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Marine Invertebrate of the Month
Issue: February 2009

Swiftia exserta



Bob Goemans

Common Names: Red gorgonian, red-polyped gorgonian, orange sea fan, orange tree gorgonian

Phylum: Cnidaria

Class: Anthozoa

Order: Gorgonacea

Family: Paramuriceidae

Range: Tropical Western Atlantic Ocean (Florida and the Bahamas)

Natural Environment: This non-photosynthetic species is found in fairly deep (e.g., 50 to 100 feet) and nutrient-rich waters experiencing moderate currents along coastal areas. They usually inhabit surfaces under overhangs or the interior walls of caves. Their red polyps may

Captive Care: Placement in the aquarium and its feeding is extremely important if there is to be any level of success with this species. It should be placed in a shady area, preferably a cave-like area, receiving a gentle to moderate water current passing through it—i.e., from its opening to its opposite opening, and where it’s easy to direct a gentle flow, possibly from a turkey baster, of phytoplankton and zooplankton products upon its polyps at least twice a day. Consider two feedings per day a very real minimum, as three or four feedings per day are better, yet may still not be adequate for long-term health. This species also seems to fare better in somewhat nutrient-rich surroundings, and where iodine additives are constantly used and monitored.
Keep in mind that direct hand-feeding of this species is absolutely necessary, and it might be better if this species was maintained in a refugium-like environment dedicated to sponges and other non-photosynthetic species, and/or where system filtration can adequately handle the extra feeding attention this species requires. Also consider enriching its foodstuffs with commercial supplements having highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) containing omega-3 fatty oils, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), as this seemed to have a positive effect on the specimen I maintained in a separate 20-gallon tank with two power filters and a white moonlight. Nevertheless, even with much dedicated care, I did not have long-term (over one year) success with this species.  
This very pretty cnidarian with orange branches and red polyps shows up in the trade quite frequently, though it’s not a common species in the wild. That’s because it’s a highly colorful and showy animal, and collectors know there is a market for such attractive species/specimens. Nevertheless, unless it can be provided its needed environmental and nutritional needs, including a somewhat cooler water temperature as noted below, this is a species that is better left in the wild. The species is certainly tempting, but it is difficult to maintain for any length of time.

Water Requirements: Calcium 380 to 430 ppm, alkalinity 2.5 meq/l, pH 8.1 to 8.2, specific gravity 1.025, nitrate >25 ppm, phosphate <0.015 ppm, and a temperature range of 68° to 76°F (20° to 24°C). Concerning iodine additives, use and monitor as their manufacturers recommend

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