Zoo keepers get fish to clean their own aquarium

Zoo keepers get fish to clean their own aquarium

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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