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Related Articles: Plate/Mushroom Corals, Family Fungiidae by Bob Fenner, Large Polyp Stony CoralsStony or True Corals, Order Scleractinia, Dyed Corals

/The Best Livestock For Your Reef Aquarium:

The Mushroom, Disc or Plate Corals, Family Fungiidae

Robert Fenner

I have a recurring dream that I’m on the Jeopardy show with Alex Trebek, faced with a very lucky category of "Marine Life"! Am all gung ho when up comes a question about non-attached, indeed ambulatory stony corals. Of all things, I can’t remember the Fungiidae; the various mushroom corals. Our subject family’s members do slowly scoot across the substrate. Indeed, some float along more quickly by means of inflating their soft tissue with water, allowing individuals to rise off soft sediment and be pushed about by currents.

This majority of Fungiid corals are easily lost by aquarists for similar reasons as the Elegance Coral, Catalaphyllia (Fenner 2000); as do Goniopora species and other Scleractinians that occupy muddy to mucky inshore settings of extreme sedimentation. They fare poorly in hobbyist systems that over-emphasize a lack of nutrient concentration.

Like Elegance Coral, this Mushroom leaves its tentacles out day and night; like Catalaphyllia, Fungiids have stinging cnidocysts for both gathering food, securing space and warding off predation along with stinging sweeper tentacles. And Mushroom species are notable for living directly on soft/mucky substrates (not on rock) where they derive nutrient and photosynthesize.

Classification: Family Fungiidae, was established by Dana in 1848. The Mushroom Corals could be poster children for LPS (Large Polyped Stony Corals) if they weren't so odd in many ways. These are solitary, non-reef building (ahermatypic) zooxanthellate animals that unique amongst the true or stony corals are ambulatory... yes, they're capable of movement. All but three genera remain free, unattached from the substrate as adults, including my fave, Heliofungia. 

    Structurally, the Fungiids are unified as being solitary, circular to oblong in shape with septo-costae radiating from their upper surface center to over the edge, continuing as less-tall costae from flattened underneath sides. 

Identification Notes: There are some 40 plus species in thirteen genera that make up the Fungiid family... they are described and discerned out in the field and lab mainly by their hard skeletal make-up; shape and size. Septa/e are radiating ridges on their upper sides, costa/e in-between... the shape, number, regularity of the "teeth" on these structures are species identifying characteristic. Some species are hard to discern without microscopic examination; hence most all my Fungiid IDs are tentative here. A Fungia from above.

The obverse, underside of a Fungia species for comparison. Heron Island, Queensland, Australia pic.

More Commonly Available & Useful Fungiid Species!

Quite a few Mushroom corals either get too big, or have just proven thus far to be too difficult to ship and maintain under captive conditions. We’ll list a few such "others" for eye-candy sake, but you’re best trying the known hardier varieties first.

The Genus Fungia: Lamarck 1801, Disk, Tongue, Mushroom Corals. Thirty three species that are difficult to discern. Shaped circular to oblong, flat to dome-shaped. Single mouth in the center. Costae as rows of spines, septae with smaller teeth. Pits in the skeleton underside between costae. Have rows of short tentacles that are widely spaced. Excellent aquarium subjects. 

The genus Fungia encompasses the quintessential mushroom corals, appearing as their terrestrial namesakes in shape and size. Fungia species are found from the Red Sea, East African coast, throughout the Indo-West Pacific to the Hawaiian and Pitcairn Islands. They can be very common in places on reef flats, lagoons, upper reef slopes and fringing reefs; ALWAYS living in mucky/sandy environments.

Fungia are free-living and mostly solitary; not colonial… possessing a single mouth per animal; though some are more complex, having more than one mouth, polyp per plate. Fungia species are often hard to discern in the wild; all bear similar small tentacles that incorporate stinging and sticking cnidocysts.



Fungia concinna Verrill 1864, Disk Coral. Flat, circular skeletons to six inches in diameter. Septal teeth small. Very small tentacular lobes or none. Underside lacks pits. Here off Hawai'i's Big Island at night.

Fungia danai Milne Edwards & Haime 1851. Circular polyps of up to twelve inches in diameter, with definitive raised central area (arch). Septa are straight, have large teeth and prominent tentacular lobes. A common species in the wild and trade. Fiji image.



Fungia fungites (Linnaeus 1758). Polyps irregularly circular to round in appearance. Regular, saw like, triangular septal teeth. Often with tentacular lobes showing. Aquarium photo.



Fungia moluccensis Horst 1919. Here in Wakatobi, S. Leyte, Indo.



Fungia scutaria Lamarck 1801. Oval, heavy polyps with high regularly placed and often colored tentacular lobes. To seven inches. Indo-Pacific. Occur in many colors. Wakatobi, S. Leyte, Indo.

The Fab Monotypic Heliofungia! Heliofungia is distinctive with its always-exposed tentacles of 2" plus length of blue, gray, green, tan color. Yes; they can be easily mistaken for anemones!

Some Heliofungia actiniforms photographs

Lembeh, N. Sulawesi, Indo.

Wakatobi, S. Leyte, Indo.

Ari Atoll, Maldives

Heron Island, Queensland, Australia

Lembeh Strait, N. Sulawesi, Indo.

Heliofungia (monotypic genus; just the one species) actiniformis is a member of the family Fungiidae, commonly labeled as mushroom or plate corals though some are more elongate, others look like inverted bowls. Most all reef hobbyists have come across more common Fungia and Cycloseris species at stores, reef conventions and online. Discerning the several genera to species level requires close examination of skeletal details and reference works like J.E.N. Veron’s in print coral works, or Net https://coral.aims.gov.au/ or http://www.coralsoftheworld.org/page/home/ . The species was initially named scientifically as Fungia actiniformis by the French team of Quoy and Gaimard in 1833. It was placed in its own genus by Wells in 1966.

Heliofungia distribution spans the eastern Indian Ocean, western Pacific; including north and eastern shores of Australia, southern Japan and island groups of the western tropical Pacific. This plate coral is found in shallow reef flat and slope areas from a meter to some 82 feet. Huge ones grow to about eight inches across and three inches high at the middle.

Genus Cycloseris: Mile Edwards & Haime 1849. Under two inches in diameter, with flat to dome-shaped circular skeletons, a central mouth, teeth on their septa, and fine costae. No pits on undersides. Generally occur on mud, not found on reefs. Distribution: Indo-Mid Pacific; Red Sea, East Africa to Australia, Indonesia, Marquesas.



Cycloseris costulata (Ortmann 1889). This species is distinguished by its straight, non-wavy septal walls and that they decidedly thicken toward the mouth/center. Occur in sand, mud. West Pacific. N. Sulawesi pic. 




Cycloseris tenuis (Dana 1846), Thin flat polyps. Uniform septa, but in obvious different orders, thick irregular costae underneath. N. Sulawesi pic.

Genus Diaseris: Milne Edwards & Haime 1849. Solitary, flat corals that have their mouth situated at the top where fan-shaped body segments join together. Thick septa with blunt teeth, resemble granules.



Diaseris distorta (Michelin 1843). Skeletons made up of fan-shaped elements of up to 40 mm in diameter. Often with living polyp swollen to a few times the skeleton volume. N. Sulawesi pic.

"Other" Fungiids:

Mushroom corals occur in other morphologies; some are oval to quite elongated, may have "popped up" surfaces to being dome-shaped, twisted bits. The standard color is off-white tans, but yellow, pinkish, green and multi-colored specimens do happen.

Some other Fungiid Coral Genera

Ctenactis crassa (Dana 1846)

Herpolitha Eschscholtz, 1825

Sandalolitha robusta Quelch 1886

Halomitra pileus (Linnaeus 1758)

Aquarium Care Notes:


Though these mobile Scleractinians don't sting each other, other sessile invertebrates must be placed, arranged out of harm's way, including climbing harm's way. Most other corals will suffer given contact with a Fungiid skeleton, polyp or its mucus, or vice versa. It’s best to allow a minimum six inch gap twixt your Fungiids and other Cnidarian livestock. Compatible species include most else:

Bos (2012) lists juvenile wrasses, cardinals, damsels and more adult goby species observed in close association with Heliofungia actiniformis. Siokunichthys nigrolineatus Dawson 1983, the Mushroom-coral Pipefish. Indonesia, Philippines. To 80 mm in length, but very thin. It’s found in close association (within tentacles) of Heliofungia corals. N. Sulawesi photo.



If you look closely, you’ll see a juvenile wrasse hiding amongst the tentacles of this Heliofungia down in S. Sulawesi

And invertebrates! There are crabs, Anomurans and four commensal Palaemonid shrimp as well. Here are some Periclimenes holthuisi Bruce 1969, Holthuis' Cleaner Shrimp on a Heliofungia in Queensland, Australia. This shrimp is found in association with numerous types of stinging-celled life (anemones, corals, mushrooms, the upside-down Jellyfish, Cassiopeia...) (best not kept with Clownfishes though) that they should be purchased with. Eat detritus, any foods. 


And a Periclimenes koroensis Bruce 1977. Small, but with a conspicuous white head, long chelipeds... antennae, abdomen often hidden in hosts tentacles (mushrooms, anemones, corals). Western Pacific; Philippines, Australia, Marshall Islands. To 4 cm. N. Sulawesi pix.


Achaeus japonicus Haan 1839, the Orangutan Crab. Bodies have long processes that the crab attaches algae et al. for camouflage/protection. Usually found in association with cnidarians: Plerogyra, Dendronephthya, Parazoanthus... S. Sulawesi.

Concerning tankmates, large crabs, hermits, lobsters can be trouble; as are eels, triggers, large puffers and big wrasses; by being clumsy as well as errant sampling. Butterflyfishes may nip your Plate Corals and Clownfish have been known to adopt Heliofungia as an ersatz symbiont.



Examine prospective purchases carefully for discontinuous tissue coverage; either discolored flesh, or with their septal skeleton showing through where the tissue is torn. Healthy Fungiids are open, displaying tentacles continuously and should be colored consistently when in good health. Damaged specimens rarely recover.

Take care in moving the Plate Corals. They tear easily. Wafting your hand gently near an expanded one before moving will cause their tentacles to retreat into its chitinous/calcareous skeleton. Touch it gently on the bottom/underside and slip it into a water filled bag underwater. If avoidable, don’t lift Fungiids into the air or barring this, tilt newly introduced specimens to eliminate air trapped below them.

     As a general rule most all Fungiids with the exception of Heliofungia actiniformis (which IMO should be removed from this family... taxonomically) can be pretty sturdy aquarium species... given initial good health, suitable, established homes... Heliofungia/Long tentacle plate corals rarely fare well for any length of time... mostly due to not being placed on soft/fine sand substrates, and too "clean" settings mostly. Am hopeful my purpose is obvious here; to give hobbyists fair warning as to this species needs; not to discourage its keeping outright.


    Most Fungiids are found in shallow water (under ten meters in depth) on various types of substrates; rocky, sandy, to silty. Ones with a high relief (dome-shaped), and spines/septa of low relief utilize these aspects of their morphology, expansion of their polyp-bodies, and/or muco-ciliary action. The more flat-profile, un-toothed septa species that are more often offered to the hobby don't have as much latitude at throwing off sediment and should be placed accordingly on softer, low-detritus bottoms out of the way of direct current. 

Fungiids are often found in "less than ideal" reef conditions; on muddy, muck substrates with all that you can imagine go with the setting: high dissolved nutrient concentration, bright but often diffuse light, little to no water circulation at times. To state categorically the species practical environmental conditions:

1) Need to be placed horizontally on suitable non-sterile substrate, ideally fine sand and/or muck with appreciable interstitial organic content; perhaps in your RDP mud-packed refugium/sump.

2) Fungiids inhabit settings of little circulation; not with linear blasts of water streaming over them. IF you have high turnover in your reef, situate your plate corals in areas of least water movement.

3) Lighting of full-spectrum, low to medium intensity is preferred. About 100 PAR/PUR suits most of the thinner, less-colorful Mushroom species fine. Larger, thicker, colored specimens appreciate brighter light, upwards of 200 PAR/PUR where they are situated.

4) Again, the emphasis on available organic nutrients; no need to fuss with "high" nitrate, moderate phosphate. This arrangement may well call for not mixing more nutrient-deprived SPS.

5) Away from other stinging-celled life other than Fungiids. Put other Cnidarians on steep bommies, ledges to prevent your Fungiids from climbing to them.


    Fungiids bear endosymbiotic algae that require moderate to strong light, but do benefit from regular feeding as well. Foods may be placed on their upper surfaces or a zooplankton mash of appropriate size matter can be basted in their direction... James Fatherree (2006) suggests a finely chopped mix of shrimp, clam meat and Artemia, applied via a large syringe sans needle, with the filter pumps temporarily cycled off. Do take care to not over-feed, presenting water quality issues from uneaten foods.

Heliofungia, though photosynthetic and largely a detritus feeder, should be offered foods a couple times per week; and will show acceptance by further extension of tentacles, movement of food to the central mouth.

Reproduction:  Reproduction can be sexual, gametes released to the water, combining to form planula larvae which settle, attach to hard substrate; detaching as adults. More often encountered is a form of asexually produced budding, and daughter colonies, called anthocauli. These asexual bits grow and break off a parent, making their lives on the bottom separately. Fragmentation is another way Fungiids may be reproduced. This requires at most the breaking of a donor into six pieces. 
Acanthocauli attached on a rock in captivity.

A friend’s tank up in Sacramento; replete with a colony of Fungia that began with one specimen.


Mushroom corals are often lost by aquarists unaware or unwilling to provide their simple needs; a non-sterile environment with a soft substrate; with sufficient dissolved organics to support them nutritionally. The vast majority of lost specimens are due to their placement in unsuitable circumstances. This mushroom coral is actually very tough given suitable conditions, known to have survived unchanged through the Ice Ages. Do just keep your eye on them if you have other stinging-celled life in your system; and prevent the two from reaching, touching each other.

Bibliography/Further Information:

Bos, A.R. (2012). Fishes (Gobiidae and Labridae) associated with the mushroom coral Heliofungia actiniformis (Scleractinia: Fungiidae) in the Philippines. Coral Reefs. 31 (1): 133. doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0834-3.

http://dpc.uba.uva.nl/cgi/t/text/get-pdf?c=ctz%3Bidno%3D8002a02 A molecularly based phylogeny reconstruction of mushroom corals (Scleractinia: Fungiidae) with taxonomic consequences and evolutionary implications for life history traits

Borneman, Eric H. 2001. Aquarium Corals; Selection, Husbandry and Natural History. Microcosm-TFH NJ, USA. 464 pp.

Fatherree, James. 2006. Plate Corals. TFH 11/06.

Fenner, Bob. 2000. Catalaphyllia- What’s wrong with your Elegance coral, Family Caryophyllidae? FAMA 3/2000.

Fossa, Svein A. & Alf Jacob Nilsen. 1998 (1st ed.). The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium, v.2 (Cnidarians). Bergit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany. 479pp.

Hoover, John. 1998. Hawai'i's Sea Creatures. A Guide to Hawai'i's Marine Invertebrates. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu HI. 366pp. 

Humann, Paul. 1993. Reef Coral Identification; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, FL.  239pp.

Vargas, Tony. 1997. Feature Coral: Fungia. FAMA 10/97.

Veron, J.E.N. 1986. Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. U. of HI press, Honolulu. 644 pp. 

Veron, J.E.N. 2000. Corals of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science. Queensland, Australia. three volumes. 

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