Soft Corals 101 (With Pictures!)

water_baby83

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Jan 30, 2006
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For all who are interested in adding soft corals to your already established saltwater tank, please take a moment to learn the basics of these animals, and discover which species would be best suited for your tank and budget. I do not intend to cover every aspect of every class within this Phylum as that would be exhaustive and take days, but rather a general "101" overview of the Phylum, covering the main basics, and detailing specific animals suitable for the home aquarium. If you are in need of further information, I urge you to ask those questions within this thread, or further research the topic on your own. Thank you.
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Soft corals, are classified by their internal soft skeletons. These corals are generally the hardier of the bunch, and the graduating step of the aquarist from FOWLR tanks, towards actual reef tanks. These corals are generally less expensive than hard and polyped corals, and have the reputation of adapting well to various conditions.


Beyond the above considerations is one that should be important to every conscientious aquarist; the removal of soft corals from the worlds reefs is less destructive to the environment than chipping away, otherwise removing calcareous corals. Their recruitment (growth and replacement) rates are far greater, they're not principal prey species, and little used as habitat by other reef creatures.


Soft corals are located in the Phylum Cnidaria, which includes other stinging corals such as Jellyfish, Sea-Pens, and Anemones. Cnidarians get their name from Cnidocytes , which are specialized cells that carry organelles called Nematocysts. The basic body shape of a cnidarian consists of a sac containing a gastrovascular cavity with a single opening that functions as both a mouth and an anus. Most are radially symmetrical, meaning that no matter how it is sliced along the central axis, the pieces would always be mirror images of one another. Movement is coordinated by a decentralized nerve web and simple receptors.
Reproduction is accomplished in Cnidarians by both sexual and asexual means. Sexual reproduction with these animals is accomplished by the simultaneous release of both eggs and sperm into a water column by cnidarians. If the eggs become fertilized by the sperm, they will develop to a larval stage, in which they are known as planulas. Planula will then develop into a polyp. With asexual reproduction Cnidarians carry out the process of "Budding" (Fission), which is where a tiny clone of the parent coral is created on the parent coral's flesh. This clone develops and eventually releases from the parent body to settle elsewhere and become a new, separate polyp. Another form of asexual reproduction is known as fission, where the parent coral will slowly start to pull its self apart either in half longitudinally, resulting with two identical halves, or contract its tissues, "choking off" off the capitulum. The capitulum then flows in the current to attach elsewhere and develops a new base, whereas the remaining base of the parent coral may either develop a new capitulum, or die off, depending on living conditions. This is referred to as Transverse fission.
When it comes to eating, Cnidarians display two main forms.
They may use their Nematocysts to trap prey items. Each contains a coiled, tubular thread, which may bear barbs and which is often poisoned. A nematocyst discharges when a prey species or predator comes into contact with it, driving its threads with barb and poison into the flesh of the victim by means of a rapid increase in hydrostatic pressure. Hundreds or thousands of nematocysts may line the tentacles or surface of the cnidarian. They are capable even of penetrating human skin, sometimes producing a painful wound or in extreme cases, death. On the other hand, many cnidarians depend on zooxanthellae, symbiotic dinoflagellates within the tissues, to survive. These single-celled protists carry out photosynthesis within the animal's tissues, and pass on the carbon compounds they fix to their hosts; corals, therefore, are photosynthetic animals in a sense.
Some cnidarians are nearly completely dependent on zooxanthellae; others trap prey but augment their diet with zooxanthellae. While not all corals are dependent on symbionts — some live at great depths where there is never light — colonial, reef-forming corals found in the higher trophic zones depend on them; thus, actual reefs can only exist in shallow water.

To properly care for soft corals, one must understand the individual needs of these animals, and note that while even though the ones available to the hobbyist are ones found in shallow waters (as not only retrieving, but also replicating the environments of deep water Cnidarians is extremely difficult if not impossible for the vast majority), they will not always require the same amount of lighting. Some flourish on overhangs, in the shadows, where others require a high spectrum of light. Below you will find a list of some common soft corals available to the hobbyist. For me to list every species, and detail individual specifics for each would be exhaustive, so I have chosen to list the most popular, along with their very basic requirements in the home aquarium....
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Suitable Corals:



* STAR POLYPS
Family: Clavulariidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: White, Brown, Green
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: Medium to High
Care Level: Easy
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within their bodies provide the majority of their nutritional requirements through photosynthesis. They also benefit from weekly feedings of micro-plankton or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* YELLOW TREE CORAL
Family: Nephtheidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Brown, Tan, Gray
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Moderate
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body provide some of the nutritional needs via the light driven process of photosynthesis. It will also require feedings of food such as micro-plankton, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates. These should be regularly blown across the polyps.


* ACALYCIGORGIA SEA FAN
Family: Acanthogorgiidae
Range: Indonesia
Color Form: Bright Blue, Orange, Red
Ideal Supplements: Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace Elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78°F; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Strong
Light: Low
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: Middle to Top
Care Level: Moderate
Because it is not photsynthetic, its survival is dependent on regular and frequent feedings of micro-plankton, live, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* COLT CORAL
Family: Alcyoniidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Brown, Tan
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Aggressive
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Easy
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body provides the majority of its nutritional needs from the light driven process of photosynthesis. It will also benefit from additional food such as micro-plankton, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* SEA PLUME GORGONIAN
Family: Plexauridae
Range: Atlantic, Caribbean
Color Form: Purple, Gray, Brown, Yellow
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Calcium, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Moderate
Although the Rough Sea Plume relies on photosynthesis, the diet should also include foods such as micro-plankton, live, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates, in order to survive in the reef aquarium.


* KENYA TREE CORAL
Family: Nephtheidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Cream, Gray, Brown, Green
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Easy
The Kenya Tree Coral relies less on the symbiotic algae within it, and depends more on obtaining outside food. Microplankton, marine snow, and dissolved materials should make up the bulk of its diet.


* MUSHROOM/LEATHER CORAL
Family: Alcyoniidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Brown, Cream, Tan, Green, Yellow and various Reds
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Easy
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body provides the majority of its nutritional needs from the light driven process of photosynthesis. It will also benefit from additional food such as micro-plankton, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* DEVIL'S HAND CORAL
Family: Alcyoniidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Brown, Tan, Gray, Green, Pink, Yellow
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Easy
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body provides the majority of its nutritional needs from the light driven process of photosynthesis. It will also benefit from additional food such as micro-plankton, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* PIPE ORGAN CORAL
Family: Tubiporidae
Range: South Pacific, Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Gray, Green, Maroon, Red, White
Ideal Supplements: Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: High
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: Low to Medium
Care Level: Moderate
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body provides the majority of its nutritional requirements through photosynthesis. It should also be fed additional food such as micro-plankton or brine shrimp at least twice per week.


* RED TREE GORGONIAN
Family: Anthothelidae
Range: Atlantic, Caribbean
Color Form: Orange, Red
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Calcium, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Strong
Light: Low
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: Low
Care Level: Difficult
Since it is not photsynthetic, its survival is dependent on regular and frequent feedings of micro-plankton, live, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* STRAWBERRY/PINK CAULIFLOWER CORAL
Family: Nephtheidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Orange, Red, Violet
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium
Light: Low
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: All
Care Level: Difficult
It does not contain symbiotic algae it can rely on for food. Therefore, its diet must include live, baby brine shrimp, micro-plankton, and other small foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates, in order to survive in the reef aquarium.


* WAVING HAND/GLOVE CORAL
Family: Xeniidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Blue, Brown, Tan, White, Grey
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: Bottom
Care Level: Difficult
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within their bodies provide the majority of their nutritional requirements through photosynthesis. Additional weekly feedings of micro-plankton or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates are also needed.


* FLEXIBLE/FINGER LEATHER CORAL
Family: Alcyoniidae
Range: South Pacific
Color Form: Iridescent Yellow or Gold
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Experts only
It obtains the majority of its nutrition from symbiotic algae zooxanthellae, but will benefit from additional food such as micro-plankton, baby brine shrimp, or foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates.


* CARNATION/TREE CORAL
Family: Nephtheidae
Range: South Pacific
Color Form: Orange, Purple, Red
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium to Strong
Light: Low
Dominance: Peaceful
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Experts only
It does not contain the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae. Therefore, its diet should include live, baby brine shrimp, micro-plankton, and other small foods designed for filter feeding invertebrates, in order to survive in the reef aquarium. These foods must be available almost constantly. Only expert aquarists should attempt to keep this coral.


RELATED CORALS


* GIANT CUP MUSHROOM CORAL
Family: Discosomatidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Tan, Brown, Green
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: With caution
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Low to Medium
Light: Medium
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: Medium
Care Level: Easy
If kept in a reef aquarium, it should be fed large meals of Artemia and other plankton-like foods. It also receives some of its nutritional requirements from the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body.


* RICORDEA/RICORDIA MUSHROOM CORAL
Family: Ricordeidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Purple, Pink, Brown, Tan, Green
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Low
Light: Medium to High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: Medium
Care Level: Moderate
The symbiotic algae zooxanthellae hosted within its body provide the majority of its nutritional requirements through photosynthesis. It also eats plankton and smaller invertebrates such as crustaceans.


* ACTINODISCUS MUSHROOM CORALS (Mushroom/Disc Anemones)
Family: Actinodiscidae/Discosomatidae
Range: Indo-Pacific, South Pacific
Color Form: Brown, Tan, Green, Red, Blue
Ideal Supplements: Calcium, Iodine, Strontium, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Low to Medium
Light: Medium
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: All levels
Care Level: Easy
An Actinodiscus Mushrooom Coral receives some of its nutritional requirements through the photosynthesis of the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae which it hosts. It also feeds on other nutrients and particulate matter and benefits from additional food in the form of micro-plankton or brine shrimp fed to each polyp of the colony.


* ELEGANT MOON/BUTTON POLYPS
Family: Zoanthidae
Range: South Pacific
Color Form: Brown
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Strong
Light: High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: Medium
Care Level: Easy
They contain the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae from which they receive some of their nutritional requirements. They also benefit from weekly feedings of micro-plankton or brine shrimp given to each individual of the colony.


* ZOANTHUS BUTTON POLYPS (Large Variety)
Family: Zoanthidae
Range: Indo-Pacific
Color Form: Orange, Yellow, Pink, Lavender, Tan, White and Green
Ideal Supplements: Iodine, Trace elements
Reef Compatible: Yes
Tank Conditions: 72-78ºF; sg 1.023-1.025; pH 8.1-8.4
Water Flow: Medium
Light: High
Dominance: Semi-aggressive
Placement: Medium to High
Care Level: Easy
They contain the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae which provide some of their nutritional requirements through photosynthesis. Each individual polyp of the colony must also be given additional feedings of micro-plankton or baby brine shrimp.

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There are several more available, and as you can see, some require the same level of care, and others can vary quite drastically, so choosing corals for your home aquarium is a bit like putting together a puzzle, knowing not only where the pieces are going to go, if they are compatible, but also if they will all thrive under the conditions you can currently provide. I suggest that once you have an idea of some of the corals you would like to own, that you plan ahead, do some research and figure out the layout of your tank(s) before purchasing any of these animals.








Information pulled From: Myself, PetEducation/Dr. Foster & Smith, N. Geo, wikipedia, ucmp and jstor.
 

Ry4n

Feeder Fish
MFK Member
Mar 29, 2010
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Very helpful, i just started a 29g reef tank a little more than a month ago ill be referring back to this for sure
 
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