Genus Scolymia - Saucer Corals
Scolys for the Tropical Reef Aquarium
Mussids, sometimes called meat corals or flat brain corals, make fantastic aquarium corals. Within the family Mussidae, there are several genera that deserve the reef aquarist’s attention, and close to the top of the list is the genus Scolymia. Like many mussids, there is a good bit of taxonomical disagreement and confusion surrounding the genus Scolymia, as some Scolymia specimens are virtually indistinguishable from the genus Lobophyllia (a.k.a. lobed or flat brain coral). They are also easy to confuse with specimens from the genus Cynarina. Taxonomy aside, there is no disagreement regarding the ease-of-care and beauty of these animals. “Scolymia type corals are some of the hardiest and most sought after corals by all types of reef aquarists,” says Kris Wray, Collector’s Choice livestock manager at Blue Zoo Aquatics.
Scolymia in the Reef Aquarium
Properly pronounced Skah'-lee-MY'-ah, Scolymia species generally present as large, circular polyps that are characteristically fleshy and often gorgeously colored with bright shades of fluorescence. Alternatively called artichoke coral, button coral, donut coral, saucer coral, and meat coral, Scolymia species are relatively common in the marine aquarium trade. While generally quite reasonable in price, some rare color variations can fetch over $1000. Scolymia species are indigenous to both the Indo-Pacific and the Western Atlantic, with many of the most impressive specimens entering the marine ornamental trade from Australia.
Natural History and Husbandry
Looking at this animal’s natural history gives many clues as to the appropriate aquarium husbandry. Take light, for example. Often found in shaded areas of the reef, or in orientations that do not expose the animal to full sunlight, Scolymia species can do well under a wide range of aquarium lights. “These corals do well in tanks with virtually any kind of lighting,” says Wray. “They can go at the bottom of a reef tank under metal halides, or they can be placed near the top of an aquarium lit with power compacts or lower wattage T5 fixtures.”
While placement in the aquarium is often dictated by light, it is important to also take flow patterns into consideration. Scolymia species generally prefer moderate-low flow. Strong currents may actually harm this coral, as too high a flow will keep specimens from expanding fully. As with any new coral, the aquarist should observe Scolymia closely for the first several days to see if it is expanding. If the coral is not expanding, and all the parameters are stable in the system, the aquarist should consider changing its location. Semi aggressive, Scolymia species should be placed in such a way that they do not come into direct contact with adjacent corals.
Scolymia species are relatively slow-growing corals, which mean they do not require frequent feedings. Having said this, these animals do have remarkable prey-capture abilities, whereby they extend their feeding tentacles at night and almost completely change their appearance. Target feedings of meaty bits of marine food such as brine shrimp or finely chopped raw table seafood are appreciated when the feeding tentacles are extended. In the wild, these corals are often solitary or situated in small groups. A single specimen may be placed either directly on the sandbed in the aquarium or, if lighting permits, on the rockwork closer to the top of the tank.
The current taxonomic hierarchy places five species in the genus Scolymia. They are S. australis, S. cubensis, S. lacera, S. vitiensis, and S. wellsii, with S. australis and S. vitiensis being the most common species seen in the hobby.