Water World

This week, Dad and I worked on his aquarium. Now, whatever you are picturing when you hear the word "aquarium," to you I say:

"That's not an aquarium, THIS is an aquarium."

(À la Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee, naturally.)

Dad has this unbelievable 250-gallon tank that my brother, friends, and neighbors used to climb in, play in, sleep in as children.  I think three of us could lay comfortably inside.  Over the years he's accumulated chillers and skimmers, heaters and circulation pumps, and lots and lots and lots of pipes.  Not to mention all manner of lights and enough salt to turn Falls Lake into our own personal little Dead Sea.

It has been years in the making and is really a thing of beauty.

Well recently, he's had an infestation.

These little brown anemones popped up all over every single rock, like weeds.  They keep all the brightly-colored corals from growing and they sting everything. Dad's poor starfish (sea monster, keep reading and you'll see what I mean) is stuck in a corner because every time he comes out he gets zapped by these meanie-butts.

So what did we do?



But there's a catch.  The reef aquarium is so delicate that it's hard to kill anemones without killing everything else.  You certainly can't put any weird chemicals in there, and if you take the rock out of the water, the anemones suck right down into their little holes and you can't get to them.

So we devised a plan.  Are you ready for this?  Here is the patented Rich Canfield method of euthanizing meanie-butt Brown Glass Anemones.

1. You get your trusty jug of Strontium something or other.  Note the "Do Not Overdose" warning.  One cap full of this stuff (which, poetically enough looks a lot like blue kool-aid) is enough for 40 gallons of water.

2. Then, you grab your syringe.

Do I look over-eager?  My favorite part of this whole process was this conversation:

Kate:  I'm ready for the death instrument.  Dad, where's the syringe?

Dad:  It's right over there by the razor blade I use to kill all the algae.  You know, there's a lot of death involved in aquarium-ing.

3.  You give the anemones their "Last Meal." Oh, the drama of it all.

I've mentioned that these little buggers will suck down into their holes if you miss the first time with the syringe, or if you rustle them too much while you get your rock into place.  So for step three, you give the unsuspecting anemones what Dad refers to as their "last meal." Totally hilarious.  Simply drop some food in the tank, wait for the anemones to suck it up, and then their little tubes are too full of food for them to contract down into their holes.  Dark and brilliant.

4. You fill the syringe with a concentrated dose of the kool-aid, climb the scaffolding, reach into the aquarium, and inject a lethal dose right into the mouth of the anemone.  Chilling, huh?

A few things to note.

I was TOTALLY fascinated by this and interviewed/grilled my Dad for practically an entire day about the workings of his aquarium.  I found that:

  • The strontium mixture doesn't harm the aquarium because it's used as a calcium supplement for the corals.  We only kill as many anemones as we can with one cup at a time, so we don't overdose the tank.  And the corals get their supplement via the dead anemones.  Circle of Life.  (I'm holding up my arms, like in the Lion King.)
  • Also, your hand makes waves when you stick your arm in the tank, so you have to watch through the side of the glass to line up your syringe.  This is a little tricky because of the way water refracts the light or some sciencey thing like that, so what you see isn't really where you are in space.  Quite a test of the hand/eye coordination.
  • And thirdly, Dad's clownfish is a little bit of a punk.  If you get your hand too close to his "cave" (man space), or move one of his rocks, he uses his fins to flick water at you really hard - and if you don't get the picture, he comes up and BITES YOU.  This is not a goldfish nibble; he hurts.

It is important to know that Dad is also a little bit of a punk.  Just watch this video of my very first time reaching under a burning hot aquarium lamp with a syringe full of poisonous kool-aid, sweating blood as I looked through the side of the tank, trying to line up my needle with the mouth of an anemone.  Such concentration...


Also, I referenced the sea monster, I mean starfish.  This sucker MUST be two feet long from tip to tip.  I didn't get a good shot of him all stretched out, but check out this video of him sticking out his legs to eat.  Aaalienn!!