Venomous Invertebrates

Many people not familiar with the saltwater aquarium trade will be shocked to know this, but sometimes invertebrates are imported that can cause human fatalities. While only the most irresponsible person would do so knowingly, aquarists have brought home colorful specimens without knowing what they are buying. Include yours truly in that group. I fortunately learned about the real dangers in time to avoid harm.

The stinging properties of some coelenterates reach epic proportions in a few. Fire corals Millepora sp., and fire anemones, Actinodendron sp., all both produce an excruciating, though not deadly, sting.

76 Saltwater Aquarium Models

76 Saltwater Aquarium Models

Among echinoderms, fire urchins, Asthenosoma sp., inject a venom that causes searing pain. Far more dangerous are flower urchins, Toxopneustes sp., capable of injecting a deadly dose of venom.

Cone snails, Conus sp., are predators often imported for their bright colors. Unfortunately for the aquarist, this is the largest genus of snails with well over 500 species. Some feed only on worms and will thrive in an aquarium that contains many polychaetes. Other cones feed on snails and will quickly dispatch every algae snail you have. Still others feed on fish. They pose the greatest danger because they carry a toxin specifically designed to kill their vertebrate prey. Human fatalities have resulted from the stings of several species. Cones sometimes hitchhike on live rock. Any you encounter should be removed with care. Unless you can conclusively identify the specimen, it should be humanely destroyed by placing it in a cup of water and freezing.

Undeniably, octopuses can become the most fascinating of saltwater pets, but one, the blue-ringed octopus, Hapalochlaena, has caused many human fatalities. Easily recognized by the pale body covered with bright blue rings, this species should be avoided scrupulously. If you see one, you might want to warn the dealer, who surely has brought it in unknowingly. No treatment exists should someone be bitten. Harboring one of these creatures is entirely irresponsible.

The fact that potentially harmful invertebrates wind up in aquarium dealers' tanks underscores the need to research any unfamiliar species before you purchase.


This tour of the invertebrate realm has been necessarily sketchy. Covering thoroughly all the many creatures brought into aquarium shops would require many more pages. I provide details regarding the care of individual species in the design chapters to follow. Taxonomic information is provided in outline form in Appendixes A and B.

Information about marine invertebrates changes often. New discoveries are made by scientists and aquarists alike. New species are collected and imported by dealers hoping to woo aquarium enthusiasts with novelty. If your aquarium features invertebrates, use aquarium magazines and the Internet to keep up-to-date. Always research any unfamiliar invertebrate before purchasing.

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