The carpet anemone is a family of marine animals that includes some of the most beautifully colored, but also some of the deadliest creatures of the sea. The members of the family all live in tropical waters, most of them in the shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific.
Carpet anemones are large, many of them growing to a diameter of over 3 feet. They have very short stalks, an aspect that gives them their carpet-like appearance. The tentacles vary in coloring – they can be any hue from bright blue and purple to green, cream and tan. The foot that fastens the anemone to the substrate is usually whitish or cream-colored, with colorful warts. These anemones are fragile and very sensitive to being touched and, therefore, they protect themselves using various methods. When threatened, one of the members of the family, Haddon’s anemone first tries to bury itself in the sand and uses its stinging tentacles only when burying proves ineffective. Other types of carpet anemones are unable to bury themselves, so they protect themselves with the help of the nematocysts at the tip of their tentacles that secrete a potent neurotoxin – dangerous not only for marine predators, but to humans as well. Though venomous, carpet anemones live in peaceful symbiosis with over ten other animal species that find shelter and protection among the stinging tentacles. The species that anemones live in symbiosis with include many different anemonefish that secrete a special kind of mucus to protect their skin against the stinging nematocysts of the host animal.
These large and sensitive creatures obtain their food from various sources. The microscopic zooxanthellae algae that live inside the anemones photosynthesize and during the process they produce waste materials that are valuable sources of energy for the host anemone. The anemone also uses its stinging tentacles to paralyze and capture small fish, shrimps and crabs that swim by. Sometimes they feed on the snails that come close enough to the tentacles.
Carpet anemones can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Many anemones are hermaphrodites that are able to produce eggs as well as sperm. Fertilization takes place externally, after the fluids are released into the water. During asexual reproduction, the creature divides itself into smaller pieces, each of which develop into new carpet anemone individuals.