The defining characteristics of soft corals are their 8-fold symmetry and a body comprised of calcite spicules. 8-fold symmetry means the coral has eight tentacles or tentacles in multiples of eight. Soft corals are distinguished from other groups of corals by their fleshy bodies that seemingly lack any form of skeleton. The vast majority are good candidates for beginning aquarists. This is because they are more tolerant of higher nutrient systems and do not require strict adherence to chemical parameters such as calcium and alkalinity like stony corals.
Zoanthids belong to the same Subclass as stony corals and corallimorphs. They share 6-fold symmetry but lack a calcium-based skeleton.
Zoanthids are commonly found in coral reefs, the deep sea and many other marine environments around the world. These animals come in a variety of different colonizing formations and in numerous colors.
The marketplace for Zoanthids has produced some rather colorful names for the different morphs. While some may seem silly and over-the-top, we have warmed up to them. There are discrepancies where a single zoa may have several "made up" names. Still, we find it helpful distinguishing the different color morphs. For example, if someone asks about a zoanthid with a green skirt, red face, and purple center, there are several that fit this description. In contrast, if someone were to ask about an "Eagle Eye Zoa" we know exactly what it is.
Some Zoanthids contain powerful neurotoxins called palytoxin that can be harmful. For this reason, take special care handling these polyps for this reason.
Zoanthids and Palythoa are common in coral reefs around the world. Their incredible array of colors and patterns make them popular to reef hobbyists.
There is no scientific consensus on Zoanthid and Palythoa phylogeny. In layman's terms, it is unclear where Zoanthids end and Palythoa begin. Coral taxonomists whittled down the number of species from 300 to around 50. We chose to go with hobbyist naming conventions rather than scientific naming conventions. We group larger polyp individuals into Palythoa and smaller polyp specimens into Zoanthids.
Some Zoanthids and Palythoa contain powerful neurotoxins called palytoxin that can be harmful. For this reason, take special care handling these polyps for this reason.
Mushrooms are some of the best beginner friendly specimens to start a reef tank with. They are generally some of the hardiest organisms in the reef-keeping hobby that require very little light and are tolerant of most tank conditions. The exception to this rule is Ricordea yuma from the Pacific that tends to be on the sensitive side.
Sinularia are a variety of finger leather corals that are known to form large branching stalks. Some varieties of Sinularia however form cabbage-like shapes. While most Sinularia are a tan color, We have some amazing specimens that are green. They are a good choice for beginners as they are very hardy and adapt to most tank conditions without much difficulty.
Star Polyps are a common beauty that is iconic in the hobby. It is hard to find a seasoned aquarist that has not owned green star polyps (or GSP for short) at one point or another in their enjoyment of reef aquariums. They are a hardy soft coral that grows quickly in encrusting mats. They do best in strong flow as their base tends to attract algae growth.
When people imagine soft corals, one of the most popular corals that come to mind is the Toadstool Leather Coral. Like its name-sake, the toadstool leather forms a large, mushroom-like shape from which long tentacles extend. They prefer modest lighting and strong flow in the aquarium and when provided favorable conditions can grow to enormous sizes. Toadstool Leather Corals are one of the few corals that host clownfish well as clownfish gravitate to them more than other types of coral and the coral itself is well adapted to handle the contact from the fish.
Lobophytum Leather Corals are commonly known in the reef aquarium hobby as a Devil's Hand Leather. As they grow, the coral grows thick lobes out of their crown giving them a very distinctive appearance. Their colors range from a yellowish tan to a lime green color. Like most leathers, Lobophytum will close once every couple weeks to a month and develop a film covering that eventually gets shed off. This is to help the coral combat algae that can sometimes grow on them. In summary, Lobophytum Leather Corals make a great addition to soft coral aquariums and are one of the most hardy corals available to the beginning reef hobbyist.
Gorgonians are divided amongst two Sub Orders, Scleraxonia, and Holaxonia. Like the soft corals, they have 8-fold symmetry but differ in that their structure is made up of a substance called gorgonin. 8-fold symmetry means the coral has eight tentacles or tentacles in multiples of eight.
Gorgonians are often associated with the vision of graceful sea fans on the floor of the Caribbean. While many are fan-like in appearance, Gorgonians are a highly diverse Order that range from encrusting species resembling xenia to rope-like species that grow in a single long strand. Care must be taken when shopping for Gorgonians because many of the spectacularly colored specimens are non-photosynthetic and require specialized husbandry.
Stony Corals of the Order Scleractinia are the architects of the reef structure. Scleratinia have 6-fold symmetry as well as a calcium-based skeleton. 6-fold symmetry means the coral has six tentacles or tentacles in multiples of six.
The reef aquarium hobby long ago divided stony corals into two categories, Large Polyp Stony (LPS) and Small Polyp Stony (SPS). This antiquated view still serves as a guideline for care where SPS need more attention to detail than their LPS counterparts. The rationale is the average LPS coral is more tolerant to poor water quality than SPS. Also, SPS tend to need very intense light and flow compared to LPS.
As with any rule, there are a multitude of exceptions. For example, there is a world of difference between an Acropora and a Seriatopora when it comes to coral husbandry despite both being SPS. We encourage hobbyists to research each of the SPS corals to determine their individual care requirements.
SPS Corals are the builders of calcium carbonate reef structures found in the wild. The skeleton of these corals is slowly secreted by the epidermis at the base of each coral polyp. The rate that this occurs depends on the species. Some varieties of SPS corals can grow very quickly while some other varieties take seemingly forever to show any growth. Stony Corals benefit from clean water and a consistent source of calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium.
Acropora are the crown jewel of the SPS world. No other Genus has the sheer number of species as Acropora and when reef aquarists talk about the requirements to keep an SPS system, they are talking specifically about the care requirements of Acropora. Having said that, Acropora are one of the most difficult corals to keep. They are highly sensitive to changes in water chemistry and require the most in terms of flow and light. Many experienced hobbyists have struggled keeping Acropora long term, but that is part of the attraction to this coral. Lastly, Acropora benefit greatly from a well established aquarium, preferably one that has been set up at least for 1 year.
Horn Corals of the Genus Hydnophora have a very powerful sting and we highly recommend giving it plenty of space. If a colony comes in contact with another SPS, it is very likely that the Hydnophora is going to win and kill off what it touches. Hydnophora have small mouths called hydnophores but has the ability to capture medium-sized food particles. This SPS feeds more aggressively than most and will happily consume small pieces of shrimp and other frozen foods.
Pavona or Cactus Corals are lumped in with SPS corals generally, but they tend to be far easier in the sense that they are far less sensitive to fluctuations in water quality and are less demanding. What I mean by that is water conditions that would cause more sensitive SPS such as Acropora or Montipora to discolor or even die back probably would not cause any noticeable change in a neighboring Pavona.
In terms of growth patterns, Pavona come in three main types. I've seen a flat encrusting growth, vertical plating growth, and a thick branching growth. They have a powerful sting and grow quickly. The orange variety of this coral is particularly attractive and grows in either encrusting or branching forms.
Pocillopora are a great beginner coral for those looking to try SPS for the first time. They are less sensitive than Acropora or Montipora yet retain that signature branching stony coral form. When stressed, their polyps have the ability to bail out of their skeletons and grow new colonies where they land.
Stylophora is a small polyp stony coral (SPS) that is commonly referred to as a Cat’s Paw. They are less commonly seen than most other SPS for sale however they make a great addition to any high light, high flow reef system. In many respects it resembles both Montipora and Pocillopora however upon close inspection the appearance of the polyps distinguishes Stylophora from its close cousins in the SPS world. Their polyps have almost an even distribution across the surface of the coral with more space between each polyp.
Cyphastrea are sometimes referred to as a Meteor Coral however most reef aquarists today simply refer to them by their scientific name. The most common color variant of Cyphastrea is a blue base with red polyps called a Meteor Shower Cyphastrea. It turns out though that there are many rare color variants of this beautiful coral that are every bit as spectacular. Cyphastrea are a very low light coral and do poorly when exposed to high light.
Bird’s Nest Corals are species of Seriatopora, a fast growing small polyp stony (SPS) coral known for bright colors and thin delicate branches that form a dense tangled cluster. They are different than most SPS in that they seem to prefer lower lighting environments and tend to bleach under lighting that is too intense. Tidal Gardens propagates these corals extensively at the greenhouse. The only issue we have with bird's nest coral is shipping them. They are VERY fragile and sometimes arrive broken. The coral itself is extremely hardy and will regrow, even from the broken pieces, however transport (even over short distances) always seems to take its toll on the colony's shape.
Jewel Corals of the genus Porites are some of the most colorful yet least popular small polyp stony corals (SPS). Porites are a Genus of small polyp stony corals that are somewhat uncommon to the reef aquarium hobby. Most of the time they grow finger-like structures from a massive encrusting base and come in a variety of colors. Porites are rarely known by their common name “jewel coral.” For some corals, their scientific name tends to stick.
Leptoseris are commonly known as a wrinkle coral but almost no one in the hobby refers to this coral by its common name. Leptoseris were made popular a few years ago when bright orange color morphs came onto the scene and blew everyone away with their intense fluorescence. They are one of the most dazzling corals under actinic lighting because in addition to their bright coloration, they almost take on a metallic appearance.
Leptoseris were once one of the most expensive corals in the hobby demanding upwards of $100 per inch. Now that they are more readily propagated, they are available for a more modest price showing again the wonders of aquaculture in the reef keeping hobby. Leptoseris is a fast growing coral and makes a great addition to a variety of tanks ranging from SPS dominated tanks to mixed reefs.
Psammocora are a relatively uncommon and under appreciated small polyp stony coral. From a distance they have almost a velvet appearance but up close one can see the individual polyps. Pasmmocora are fast growing and tolerant of a wide range of tank conditions.
Stony Corals of the Order Scleractinia are the architects of the reef structure. Scleratinia are characterized by having 6-fold symmetry as well as a calcium-based skeleton. 6-fold symmetry means the coral has six tentacles or tentacles in multiples of six.
The reef aquarium hobby long ago divided stony corals into two categories, Large Polyp Stony (LPS) and Small Polyp Stony (SPS). This view is somewhat antiquated, but still serves as a guideline for care where LPS require less light and less flow than their SPS counterparts. On the whole LPS are more tolerant to water quality than SPS, but MANY exceptions exist so by all means research prospective corals individually before purchasing any LPS or SPS corals.
Large Polyp Stony Corals are the builders of calcium carbonate reef structures found in the wild. The skeleton of these corals is slowly secreted by the epidermis at the base of each coral polyp. The rate that this occurs depends on the species. Some varieties of LPS such as Favites can grow very quickly while some massive LPS like Scolymia can take years to grow an inch. Large Polyp Stony Corals benefit from clean water and a consistent source of calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium.
Acanthastrea / Micromussa
Acanthastrea (or Acans for short) are a colorful and popular coral imported mainly from Australia and Indonesia. Relatively recently several members of this Genus were reclassified. Acanthastrea lordhowensis was moved over to into Micromussa and Acanthastrea bowerbanki was reclassified into Homophyllia. Still, the hobby regularly still refers to both of these corals as Acanthastrea.
Acanthastrea/Micromussa/Homophyllia are highly sought-after for their amazing color and exotic patterns. As a part of our aquaculture efforts, we propagate as many of these Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals as possible.
Like many LPS corals, Acans like to be fed and once trained extend their tentacles in search of food for much of the day. We also have found that Acanthastrea can change color dramatically. In our experience, Acans tend to develop the best colors under T5 lighting as compared to LED.
Caulastrea or candy cane corals are a great beginner coral. They tend to be some of the most hardy large polyp stony (LPS) corals and grow into large colonies relatively quickly. The size of the individual polyps remain consistent, but they divide and separate as the colonies grow. Candy cane corals have been offered for sale in the hobby seemingly for ages and while they are not rare by any means, there are new patterns that show up every now and again that renews interest in candy canes.
Euphyllia Frogspawns have been a fixture in reef aquariums seemingly since the hobby began. Frogspawn corals have long multi tipped tentacles resembling a mass of frog eggs. This large polyp stony coral (LPS) is one of the most popular stony corals in the hobby because if the way it sways in the current. It is very similar in growth and care requirements to it Euphyllia cousins, the Hammer coral and the Torch coral. Frogspawn corals like all Euphyllia are known to extend sweeper tentacles aggressively when situated too close to other corals. Typically Frogspawn are less aggressive than Hammers and Torches, however they can engage in this type of combat with other corals. This hostile reaction can damage or kill nearby corals, so it is important to be aware of placement at all times. Some aquarists observed clownfish host in large colonies of this LPS. This may be sub-optimal as the coral tends to shy away from constant contact from the fish.
Hammer corals are an iconic large polyp stony coral (LPS) that has been a staple in the hobby for generations. They are found all throughout the Pacific reefs and come in a variety of colors and growth forms. Hammer corals sometimes grow in a wall formation while other hammers grow in a branching formation. Either variety makes an excellent show piece coral for a reef aquarium however the branching varieties tend to grow more quickly. Some aquarists observed clownfish host in large colonies. This may be suboptimal as the coral tends to shy away from constant contact from the fish. Hammer corals like all Euphyllia are known to extend sweeper tentacles aggressively when situated too close to other corals. This hostile reaction can damage or kill nearby corals, so it is important to be aware of placement at all times.
Torch corals are slightly less common than their Euphyllia cousins the Frogspawn coral (Euphyllia divisa) and the Hammer coral (Euphyllia anchora). They have long tentacles that terminate in a single brightly colored tip giving them the appearance of a lighted torch as they sway with the currents. Torch corals can come in some incredible colors such as neon green, deep purple, and the highly desirable Golden Torch. Torch corals like all Euphyllia are known to extend sweeper tentacles aggressively when situated too close to other corals. This hostile reaction can damage or kill nearby corals, so it is important to be aware of placement at all times.
Alveopora, also known as the Flowerpot or Sunflower coral, is an amazing, if often overlooked, LPS coral that will bring plenty of motion, texture, and pastel color to a reef tank. Alveopora coral care is not nearly as painful as one might think when compared to their similar-looking cousins, goniopora. Alveopora is a fantastic alternative that brings some of the same shape and movement that people find so attractive.
Goniopora are possibly the most enigmatic of all Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals. On one hand, Goniopora are some of the most intensely colored corals on the reef. They are commonly referred to as flower pot corals for the appearance of their tentacles that resemble a flower bouquet. This aesthetic also makes them highly desirable.
On the other hand, reef aquarium hobbyists have struggled keeping these corals alive for years. Many species of Goniopora never seem to make the transition from the wild to our aquariums. Having said that, there is new found hope in that certain species fare much better in captivity as well as better husbandry techniques with feeding and supplementation. It has led to many successful colonies in home aquariums today.
Galaxea or galaxy corals are a large polyp stony coral (LPS) with a green body and tentacles with bright white tips. The density of these white tips gives the colony as a whole a starry, cosmic flavor and was thusly named a Galaxy Coral. Care must be given to the placement of Galaxea because it is legendary for its long aggressive sweeper tentacles.
Cynarina are sometimes referred to as a meat coral, button coral, cat's eye coral, or doughnut coral. More often than not, Cynarina are referred to by their scientific name. They are one of the most unique Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals because they have a translucent bubble-like body and come in a variety of amazing colors. Despite their rarity, this stony coral is not particularly difficult to care for and would make an excellent addition to any coral reef aquarium. Unfortunately, it is not possible to propagate Cynarina effectively
Plerogyra Bubble Corals get their name from their distinctive bubble tentacles that inflate with water. They have a slight translucent appearance and can grow to a very large size when provided optimal conditions. They are a fairly hardy large polyp stony coral and can be kept in mixed reefs as well as coral systems designed specially for LPS corals.
Bubble corals cannot be propagated easily in that cutting them is generally a bad idea with poor results. Having said that, they are one of the few LPS of this kind that recovers extremely well after a catastrophic die-off. Many times I see a dying Plerogyra almost completely vanish only to have little bits of flesh remain. Those remnants then quickly grow into small colonies and are very healthy. If you have a struggling bubble coral, it may be best to leave it alone and see if you have babies form later.
Platygyra are an uncommon Large Polyp Stony (LPS) coral that are commonly referred to as Brain Worm Corals. They tend to be more fragile than either Lobophyllia Brain Corals or Maze Brain Corals of the Genus Oulophyllia however have a special aesthetic quality that makes them very highly sought after. If your reef tank specializes in top-end LPS, a Platygyra may be a coral worth considering.
Open Brain Corals of the Genus Trachyphyllia are some of the most colorful brains available in the reef keeping hobby. In the past, these brain corals were classified in two Genera, Trachyphyllia and Wellsophyllia but were since combined into a single Genus. They are a hardy large polyp stony coral that prefer subdued lighting and moderate flow. They can be fed chunky bits of sea food and grow to impressive sizes once established.
Sun Corals are one of the more challenging large polyp stony corals (LPS) due in large part to the fact that they are non-photosynthetic in nature. Because they are non-photosynthetic, they are incapable of deriving any nutrition from photosynthesis and require constant feeding for survival. Unlike filter feeding non-photosynthetic corals, Tubastrea and Dendrophyllia sun corals can eat larger pieces of meaty foods which make them substantially easier to feed. Still, they require food frequently (ideally several times per day) which make them a challenge to keep long-term in the home aquarium. We recommend them only to aquarists familiar with the challenges of non-photosynthetic corals and have aquariums specifically designed for their care.
Blastomussa (Blastos for short) are a great addition for coral reef enthusiasts looking to add a low light large polyp stony coral (LPS) to their reef tank. The first time I saw them, I thought they looked like a corallimorph mushroom but they had a skeleton. Blastos are an uncommon coral in the reef aquarium hobby, but are found for sale more often now as a result of propagation. Blastomussa corals come in a variety of colors and sometimes dazzling patterns. The two main species of Blastomussa are the smaller structured merletti and the larger polyp wellsi. So long as they are provided modest lighting, low flow, and regular feeding, this LPS coral should thrive in your
Chalice corals represent a large group of wildly disparate corals that share little in common past their flat, plate-forming appearance. There are over ten Genera of corals that are all described as Chalices. Because of this, care requirements for chalice corals are all over the place. Having said that, Chalice corals are possibly THE most popular "rare" coral amongst coral collectors in the reef aquarium hobby today.
Several years ago, you couldn't give them away but now, Chalices frequently fetch high dollars. This may in part be a result of the improved quality of Chalice specimens being exported from places like Indonesia and other island nations in the South Pacific. High-end Chalices can display a wild variety of colors and patterns resembling melted crayons.
When it comes to diversity, it is hard to think of a more visually diverse group of corals than Favia and Favites. These brain corals develop multiple growth forms and come in just about every color and pattern imaginable. Some Favia are slow growing while others double in size quickly. Regardless of what type of Favia you encounter, be sure to keep a watchful eye out for sweeper tentacles that can reach out and sting nearby corals.
Lobophyllia Brain Corals in the wild form massive dome structures. Along with Maze Brain Corals, Lobophyllia are what most lay persons think of when Brain Corals are mentioned. They are one of the easier stony corals to keep in that they do not have strict lighting or flow requirements, are easy to feed, and are relatively tolerant of a variety of tank conditions. Lobophyllia specimens from Australia come in a dazzling array of colors and patterns.
Scolymia (also known as Doughnut Corals, Disk Corals, or Button Corals) are a hot item in the reef aquarium hobby ever since specimens of this Genus started being imported from Australia. In the past few years, many corals have been reclassified, so what many people call Scolymia such as the ubiquitous Scolymia australis is now Homophyllia australis. Most people in the reef aquarium industry still refer to this coral as a Scolymia so as to not confuse people, we will continue to call them Scolymia.
The Aussie Scolymia are intensely colored corals that make for a hardy addition to just about any coral reef aquarium. Some of the most intricately patterned specimens are dubbed "Master Scolys" and make for dazzling show pieces. It is unfortunate that these beautiful corals cannot be propagated. They may survive cutting, but do not regain their signature circular appearance.
Turbinaria Scroll Corals form large swirling plates from which beautiful polyps grow. They are relatively slow growing and can be a bit more sensitive than the average large polyp stony coral. They come in a variety of colors the most common being a bright yellow from Indonesia. The specimens originating in Australia sometimes come in a neon green color or cobalt blue color.
Elegance Corals of the Genus Catalaphyllia are an LPS or large polyp stony coral with a mixed track record in the reef aquarium hobby. Reefkeepers may have wildly different experiences with this coral depending on where their specimen was collected. Indonesian Elegances used to be stout aquarium inhabitants, but lately, Catalaphyllia collected from that geography succumb to a mysterious disease. Many of the issues with Indonesian Elegance corals can be avoided by purchasing Australian Elegance corals. The Aussie Elegances have shown themselves to be very robust and easy to care for. They are practically bullet proof.
Fungia Plate corals are one of the few types of large polyp stony corals capable of moving themselves and relocating. There is a reason they are kept on the sand bed exclusively. If plate corals are placed on the aquascape, they will jump off of your rock work!
Maze Brain Coral
Maze Brain Corals as one might imagine get their name from their appearance. They form a dome of maze-like ridges that resemble a human brain when they get larger. They are a hardy large polyp stony coral however it is important to pay attention to placement of maze brains because they are aggressive with their sweeper tentacles. Some species of these brains can extend their sweeper tentacles 12 inches to harass neighboring corals.
Acanthophyllia are a Large Polyp Stony (LPS) coral that is growing in popularity as dazzling specimens from Indonesia make their way into the market. Originally, these corals were grouped together with Cynarina and Scolymia but recently were granted their own Genus of Acanthophyllia. They grow in a similar fashion to Cynarina and Scolymia but have a rough textured skin. Acanthophyllia corals are some of the most vibrant LPS, especially the rare color morphs that have traces of yellow, pink, red, and blue. Despite their rare coral status among coral collectors, Acanthophyllia are some of easiest corals to keep in the reefkeeping hobby. They are hardy and can be fed easily. The only downside is they cannot be propagated at this time.
Leptastrea are a relatively new species to the hobby and have never been a popular coral to the mainstream reef aquarist. They are a subtle short tentacled encrusting coral that appeal to veteran hobbyists that are looking for something different in their tanks. Novelty is a big thing when you have been in this hobby a long time and tanks start to suffer from sameness-syndrome. Sometimes a change of pace is necessary and uncommon corals like Leptastrea are just what the doctor ordered.
Duncan coral (Duncanopsammia axifuga), also known as branched disc coral, whisker coral or duncanops coral, can be an appealing addition to many reef saltwater systems. Originating from Australia, Duncan coral is a community player and a vibrant green and purple addition to any saltwater tank. This species has done well in aquaculture conditions and readily propagated.
Due to their delicate nature, Duncan corals prefer areas of low to moderate water movement. This may be an area in the middle to lower part of your tank, away from outcroppings and peaks with higher water flow, better suited to sturdier corals. With proper care, Duncan corals can easily spread throughout your tank, therefore are not well suited to nano tanks, but most larger tanks can accommodate their spread.