Feather Dusters Vs. Aiptasia in a Reef Tank- When to Worry?

When you have a saltwater reef tank, you need to be aware of potentially harmful species that could present a threat to your corals, fish, and more, and something to look out for is the aiptasia. 

It can be difficult to recognize aiptasia for the untrained eye or for someone who is only just getting started with their reef tank, and it is common to confuse it with harmless feather dusters.

The differences between feather dusters and aiptasia are, however, more significant than you may think, and we are going to help you learn how to differentiate them so that you can keep your saltwater reef tank safe.

What Are Feather Dusters?

Feather dusters are sometimes confused with bristle worms, which they are related to, but feather dusters are very peaceful and “harmless” in your tank. They can grow to be up to an inch in diameter.

Physical Appearance

Their soft body is covered with a tube-like layer formed by mucus, and they may leave their tube behind if they are unhappy with their placement in the tank.

These worms are segmented and they have a feather-like crown, most likely what has given them their name, and the crown tends to have different patterns and colors. They have the ability to shed their crown, but not all feather dusters do, but will then regrow it again. Regrowing the crown usually takes 1-2 weeks. 

Feeding Habits

Worms like the feather duster filter feed and eat plankton, powder foods, liquid foods, and more, and they are not known for eating anything other than their food which is why they are not considered harmful to a saltwater reef tank.

Tank Requirements

Feather dusters thrive in tanks with a steady water flow, preferably medium to strong water flow, as this helps them catch food. Knowing the ideal water conditions for feather dusters can help you determine if it is what you have in your tank.

What Are Aiptasia?

Aiptasia is a species that can take over your tank before you know it. It is surprisingly invasive, and the problem is that the untrained eye may mistake it for feather dusters or even regular corals, and by the time you realize your mistake it could already be too late.

It belongs to the Anthozoa class and the genus has multiple species, but while they all differ somewhat from one another – all are known to cause serious issues in a reef tank.

Physical Appearance

It is not just the characteristics that differ when comparing the species to one another, but they can also differentiate in looks. Aiptasia can be different shades of brown, which tends to be the most common color due to the algae the coral contains, but it can also be white.

Survival Skills

The aiptasia has long projections covering its stalk that look almost hair-like, and the problem with these is that they are used to sense danger, which could significantly complicate the process of trying to kill and get rid of it.

Stinging Abilities

Another one of its defense mechanisms is its tentacles, as each tentacle has nematocysts at the very end, which are used to sting potential enemies. The stinging abilities of the aiptasia are a direct threat to both invertebrates, fish, corals, and more.

The problem with the aiptasia is that it doesn’t just use its stinging cells for protection, but also to clear space for it to continue growing. As the aiptasia grows, it requires more space and will sting anything within its reach to obtain it. Reproduction happens as the aiptasia starts moving, and it reproduces incredibly fast.

Main Differences Between Aiptasia and Feather Dusters

The answer here is simple – the difference is that feather dusters won’t harm your tank or the organisms living in it, while aiptasia could take over and kill corals, fish, crustaceans, and more.

How to Get Rid of Aiptasia

Before you think about how to get rid of these little reef tank bad guys, make sure you take proper precautions to prevent them from moving into the tank. Be vigilant when you pick up new corals, fishes, and more from the pet stores, and learn to recognize aiptasia so that you can double-check if there are any in their tanks.

You can then opt to quarantine new organisms before releasing them in your own tank, to prevent getting aiptasia as an unexpected (and highly unwelcome) extra guest.

To get rid of aiptasia you can either go with natural methods, manual tools, or chemicals, depending on how bad of a pest you are dealing with.

Natural Methods

Introducing predators is a great way to control aiptasia in your tank, and filefish (Acreichthys tomentosus), Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), and Copperband Butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus) are three of your options.

Manual Tools

A Majano wand (also known as an aiptasia wand) can be used to basically zap the aiptasia and implode its stalk by turning the water retained within it to hydrogen. It takes some time, but it can be very satisfying.


Using chemicals and other methods is also an option. You can use a similar method as the Majano wand by injecting boiling water or lemon juice directly into the aiptasia, but it can also be very time-consuming. You can also opt for purchasing products made specifically for the removal of aiptasia.


The biggest difference is that feather dusters are no threat to your reef tank, while aiptasia is something you definitely don’t want in there. It is possible to get rid of aiptasia, but it reproduces fast and can put up quite a fight when you try to kill or remove it.

Your best bet is to learn to recognize aiptasia so that you can spot it right away and remove it before it becomes a problem in the tank. Prevention is your best bet and set out to deal with the problem before it takes over completely.

You have nothing to worry about if you have feather dusters in your tank, but never underestimate the damage aiptasia can do to your fish, corals, and other organisms.