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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.
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.
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!
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 Nethttps://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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.