getting two sea anemones, you may just end up with zero anemones.
Handling tips

Don't touch sea anemones: They are easily bruised and some of them can sting.

If you would like visitors to touch a carpet anemone, warn them to do it gently. Emphasise the difference between touching and poking.

or any other hard objects to touch sea anemones.They have soft bodies and you may puncture them.

DO NOT pry sea anemones off hard surfaces or try to dig them out of the sand or pull them out of rocky hiding places. You will hurt the sea anemone as they are usually well attached. You may not be able to reattach them, and then they will die.

To see animals living in the sea anemone, don't prod or poke the sea anemone! If you do the sea anemone will shrink and its commensals will simply hide more deeply. Be patient and the animals will come out.

Please do NOT remove anemonefishes or anemone shrimps from the sea anemone. Both the fish/shrimp and the sea anemone need one another to survive. Without the anemone the fish or shrimp will die. Even if you plan to return the animals to the sea anemones, these animals may die or be hurt when you move them around.

Please do NOT feed the sea anemones: Anemones know how to feed themselves. You might hurt the anemone if you put the wrong thing on it. If you put another living animal on an anemone you will be hurting two animals. Please don't put objects such as litter or dead crabs on an anemone either.

Please do NOT 'save' animals captured by the sea anemone: If you do, you will be depriving the anemone of a meal. It might not get so lucky again for a while. The animal that you 'saved' might also not survive if it was badly stung by the anemone.
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