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Red Bugs - No More!

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Red bugs (Tegastes acroporanus) are small flea-like beasts that can infest smooth-skinned acropora sp.   Some reefers have gone out of their way to eliminate them from their reef tank, but that is not the purpose of this article. I've seen them in my tank on occasion, but never worried much about them. Maybe if they did more damage, I'd be more concerned. Still, whatever coral I saw them on, the coral wasn't as happy as it could be, because these guys are like little blood-suckers. You can find video of their voracious nature on Eric Borneman's site.

So let's start off with a few images. These depict an Acropora granulosa from my reef.

Red bugs mainly infest smooth-skinned acropora sp.

That's the best my camera can do.

The Cure

The medicine that kills them is actually dog medication, and you must obtain it from a vet. If you want to treat your entire tank, please take the time to read this full article. For the purpose of this page, I only had to treat a single coral, or maybe I should say I only chose to treat a single coral. 

This is my former Pico tank, and I filled it up with 1.5g of reef tank water, and a MicroJet pump for circulation.

The interceptor pill was pulverized with a spoon.

Measuring roughly, one pill appears to equal five heaping (Salifert) spoons. I added one spoonful to cup of tank water, and stirred it well until it was fully dissolved. This was poured into the pico tank, and the coral was then added. I set the timer for 60 minutes, and waited.

Once the time elapsed, I inspected the coral and still saw red bugs. I used a turkey baster to blow off the slime from the coral, and all the redbugs were gone! Surprised, I waited 10 minutes and checked again in case they were hiding in the coral, but they were still gone. Based on a thread I'd read, I decided to rinse the coral next. I pulled it out and placed it on the counter, and poured out the medicated water. Quickly rinsing the tank and pump in the sink, it was refilled with a new gallon of reef tank water. The coral was placed back in the pico tank for another 60 minutes.

All done. Total time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Not a red bug in sight! I put the coral back in my tank, bug-free.

Keep in mind, if you have other corals that are infested, they could re-infest one that has been treated.

How to treat your entire reef with Interceptor

After a few months, I observed red bugs in my 280g reef and decided I needed to do something about it. I talked with a few local hobbyists and felt that I had a safe plan of action.

One (large) tablet of Interceptor should treat 400g of water. I removed all the hermit crabs and shrimp I could find in my reef, putting them in a safe tank separate from my reef. They had circulation, a heater and were topped off daily to maintain salinity while in quarantine for their safety. I had live rock in their tank as well so they had something to pick food from as well as places to hide.

I crushed up one pill until it was dust, and mixed it in a cup of tank water. I stirred it for several minutes until it was fully dissolved. I've read that you can heat up the water in a microwave to speed this process up, but found that unnecessary. I removed the venturi tubing leading to the skimmer's pumps so that no air was being injected into the body of the Euro-Reef 12-2. The medicine should travel through all the water, including in any equipment such as skimmers and calcium reactors. I also turned off the two Phosban Reactors I had running (one with PO4 remover, the other with carbon). At midnight, when all the fish were asleep I poured the medication into an area of high flow, and let it kill the red bugs over the next 12 hours.

The next day at noon, I reinstalled the tubing to the skimmer pumps to resume skimming the water. I started up the Phosban Reactor, and that included running 3 cups of fresh carbon in the second reactor. I couldn't find any red bugs in my tank after this treatment. I repeated this 7 days later, and then again 7 days after that. Three treatments over 3 weeks is considered necessary to remove any possible future generations from emerging from the reef to reinfest the corals.

After the third and final treatment was accomplished and the water was safe for the shrimp and crabs, they were added back to the tank and were fine. The refugium was also treated since it is part of the system, and odds are some pods were lost due to the medication. However, over time and with some fresh macro algae added, their population resumed and I see them running around. My Mandarin is fat and happy, as is my Six Line Wrasse.

This is not a treatment you have to fear. And the more of us that do it, the less likely we will share such pests with one another when trading frags. Always treat new coral arrivals (from hobbyists or your LFS) with an Interceptor bath for at least 6 hours to keep your reef red bug free.

In 2012, Interceptor was pulled from the shelves and has been very hard to come by. I did come across a different medication called Doramectin that may be a suitable alternative, but that remains to be proven by more than a few hobbyists. 

2021 Update:
Here are a few recent Reef Diary video entries when I treated my reef for Red Bugs:
Treatment Week 1 (RD: Day 48):
Follow up the next day:
Week 2: (RD: Day 56):
Week 3: (RD: Day 62):

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