Let's talk about Red Bugs [Acropora]

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Let's talk about Red Bugs [Acropora]

Postby Mark on Thu Feb 24, 2005 7:46 pm

Maybe you know all about them, maybe you've never heard of them.

But pests in the aquarium are an important topic, and for those of us who have a fondness for the Genus Acropora - this is a good subject to know about. In my mind, nothing to fear or take any drastic action over - but something to think about and a reason to consider Quarantine.

I've read a fair bit on these guys, had them, rid myself of them, and have learned a bit along the way. Others in the club I know have had [and defeated :)] them ... and have a lot they could contribute.

And if anyone has questions ... please ask. We'll all probably learn something in the process.

I just hope my experience can help someone else out, or help folks avoid any problems in the future by learning about them now ... instead of when they're in the tank.

I'm going to follow up this post with a little on my experience, a quoted section from Eric Borneman [with permission] and see where this goes.
Last edited by Mark on Thu Feb 24, 2005 8:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Mark on Thu Feb 24, 2005 7:56 pm

I'm unsure when I got `red bugs'.

They're pretty darn tiny, mostly sorta yellowish, and seem to congregate on the lower, shaded, hidden spots of only the Genus Acropora.

They do not have any effect on any other Genus of Coral.

Anyway ... last spring I had noticed that my purple-tip from Warren had lost the nice turquoisey-tan color on the underbody, growth was almost nothing over a couple of months [from a very vigorous previous time] ... and it seemed weak. On a few other Acropora, while my levels + all tested just great .... they were losing color, growth, and never had the polyps out like they used to.

I started reading around ... and wondering.

Then I picked up my most prized Acro frag ... and turning it over, looking really close ... I saw them.

Sat on the fence for a while about treating the tank, considered the options and came to realize that I had let a few months pass and yet things were ok. Yet ... after talking with a few people at IMAC - I used the `Interceptor treatment'.

I don't think it did terrible harm to my tank's ecology, though wouldn't call it without effect [lost my emeralds, though nothing else]. The effect on the corals was great ... increased polyps, growth, and color. Since then things have really progressed.

I'm not sure how I got them. Traded and bought a number of frags from all over last winter/spring - figure it was accidental. Once I knew I had them, I was careful not to trade/sell any until after the final treatment. Have been careful trading recently, and treating all incoming frags that `might have a chance'. Not sure I love that method ... yet given the high Acropora density in my tank ... beats the alternative.

Below is a pic I put together a while ago of the one coral I could see red bugs on. While I saw effects on others [`millepora' style and the green slimer seemed mostly unaffected ... blue/purple ones hit hard] ... I only really saw the bugs on this coral.
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Postby Mark on Thu Feb 24, 2005 7:59 pm


And below is a post from Eric Borneman off the site Reef Frontiers:

In a nutshell, here is what I have found. These are true parasites of Acropora - and probably undescribed. They are Acropora-specific, and I have tried to get them to host on various Montipora, Porites, Pocillopora and Pavona. They die before they will move onto these corals, even when forced or placed onto the corals. They only parasitize Acroporids with enough coenosteum to move around (not the A. millepora type - I suspect they would get eaten). They sometimes can inhabit Acropora without causing much damage, or they can damage them to the point they die. They will die without a host in typically 3 days, though I have had some show signs of life (barely twitching, unable to swim) at five days. They swim well, and if you take a coral out of the tank, some hunker down tightly to the coral, others bail off and swim to another. They will not live in the tank without a host, though. They are direct developers, so no larval stage to worry about (females have a brood pouch, I got nearly 20 from 5 adults after two weeks). There are several other red bugs that aquarists have erroneously concluded were these parasties, commonly seen on the glass of tanks. They are not the same bug. A quick view through a scope will confirm that. I have seen at least three others, not one of which was even close. Also, the red color of some these is deceptive...they do not have the distinct red spot, but are sort of a uniformly ruddy brown.

Interceptor works very well, even at 5 x recommended dose (Dustin Dorton), and does not seem to affect corals at all, even after 24 hours at 5x dose. Thus, it is "coral safe' but is not "reef safe." It kills all crustaceans we have seen - other amphipods, crabs, shrimps, etc. It kills polychaetes. It kills at least some snails (small Trochids). If you treat the tank, be ready to say goodbye to all those things, and if the populations of those things are large, you could have a major nutrient issue when all the worms, etc. die (at the very least). I would recommend you treat the affected corals outside the tank, and then wait the three to five days before putting them back in the tank. Examine all colonies closely with a lens to be sure there are no stragglers. Some die while ensnared on the skeleton - a probe with a needle will determine if they are still alive or not. I have not seen the need to do three treatments as has been suggested - that was based on the assumption there was a larval phase, or eggs, which there aren''t. But, the Acro crabs are going to be an issue. These may perform a grooming role that could inhibit current and future infestations. You could try to get them out - maybe freshwater dip to get them to bail?? But, that might stress the corals a lot. I don't know what to say on that one.

As to what they are...I have sent samples to Ed Hendrycks and Sara LeCroy - both specialists of amphipods. With the samples to Sara, I sent a copy of the article describing Teastes acroporanus. Sara said they were amphipods, looks like Tegastes desribed but the fifth maxilliped is different. Thing is, Tegastes is a genus of copepods, not amphipods. She thought it was probably a new species. Ed confirmed it was an amphipod...also thought new species. Both pointed me towards JD Thomas at Nova Southeastern. So did Steve Cairns at the Smithosonian. So did Les Kaufman at Boston University where the late Arthur Humes worked (who described T acroporanus and did 99% of the world's work on parasitic copepods of corals). Thomas has been hard to reach, but I sent him another email yesterday.

If I cannot get someone to help me describe them, I will do it myself - or try at least.

I have also killed them with high dose Lugol's - very effective, but hard on the corals.Have done trials with five other drugs as dips - variably successful or stressful to the corals. Also, purchased several other drugs as systemic treatments, including a newer and mre potent version of ivermectin. Have not done any trials with them yet.

These bugs are a major pain. Best solution is very careful examination of any Acropora colonies prior to them going into your tank...especially tank-reared fragments. Hope this helps....let me know if you need more info, or have questions.
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Postby Mark on Thu Feb 24, 2005 8:03 pm

And let me say ... I treat for my own peace of mind.

I don't do it because I think `you' have red bugs ... I do it because I frag my corals regularly and realize it would be easy to spread them to all the people I know and like. And for my own happiness, as in my limited experience with pro-active treatments on frags I've had no problems [and don't think I have re-infected myself].

I hesitated on this subject due to possible animosity, and still feel a bit of concern. Let's learn here, not make any accusations or statements about any shop/person having them, beyond those who volunteer their story.

Sound good?
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Postby BraenDead on Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:06 pm


That is great information. I keep Interceptor on hand and do a one hour quarentine with all acro frags (interceptor and tank water). I've heard this method used before to QT the frag and pre-treat for the bugs, does anyone else use a different method?

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Postby tapper of spines on Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:16 pm

There is a thread in the Photography section of Reef Central on the red bugs, with an excellent picture of them:

http://reefcentral.com/forums/showthrea ... did=531876

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Postby Mark on Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:21 pm

Great shots ... thanks for that link!

Yeah, I do a similar bucket treatment now - left them in for a bit longer last time [they did great]
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Postby MattK on Fri Feb 25, 2005 8:51 am

Thanks for the information Mark!

What's the recommended dosage for dipping, and how long of a dip is needed before adding the frag to the tank?

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Postby Ereefic on Fri Feb 25, 2005 4:02 pm

We had the red bugs and ended up doing the Interceptor treatment on the tank to get rid of them, which we did. We did not do the recommended 3 treatments, only 2 and it worked fine for us.

Polyp extension and color got better and growth as well after the treatment.

As far as dipping new frags, this is what I do. I'll take a couple of gallons of tank water and put it in a bucket, then mix in 1/4 of the large dog Interceptor pill (crushed into powder of course). I then put the frags in there for 1 hour. I'll inspect the frags after that hour with a magnifying glass to make sure there are no more bugs on the frag. If all is good, to the tank they go. I did have to go longer than an hour once, but I think it was because I used a pill that was opened some time ago and it may have lost its potency. Now i'm using the smaller pills (5.75 mg, I think) and using the whole pill. It's pretty close to the same as a 1/4 pill of the large dog pill (23 mg, I think). This method has worked very well for me, your mileage may vary. :)

When buying frags now, (no matter what the source) I assume they all have red bugs and dip them no matter what. Even if they come from a tank known to be rid of the bugs, it's just good insurance. I don't go to the extreme of quarinting them for the fact that the dip has worked for me really well, and i'd rather get them to the permanant home without the stress of acclimating them several times.

If it came down to it, and the tank was infested with bugs again, I would not hesitate to treat the tank with Interceptor again. I researched the treatment good and hard before performing it, and the treatement was out for some time before I did it, that I was comfortable doing it knowing full well what would perish and what wouldn't.

I think the biggest thing with doing the Interceptor treatment is knowing what will be harmed from the treatment. Read about it and read what others have done before doing it so you are comfortable with it and informed of the drawbacks to it.
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