Sea anemones: their friends and their food

Sea anemones have many friends. They also eat strange things!

What do sea anemones eat? Sea anemones may use mucus to trap small particles, detritus and plankton from the water.

But large ones especially, can capture and swallow prey such as fishes whole. Prey is captured and immobilised with stingers. Tentacles may push larger prey into the central mouth. The edges of the mouth may be inflated into 'lips' that pucker to hold prey as it is swallowed. The mouth and body column can expand wide to accommodate the prey whole. Or the anemone may fold its oral disk over the prey.

Like many other cnidarians, the sea anemone lacks an anus. So it has to spit out any indigestible bits through the mouth.The large carpet anemones on Chek Jawa have been seen to eat a variety of animals including fish and sand dollars!

Should I ‘save’ animals trapped in an anemone?

Please don't. 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.

Should I feed the anemones?

Please don’t. 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.

Because sea anemones have stingers, they are a nice safe place to stay in if an animal can avoid being stung. Clown anemonefishes, better known as 'Nemo' have a way to do just so, and are found in our large sea anemones!

The False clown anemonefish (Amphiprion ocellaris) is usually found in our Giant carpet anemones (Stichodactyla gigantea).The Tomato clown anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) is often found in our Bulb-tip sea anemone (Entacmea quadricolor).Anemoneshrimps also live in our sea anemones. Usually a sea anemone will have a pair of these shrimps, the bigger and more brightly marked one is the female!Anemones in turn may live with other animals.

Some sea anemones hitch a ride on the shell occupied by hermit crabs. They get to nibble on the hermit crab's leftovers, while their stingers protect the hermit crabs from animals like the octopus.There are also sea anemones that hitch a ride on living snails!So the next time you see a sea anemone, look closely to observe their lifestyles and habits!


nthman said...

Hi People,

My son just tried to save a stranded anemone, the one featured in the first picture.

As the waves were coming in, his efforts were futile, it appears the anemone was detached from it's base, naked.

It was being flushed in by the tides and no matter how he to push it out with a stone, gently, it still got carried in eventually.

During his second try, he was stung by one of the "stingers". We gave up on the "rescue" and focused on the wound instead.

After two hours and no sign of any infection. We decided to let the issue rest.

So far, my son seemed ok. Do we still need to send him to the Doctor for any form of examination?

Can anyone advice?

Thank you very much.

Warmest regards

ria said...

Dear nthman, I'm sorry to hear of your son's encounter. There's no harm consulting a doctor to be sure all is well.

The first photo shows an anemone trying to eat a sea pen. Sea pens (which are not anemones) are sometimes seen washed ashore. As far as I know, they are not venomous, though some have sharp spines.

Jellyfish may resemble anemones and their stingers still work even after the animal is dead. Some small jellyfish can sting powerfully.

Many animals also have smaller animals living in them that can pinch or poke, e.g., crabs, shrimps, worms.

As indicated in the article above. it is best NOT to try to 'save' any marine life and to avoid touching any marine life.

For more safety tips see

All the best for a full recovery for your son and continued safe exploration of our shores.