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. Non-photosynthetic soft corals such as brilliantly colored Carnation Corals or many of the Gorgonians are also commonly available, but are much more difficult to keep because of their feeding requirements.
Low. They may however be fast growing and can at time overtake nearby corals simply by growing over them
Moderate. Some specimens can be prone to bleaching under excess, or sometimes just new, lighting conditions. Acclimate carefully for best results
Low to moderate flow
Low to Mid tank
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 are popular soft corals so named for their usual tough, almost leathery feel. 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.
Leather corals like low to moderate lighting. Many will tolerate stronger light if acclimated properly
They also prefer a moderate water flow. Excessive 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.
When fragging 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 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, only 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.
Some Mushrooms, especially larger ones, can take large bits of meaty food and may be fed if desired to encourage growth. Very large mushrooms like the Elephant Ear have been known to capture and consumer live fish that get too close, such as clowns looking for a surrogate anemone.
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 have 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 Water Flow is reccommended because excessive flow may prevent their polyps from opening fully.
We usually place them mid to low 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 adsorb some of their nutritional needs directly from the water. This hardiness makes them idea for newer tanks still getting established.
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.