Yellow Leather Coral: Sarcophyton elegans

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

Common Names:  Yellow Leather coral, Yellow Toadstool coral, Yellow Sarcophyton coral, Yellow Fiji Leather coral, Yellow Umbrella Leather coral.

Scientific Name:  Sarcophyton elegans.

The Yellow Leather coral is a distinct species of the broader family of Sarcophyton corals.  They are characterized by their yellow coloration which can vary from a yellow brown to a very vibrant bright yellow color.  The coral has a large heavy stalk or trunk which may be almost non-existent to fairly short in length.  The stalk does not get as long as in many of its other Sarcophyton coral relatives.   The stalk is topped with a wavy or convoluted capitulum (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 polyps up to about 3/16″ that are typically the same color as the cap.  The polyps are never long as is frequently the case in other Sarcophyton corals.   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.  

Yellow Leather corals can grow to a fairly good size in the wild. 

Natural Environment:
Indo-Pacific region.  Usually found on reef crests with strong water currents and in shallow water where the lighting intensity is high.  Commonly collected in the Fiji region.

Yellow Leather corals are less hardy than the other members of the family and require better water quality conditions.  They do not handle shipping well and often arrive in poor condition.  Yellow Leather corals also seem more prone to necrosis of sections of its tissue.  If not extensive, the bad area can frequently be cut-away to prevent spreading.

When selecting a Yellow Leather coral, look for specimens that have their polyps extended if possible and check all sides of the coral for signs of necrosis.

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.

Requires high intensity lighting similar to SPS corals.  They should be kept under strong LED or metal halide lighting or high up on the rock work and close to T-5 or VHO lighting.

Water Current:
Requires at least moderate to high water motion.   High water motion should not be laminar in flow, but rather should be randomly turbulent as is typically found in SPS tanks.

Moderate.   Like many soft corals, the Yellow Leather 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 Yellow Leather coral 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.

Yellow Leather corals 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 8-12 range.
Calcium does not seem critical, but should be maintained at 400 ppm or higher.
pH should be maintained between 8.1-8.4.

In general, Yellow Leather coral do best in conditions that suit SPS corals.  They may benefit from higher alkalinity or calcium levels typically found in those tanks.

Does well within a range of at least 74º to 82º F.  There has been some conjecture that they do best at lower temperatures under 78º, but the evidence is not clear.

Tank Positioning:
Best positioned up on the rockwork in a moderate to high water motion area and under bright lighting.

Yellow Leather corals can be propagated by taking cuttings of the cap.

Since the Yellow Leather coral tends to be softer than other leather corals, the preferred method of attachment is to skewer the cut piece with a round 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.

Yellow Leather 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.

Photos in wild courtesy of Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble.  All other photos by ReefCorner © All Rights Reserved