Zoo keepers get fish to clean their own aquarium

2020 03 LC filefish
(Last Updated On: March 2, 2020)

Ingenious aquarists at Living Coasts, Torquay’s coastal zoo and aquarium, have trained strange fish to help clean their tank of a naturally-occurring pest.

Filefish, or leatherjackets, have been introduced into the charity zoo’s large stingray tank to help control an invasive anemone.

Aquarist Tom Fielding: “Aiptasia is a common temperate and tropical sea anemone. It comes in through our filtration system when seawater is drawn from the Bay. It’s regarded as a pest in saltwater aquariums because it can multiply rapidly and compete for food and space and occasionally even sting fish. The idea of biological pest control – introducing another species to combat a pest rather than chemicals – is pretty common, but it’s the first time we’ve tried it.”

Living Coasts Operations Manager Clare Rugg: “It’s working well – you can see patches of rock that have been cleared of aiptasia.” A total of 10 filefish have been introduced to the tank. Keepers train them to eat the anemones from a young age. Living Coasts is home to two blue-spotted ribbontail rays and three blue-spotted stingrays.

There’s something of the cartoon about filefish. They have deep but slender bodies; from the side they look quite large, but from the front you can see that they are actually very narrow. They have remarkably rough skin – the common name comes from the idea that dried filefish skin was once used to finish wooden boats.

In addition, these fish are aquatic chameleons – they can change colour to blend in with their surroundings. For more information go to www.livingcoasts.org.uk or ring 01803 202470.

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