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Toadstool Coral: Sarcophyton spp.

Phylum: Class: Order: Family: Genus: Species:
Cnidaria Anthozoa Alcyonacea Alcyoniidae Sarcophyton S. spp.

Common Names:  Toadstool, Leather Coral, Mushroom Coral, Umbrella Leather Coral, Sarcophyton, Sarc

Scientific Name:  Sarcophyton spp.

Description:
Toadstool corals belong to the large group of leather corals and differentiation between the many species of Sarcophyton corals is difficult to impossible with the exception of the Yellow Toadstool which will be cataloged separately.  They are typically cream to light tan in color, sometimes with a  slight yellow, green, pink or other tint to them.  The coral has a large heavy stalk or trunk which may be almost non-existent to fairly long.  The stalk is topped with a rounded capitulum (cap) in smaller specimens, hence the common name of Toadstool coral.  Some species and especially larger corals frequently have a wavy or convoluted cap.   When removed from the water, the coral has a tough leathery feel hence the common name of Leather coral. 

The cap is covered with short to fairly long polyps up to about 2″ long which have lighter, usually white to golden colored tentacles at their tips.  These polyps may also be fluorescent green or have fluorescent green tentacles at the tip which makes those corals highly sought after in the hobby.  The tentacles may vary in size from extremely small, almost unnoticeable to about 3/16″ across.   The polyps may be extended during the day or night.   At times, the coral will retract the polyps into the cap, so that the cap is completely smooth giving it a bald appearance.  

Toadstool corals can grow quite large and some tank specimens exceed two feet in diameter with some large wild specimens being over 3 feet across for female corals.  Male corals generally stay under 4″ across.

If you have clownfish in the tank and no host anemone, the clownfish will often adopt the Toadstool coral and make its residence in amongst the polyps.

Natural Environment:
Indo-Pacific region.  Usually found on flat reefs.

Hardiness
Toadstools are typically very hardy corals.  On occasion, it will retract its tentacles for several days to a week or more and develop a waxy looking coating which it then sheds and after which it re-extends its tentacles.  The reason for this behavior is unknown, but it is normal and not a cause for concern.  It is assumed that it may be a mechanism to remove algae, sediment or creatures that may otherwise take up residence on the surface of the coral.

Very extended periods  of withdrawal can indicate that the coral is not happy with its environment.  Usage of Phosguard  and similar aluminum based phosphate binding agents can cause the Toadstool coral to withdraw as well.  This doesn’t seem to cause long term problems for the coral as long as the aluminum based products are only used for short periods of less than a week or so.  Iron Oxide based phosphate binding agents do not have this same affect on the coral and so are better to use when Toadstool corals are in the tank.

Lighting
Very tolerant of lighting conditions.  Does well from  moderate lighting up to very intense as long as they are acclimated to the higher intensity lighting.

Water Current:
Toadstools like a  moderate water flow that gently waves their polyps like a field of wheat in the wind.

Aggressiveness:
Moderate.   Like many soft corals, the Toadstool coral doesn’t have a stinging capability, but it can produce chemicals (terpenes) which are toxic compounds used to ward off other corals.  These chemicals can have a negative impact on SPS housed in the same aquarium, so it is generally best to limit the size and number of leather corals in tanks that house SPS corals so that the concentration of these chemicals stays fairly low.

Sheer size as the specimen grows can shadow or crowd its neighbors.  In most turf wars with other corals that can sting the Toadstool tends to lose, so an eye should be kept on any corals with strong stinging capability like a hammer coral that can reach the Toadstool coral.  If stung badly, an area may begin to die and decay.  If the decay appears to be spreading, it is best to use a sharp knife or scissors to cut out the bad section, leaving only healthy tissue behind which should heal assuming the coral is otherwise healthy.

Feeding:
Toadstools are photosynthetic and do not require any direct feeding nor have I ever witnessed the tentacles capturing particles of any kind to indicate that they actively feed.

Supplements & Water Chemistry:
Salinity should be maintained between sg 1.024 and 1.026.
Alkalinity should be maintained in the dKH 7-12 range.
Calcium does not seem critical, but should be maintained at 380 ppm or higher.
pH should be maintained between 8.1-8.4.

Temperature:
Does well within a range of at least 74º to 84º F.

Tank Positioning:
The #1 consideration for a toadstool coral is the large size that it can achieve as it grows.  For home aquariums, they are likely to grow to be the largest specimen in the tank, therefore tank position tends to be lower in the tank in an area that you are willing to donate to the Toadstool coral so that they have some room to expand.  You also want to keep it out of direct laminar water flow.

Propagation:
This is one avenue to consider if the coral starts to grow too large for the tank and you do not want to get rid of the coral.

Toadstool corals are easily propagated by cutting the cap off .  The stalk will start to regrow a new cap within a couple of weeks.  The removed cap can be cut into multiple pieces and attached to a suitable substrate.

On method is to place the cut pieces on a gravel bed in low water flow where they will attach to gravel particles within a couple of weeks.  The gravel can then be super-glued to a suitable substrate such as a reef plug.  Within a couple of weeks, the cutting will form a stock and begin to regain the normal shape of the cap.

A second method is to skewer the cut piece with a toothpick and use rubber bands around the substrate and toothpicks to hold the piece in place until it has had an opportunity to attach itself to the substrate.

Toadstool corals will also sometimes reproduce in the tank on their own either by budding new corals off at the base or by fragmenting and dropping a portion of it’s cap which will grow into a new coral.

Acknowledgments:
Some photos courtesy of Jutta234 and Tim Sheerman-Chase which are tagged individually.  All other photos by ReefCorner © All Rights Reserved

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