Giant fish-eating anemones arrive at aquarium

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A colony of fish-eating, giant anemones are the latest residents to go on display at Bristol Aquarium.

The anemones are originally from the waters of the North Pacific, but are now settling into a new tank of their own in the popular west country attraction, safely away from the aquarium's fishy residents.

Bristol Aquarium's David Waines said: "They are the most extraordinary-looking creatures. Many visitors think that they're actually made of plastic when they first see them. They come in a range of colours and look a little bit like an underwater sunflower when their tentacles are fully extended. If they retract them they look rather like a medium-sized jelly!"

The giant fish-eating anemone, Urticina piscivora is one of the largest anemone species in the world growing up to 20cm/8" tall and around 25cm/10" across. They are extremely effective hunters, easily capable of catching and killing fish and small crustaceans with their strong tentacles which pack a powerful sting. Once ensnared and immobilised their prey is quickly transferred to their central mouth where it is swallowed whole.

They are found in the North Pacific from Alaska to Southern California at depths down to 45m/150'.

Despite the anemone's fish eating habits, a small fish called the Painted greenling (Oxylebius pictus) has been observed sheltering within their tentacles in the wild, gaining both protection and food from its risky hideaway in a similar way to clownfish in tropical anemones. What the anemone gains from this relationship is not clear however.

In their new home the anemones will not be given live fish to eat, instead they will be offered a selection of seafood including chopped mussels and sand eels.

David Waines explained: "The internal currents within the display bring the food within reach of the anemones' tentacles. In the wild their overall size is determined by the amount of available food, however here at the aquarium we are able to provide them with a regular food source and we're confident they will continue to grow to even greater proportions."

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