The Battle with Red Planaria Flatworms

Discussion in 'Reef Aquarium Discussion' started by AquaNerd, Apr 22, 2012.

  1. AquaNerd

    AquaNerd Well-Known Member

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    If you have ever fought a battle against Aiptasia anemones, then you know what a pain it is to get rid of an aggressive aquarium pest. Aiptasia are very hard to get rid of if left unchecked, and like Aiptasia, there are many pests that hitchhike into our aquariums on corals and live rock and absolutely take over. One of the most prolific pests to enter into our salty tanks are the red Planaria flatworms. These rust colored worms are relatively harmless, but they reproduce so quickly that they can blanket corals and block out light, causing localized bleaching. Fortunately, there are methods to get rid of flatworms.
    Red Planaria flatworms (Convolutriloba sp.) are generally rust colored, like mentioned above, and they can be further identified by a trio of lobes at the worm’s posterior that drag behind they crawl around. This pest feeds primarily through photosynthesis and they can quickly multiply to the point that they fall under a plague category. But don’t expect to kill them in your aquarium without repercussions. One main thing to know about these flatworms is that when they die, they releaser a toxin in the water that has the ability to kill sessile inverts and even fish if a large amount of the worms die. The problem here is not when you kill one flatworm, but when you kill them in mass numbers.
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    Before we talk about how to kill the worms, there’s a sure fire way to avoid the flatworm headache altogether, and that’s to avoid introducing these critters into your tank in the first place. The number one best way is to quarantine all corals before introducing them to your aquarium, but another effective solution is to simply dip your new coral in an iodine solution.*Dipping your coral and rock ensures you get rid of most of the pests, but it’s not always 100% effective and can still lead to an outbreak. For that reason alone, we highly recommend placing your new purchase into a quarantine tank, allowing you to observe and decide whether your recent buy is pest free. Another way to prevent a Planaria invasion is to closely examine any coral or rock prior to purchase.
    Say you fail to take these precautions and you have already introduced this flatworm into your system. Well let me tell you it is a tough battle. Failing to do the first step mentioned above myself, I know what it’s like to battle red Planaria. Once I found I had this pest, I went straight into research. There are two main approaches you can take to rid yourself of the worms, and those are either natural or chemical. For the natural method, you have three main techniques: nutrient reduction, natural predators, and manual removal. For the chemical approach,* I went with a popular Salifert product called “Flatworm eXitâ€. Some approaches work for some and don’t for others. We took both approaches and recorded our results.
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    For the natural approach, we combined all three techniques. First was reducing nutrients. While it is believed that red Planaria get most of their nutrients from photosynthesis, we also know that the flatworms do get some nutrients from the water column. To accomplish this, we added more filtering material (Purigen in our case) and we also reduced the amount of food entering the aquarium. The skimmer was also adjusted to pull more dissolved organic material. Also, because we now know flatworms release toxins when they die, tripled the amount of carbon as a precaution. Next was the natural predator. We’ve heard stories that the target mandarin and various wrasses naturally to eat on these critters, so we went ahead and added both a Target Mandarin and a Sixline Wrasse to help with the battle. Lastly was the manual removal. This technique is fairly simple. What you do is combine airline tubing with a rigid tube to create a cheap and easy to manage flatworm siphon. You then target siphon these worms out, greatly reducing their numbers.
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    After combining all these methods and giving this approach roughly three weeks, we came to the following conclusions. Reducing the nutrients was not really very effective, since the worms are photosynthetic. The worms would still quickly multiply and fill the spots where the worms were manually removed. As for our predators, the Target Mandarin did not aggressively eat these pests, though it did pick around them causing some to detach from the rock work. The sixline wrasse, on the other hand, went did attack the worms. Now the sixline did not take it upon its own effort to pick and search for the flatworms, but if one or two occasionally floated around, it would eat them. So we find this technique to also not be as effective in the long run, though it would depend on the voracity of the pest eating fish. The siphoned method did work quite well, but it would take a constant siphoning to properly dispose of all these flatworms completely, and by the time they are gone you might go through a bucket of salt or two for all the lost water. Although I did find that some folks were attaching some sort of filter material at the end of the siphon tube to simply filter the worms out, we questioned whether the worms were dying on the filter material and just releasing toxins into the water you were going to pour back into the tank. Needless to say, we did not take this approach. So all together, these three methods might work, but simply will not cut it if you want to get rid of the worms within days. So now let’s move on to the chemical approach.
    In all the time I have been in the hobby, I try my best to stay away from chemicals being introduced into the aquarium. But after having no success the all natural way,* we decided to try this method because we found many individuals using this product without any type of major downfall. This product is easily removed from the water column with carbon so keep that in mind. When the day finally came for our Flatworm eXit treatment, we prepared with plenty of carbon and an extra canister filter to properly run this carbon. I got home and thoroughly read the directions on the chemical and found two of the previously mentioned tips on the instructions of this product. One was to siphon out as many of the flatworms as possible to reduce the amount of toxins released, and the other was to run extra carbon to also absorb those toxins once the worms started to perish away.
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    Before starting the treatment, we removed all carbon from our system. This step is very important if now the carbon will weaken the treatment and it’s not necessary until after the worms start dying. We then siphoned out as many of the worms as possible, followed by dosing the amount of treatment indicated on the instruction. To my surprise, the flatworms started to wither away and detach from wherever they were within ten minutes. It was like it was snowing flatworms to the point that it was actually impressive how infested the system was. I let the product sit for roughly thirty minutes, then turned on the hang-on filter with carbon to begin removing the treatment and the toxins out of the water. We let the aquarium sit two more hours with carbon then observed. We still saw a couple of the worms moving around and not showing any side affects of the chemical, so I then stopped the carbon filtering and dosed half the recommended dose like the instructions indicated. After another thirty minutes with the second dose and the carbon back up and running, I finally won the battle. The flatworms were fully gone, and no matter of turkey basting or aiming water pumps to kick up worms revealed any living pests.
    I am in no way or form stating that you should follow any of our experiment. The way you decide to approach this certain pest or plague is completely up to you. Like previously mentioned, some methods work and others don’t. The only way to simply avoid this is by dipping all specimens prior to introduction to a system and also quarantine. Always remember to practice safe reef keeping in order to keep a healthy and pest free aquarium don’t make the lazy mistake like I did but in the case that you do here are my observations.



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    Please post your thoughts as well here!

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    DJ Monty, Burcu, Michael Faul and 3 others like this.
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  2. revhtree

    revhtree Owner Administrator Staff Member Team R2R R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Photo of the Month Award Article Contributor Partner Member

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    This is good info right here!
     
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  3. Edimar_Oliveira

    Edimar_Oliveira Member

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    Aquanerd, I live a very big dilemma here ... My tank has assembled nearly a year, everything is working fine, but for some time that the population of flatworms here does not diminish. I've tried some fish too, as a Cianocefalos and Red Blennie, but so far none of them was interested. Often remove the flatworms on the glass use a submersible pump to remove the that on live rocks, but I have resisted using the chemical.

    Very good your article really helped me better understand the subject!

    Thanks
     
  4. Reefpestsolutions

    Reefpestsolutions Well-Known Member

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    You missed one key natural solution. The blue velvet nudibranch only eats flatworms. Blue_Velvet_Slug_ps.jpg

    Blue_Velvet_Slug_ps.jpg
     
  5. frybread4life

    frybread4life Active Member

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    Great story and very informative! Very well written, definitely kept me reading
     
  6. wysiwyg

    wysiwyg marine predator man R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    nice write up great info. big thumbs up for taking the time to write this
     
  7. LECorals31

    LECorals31 Well-Known Member

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    That is one super cool nudi!!
     
  8. weonlycut

    weonlycut Member

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    The information is presented very well. It would be quite helpful for the aquariums holder.
     
  9. prsnlty

    prsnlty Jackie R2R Supporter

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    Can someone post a pic of this flatworm please? I think I may have some :( just seen today on the glass.

    Thanks

    Jackie
    125g mixed reef peninsula
     
  10. carriej

    carriej New Member

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    So let me get this straight - you didn't do a waterchange after treatment? I have tried exit multiple times and a few worms always manage to live and while I don't have "faltworm plague" they are certainly ugly. However, I have always been doing a waterchange after the treatment because of the flatworm toxins...
     
  11. 8galdorm

    8galdorm Active Member

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    1380841782517.jpg
     
  12. prsnlty

    prsnlty Jackie R2R Supporter

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    Thank you! Nope, these aren't what I have. Mine are white. Kind of similar though

    Jackie
    125g mixed reef peninsula
     
  13. Pchang

    Pchang New Member

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    Thanks for the detailed info as I am new to this forum, now I know how to deal with my flatworm dilemma
     
  14. Whys Alives

    Whys Alives Well-Known Member R2R Supporter

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    While it is true that Convolutriloba retrogemma is partly photosynthetic, my own experience has taught me that protein actually plays a much greater role in their population growth. The species lacks a true gut, but none-the-less can trap rotifers and other small organisms within folds of its skin. Eventually the prey is absorbed into the flatworm's body tissue, providing ample protein for asexual fission.

    In a few months time I will begin some controlled experiments for the purpose of maximizing a flatworm culture. I'll tweak lighting first, but have already collected some results on that previously, so will experiment mostly with water flow conditions to start, then live cultures such as rotifers. I'll try to update this thread with my findings.
     
  15. Whys Alives

    Whys Alives Well-Known Member R2R Supporter

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    More importantly, the chemicals in Flatworm-Exit will persist for some time after treatment if not removed with activated carbon. The printed directions lie about that, hiding behind the skirt of flatworm toxins. While flatworm toxins are real, I have experimented with both extremely high doses, as well as extremely long durations of FWE treatments, both with flatworms present and flatworms not present. My adult brittle-star was quite explicit. Until you run the carbon, it's like an acid bath for particular creatures. A full 48 hours was insufficient to end treatment without carbon.
     
  16. kstyle13

    kstyle13 Member

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    I had a very bad outbreak of these in my 150. They were literally everywhere. But I was able to get rid of them very easily. Now very easily is not necessarily a wide spread thought. It was a headache but it was well worth it. They were gone with zero sideeffects. I simply drained my tank. Now with that being said I saved all the good water so not to waste anything and crash my system. I just siphoned the water into 50 gallon brute cans. Then once I save about 80 percent of the water I pulled out all the corals that weren't attached and placed them in a 10 gallon tank. Then I placed all the live rock in another tote. The fish went into a 5 gallon bucket of tank water. I added the right amount of coppersafe to treat for anything then placed in an airstone. The inverts went into the coral holding tank. Now I filled another tote with freshwater. I placed all the rocks in the freshwater one at a time for 10 seconds and swirled them around. After that was done I rinsed them in saltwater to remove any lingering dead worms. I pumped all the water back in the tank examined all corals to ensure nothing was reintroduced. Then I placed everything back in the tank. 8 months later and I still have not had any Flatwoods reappear! !! It took some time and patience but one day versus 3 weeks was more than worth it!!! Plus I was able to rid the tank of the ich. Hair algae and any other pests I came across. It was a win win. And I didn't lose a single animal.
     
  17. alan.reef

    alan.reef Well-Known Member

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    Jackie, does your white flatworm V shape at tail?
     
  18. TrialandError

    TrialandError Well-Known Member

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    I've been battling these boogers for a long time. Tried the flatworm exit. They came back. Got a green coris wrasse and I still have them. Got a sixline wrasse and still have them. Added a melanarus wrasse and they are in fewer number, but I still have them. I may try the flatworm exit again.
     
  19. N1Husker

    N1Husker Well-Known Member

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    I had flatworms galore in my tank. My LFS said to get a Melanurus Wrasse, so I did. He went to work and a month later, no more flatworms. Better than using chemicals.
     
  20. jeharrisonjr

    jeharrisonjr Well-Known Member

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    Would a coral banded shrimp take care of them?
     

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