Corals thrive primarily in oceans where the environment is different than in a reef tank, so choosing the appropriate coral for your aquarium is an important choice. The light, UV exposure, temperatures and other conditions are quite different in an aquarium than they would be in the open ocean. These variations make certain species of corals more suitable for aquarium life. As corals are very fragile and easily affected by their environment, raising them in an aquarium is a delicate process. In the past, many experienced reef owners recommended starting with large polyp stony corals or LPS corals. LPS has larger polyp size than SPS or small poly stony corals. This makes these corals easier to feed and therefore, maintain the zoothanthellae, which reside within the coral. LPS require less light, breed easily and require less temperature regulation, chemical adjustments and water changes than SPS do (Hanson). However, a large range of coral species can be very easy to maintain in an aquarium setting. Below is a guide to help new reef aquarists determine what the best species of coral would be to start off their tank!
Turbinaria peltata: Stony Coral
This species is a small polyp stony (SPS) coral. Turbinaria peltata can range from brown to green in color and grows in a cup-like shape. Although LPS is thought to be a better choice, the cup shaped polyps make this coral just as easy to maintain as an LPS coral. It is nicknamed the pagoda cup coral because the shape of the polyps resembles that of the pagoda flowers found in Asia (Hanson). Typically dwelling at the bottom of the aquarium, turbinaria peltata thrives in moderate light intensity and current flow. This type of coral is ideal for aquariums because it is not aggressive or invasive against other coral types that may reside in the tank (“Best Beginner”). Common names for this type of corals include Pagoda Coral and Pagoda Cup Coral.
Sarcophyton: Leather Coral
Leather corals are typically brown, tan, cream or green in color. Their stalks are smooth and without polyps. However, their ends flare out in a broad mushroom shape where the polyps are located (“Best Beginner”). Sarcophyton can grow up to two feet across and make a great centerpiece for aquariums. Leather corals can survive under a range of light intensities but most thrive at the bottom of the tank under normal to low lighting (James). They also do well with a low current. Sacrophyton is easily bred through the process of asexual regeneration. Simply snip off a corner of the coral and a new colony will grow from that liberated piece (James). Common names for this type of corals include Toadstool Coral, Mushroom Leather Coral, Leather Coral, and Trough Coral (“Best Beginner”).
Zoanthus: Zoanthids or button polyps
This type of coral is brightly colored with smaller polyps or buttons. Zoanthus mostly appears in a disk shape with many bright colors and patterns including stripes and polka dots. They have a dividing sphincter muscle around their oral opening which diverts debris away from their coenenchyme, a common tissue found in corals that help link polyps (“Best Beginner”). These corals are relatively easy to maintain and thrive in high intensity light and moderate currents. Zoanthus propagate on their own starting from the base colony (James). Common names for this type of corals include Zoas, Button Polyps, Stick Polyps, Sea Mats, and Colonial Anemones (“Best Beginner”).
Xenia: Xenia or Pulse Coral
Xenia corals are known for being tricky to maintain in an aquarium setting, but with a little extra care can be a great addition to new tanks. They are called pulse corals because the heads of the polyps open and close, giving the appearance of a pulsating movement. Xenia prefer bright light and a moderate current of clean water (James). These corals range from white to green and have short, thick, un-branched stalks (“Best Beginner”). Additions of iodine are vital to the heath of this species in an aquarium. Xenia grow and spread very quickly and it is recommended to start the colony on a rock so that the growing polyps can be scraped off and removed from the tank, preventing the coral from encroaching upon other species in the tank (James). The most common name for this type of coral is pulse coral.
Discosoma: Mushroom Coral or Soft Coral
Mushroom corals are a favorite among starter corals. Dwelling at the bottom of your tank, they have a short stem with a broad smooth cap having the appearance of a mushroom, giving it its name (“Best Beginner”). Growing to roughly two inches in diameter, discosoma develop in a wide range of colors and patterns including stripes and spots (James). They thrive in low light intensity and low to moderate current. Discosoma are not extremely sensitive and can survive in nutrient rich waters (James). Common names for this type of corals include Bullseye Mushroom, Flower Coral, Mushroom, Mushroom Anemones, and Disc Anemones (“Best Beginner”).
“Best Beginner Corals.” Successful Reef Keeping. Dynamic News, n.d.
Hanson, Dennis. “10 Easy LPS Corals for Reef Tank Beginners.” Home Aquaria. N.p., 27 Feb. 2015.
James, Owen. “Eight Great Soft Corals for New Reefkeepers.” Aqua Daily. N.p., n.d.