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/The Best Livestock For Your Reef Aquarium:

 Family Pectiniidae,  Lettuce, Plate, Chalice... Corals... No longer a valid family

By Bob Fenner

Pectinia paeonia, Aquarium

From Wikipedia:

Pectiniidae was a family of stony corals, commonly known as chalice corals, but the name is no longer considered valid.[1]


The "robust" stony coral families of Faviidae, Merulinidae, Mussidae and Pectiniidae, have traditionally been recognised on morphological grounds but recent molecular analysis has shown that these families are polyphyletic, the similarities between the species having occurred through convergent evolution. A revised classification, proposed in 2012, places the Pacific species of Mussidae in a new family, Lobophylliidae and retains the taxon Mussidae for the Atlantic species.[2] In the revision, the genera Echinomorpha, Echinophyllia and Oxypora were transferred from Pectiniidae to Lobophyllidae, and the genera Mycedium, Pectinia and Physophyllia were transferred to Merulinidae. The family Pectiniidae was abolished.[3]

Family Pectiniidae, Lettuce, Plate... Corals (from the Greek "Pectinis" meaning "comb", in reference to their skeletal structure), established by Vaughn & Wells in 1943. This is a distinctive (well, more than most of the Stony Coral families) group of laminar, thin-plated species with missing corallite walls (or ones formed of the non-porous coenosteum (skeletal material) of the laminae).  Four genera, all Zooxanthellate (possessing endosymbiotic algae).

Distinguishing Pectiniid Genera:

Genera/Char.s  Colonies Septa Columellae    Coenosteum

Not strongly inclined on surface Usually numerous Usually well-developed Pitted at new septa-costae
Oxypora Mostly thin lamellae. Calices round,
or oval. Not inclined on surface
Few septa Poorly developed Pitted at new septa-costae
Mycedium Corallites exsert, inclined toward
margins of blades/laminae
    Not pitted
Pectinia Colonies laminar, covered w/
thin walls
Well developed
Widely spaced
Little to none  

    Due to their common habitat of shallow, semi-to turbid waters, with limited water movement, many Pectiniids are aquarium-suited species, and commonly available in the trade. Their main downside is their tendency to strongly sting any near immotile livestock.... space must be provided about their colonies to the extent of their sweeper tentacles. 

Genus Mycedium Oken 1815: Laminar colonies with corallites facing the outer margins as leafy extensions. Up to 2m in diameter. Separate corallites that protrude at angles. Septa exsert extending beyond the surface toward the outer edges. /WA Corals: colonies laminar, can form whorls • corallites exert, inclined to margin • no pits in skeleton held up to the light
This genus placed in the family Merulinidae by some. See the coverage there.

Genus Oxypora Saville-Kent 1871, Scroll, Chalice Coral: Made up of thin encrusting or laminar leaf-like colonies whose edges have a small costal ridge. Costae have teeth like edge. You can see slits in the skeleton when colonies have flesh w/ drawn, light is shone through. Tentacles open only at night. Now part of the family Lobophylliidae

Genus Pectinia Oken 1815: Laminar to branching colonies of high, thin walls.  /WA Corals:  large fleshy colourful polyps • lightly calcified and fragile colonies • corallite walls absent • septa dentate • subarborescent or laminar with vertical spires
This genus is now placed in the family Merulinidae; see there.


   A note regarding the movement, especially the collection and shipping phases of this family's members. They are fragile skeletoned  and copious producers of mucus and other wastes and should be not be fed for a good week ahead of long distance travel, and packed "heavy". That is, with plenty of water per specimen, as many of these corals are lost in transit from their own pollution, and with loose 4 mil bagging material packed with them to prevent rubbing and breakage of their delicate skeletons en route. 


    Must be carefully placed so that their strongly-stinging sweeper tentacles don't reach other immotile invertebrates. Count on at least six inches in any direction as a "no man's land" between them and other Stony and Soft Corals.  Further, they should be placed on sloping hard (rock) surfaces that affords gentle current around them and given enough circulation to remove any accumulating detritus. 


    Need not be intense, and these corals are often best placed off to the side of bright light sources, particularly metal halides. 


    Various species have been reported to spawn in captivity and are known to be hermaphroditic. Most all specimens are wild collected with some asexually fragmented and resold/traded by local hobbyists. Due to slow growth, and current low-demand, Pectiniids are not yet commercially produced in ready numbers. 


  All the Pectiniids are photosynthetic and do best in exposed, brightly-lit conditions. Additionally they all do feed at night with long, near-transparent tentacles. Some aquarists do, some don't... feed theirs that is. These corals are at their best being offered some fine-particulate meaty foods on an occasional basis. 


    Principally arises from mis-collection, shipping damage, and consequent handling. Take care to handle these animals by their bottoms to prevent laceration of their thin living tissue. Exposed areas are best kept free of algae by utilizing small, more-gentle species of mainly-herbivorous Hermit Crabs. Ones obviously infested (with discolored jelly masses, receding tissues) may be aided by use of dips (lowered spg, hexose sugars, iodine or dilute malachite), and placement in sterile water under low illumination. 


    Other than some members penchant for stinging other nearby Stony and Soft Corals, and perhaps their slow growth, the Pectiniids are a group of interesting, easy to care for coral species that deserve far more representation in the ornamental aquatics fields. Perhaps with the release of several new "Coral Books" and their popularization, consequent easy, though slow asexual fragmentation in the hobby, the Lettuce Corals will come into their own. 

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Coral Search

Borneman, Eric H. 2001. Aquarium Corals, Selection, Husbandry and Natural History. Microcosm/TFH Charlotte, VT. 464pp. 

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

Vargas, Tony. 1998. Feature Coral (column/series): Pectinia. FAMA 1/98.

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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