Corals that are commonly kept in home aquariums can be broken down into 4 main categories- Soft corals, Anemones, LPS, and SPS. Each of these types requires different care and can be broken down further into several main genuses. Some things to take into consideration when selecting corals include sensitivity, color, defensive mechanisms, light and flow requirements, mobility, size, and type which can vary greatly among species.Many species of coral contain special photosynthetic algae called zooxanthallae that help to provide them with a food source, but knowing the correct foods to supplement with is also important. Some species like the SPS (Small Polyp Stony) corals are more sensitive to water chemistry and are physically more delicate than the LPS (Large Polyp Stony) corals which are more forgiving and fleshier. Other species like Anemones can be kind and generous as they “host” Clownfish, but they can also be incredibly aggressive and move easily around a tank causing trouble. Corals are such a diverse group of animals that we are learning more about every day and hobbyists are eager to participate as they get to enjoy beautiful relaxing aquascapes in their homes.
LPS stands for Large Polyp Stony coral. These types of corals are characterized by their larger fleshy polyps that rest above stony bases. LPS coral contain a symbiotic photosynthetic algae called zooxanthalle that allow them to provide nutrients for themselves, but their diets can be supplemented with food and many hobbyists enjoy watching them eat. They are easy to feed as they typically exhibit rapid feeding responses and can be target fed. In addition to being easier to feed, their care requirements aren’t as intensive and they are more forgiving, making them a good choice for beginners. Common types of LPS coral include Micromussa lords (formerly classified as Acans), Trumpet corals, Euphyllia corals which include (Torch corals, Hammer corals, and Frogspawn), Bowerbanki, Bubble coral, Scolymia, Donut Corals, Goniopora, Alveopora, Galaxea, Brain coral, Blastos, Plate corals, and many more. As with most species of coral it is important to dip them before adding them to a reef tank. Additionally the corals should be handled with care and slowly drip acclimated to the tanks water parameters before being directly placed in the tank itself.
SPS corals are colorful, but also delicate and are typically recommended for more advanced hobbyists though there are a few species that are more forgiving than others. Unlike the fleshy structures seen in LPS corals, SPS species tend to have a more skeletal appearance. Typically they consist of encrusting, branching, and plating species and are very sensitive to water parameters. Many types of SPS corals prefer moderate to high lighting, so having a good light is key to their success. Tanks containing SPS often have dosing elements associated with them to help make sure levels like calcium, magnesium, and alkalinity don’t fluctuate too much. This group of coral contains zooxanthallae, a photosynthetic algae which provide them with nutrients, but their diets can be supplemented with a variety of foods. Acropora (Acro’s) are one of the more popular SPS corals, but others like Hydnophora, Pavona, Montipora (Monti’s), Pocillopora, Stylophora, Cyphastrea, Psammocora Leptoseris, Seriatopora, and Porites that tend to be popular and commonly sought after genuses.
Zoanthids (Zoanthus sp.) also known as Zoas are a type of soft coral that are very popular in reef tanks for beginners and advanced hobbyists alike. Slightly smaller than palys, Zoanthid polyp heads are typically ½ inch in diameter. They are loved for their bright colors and patterns and are native to the Pacific Ocean. Zoas like to be in moderate to high flow areas and will tolerate a variety of lighting. As a group of coral they are fairly hardy though some species will grow faster than others. This is a type of blanket coral, that once it settles in will grow and spread out over rocks, and glass with many polyps growing from the original. They can be fed with any coral foods on the market, phytoplankton, and zooplankton in addition to the nutrients they receive from their symbiotic zooxanthallae. Make sure to use precautions when dipping and acclimating them as they contain palytoxin that has been known to be dangerous to humans and animals.
Euphyllia is a genus of hard stony corals that are native to the Indo-Pacific region of the world and are classified as Large Polyp Stony or LPS corals. There are a number of species, most of which are primarily seen in marine aquariums- Hammer Corals, Torches, Frogspawn, Grape, and Bubble. Many of these species are available as wild or aquacultured. These types of coral prefer meaty food such as shrimp or other chopped up predator blend foods as well as phytoplankton and brine shrimp. While they can add movement to a reef tank and are popular because of their look and bright colors, they are considered more of an advanced coral as they are sensitive to water parameters. These corals have sweeper tentacles which will come out at night, so make sure the tank has enough space so they can be placed away from other corals. If they are unhappy they can pull their flesh a majority of the way into their stony base, which is something that is seen after dipping the coral and adding it to the tank. Make sure to cautiously drip acclimate, placing the line away from the coral itself. The acclimation process will allow the coral to slowly become accustomed to their new environment.
Considered a soft coral, “mushrooms” are a type of coral that can attract both beginning and experienced reefers. Some mushrooms are hardy and can take over a tank, while others are considered designer and are very slow growing. There are three groups of mushrooms commonly available on the market- Ricordea, Discosoma, and Rhodactis. The care needed to keep them alive is limited and they tend to thrive in all types of tanks. Mushrooms can be found all around the world, from Florida to the Indo-Pacific, but due to their prolific nature and the ease to which they can be propagated, they are a commonly aquacultured species, especially among hobbyists. They will thrive in a variety of light and flow conditions and are very forgiving. They contain symbiotic algae called zooxanthallae that provide them with a food source, but they can also be fed with a variety of foods from pellets to meaty foods and even powdered coral food. Prior to adding them to a tank, make sure to dip them so there are no unwanted pests being introduced to the tank. After they are dipped, drip acclimate them to allow them to get used to the aquarium’s water parameters. As they do produce mucus, mushrooms should be handled with care, making sure not to touch eyes, mouth, or any other sensitive body parts as they can cause allergic reactions, in both humans and household pets.
Anemones or “nems” as they are sometimes called, are a popular addition to many reef tanks due to several reasons. With their long tentacles and wide mantles they can add an element of flow to a seemingly still looking tank. Another reason they are loved is due to their ability to “host” certain species of Clownfish. Their colors are another selling factor, as they come in bright greens, purples, and reds, to name a few. The Anemones that are most often available are Bubble Tips, Rock Flowers, and Carpets. It should be noted that all these types of Anemones can and will move around once placed in a tank so take the necessary precautions to keep intakes and overflows protected. All of the species mentioned above have stinging tentacles, so use caution when handling them and in placing them near other tank inhabitants. Anemones have good appetites and do well when they are provided with meaty foods several times a week. As with any species, before they are added to a tank, they should be acclimated slowly, giving them a chance to adjust to their new tanks water chemistry.