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Brain, Meat, Pineapple  Corals,  Family Mussidae, Pt. 1

To: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,

By Bob Fenner

Acanthastrea ishgakiensis and Lobophyllium hemprichii, Malaysia

Family Mussidae Ortmann 1890. 

Variously called Meat and Brain corals for obvious common characteristics: large "meaty" polyps, wandering valley-like arrangement of corallites like the sulci of grey matter. All have distinctive thick columellae and corallite walls with toothed septa. All Zooxanthellate; thirteen/fourteen genera; eight/nine in the Indo-Pacific; four in the Atlantic; genus Scolymia in both.


Thirteen genera. Eight in the Indo-Pacific, four in the Atlantic and Scolymia which is found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (Though the Indo-Pacific Scolymia have been removed to the genus Acanthophyllia by some: https://reefbuilders.com/2009/06/04/acanthophyllia-deshayesiana-indo-pacific-scolymia-officially-recognized/).  

Selection: Take care to examine prospective purchases carefully. Avoid those with obvious damage, such as skeletal breaks, algae growing on exposed parts of the skeleton as showing in the Lobophyllia at right.

Aquarium Care:

Other than the genera Acanthastrea, Scolymia and Lobophyllia, not much used in the aquarium interest... due to slow growth, stinging propensity (my mesenterial filaments). Not hard to keep... most requiring not much light, water circulation. Need to be wide-spaced from other sedentary invertebrates. Though all are hermatypic, photosynthetic, most are voracious feeders of meaty foods. 

Genus Acanthastrea Milne Edwards and Haime 1848. Typically are made up of flat colonies that are either massive or encrusting; often multi-colored. Fleshy polyped corallites as individual circles to elongate in structure. Septa with tall, thick teeth. Can resemble Favites. This genus now placed in the family Lobophyllidae by some.

Acanthastrea brevis Milne, Edwards & Haime 1848.

Characters: Colonies are mostly submassive. Corallites are cerioid to subplocoid with moderately thin walls. Septa are thin and widely spaced. Larger septa have very long upwardly projecting teeth giving colonies a spiny appearance. Colonies are usually not fleshy.

Colour: Uniform or mottled brown, yellow or green.

Similar Species: Acanthastrea echinata, which has relatively fleshy corallites with thicker walls and less elongate septal teeth. These two species may be difficult to distinguish unless they occur together.

Habitat: Shallow reef environments. DF macro image.  


Acanthastrea echinata (Dana 1846) Pineapple Coral. Circular colonies tat are typically boulder-like. Septa with long, pointed teeth (most easily seen in live specimens). Brown, green to brightly colored. The most common member of the genus, though this one not all that often seen. Maldives photo and close-up.

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Acanthastrea faviaformis (Veron 2000). Distinctive septa-costae with thick teeth. All dirty brown in color. Upper Red Sea photo.

Acanthastrea hillae Wells 1955. Encrusting usually. Colonies to  more than five feet in diameter, with irregular shaped corallites. Contrasting colored walls and oral discs. Bunaken, Sulawesi, Indonesia pix.

Acanthastrea ishigakiensis Veron 1990. Hemispherical, small boulder-like colonies up to a foot and a half in width. Most are blue-grey in color with oral discs of contrasting color. Usually fleshy in appearance. Colonies in Bunaken/Sulawesi/Indonesia, Pulau Redang, Malaysia and the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea below.
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Genus Acanthophyllia (Wells 1937):

Yo Bob      10/27/13
Mussid ID corr.s, Indo-Pacific Scolymia are now Acanthophyllia

Hi Bob,
<Hey Jules... now am humming the Beatles tune... A to middle C>
It was nice seeing you last weekend, as always.
<Ahh, a very nice time indeed>
I was just browsing Google looking at some coral photos to help illustrate the answer to a taxonomic question someone sent me, and I happened to notice that you have a very special photo on your site-- I know, you probably are thinking that all of your photos are special. They are, but this one is particularly so. I have attached it here.
<Will look for... oh, I see you explain below>
You use to illustrate Scolymia, hence the name you gave the photo, but it is not Scolymia. It is Acanthophyllia deshayesiana. It is a common, high-value import from Indonesia, usually imported as Scolymia, sometimes as Cynarina, but now legally only as Acanthophyllia. Long story. The are many many photographs of this coral in aquariums since it is a very popular aquarium coral. There are to the best of my knowledge no published photographs of it taken in the wild. Hence my interest in your photo.
<Ahh, thank you>
You listed Raja Ampat as the locality. Do you remember the depth and any other details?
<Aye yi yi... I barely remember what I made for bfast this AM. Many years... decades back, I showed some discipline in labeling just finished rolls of film with such notes... >
Even the "Cynarina lacrymalis" featured just above the Acanthophyllia, also photographed at Raja Ampat, is likely a special photo. I believe it shows Indophyllia macassarensis, which is sometimes not easy to distinguish from Cynarina lacrymalis, and sometimes not easy to distinguish from Acanthophyllia deshayesiana. If you look at my book Corals A Quick Reference Guide you will see that I grouped these three species into the genus Cynarina, which is what I suspect will ultimately happen on the taxonomic front, though it may take many years.
<Am very inclined to beg you to look through my (many, Way too many) totally unidentified Cnid. pix, let alone my likely mis-id'ds>
With your permission I would like to forward a copy of this photo to Charlie Veron. He has recently recognized the validity of this coral (after many years of me beating him over the head about it because he refused to separate it from Cynarina lacrymalis). He has lots of good AQUARIUM photos of it to illustrate his online version of Corals of the World, but he has no underwater photos from the natural setting. I am sure he would love to feature your photo.
Best Regards, Julian
<Ah, certainly... I will take a quick look on my HD and attach the original here for all's use; actually three others labeled in the same series. Cheers, BobF>

According to Joe Fish: Acanthophyllia deshayesiana.     3/22/20    /FB
"This one is controversial. I regard Indophyllia as a synonym of Cynarina, and Acanthophyllia as a valid genus and species. But these need some taxonomic (i.e. molecular) study."
"Joe Fish
22 mins ·
Indophyllia is a taxonomic mistake that has lingered on in the hearts and minds of taxonomists and aquarists for the past three decades. Best & Hoeksema described the taxon in 1987 from Indonesia, differentiating it from another sympatric monocentric lobophyliid that they identified as Cynarina lacrymalis. However, their "Cynarina" specimens are clearly a better match to Acanthophyllia deshayesiana, both of which have the lower order septal cycles tall and thin. And their "Indophyllia" is closer to C. lacrymalis, both having the lower order septa comparatively short and thick.

This corresponds with what we see in nature, where two major phenotypes are present. C. lacrymalis corresponds to a widespread coral with translucent, solidly colored, bubbly tissue. A. deshayesiana is limited to the West Pacific and has opaque tissue, with more variable color patterns and a rugose texture. These do still vary, but only to a minor degree, and it's usually the odd "intermediate" phenotypes that aquarists like to label as Indophyllias.

Unfortunately, the classification of these corals was made even more confused by the revision of Huang et al 2016, who lumped deshayesiana as a junior synonym of lacrymalis, while still recognizing macassarensis as a valid species. But these authors based this solely on the "septal tooth size and septal lobe development [being] comparable between the two taxa", without going into any further detail or confirming this with molecular data. Based on my own experience with these corals, that determination seems rather suspect, and it certainly fails to take into account the many phenotypic differences in their soft tissues, along with the biogeographic (and likely ecological) discrepancies.

Anyways, thanks for reading. Sometimes I feel the uncontrollable urge to vent on matters taxonomical. I'll tag some coral nerds in this, in the hopes that it spurs a bit more restraint when identifying specimens as "Indophyllia"."

"Julian Sprung First, I did not tell Bob that this photo was Indophyllia. Joe's right, that's a classic Acanthophyllia. I have written about these corals at length, and you can see some of what I've written online still, as well as in my book Corals, A Quick Reference Guide, which is unfortunately now out of print. Joe, I've wanted to work with someone on this topic for years (actually decades now). I stated my opinion about the taxonomic status back in 2000 in my book Corals and my opinion has not changed. A study of the DNA could change my opinion, however, and I am open to learn whatever it reveals. I see that Joe believe's Acanthophyllia is a valid separate genus. I don't. I think there is just the genus Cynarina, with AT LEAST 3 species (C. lacrymalis, C. deshayesiana, and C. massacarensis). There are additional distinctive forms of what is most like Indophyllia that may represent hybrids, ecomorphs, or additional species. The natural locality range of these species is also much broader than Veron has stated (or anyone else besides me realizes). Vincent Chalias proposed that Indophyllia or some of its forms at least, could be the hybrid product of A. deshayesiana x C. lacrymalis. While I believe that at least certain Indophyllia type forms are a distinct species, the presence of hybrids as Vincent proposed is in line with my own thinking."

Acanthophyllia deshayisiana Bali 2014. Formerly Cynarina lacrymalis according to Veron 2000; Indo-Pacific. Raja Ampat

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 Genus Australophyllia: Erected genus for Symphyliia wilsoni, placed in family Lobophyllidae by some.


 massive colonies with large • irregular valleys, grove on top of wall • large fleshy mantle similar to Lobophyllia but smaller septal teeth • temperate water specialist /WA Coral

Genus Blastomussa Wells 1961. Colonies are phaceloid (polyps on separate column-like branches growing from a common center). or subplocoid (polyps having a gap between them or at least not fused at their walls). Fleshy to the point of not being able to make out corallite characteristics when live. Septa with lobed teeth that slope to oral discs. Compare with the Faviid genus Caulastrea whose polyps lack lobed teeth and lack fleshy mantles.  Prefer low light and current conditions.
/WA Corals: phaceloid colonies • weakly developed columellae • fleshy mantle

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Blastomussa merleti Wells 1961. Small corallites Under 7mm. in diameter). Septa in two cycles, the larger looking like white teeth. Mantles generally greatly expanded by day (tentacles out only at night). Aquarium images. Easily fragmented. A synonym of B. loyae according to Veron, 2000. 

Blastomussa wellsi Wijsman-Best 1973. Pineapple Coral. Phaceloid colonies. Polyps 9-14 mm. in diameter. Numerous colors, often with contrasting centers. Here under culture at Dick Perrin's Tropicorium and in an aquarium. 

To: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,

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