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Genus Symphyllia - Closed Brain Coral
The Real Deal in Brains

Closed brain coral ( Symphyllia spp.) is the “real deal” when it comes to brain corals.

Some people prefer closed brain corals from the genus Symphyllia (pronounced sim-fill-ee-ah) over open brain corals from the somewhat better known genus Trachyphyllia. While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, closed brain corals do offer some distinct advantages. For example, they are generally hardier than open brain corals, and they come in quite the array of colors ranging from red, green and orange to pink, teal and “multi-color.” They are also, of course, really the “true” brain corals because of the similarity in growth pattern to the lobes of an actual brain. If you want the real deal when it comes to brain corals, try a closed brain from the genus Symphyllia.

Family Mussidae

Closed brain corals are from the Family Mussidae, a family of hermatypic (reef-building) corals that are characterized by heavily tissued, prominent valleys with distinct corrallite walls. Mussids are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific, where they are generally quite common. Several of the 15 described genera are common in the marine aquarium trade including Blastomussa, Lobophyllia, Scolymia, and, the subject of this article, Symphyllia.

Closed Brain Coral

Commonly referred to as dented brain coral, meat coral, pacific cactus coral, closed lobophyllia, maze brain coral, or, quite simply, brain coral, closed brain corals of the genus Symphyllia are extremely well-suited for aquarium use. Similar looking to species from the genus Lobophyllia, closed brain corals are somewhat less common, although equally (if not more) tolerant to variations in lighting and flow. To tell the difference between the two genera, look for a characteristic groove running along the top of the corallite walls in Symphyllia species. In general, Symphyllia species are more sinuous or grooved than Lobophyllia.

Common species include S. recta, S. radians and S. agaricia, although closed brain corals are often simply offered in the trade as Symphyllia spp.


Closed brain coral ( Symphyllia spp.) comes in many colors including this multi-color color morph.

Closed brain corals are collected throughout the Indo-Pacific in tropical waters, and they should therefore be kept in a tropical marine aquarium with stable water parameters. These are exceptionally hardy corals appropriate for the beginning aquarist so long as a stable environment is provided.

Closed brain corals can be placed on the substrate or up to about mid-level on the rock work. They are quite tolerant of variations in light and flow, but they seem to do best with moderate lighting and medium intermittent flow.

Closed brain corals are aggressive eaters, and they should be target fed two to three times a week. Expect to see feeding tentacles present whenever food is in the water. Feed them small pieces of meaty marine flesh, brine shrimp, baby brine shrimp, Cyclopeeze, or Blue Zoo Mix. You can soak the food in water with a vitamin supplement such as Selcon and then use a turkey baster to target feed the animal.

Closed brain corals do not possess particularly long sweeper tentacles, and they therefore do not need as much room as some other common corals with large polyps. They also tend to be somewhat more resistant to being stung by adjacent corals than other mussids. Closed brain corals are fairly sensitive to the chemicals excreted by some soft and leather corals, and it may be best to not mix these corals in the same aquarium.

It is best to quarantine all corals before adding them to your system. Only use medicated dips when you see tissue necrosis or any other sign of bacterial infection.

Published 24 June 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics

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