Let’s start off by establishing what a Poking Stick is: It’s a stick that you poke, prod, move, touch, stir, and/or point at stuff in the aquarium with. It has a humble reputation initially associated with it, but its functionality is immense and practically unlimited.
Now, you’re probably wondering, how much does such an amazing tool cost? Well, all of my Poking Sticks were FREE. My favorite poking stick was a two-for-one freebie because it is one half of a chopstick set! Bamboo chopsticks probably don’t seem like a very durable tool to keep around for a while, but I’ve been using the same stick for over a year, and I have another on backup at any time. If they both break in some freak Poking Stick catastrophe, I just have to convince my girlfriend that we need to eat Chinese food that week and I’m back in business with at least two brand new Poking Sticks! (Note: I do not use the chopsticks for eating since I lack the manual dexterity to eat saucey food and rice at the same time without looking like a four year old had a food fight with their self.)
To be honest, chopsticks are probably only viable Poking Sticks in nano aquariums, which is all that I keep currently. But all hope is not lost my fellow hobbyist with a much bigger aquarium. Here’s a possible list of suitable replacements:
- Wooden dowels, tons of different sizes but anything over ½” in diameter is probably overkill and subject to diminishing returns.
- Acrylic Rods: if you’re the super fancy reefkeeper that loves the glow of colored acrylic under actinic lighting, then this is the Poking Stick for you!
- That wooden/plastic wand that your kid pitched a fit for at Universal Studios/Harry Potter World and has now thrown it out in the yard or left it laying around in your bathroom for some reason.
- Bamboo/Fiberglass garden stakes, these usually only come in bundles, but you probably wouldn’t need to buy any more for a long time. Just be aware fiberglass can degrade over time and possibly splinter.
- Aluminum rods, this is the Rolls Royce of Poking Sticks and as such the most expensive, but it doesn’t corrode in saltwater and it doesn’t flex easily, plus you can engrave your name on it!
If you’re still on the fence as to whether or not you should implement a Poking Stick in your reef keeping experience, I will now provide you an even greater list, and specific examples, of how I use a poking stick almost daily:
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that the Poking Sticks is one of the greatest tools a reefkeeper can have and you’re already figuring out where to get yours (I suggest General Tso’s chicken if you’re going the chopstick route).
- You know how you have to get your whole arm wet to fix that silly snail that keeps getting tipped over. Not. Anymore. Just use your Poking Stick to flip that little fella right over before he becomes the scene of a rather hostile hermit crab gathering.
- Speaking of hermit crabs, you now have a tool to poke them out of your branching SPS corals when they inevitably get stuck in them.
- Have an area of low flow in your sand bed getting dirty? Stir that spot up with your poking stick right before your water change and it won’t be dirty anymore (well at least for a few days).
- Need to pry that new coral frag off of the rock after it figured out that the lighting wasn’t perfect? Poking Stick has your back.
- Want to feed the same amount of flake food every time? Dip the tip of your Poking Stick into the water and shake off any drops. Then dip it in the jar of flake food and stick it back in the aquarium. You’ve now given your fish a more specific amount of food without dirtying your fingers with fish food residue. It also helps the majority of the flakes sink.
- Need to move something to get a better look behind it but your clownfish are natural born terrors with tiny little teeth? Poking Stick feels no pain.
While most of this seemed like a lighthearted, comical article, I was being completely serious when I say that this is one of the most important tools I use on my reef tank. Being able to have as little skin to saltwater contact as possible with a reef aquarium is beneficial for its health and balance, and fundamentally the Poking Stick is something that you can use to achieve this goal.
If you have any other possible uses or benefits of the Poking Stick, be sure to add them to the discussion so others may benefit!
P.S. Steve Irwin was my hero growing up, and the first picture in this article is in no way meant to make fun of him, if anything it is to celebrate his love of wildlife and absolute passion for teaching others about critters in a safe and informative way.