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Coral Care

Soft Corals

Soft corals are the ‘non-reef building’ corals of the reef. When they die, they melt away completely leaving no skeleton behind. This lack of skeleton gives the corals a much greater degree of flexibility and a softer feel than their skeleton growing counterparts, from which their common name of ‘Soft Corals’ is derived. These corals are also some of the most popular and most commonly available corals found in our hobby. This guide will focus on the photosynthetic softies, which are generally considered very easy to keep. They derive their food from predominantly the products of photosynthesis. Generally most soft corals are found in the wild beside many hard corals and while many of these hard corals are more difficult to keep the softies are easy to keep. The soft corals tend to be more tolerant of different water conditions and thus easier to keep. Non-photosynthetic soft corals such as brilliantly colored Carnation Corals or many of the non-photosynthetic Gorgonians are also commonly available, but are much more difficult to keep because of their constant feeding requirements.

Quick Tips

Care Level
Easy

Aggressiveness
Low. They may however be fast growing and can at time overtake nearby corals simply by growing over them

Lighting Requirements
Moderate. Some specimens can be prone to bleaching under excess, or sometimes just new, lighting conditions. Acclimate carefully for best results

Water Flow
Moderate to intense flow

Tank Placement
Low to Mid tank

Water Quality
Most softies are not only tolerant of ‘dirty’ water but may exhibit better growth under such conditions where they can absorb some nutrients directly from the water.

Leather Corals

leathers

Leather corals are popular soft corals so named for their usual tough, almost leathery feel and the smell they produce from the chemicals they produce. They do not produce true skeletons, but often have a system of sharp, spindle like sclerites that allow them to maintain a semi rigid base. Most are very fast growing and can also expand with water during the day, becoming quite large.

These are easy corals to keep that have a very low level of aggressiveness. They are not generally prone to stinging or being stung. However, they may put chemicals into the water that inhibit other corals and can also grow so large as to shade smaller neighbors. Carbon is often used to remove their chemicals from the water.

Leather corals like moderate to intense lighting. Most will adapt to various types and intensities of light if acclimated properly.

They also prefer a moderate to intense water flow. Excessive constant direct flow may prevent these corals from fully opening, so you need to watch placement for best extension since they do require a fair amount of flow. Many are quite slimy or shed a waxy 'skin' periodically and need sufficient flow to blow this away. Others are prone to localized necrotic infections if detritus settles on the leather's surface.

Leathers can be placed anywhere in the tank that provides sufficient flow and sufficient room for these fast growers and while every effort should always be made to provide good water quality for your tank inhabitants, these corals are generally quite forgiving of temporary lapses and in fact may adsorb some of their nutritional needs directly from the water. This hardiness makes them ideal for newer tanks still getting established.

Special Propagation Notes
These corals are quite easy to cut with scissors, but may be somewhat trickier to reattach. Glue is usually not effective because of their tendency to slime up. Loosely rubber banding cuttings to a piece of rock rubble, or placement in a small container of rubble until the piece attaches on its own, is generally most effective.

Mushroom Corals

Mushrooms

Mushroom and Ricordea type corals are large soft polyps which can be acquired singly or as colonies. Many varieties of mushrooms exist with all sorts of colors and textures. While there are fewer Ricordea species including Ricordea florida from the Caribbean and Ricordea yuma from the Pacific, the color morphs that can be found seem to be almost limitless at times which can make them quite popular with collectors.

These corals are undemanding and easy to care for. They tend to be fast growing with low aggressiveness and are also easy to frag. This combined with their bright colors makes them excellent beginner corals.

Mushrooms prefer low to moderate light, with brighter lighting they need to be acclimated with care to avoid bleaching. Mushrooms tend to expand significantly larger in lower lighting systems. Give them moderate water flow because these soft polyps can be battered and irritated by excessive flow.

Place mushrooms and ricordea  in the lower half of the tank and while every effort should be made to maintain good water quality, these corals are fairly forgiving of minor lapses and may even adsorb some of their nutrients directly from the water. Ricordea, especially Ricordea yuma may be somewhat more demanding than Mushrooms.

Special Notes
Some Mushrooms, especially larger ones, can take large bits of meaty food and may be fed if desired to encourage growth. Very large mushrooms such as Giant Cups have been known to capture and consume live fish that get too close, such as clownfish looking for a surrogate anemone.

Smooth skin mushrooms are usually Discosoma types and more rough surface mushrooms are generally Rhodactis. Both types are easy to keep.

There are many types and colors of Discosoma and Rhodactis mushrooms. A specific type of Rhodactis mushrooms can develop pronounced vesicles or bubbles. These are called Bounce mushrooms and can be quite expensive. A specific color type of Discosoma have a particular color pattern that are called Eclectus and Jawbreaker mushrooms. These mushrooms can be extremely expensive and may have very elaborate and desirable colors and patterns.

Zoanthids and Palythoas

zoanthids

Zoanthids are without a doubt some of the most popular soft corals for beginners and experts alike. Fast growing, super hardy, and available in every color of the rainbow, they are easy to keep and fun to collect. New and unusual color morphs are always being sought, but even the 'common' variants often possess stunning colors.

Other soft polyps, such as Palythoas, Yellow Polyps, Xenia, and Star Polyps are all very similar in requirements to the Zoanthids and are equally hardy. These soft polyps are easy to frag. Most grow by encrusting mats or runners over the live rock to which they are attached. This can then be cut in between polyps, usually with little harm to parent or frag.

Zoanthids and other polyps are easy to care for and are low to moderate in aggressiveness. Generally, not prone to stinging their neighbors, although they can grow so quickly that they overtake slower growing corals. Many do put chemicals into the water that can irritate other corals, so diligence in water changes and carbon use may be especially beneficial in a mixed reef that includes them.

They prefer low to moderate lighting, although many will do fine under stronger lighting if properly acclimated first. Moderate to intense water flow is recommended to prevent detritus from settling upon the polyps.

We usually place them about mid level in the tank and while every effort should always be made to provide good water quality for your tank inhabitants, these corals are generally quite forgiving of temporary lapses and in fact may absorb some of their nutritional needs directly from the water. This hardiness makes them ideal for newer tanks still getting established.

Special Notes
Some of the chemicals produced by Zoanthids are potentially harmful to humans. Use care when handling them, especially if fragging. Wearing gloves is always the best way to be safe when working with reef livestock.

Palytoxin is very dangerous and has sent some folks to the emergency room. Please be careful in handling these corals. Use gloves and always wash your hands with soap after handling any corals.

In the wild zoanthids are usually found in areas with less than pristine water quality and usually in very high flow.

Most zoanthids and palythoas have unique designer names. Be careful when buying them since these names often are used as marketing tools to increase prices.

Zoanthids are especially prone to harbor pests called nudibranches that can irritate or eat the zoanthids. They can be eliminated by freshwater dips or with other dips. Many Wrasse will eat these insidious pests. If your zoanthids suddenly close and remain so they may be infested and you must take action to save them. All new acquisitions must be dipped and quarantined to prevent infestation.

LPS Corals

Large Polyp Stony, or LPS, is a hobbyist term used to describe certain types of corals. These corals generally have very large, distinct fleshy polyp(s) over a hard-calcareous skeleton. Many kinds of corals are included in the group, from brains to chalices, hydnophora to caulastrea. These varieties will also lead to a certain amount of variability in care and optimal conditions.  However, there are some basic general guidelines that may be applied to most members of the group and will aid in their care.

Special Notes
Many LPS corals have large obvious mouths, and will accept meaty foods like mysis shrimp. For some, this feeding is an optional supplement while other species are unable to sustain themselves long-term solely on the products of photosynthesis and will gradually waste away if not fed.

For especially fleshy LPS, be sure to allow the coral to close before removing from water to prevent damage to the tissue.

QUICK TIPS:
LARGE POLYP STONY CORALS

Care Level
Generally easy to moderate

Aggressiveness
Moderately to highly aggressive. Many LPS have potent stings and may produce sweeper tentacles to deliver that sting to their neighbors.

Lighting Requirements
Low to Moderate lighting is generally preferred.

Water Flow
Moderate flow. These corals often have large fleshy polyps and sharp skeletons. Excessive flow can cause tearing.

Tank Placement
Low to Mid tank

Water Quality
Many LPS corals are fairly tolerant of slightly dirty water. Maintain good Alkalinity, Calcium, and Magnesium for skeletal growth.

Euphyllias

Euphyllia

Euphyllia is a coral Genus name that includes those corals commonly known as Torch, Frogspawn, and Hammer corals. All are common LPS corals that exhibit large, fleshy tentacle heads over skeletons that are normally either branching or wall patterned. They are most easily distinguished from one another by the shape of the tentacles, although some specimens may show mixed characteristics that make an absolute ID tricky.

Euphyllia corals are easy to moderately easy to care for and make a great first LPS coral for most new hobbyists. Aggressiveness is high for all Euphyllia because they are prone to produce sweeper tentacle formation and will aggressively sting any near neighbors that they brush against.

Lighting should be moderate as well as water flow. These corals have a sharp skeleton at the base of the polyp and excessive flow can cause tearing. They may also fail to fully expand under high flow conditions. Euphyllia prefer to be placed near the middle of the tank since intense light may cause bleaching. They are somewhat forgiving of temporary nutrient level lapses. Maintain proper Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium levels for skeletal growth.

Special Notes
Take care to allow the Euphyllia to fully close before moving them to avoid tearing. These corals are prone to bacterial infections often called "brown jelly infections" if stressed or damaged. Infected heads should be removed immediately to prevent spread of the infection.

Chalice Corals

Chalices

The so called 'Chalice' corals are a group of stony corals such as Echinophyllia, Echinopora, Oxypora, and Mycedium to name a few. These corals can be somewhat challenging to distinguish from one another, but all require similar care. The common name of 'Chalice' comes from their shared tendency to grow in cupping or platting patterns although other growth forms such as encrusting are also seen. They are found in a huge variety of colors, with specimens that display bright contrasts of color between the 'eyes', main body, and sometimes growing edges being the most sought after.

Chalice corals require moderate care but do have an aggressiveness that ranges in the moderate to high range. Some members of this group can be very aggressive towards neighbors and may even produce sweeper tentacles. Others will likely be the losers if they are too closely placed to other corals and can take severe damage from stings. Best to take some care when placing these corals.

Lighting Requirements are typically moderate to low, coloration can change with different intensity, so it is best to watch the coral carefully after placement to determine the best spot for it.

Water flow should be kept in the moderate range and you should provide sufficient flow to prevent detritus from settling on the surface of these corals. 

Chalices are relatively forgiving of water quality and nutrient levels but maintain proper Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium levels for skeletal growth.

Some color patterns and combinations can be rainbow in appearance and these Chalices are the most expensive along with those having different color rims. 

Open Brains

Brains

Within the LPS group are the so-called Brain corals, which can then be further divided into 'Closed Brains', which normally have a more compact appearance, and 'Open Brains' which tend to expand more and are often fleshier.

Closed Brain corals are very suited to fragging and are quite popular with hobbyists for this very reason. They have a multitude of colors and growth characteristic some being more plating and others more encrusting.

Brain corals have a moderate care level, some can be more challenging than others and their aggressiveness ranges from moderate to high. Brain corals may produce stinging tentacles to attack neighbors, but can also be damaged by more aggressive specimens than themselves.

Lighting requirements range from low to moderate. Some specimens can be prone to bleaching under excess, or sometimes just new, lighting conditions. Acclimate carefully for best results.

They usually prefer a water flow that is more moderate. Excessive flow may prevent these corals from fully expanding. These corals also possess sharp skeletons beneath their tissue, and strong flow may cause the delicate tissue to be torn by the skeleton. This is also the reason these corals should always be allowed to close fully before removing them from water.

Examples of closed brains include Favia, Favites, Platygyra and many others. There are many color patterns in these corals and they are generally very easy to keep. Occasionally they can be prone to bacterial infections. Dips may be of some help in preventing spread, but usually they must be cut and the infected portion discarded. 

 

Pectinia

Pectinia

Pectinia are a special type of LPS coral. They are somewhat similar to Chalices because they have a thin skin that covers their skeleton. There are different types of Pectinia with the most colorful and appealing for our reefs being the spiked varieties. These have the most intense color and patterns. The Atomic Mind Bender Pectinia as pictured here is one of the more spectacular varieties.

Pectinia do best under lower light with moderate flow and should be fed regularly. Even though they have a very smooth appearance it is amazing to watch them eat larger particles of food.

Wild collected specimens are more difficult to keep while captive grown or maricultured ones are relatively easy to keep. Their skeletons are delicate and easily damaged. Once damaged they tend to lose their tissue and can be difficult to keep alive. When buying this type of coral be sure to acquire a perfect specimen. 

They do not do well with most coral dips so should be quarantined and fed well to help them adapt to their new home without introducing any pests to your display tank. 

These are deeper water corals and therefore do best under mostly blue lighting. All blue or almost all blue LED light is ideal. Over time in captivity they may be adapted to more intense light and may even grow better under that lighting. 

While Pectinia are a more challenging coral to acquire a healthy piece and to keep it alive, those that do survive with proper care are spectacular. They are very difficult to propagate since their delicate tissue is difficult to cut and tends to peel easily.   

 

Encrusting Corals

Encrusting

Encrusting LPS corals can be confusing as to whether they are actually small polyp or large polyp. This is where the hobbyist terms become blurred as to the classification of these corals. Encrusting LPS corals include Cyphastrea, Psammacora, Leptastrea, Leptoseris, and many others.  Some of these encrusting corals may have larger distinct polyps and others have smaller polyps. 

They are easy to keep corals that do best under low to moderate lighting and water flow. They do not need supplemental feeding and are very adaptable to different water conditions. 

Most are rapid growers and easy to cut into frags. Some such as the Sun King Psammacora and others will develop bright colored rims after being cut. The brighter rim color is the rapidly growing tissue as the coral is healing after being cut. The tips of branching corals or the rim of encrusting corals may be brighter color as those are the mostly rapidly growing parts. 

Encrusting LPS corals are some of the most beloved by many hobbyists because they are colorful, easy to keep, and usually relatively inexpensive since most are rapid growers.

 

 

Brains and Favias

Open Brains

Open Brains include such corals as Trachyphyllia, Wellsophyllia, and Lobophyllia, at this date the genus Wellsophyllia has been eliminated but it is still used in the industry for identification. Reds and greens are the most common colors, though others are possible as are interesting contrasting patterns. These corals are generally unsuited to fragging, except for some branching Lobophyllia specimens.

Lighting Requirements range from low to moderate. Some specimens can be prone to bleaching under excess, or sometimes just new, lighting conditions. Acclimate carefully for best results.

They usually prefer a water flow that is more moderate. Excessive flow may prevent these corals from fully expanding. These corals also possess sharp skeletons beneath their tissue, and strong flow may cause the delicate tissue to be torn by the skeleton. This is also the reason these corals should always be allowed to close fully before removing them from water.

Many open brains including Wellsophyllia and Trachyphyllia are naturally occurring on the substrate and should be placed on the bottom assuming there are no aggressively sand sifting tank mates that are likely to bury them. Others like the Lobophyllia can be placed up in the rockwork if preferred. These corals are not usually especially demanding of ultra clean water, although they do rely on balanced Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium for skeletal growth.

Special Notes
The open brains are a very hardy group of corals. While they are photosynthetic, most will produce feeder tentacles, often at night. Periodic feedings with meaty foods such as mysis or small bits of krill should be provided to maintain optimal health.

SPS Corals

SPS (Small Polyp Stony) is a hobbyist term used to loosely identify a group of corals that are at least somewhat similar in appearance and care. These corals always have hard skeletons and very small polyps - usually not much bigger than a pin head though there is no set size requirement. To the new hobbyist SPS corals such as Acropora, Montiporas, and Bird's Nest can be somewhat intimidating. These stony corals come in an incredible variety of colors and growth forms that can be absolutely stunning. However, their care requirements are generally a step or two above the usual beginner corals like softies and LPS.

Moderate to intense lighting, good random flow, and clean, stable water quality are key with these corals. Properly maintained they can grow quite quickly. Growth forms include branching, plating, and encrusting varieties. Fortunately, their stony skeletons are usually quite easy to frag, making them favorites for propagation and trading.

Special Notes
Some SPS corals, such as those that are plating or have especially thin branches, can be somewhat fragile and easily broken. Care should be taken when working in your tank to prevent accidental fragging. Generally, SPS corals do not need to be fed directly and specifically feeding your tank for the sake of SPS corals is usually not recommended as this can lead to excessive nutrient levels and poor coloration. Strategic use of amino acids may be beneficial, but we recommend you do some research as this is a more advanced topic.

Quick Tips:
SPS Corals

Care Level
Moderate to Advanced

Aggressiveness
Moderately to intensely aggressive toward other species of SPS. May be stung by more aggressive species such as LPS, especially those that produce sweeper tentacles.

Lighting Requirements
Moderate to intense lighting such as Metal Hallide, T-5, or LED recommended. Some may be kept under weaker lighting but this may result in color shifting.

Water Flow
Strong, random flow is generally preferred.

Tank Placement
Mid tank or higher.

Water Quality
Very clean water helps to prevent browning out. Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium levels are important to skeletal growth.

Acorpora Corals

Acropora

When new hobbyists start thinking about stony corals, often Acroporas are what come to mind. In the wild they are often found to be the dominate coral on Pacific reefs and are quite common. While they might technically be grouped with other SPS type corals, their care is slightly more demanding, so they are often discussed separately.

Corals of this genus are without a doubt some of the most vibrantly colorful corals available for reef tanks today. They can be found in reds, blues, greens, purples, pinks, yellows, and many more, not to mention the variety of contrasting colors between established branches, growing tips, and even polyps. Acroporas also come in a variety of growth forms such as table, bottlebrush, staghorn, branching, bushy, and more. These two traits of color and form give rise to an incredibly diverse group of corals at least in appearance. Fortunately, care requirements are similar for most members of the Genus. Almost all corals of the group are very easy to frag by removing a single branch and are fairly fast growing under ideal conditions, making them favorites for captive propagation and trading.

Special Notes
Acropora do have something of a reputation for being tricky to keep. They are sensitive to water quality problems, as well as to lighting. Frags and small colonies (especially captive grown) tend to ship better and have a better track record for home survival. However, for the experienced hobbyist who is prepared to meet their needs these can be some of the most rewarding and beautiful corals to keep.

Acroporas demand a care level for the more advanced reef aquarist. They are low to moderately aggressive towards other SPS type corals. May be stung by more aggressive corals like the LPS, especially those that produce sweeper tentacles.

Strong light like Metal Halides, T-5's, or LED recommended and water flow should be strong, random flow is preferred. Place Acropora coral on the top third of tank and make sure your water is very clean. Stable water quality is preferred and may help prevent browning out and your Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium levels are important to skeletal growth.

Montipora Corals

Montipora

Montipora are some of the most popular SPS corals out there, especially for those new to SPS keeping. They are often easier to keep and a bit hardier than the Acropora and come in a fascinating array of growth forms and colors.  Included in the group you’ll find everything from heavy encrusting specimens to the finger like branching Montipora digitata and the delicate plating Montipora capricornis. 

Bright body colors are often contrasted by equally brilliantly shaded polyps, and often show even greater variation between new growth and older more established sections. 

Montipora are generally fast growing and easily fragged, these are fantastic corals for propagation and captive culture.

Special Notes
Take care working in tanks with plating or branchy specimens.  New growth can sometimes be brittle, and these corals are very easy to accidentally frag!

Montipora require a moderate care level and are aggressive if directly touching other corals. Most Montipora are easily damaged by more aggressive neighbors so give them lots of open space to grow.

Moderate to higher lighting is best but watch for color shifts and adjust light levels as needed for maximum color. They like a moderate to high water flow and placement should be in the upper half of the tank. Poor water quality will cause browning out and watch your calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium levels which are important for skeletal growth.

Often Montipora are assigned designer names by hobbyists as a means of identification and to boost prices. Names such as Rainbow, Superman, Aquaman, and many others are given to different colored Montipora. As with most designer corals the price of a newly acquired piece may be high until others begin to propagate them and the price drops. 

For those wanting to tip their toe into the waters of trying SPS corals, Montipora are an excellent choice, but keep in mind dipping and quarantine are essential to preventing pest infestation in your main display tank!

Other SPS Corals

Others

Beside Acropora and Montipora there are other types of SPS corals. All require similar conditions to thrive as Acropora or Montipora.

Generally these conditions include lots of light and strong random water flow, stable water parameters with natural saltwater levels of salinity and alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium.

Seriatopora--so-called Bird's Nest corals, Stylophora--use to be referred to as cat's paw corals, Pocillopora, and other corals are included in this category. 

These corals are generally easy to keep and grow rapidly in an established stable reef aquarium. They are easy to frag and usually frags are available at relatively low cost. There are not as many color varieties as Acropora or Montipora and only a few have associated designer names. 

Because they lack the huge variety of colors as Acropora, these corals tend to not get as much attention even though many are quite spectacular. Most grow very rapidly and can become a dominant part of display such as huge colonies of Bird's Nest or Stylophora.

Special Notes

Seriatopora, Stylophora, Pocillopora, and other SPS corals in this group are generally resistant to many of the pests that attack Montipora and Acropora. This makes them very easy to keep for less experienced hobbyists. There are some pests that can target these corals so it is always advisable to use a quarantine tank and dip any new acquisitions. 

You can set up an inexpensive quarantine tank using a 10 gallon aquarium with a controlled heater, a small powerhead, a small hang on filter using some biological filtration media that has been seeded in your main tank or sump, and an LED light source. Any new corals should be put into the quarantine tank for at least a few weeks to acclimate them to your lighting and observe them for any parasites. You can check our pest page for more information on dips. Always strictly follow mixing instructions for all dips and be careful to use eye protection and gloves. 

These misc. SPS corals are great for beginners and make for a beautiful display while being easy to keep and grow. 

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