Buying a moss ball should be simple, right?
Step 1 – Go to your local pet store.
Step 2 – Buy a moss ball. (Next to the dead Betta fish in the tiny cups.)
Unfortunately, it’s not exactly that simple. If you’re not careful, you’ll get sold something that either isn’t healthy or isn’t a moss ball at all.
So, where can you buy marimo? The best place to get marimo moss balls is from a trusted local fish store. If you don’t have one, Petco and petsmart also sell them. These are better than online stores, since you can physically check the marimo to make sure they’re real. Let’s cover how to tell the real from the fake.
So before you go to buy one, you need to understand what you’re looking for:
Choosing a Healthy Moss Ball
The first (probably obvious) point is that the Marimo you purchase should be green and healthy looking.
You should avoid any that are turning brown or (worse) black. This is a clear sign of neglect, and it’s best that you find another Marimo to buy (ideally from another store).
Now, one that’s turning brown isn’t really the end of the world. There are reasons why they can turn brown and things that you can do to fix them.
This is all basic care, however, and you shouldn’t need to nurse your new Marimo back to health.
If the Marimo is turning black, this is a sign that decay has set in. It will get this way through a combination of other factors, and the only thing to do about it is to remove the black sections and roll the remaining algae back into a ball.
The next thing to look for is to make sure the moss ball isn’t growing a slimy layer around it. This is a sign that it’s being attacked by another type of algae, and it will require careful maintenance to remove completely.
Your Marimo may have sand in it, and this is perfectly fine. Marimo are known for rolling around the bottom of the sea (or, in this case, aquarium) and are likely to get dirty in the process.
I’ve heard of people tearing their Marimo apart and saving only pieces that don’t have sand or other debris in them.
This is completely unnecessary.
There are some things you need to look for to avoid getting ripped off, but this isn’t one of them.
Avoid Getting Ripped Off
You might remember that earlier I said if you’re not careful, you may come home with something that isn’t actually a moss ball.
Sadly, this isn’t an exaggeration.
Fake moss balls are a thing, and if you’re purchasing from an untrustworthy source, you might wind up with something that is actually a ball, covered in real or fake moss.
A real marimo should look the same all the way through:
Luckily, you don’t have to take it on faith that you’re getting real Marimo.
There are a few tests that you can do to make sure you’re buying the real deal.
The Smush Test
The first thing you can do to make sure you’re not getting a rock covered in moss is to squeeze the moss ball.
If it’s fake, you may not be able to squeeze it. It might be hard.
If this happens, definitely avoid that moss ball and the store that is trying to sell it to you.
A real moss ball should be squishy. (It’s literally just a ball of algae. There is nothing in the center that the algae should be formed around.)
The Roll Test
You can do this test almost without touching the Marimo at all. The first step is simply:
Look at the Marimo.
If it looks too perfect, it’s probably not real.
It should be lumpy and a bit misshapen. If it’s perfectly round, it’s probably an actual ball covered in moss (real or fake).
If it passes this part of the test, you should be able to roll it around in your hands and form it into a more spherical shape.
How Much Do Marimo Cost?
Marimo will be more or less expensive depending on how big (and therefore old) they are.
In my local Pet Supermarket, I can get any size Marimo for around $8. Online, Marimo will cost around $10 for smaller ones (around 1-1.5”), up to $20 for larger ones (2-3”). Sold as part of a terrarium, they can be sold for $30-50.
Where to Buy Real Marimo
Of course, one of the most important things you can do to make sure you’re not getting ripped off is to buy from a reputable source.
I’m going to go over the different places you can get them, in order of preference.
Your Local Fish Store
If you have a good local fish store (that gets good reviews on google reviews or yelp), this should be the first place that you go to.
I may not make money from this recommendation (compared to linking to an online store or selling my own), but I feel it’s the best way to go.
This is the place that is most likely to sell Marimo that are:
- Real Marimo
You’re also likely to get some variety in the size that you can buy, compared to whatever scraps are left over in the cups at the big box places.
You’re also likely to run into someone who knows something about aquariums and the proper care of aquarium plants and algae. (No offense to the people working at the retail chains, but a lot of their employees are there because they love dogs and cats, and they may or may not know much about the greatest species of algae in existence.)
A Retail Chain Pet Store
I’m of course talking about the places like Petsmart and Petco (which I regularly shop at).
Nothing against these types of stores. Some are better than others. It largely comes down to your location.
The problem is that a lot of their employees may not know a great deal about aquatic life. (A good rule of thumb might be to see how many dead Betta are sitting on the shelves. If they’re all healthy, you’re probably okay. If there are more than a few dead, you might want to proceed with caution.)
I’m still rating this above the online stores, however, because you can check the health of your Marimo before you buy it.
This is incredibly important, because you’re not just relying on the reputation of the business to make the decision.
The downside is that you probably won’t get as many choices to pick from. You’re limited to whatever they have in the cups near the registers.
An Online Vendor
This is perhaps the riskiest place to buy.
On one hand, there will probably be a much bigger range of sizes, and you can get one as big or small as you’d like.
On the other hand, you open yourself up to some real nightmare scenarios.
After all, the first time you see it is after you spent your money on it.
There are plenty of nightmare stories to go around when purchasing from an online supplier. One example of this is the customer that got a sickly Marimo, and when he put it in his tank, worms hatched out of it and infested his other, healthy Marimo.
Of course, plenty of people have great experiences buying from online stores.
There is one key bit of advice I’d give here:
Be careful about buying from Amazon.
Especially if you see it’s an Amazon prime product.
It might be convenient, but that two day shipping is only available because the supplier is shipping pallets of Marimo into Amazon’s warehouses. Between the time its packaged and the time it reaches your door, it receives no care.
You might get one that’s perfectly fine. Then again, you might not. You never know. Amazon does have a good return policy, so you are protected.
Of course, if you’re the unlucky guy with the worms, is Amazon going to compensate you for the collateral damage?
Your best bet is to carefully research any online store before you buy from it. Make sure that they know what they’re doing and are passionate about it. All the common sense rules apply here.
If you can get one from the Gardens of Wendiland shop, I recommend you do so. Wendi meets the above criteria, and if you order from her you’re very likely to get something that’s healthy and in good condition.
(She also sells defective Marimo for a discount, and she tells you what the defect is on each one in the description.)
She’s often sold out, though, so you may not be able to find any depending on when you try to order.
It’s trickier than it may first appear to buy a marimo moss ball that isn’t a fake.
Still, as long as you use a few common sense techniques and know what real ones look like, you should be fine.
By the way, once you get your marimo home, you might be tempted to take it out and drop it in your fish tank straight away.
This could be a huge mistake. A lot of sites will tell you that there aren’t any nasties you can get from Marimo. I’ve written a guide here on why that’s not true and what you need to do once you buy a marimo.
Good luck buying your marimo!