Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Soft Coral for Beginners

These soft corals are hardier, require less light and won't suffer as much as their more finicky cousins, the hard, stony corals. Instead of producing a calcium carbonate skeleton, like their stony cousins, they have tiny skeletal elements, or sclerites. These guys still need light to thrive but less. Like all coral, they form a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthella for most of their energy requirements but these coral will also eat brine shrimp and other free floating food that happens their way. (I've witnessed my zooanthids closing up to catch mysis after a feeding; not only my fish are eating!) Coral still needs great water quality, good lighting (day and blue T5s, for instance), and higher calcium and alkalinity levels than you would normally need for a fish-only system. But these requirements are very easy to meet, and the advantages of having gorgeous coral in your tank far outweighs the small increase in caring for them. Also, keep in mind, each coral prefers a certain type of water flow (strong, mild, or low). Water movement is important.

Mushroom Coral:
Aka Corallimorphs, mushroom anemones
Aptly named for their mushroom-like appearance, these guys come in a variety of colors and are among the hardiest of the soft corals. Unlike most other corals, they actually prefer lower levels of light and low current. Put these guys towards the bottom of the tank. I just moved my purple mushroom ("Sloth") from a high current to a low-flow area, and he instantly perked up.

Purple mushroom (2 on bottom sides of rock)
(aka "Sloth")
Note the Zoanthid Coral on the top (Protopalythoa sp.) or "Pippi Longstalkings"

Blue-striped mushrooms (The Peppermint Patties!)

Green-striped mushroom (Actinodiscus) or "Disc Anemones"
I've also seen "Bluestriped Mushrooms".
So pretty we call her "Vegas"!

Aka Zoanthidea, Sea Mats, Colonial Anemones, Button Polyps
Another great beginner soft coral for the aquariums, these guys also come in a variety of shapes and colors and are very hardy. They prefer strong water movement and lots of light. They have small, disc shaped polyps that resemble clusters of flowers. Actually, they are called hexacorals by biologists since their tentacles come in pairs of 6 (so do mushrooms). They also grow rapidly (I can personally attest to this! Both Pippi and Lilly have sprouted babies since we acquired them only 1 month ago). These guys are closely related to Cnidaria (anemones). They come in lots of brilliant colors (reds, greens, blues, etc.) and are constantly moving, making them fascinating to watch.

We named this pretty Zoanthid "Lily". Don't forget to take a look at "Pippi" (above in mushroom section). Zoanthids can come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors!

Xenia Coral:
Aka Xenia elongata, Pulsating Xenia
One of the "pulse corals", this hardy soft coral is known to grow like a weed. Shaped like tiny, daisy-like flowers, I thought the name "Xenia" was very appropriate. It reminded me of Zinnias I used to plant in the garden. Watching the polyps sway in the water is mesmerizing (pulsing). This coral is sustained 100% by photosynthesis and is rumored to do better in slightly "dirty" water with more nitrate and phosphate (one that is less heavily skimmed--no chance in my tank, unfortunately). Like other true soft corals, xenia has eight polyps (octocoral). Occasionally, xenia will "crash" and die out, causing a release of a huge amount of toxins into the water as the coral decays. Xenia likes high water flow and intense light.

Xenia reminds me of a flower so I named her "Flower". Obvious, I know.

Toadstool Coral:
Aka Sarcophyton trocheliophorum, Toadstool Leather Coral, Leather Coral, Trough Coral
This gal was so unusual and pretty, I was stoked to learn she would do well in our tank. The tightly clustered polyps are bright green atop a pink base. The polyps sway in the water, giving it the appearance of a small anemone. He likes low water flow and lots of light. In addition to photosynthesis, the toadstool coral benefits from supplemental feeding of some occasional brine shrimp and phytoplankton. These guys can grow quite big. I can't wait!

I named her "Tuffet" like "Miss Muffet sat on a"... you get the idea.
Aka Euphyllia divisia, Wall, Octopus, Grape Coral
Technically, Frogspawn is an LPS (large polyp stony) coral, not a soft coral. This guy requires a bit more attention than the others but I just loved him. The tentacles area a pale, fluorescent green and are constantly swaying in the water. Also, clownfish sometimes adopt Frogspawn in lieu of their host anemone. I'm keeping my fingers crossed! They prefer moderate to low water movement and strong light. Frogspawn thrives on a combination of meaty foods, like mysis and brine shrimp, as well as photosynthesis. This guy is semi-aggressive (he stings competing coral) and can encroach on other corals if not watched; he needs plenty of room.

--on the left (One-Eyed Willy, a zoanthid is on the lower right), I named him Kermit! Scooter is checking him out on the rock to the right.

There are many other corals we are interested in (Leather Coral, Gorgonian, etc.) but this is a good start!


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Greg and Rachel! I just got my first reef tank a month ago and am fast becoming an addict. (It's a 24g 2 yr. established nano cube) And there is so much to learn! I have most of the corals you havelisted here and I appreciate the light/water flow info as well as the pics. Very nice.
    Would love to see a pic of your tank, and also info on more corals when you have time! Thanks, Jana (Pasadena)