Can Our Anemones Sting?

Rose Bubble Tip Anemone with Ocellaris Clownfish

Rose Bubble Tip Anemone with Ocellaris Clownfish

The short version: Yes, an anemone can sting you.

We house various types of anemones in our home aquariums. The most common of which is the bubble tip anemone Entacmaea quadricolor. Other anemones like the long tentacle and carpet anemones are also kept, but the species of the anemone is useless for this conversation. Anemones possess stinging cells called nematocysts. As soon as a fish, invertebrate, or careless hand grazes the surface of an anemone, thousands of these stinging cells pierce the victim’s outer coverings. For most fish, this is life threatening, but for humans it usually goes unnoticed…or at the very least it just appears that the anemone is sticking to you.

Huge Green Anemone

Clownfish and Anemone Display Aquarium

Most physical encounters with anemones usually end without pain. Heck, most aquarium keepers play with their anemones to some extent or even hand feed them. When first introducing an anemone to an aquarium, you have to handle it somehow. I prefer to invert the bag it came in and use the bag as a glove in order to prevent any stinging possibilities. But precaution isn’t always taken.

Before the anemone has had a chance to settle into its new environment, it probably will not sting. It is stressed from the ordeal and will be seeking a comfortable spot in the tank to settle in. But once established, the anemone can inflict some damage.

Rose Bubble Tip Anemone

Rose Bubble Tip Anemone

A friend of mine was recently cleaning his tank and in doing so, he brushed up against his bubble tip anemone. This is something that happens regularly, but the outcome was far different this time around. The aquarist immediately felt a burning sensation in his hand…one he’ll not soon forget. It turns out that the individual had a cut on his hand. Normally the anemones can’t penetrate deep enough into our skin to cause pain, but open wounds expose lower layers of our integument. But cuts and open wounds don’t necessarily have to exist to be stung.

Another hobbyist I know suffered from a bad sting from a Haddoni carpet anemone. He was hand feeding his anemone as usual, but this time the anemone stung him, and badly. The sting even tore the skin to some extent, further causing pain.

Rock Anemone

Rock Anemone

The moral to the story is that anemones can sting you and it might be a random occurrence. I’ve never been stung by an anemone, but if it’s anything like a fire coral or a jellyfish sting, I certainly don’t want any part of it. So, wear protective gear when handling potentially dangerous animals, unless of course you don’t mind the occasional sting.


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  • I happened to me a few time with my bubble tip anemones and once with my carpet anemone while I was moving it to a new tank. The sting from my bubble tip anemones was not too bad but I'll never forget the sting from my carpet anemone. I ended up with red spot all over my arm, up to the elbow. It took 3 days to recover.

    Maybe not related to anemones but still…. Have you ever notice some kind of "smoke" coming out the live rock? Actually, it look more like freshwater going into saltwater than smoke. Anyway, that stuff can sting to. It hapenned to me one day while I was cleaning the tank and I still don't know what that was. My hand was pretty wounded from that (just like my hand has been scrubed against concrete). Any idea what it can be?

    • Shalom 613

      Did it itch? It sounds like an allergic reaction, you were sensitized and now allergic…wear unpowered medical gloves when working in your tank. I can’t even handle frozen shrimp, it makes me itch too.