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/The Conscientious Reef Aquarist

The Pros & Cons of Hitchhikers in the Reef Aquarium, part 1

To: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,


By Bob Fenner


Amongst the chief concerns of marine aquarium keepers, the showing up (for free!) of unwanted, too-often unidentified livestock is largely over-rated. Using live rock, live sand, even just natural water, one should come to expect the emergence of so-called hitchhikers, and indeed, to embrace them as part and parcel of being a "slice of the real world".
     Here I'll offer my glimpses of what a good bit of this life is, where it comes into your displays, and a few guidelines and methods for appropriate avoidance, compatibility judging and control.
Instead of hanging your head and crying "Why me!?", think about life as you know it... What's that saying...? Oh yeah, "Nature abhors a vacuum"... Well, nature hates the Dickens out of not filling up tropical reef habitats chock-a-block with all manner of life. Really, the more you look, its absolutely flabbergasting how much diversity and abundance there is in/on the sand, rock, other life, in the water... Of course a bunch of this biota is going to manifest itself in your captive slices of these worlds.
     Before "processing" likely more than half the total mass of live rock is life, living attached and in particularly in Pacific sources throughout holes and crannies in the matrix of its carbonate make-up. Micro-life abounds... in the water, in all interstitial spaces, on and in all other life. All "macro" organisms have "epi-" life on them, their own mutualistic-to commensal-to parasitic fauna... If you use anything but sterile cultures and sterile water, sterile techniques... You're going to have a plethora of life forms in your systems.
Even "man-made" live rock is cured in the sea... where it "picks up" a multitude of life in short order... within hours, with founding organisms (bacteria, fungi/slime-molds... algae) weeks it is inoculated with founding "macro" life such as sponges, sea squirts, molluscs, crustaceans... The vast majority of the "real" externalized life of live rock is whacked off with high pressure water and hand tools... And rightly so. If the vast majority of biomass wasn't denuded it would rot enroute and likely kill off most all other desirable biota. Strangely enough though, what often constitutes as "life" on this hard material is the underside... mostly encrusting red coralline algae, that was "face down" on the reef or sand prior to extraction... the luxuriant "top side" life having either been purposely removed or consequently lost due to the rigors of shipping and handling.

To: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,

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