Love SPS corals in your reef? Have Acropora species? You should really be on the lookout for this nasty…

Looks much better without red bugs!

Looks much better without red bugs!

Acropora “Red Bugs”: The dreaded red bugs, these tiny pests are thought to be copepods and only infest small polyped stony corals (SPS) of the genus Acropora. Red bugs are like a flea or mite infection and can easily take over and kill your Acropora in a few weeks if left untreated.

Some reef aquariums with smooth skinned Acropora SPS corals may get infested with Red Bugs. Especially the following Acropora species;  A. caroliniana, A. echinata, A. granulosa and A. tortuosa . Red bugs do not always kill the coral on which they live, but they can negatively affect growth rate and cause a decline in overall health.

An infected coral will loose colour and stop growing and upon close inspection will be covered by tiny yellow bugs with a red dot on one end that are about half a mm in length. These bugs will be parasitising and feeding off the living coral tissue.

An infected system will become bug free after 2 weeks of infected Acropora specimens being removed.

How to treat a red bug infestation…

Red Bugs look like red fleas...

Red Bugs look like red fleas…

The best way to treat is to remove all infected Acropora’s to quarantine if possible. Prophylactic (preventative) dips like the iodine based Lugols solution and reef dip can be used to kill off the red bugs, but in some instances they may not be 100% effective so inspect corals carefully and re-dip if necessary. People seem to have more success by using a more concentrated dip.

In terms of biological control agents, people have got mixed results with the usual helpers like 6- lined Wrasses and Yellow Clown Gobies. A lot of success has been reported using a Dragonfaced Pipefish, which should eat up the bugs pretty quickly.

Another method has been newly developed by Dustin Dorton of ORA, which uses a de-worming medication for dogs called Interceptor. The active ingredient is Milbemycin oxime this medication requires a prescription from a vet but effectively kills all crustaceans (which means you should move all your beneficial crustaceans to a separate tank to avoid killing them!). Each tablet will treat about 380 gallons of aquarium water so split the tablet into whatever fraction you need for your tank volume to be treated.

The treatment procedure is to crush the amount of tablet you need and dissolve into the tank water, after 6 hours you should change at least 25% of the water and run activated carbon, then after 24 hours change another 25% of the water and replace the activated carbon. You should treat the tank like this 3 times to ensure all red bugs at all phases of their life cycles are killed.

Just a side note: this treatment method is a little more unorthodox, the long term effects on an aquarium (and the crustaceans in it) haven’t been studied fully.

So keep on the look out for Red Bugs on your Acropora and if you spot them you now know what to do!