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Related Articles: Caryophyllid/Euphylliid Corals

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Catalaphyllia; What's Wrong With Your Elegance Coral, Family Caryophylliidae

Bob Fenner

Close-up in N. Sulawesi

Catalaphyllia jardinei
Saville-Kent 1893, the Elegance Coral. V-shaped bottom Flabello-meandroid skeletons with sharp septa, no columellae. Very fleshy polyps that extend to large striped oral discs. Lives mostly buried in soft substrates; found only in areas of turbid, muddy water.

Catalaphyllia jardinei

"Elegance Coral Tank" Waikiki Aquarium.

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As a "content" provider (writing, photographs) in the ornamental aquatics interest (hobby, business, sciences) I'm faced with answering queries about "trouble organisms" on a constant basis... As a real "old timer" who's time in marine husbandry spans its modern advent (yep, back to Robert P.L. Straughan) to the present, I have seen trends, topics and fads come and go (e.g. both cycles of sugar as salt mix... remember Magic Ocean?).

Incredulously, certain aspects of the trade have persisted... I would have never believed the insidious practice of cyanide poisoning would make it past the millennium, let alone spread from the Philippines to parts of Indonesia...

And livestock... Folks are STILL buying/trying Moorish Idols (Zanclus canescens), Pinnatus Batfish (Platax pinnatus) and Ribbon Moray Eels (Rhinomuraena spp.)... though these (and other fish species used extensively) have dismal survival records; more than 99% dying within a few months of wild collection...

And fishes aren't the only "ridiculous ongoing examples of poor choice"... Back in the fifties and sixties, what was the most popular genus of corals used in the hobby? Goniopora spp., aka Flower Pot Corals... and still in number two popularity (Green and Shirley, 1999)... and is still a very poor choice... yes, rating my worst of three rankings (a three) with more than half dying within three months of gathering off the reef.

Which leads us to the topic of this essay, the third most commonly available Scleractinian species, Elegance Coral, Catalaphyllia jardinei. Though writers from Veron (1986) to Fatherree (1999) rate this species as "excellent" for aquarium use, more than half of them perish within a couple of months. My purpose here should be obvious: to make consumers aware of the odds they face in selecting this reef-building stony coral, and to increase the folks who decide to invest in this species chances of keeping theirs alive by providing natural history and husbandry information. To wit: this species does not live in sterile, nutrient-deprived settings... but in the wild in muddy, mucky areas semi-buried in the substrate... sometimes in the shallows of near shore, other times at the base of reef slopes at depths of 20 meters or more.

Classification: The Family, Genera, Species of Aquarium Interest:

The family (Caryophylliidae) that includes the Elegance Coral is one of extreme importance to marine reef hobbyists. Euphyllia species are the most common offered live corals in the trade. This genus includes Frogspawn Coral, E. divisa; Torch Coral, E. glabrescens; Grape, E. cristata, Hammer, E. ancora (among many other common names). And where would the hobby be without the bizarre-appearing but hardy Bubble Corals, genus Plerogyra? Or Fox Corals, Nemanzophyllia, or Eusmilia, or... there are others. But back to the topic du jour:

There are some authors that identify more than one species of Elegance, but I will go with "the rest" who say the genus is monotypic, Catalaphyllia jardinei IS the Elegance Coral.


Elegance Corals hail from many parts of the Indo-Pacific; northern Australia, up to southern Japan, stretching out west to the Seychelles. Most have come into the hobby from the Philippines, the Solomons and parts of Indonesia.

Think you've seen some big Catalaphyllias? They approach two feet long in the wild.

Selecting Specimens:

Examine the prospective buy carefully for breakage and uniform coverage of its skeleton by living tissue. Live Elegance polyps can be a few to many millimeters deep (when expanded) and damaged in collection, shipping and further processing. There should be no tissue recession from the skeleton, or signs of bleaching.

    Know that there are two "distinct varieties" of this species... free-living phaceloid shaped colonies that are collected in shallow/er waters in mud/mucky circumstances, and deeper water large colonies (much like Goniopora stokesi) that pieces are rudely broken off from. These lighter colored, often smaller polyped pieces rarely live for any period of time, and should be avoided.

A good deal of specimens this last year or so have been "worse" from the get go, compared with years past. If at all possible, you want to either trust your dealer totally to do their job of picking, acclimating and keeping their stock or take a look over a few days time yourself to assess the quality of the potential purchase. However, it is my not-so-guarded opinion that the majority of increased losses of these gorgeous animals is not so much due to poorer initial quality specimens as their placement in unsuitable circumstances. See below.

Environmental Conditions:

Unlike corals in general and Small Polyp Stonies in particular, Elegance (and other Caryophyllid) Corals require water of less than typical reef system quality. Yes, you read that right, this species is found lying level in/under muddy, shallows of grassy reef flats, with all that go with the setting; low-medium/diffuse light and high organic nutrient concentrations. Allow me to be more specific... you're soon to understand why these animals often suffer in aquarium settings.

Horizontal orientation

Semi-still waters.

1) Placed in horizontal orientation, point down, mouths and tentacles facing upward,

NOT in vertical settings as they are often arranged in reef systems. They really need to be placed "on their backs"

2) Semi-still waters. They come from settings with actually very little water movement,

NOT as many hobbyists place them; in full front of a powerheads constant blast.

Elegance corals need gentle, non-linear water movement.

Frogspawn Coral E. divisa (3)

Frogspawn Coral. E. divisa (4)

Torch Coral. E. glabrescens (5)

3) Lighting, full spectrum, low-to medium intensity... provided by VHO or compact

fluorescents is fine. These are photosynthetic organisms, but remember, ones that live

in turbid, muddy water often shielded by overlying sea grasses (Thalassia). No need

for metal halides.

4) The need for organic nutrients: IMO, this coral should only be kept in a designated,

"species" set-up, in very-well established, fine sand and "mud" substrate, sea grass,

high nitrates (tens of ppm and up) are no problem and calcium, strontium... but still no

discernible soluble phosphates.

With this species you have to take care not to "over"skim, removing bio-useful

minerals and trace elements. These essential materials can be replaced through

feeding (see below), water changes, and live rock (and possibly sand) use.

Torch Coral, E glabrescens.(6)

Grape, E cristata(7)

Hammer, E. ancora(8)

5) Placement near other stinging-celled life: Don't. These animals have a wide and

deadly stinging ability. In the wild there is a large area around them with no other

cnidarians. Keep them this way in captivity.

Hammer E. ancora (9)

Bubble. Plerogyra(10)

Bubble. Plerogyra (11)


I know of many aquarists that periodically feed their Elegance corals, fine to chunky meaty foods... in a well/properly set-up and maintained setting I would abstain from offering purposeful foods. Just rely on photosynthesis... and nutrients that come from other biological activity in the system.

Feeding them fish, mussels... as other authors advocate may provide necessary nutrients, but I'm more familiar with cases where the practice has polluted tanks. If you choose to feed such "macro" foods, and they will indeed ingest them... do so only occasionally (every week or two), and keep testing your water quality. Right: Close-up in the wild, showing a Catalaphyllia with its many mouths in evidence. 


Elegance. wholesale on indoor outdoor carpeting
Catalaphyllia jardinei   Waikiki Aquarium (15) 


The Waikiki Aquarium (Oahu, Hawai'i) has probably the best specialized "Elegance Coral Tank" I've ever seen. Let me describe this set-up for you (all

It has a few inches of fine sand, a bunch (really too many, I'd clear some so you could see the coral specimen) "seagrass" (in their case Thalassia hemprichii) a few fishes (a Phalaena goby, gorgeous green filefish, unid'ed rockfish of some sort), not much circulation, no added aeration, but bright light (the plants and algae were giving off obvious gas bubbles from the halides and sunlight (the roof is "missing")... and the specimen? It is alone, by itself, lying in the "mud/sand" horizontal on the bottom

Now, let me assure you, I've collected this (and other) Caryophyllid (the family of this, the Euphyllias like Frogspawn, hammer...) corals in the wild, and this is how all Elegance corals I've seen live: Horizontal, in relatively stagnant, grassy areas, with bright light, low circulation, with no other stinging celled animals around, in probably "high nutrient" settings

And how do aquarists by and large try to keep Catalaphyllias? In vertical orientations, with brisk, constant circulation, in almost nutrient-free water, with other aggressive stinging-celled animals...

Now, does all this make more/better/any sense? These animals are being kept in barely to un-tolerable conditions. They don't live in environments like your other corals at all. The places where I've seen them live are more like their wild conditions...

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Coral Search

Blackburn, Wayne. 1988. Corals in the reef tank. FAMA 12/88.

Borneman, Eric & Jonathan Lowrie. 1998. Rapid tissue necrosis- a new understanding. FAMA 6/98.

Branikowski, Edward J. 1993. The collection, transportation and maintenance of living corals. SeaScope v.10, Spring and Summer 93.

Bruckner, Andrew W. & Robin J. 1998. Emerging infections on the reefs. Natural History 1/98.

Colin, C.L. & C. Arneson. 1995. Tropical Pacific Invertebrates. Coral Reef Press, Beverly Hills, CA. Pp. 296.

Delbeek, J. Charles. 1990. Reef aquariums: coral compatibility. As a reef tank becomes established, corals will grow and require more space. AFM 10/90.

Denison, W.C. 1988. Effect of water motion on coral photosynthesis and calcification. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 115:67-77.

Fatherree, James W. 1999. Elegance Coral. TFH 8/99.

Fossa, Svein A. & Alf Jacob Nilsen. 1993. Stony corals. Can they grow in a closed reef aquarium? FAMA 9,10,11/93.

Fossa, Svein A. & Alf Jacob Nilsen. 1996. The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium, v.1. Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany. Pp. 367.

Fossa, Svein A. & Alf Jacob Nilsen. 1998. The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium, v.2. Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany. Pp. 479.

Frissell, Christopher A. 1981. Living coral in the marine aquarium. FAMA 2/81.

Giovanetti, Thomas A. 1989. Keeping Plerogyra sinuosa, the Bubble Coral. FAMA 7/89.

Green, Edmund and Frances Shirley. 1999. WCMC Biodiversity Series No. 9, The Global Trade in Coral. 70pp. World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK.

Janes, Michael P. 1999. Buyer's guide to corals. FAMA 6,7/99.

Klostermann, A.F. 1993. Coral growth in captivity. FAMA 5/93.

Knop, Daniel. 1998. Artificial propagation of corals- the stony corals. Aquarium Frontiers On-Line 2/98.

Michael, Scott. 1996. Bubble Coral; the opinions about keeping them seem to be inconsistent. AFM 3/96.

Muscatine, L. 1973. Nutrition of coral. In Biology and Geology of Coral Reefs, v. II Biology. Jones, O.A. and R. Endean, Ed.s Academic Press, NY pp. 77-115.

Paletta, Michael. 1992. Propagating corals in the mini-reef. SeaScope v. 9, Winter 92.

Paletta, Michael. 1994. Selecting healthy corals. Making the right choices for your reef tank. AFM 7/94.

Paletta, Michael. 1995. The care and maintenance of corals. AFM 2,3/95.

Paletta, Michael. 1996. Dangerous neighbors. Placement of corals in the reef tank. AFM 8/96.

Parks, Noreen. 1993. Immortal corals. Reef builders use incest to slow evolution. Sea Frontiers 1,2/93.

Perrine, Doug. 1994. Sex and the single Scleractinian. Sport Diver 5/6, 94.

Riddle, Dana. 1994. Coral nutrition. Notes, thoughts, and theories. FAMA 4-8/94.

Riddle, Dana. 1995. Life, light and lipids; the importance of lipid in coral diets. 6,7/95.

Riddle, Dana. 1999. Coral killer? The case against two species of red algae. FAMA 2/99.

Stepanov, Dmitry. 1994. Coral feeding in nature and in the aquarium. FAMA 1/94.

Teh, Y.F. 1974. Keeping live coral. Marine Aquarist 5(1):74.

Verloop Ria and Ron Ates. Elegance Coral Catalaphyllia jardinei. FAMA 12/99.

Veron, J.E.N. 1986. Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Angus and Robertson, Publishers, North Ryde, NSW, Australia. Pp. 644.

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