When you picture the Great Barrier Reef along the coast of Australia or the Rainbow Reef outside Fiji, what do you see? You probably imagine a great expanse of live rock and corals in every color of the rainbow, not to mention myriad species of colorful fish. If you admire the natural beauty of such ecosystems, you may be interested in cultivating your own miniature reef at home. To do so, however, you need to be intentional about how you set up your tank and you need to do your research before choosing your tank inhabitants to make sure everyone gets along. Keep reading to learn more about the most colorful corals you should consider adding to your tank.
What are the Different Types of Corals?
There are more than 2,500 different species of coral in the world and they are broken up into two main categories – hard corals and soft corals. Hard corals can be further separated into two different sub-groups, zooxanthellate corals and azooxanthellate corals. The former include shallow-water corals that play a major role in reef-building – these are also corals that depend on zooxanthellae algae as their main source of nutrition. The latter type, azooxanthellate corals, are commonly found in deep water, non-reef environments and in other isolated or colonial forms. These corals filter plankton out of the seawater that passes around them for their main source of nutrition. Below you will find a list of some of the various types of hard corals:
- Pillar Coral – This type of coral grows upward from the sea floor without any secondary branching. Pillar corals can grow up to 8 feet tall, growing on both flat and sloping sea floors.
- Staghorn Coral – This is a branching type of coral that forms cylindrical branches that range from a few inches to over 6 ½ feet in length. These are one of the fastest growing corals and they are generally found in Caribbean waters.
- Table Coral – These corals belong to the same branching type of coral as staghorn corals but they grow in large, flat plates. Table corals are usually dull green or brown in color and many reef fish take shelter under their plates.
- Brain Coral – This type of coral is so named because it has a spherical shape with a grooved surface. These corals can live for 900 years or more and colonies can grow up to 6 feet high.
Hard corals are usually what composes the majority of coral reefs. Soft corals are much less rigid than hard corals, so they exhibit some degree of movement as their parts sway with the flow of the ocean around them. These corals are partially comprised of rigid calcium carbonate but it is blended with protein which gives them a softer appearance. Soft corals are usually rooted to a hard surface but they exhibit free movement because they have no exoskeleton. Here is a list of some types of soft coral:
Sea Fans – Also known as gorgonian corals, sea fans grow with individual tiny polyps forming colonies that are usually erect, branched, and flattened which gives them a fan-like appearance. Colonies are usually only a few inches thick but they can be several feet high and across.
Carnation Coral – These corals can be found growing in caves and beneath under-hangs, exhibiting a wide range of colors. Carnation corals are typically found in the Indo-Pacific region and they tend to be difficult to keep in the home aquarium due to their sensitivity.
Tree Coral – This type of coral grows in soft, flowery bouquet-like growths in many different colors. Tree coral grows by attaching the main trunk to a hard surface with smaller growths branching off from the main trunk.
Bubble Coral – This type of coral resembles grapes when the bubbles are fully inflated and they can be found throughout the Red Sea and Pacific Ocean. Bubble coral inflates during daylight hours then deflates at night, sending out finger-tentacles to find food.
Top 5 Colorful Coral Options for Your Tank
Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of corals, you may be wondering which ones are the best to keep in your reef tank at home. When considering corals for your own reef tank you have to think practically, to some degree. Low-light corals and filter-feeding corals are generally the easiest to keep, though all corals will be sensitive to changes in water parameters. If you are an experienced reef hobbyist, you may simply be looking for the most unique and beautiful species of coral to add to your tank. Below you will find a review of some of the top most colorful coral species to consider for your reef tank:
Frogspawn Coral (Euphyllia divisa) – This is a genus of corals that includes hammer corals, torch corals, and some species that look more like anemones than corals. Frogspawn corals develop numerous branching heads, each outfitted with a vast array of brightly colored tentacles that move with the flow of the water around them. With moderate lighting and stable tank conditions, frogspawn corals are fairly easy to care for.
Spiny Pectinia Coral (Pectinia alcincornis) – This is one of the more strange-looking types of corals out there, having finger-like structures that grow upward from a central misshapen body. Pectinia corals have only recently become popular in the reef aquarium trade due to their unique appearance and bright colors – they often exhibit shades of neon green, bright yellow, or vibrant orange.
Rhodactis Mushroom Coral (Ricordea yuma) – A type of soft mushroom coral, these corals feature fuzz-like groupings of small appendages that come in a variety of colors and textures. Mushroom corals tend to grow quickly and they are relatively easy to care for in the home aquarium. Most species are moderately priced and easy to find while some of the more unique colorations cost a bit more.
Acan Coral (Acanthastrea lordhowensis) – This type of coral is extremely popular in the reef aquarium trade – so popular that they command a very high price in many cases. Acan corals exhibit some truly unique color patterns and textures which can transform the look of your reef tank. They only require moderate lighting and moderate flow as well which makes them fairly easy to cultivate.
Blueberry Sea Fan (Acalycigorgia sp.) – A type of sea fan named for its brilliant blue polyps, the blueberry sea fan is a great option for the experienced reef hobbyist. This coral features blue polyps growing outward from a red-orange base and it requires low lighting with strong water flow as well as supplemental feeding in order to thrive.
These are just a few of the thousands of coral species out there. When thinking about which corals to add to your reef tank at home, consider more than just the appearance – think about how much lighting and water flow the species needs as well as its dietary requirements. The more research you do, the better equipped you will be to care for your corals.