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Millepora alcicornis - Fire Coral
A Hardy Coral With a Powerful Sting

Fire Coral
Fire Coral (Millepora alcicornis)

Fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) is a beautiful and hearty animal that makes a great addition to many reef tanks so long as both strong lighting and strong, intermittent flow are present.

More Closely Related to Jellyfishes

More closely related to jellyfishes than to “true” stony corals, Millepora alcicornis is a type of hydrocoral and is the third largest reef-builder in the world. In contrast to the majority of reef-building corals, the polyps of Millepora alcicornis are all contained within canals inside the skeleton—this is called a cyclosystem. To feed, fire coral extends and then retracts its internal feeding polyps. The retracted polyps deliver food to the rest of the animal through an internal canal network. This cyclosystem allows fire coral to more efficiently nourish its entire system.

Members of the genus Millepora can be identified by their yellow to brown color and no visible polyps. Often members of the genus, such as Millepora alcicornis, have lighter colored (sometimes white) extremities. Millepora alcicornis is a hardy coral in the wild—often one of the first corals to colonize a new area, and one of the last to die in troubled reef areas. Likewise, it is a relatively easy-to-keep coral in the aquarium.

Placement - Water Flow and Light

Water flow is an important factor in determining the growth form and pattern of Millepora. Millepora alcicornis is commonly seen in branching and encrusting growth forms. In the wild, Millepora alcicornis is found in shallow waters, inner ledges and outer reefs up to depths of about 100 feet. Relatively shallow water allows for the growth of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae). Species of Millepora can be found in the Indo-Pacific, Caribbean and Red Sea.

Placement - Aggression

Fire Coral
Fire Coral(Millepora alcicornis)

When placing fire coral, take care to provide it with plently of room—especially if you are introducing it to a tank with gorgonians. Fire coral can chemically sense gorgonians, and will grow toward them with the intent of encrusting and overtaking them. Keep in mind that it is can be quite difficult to stop the growth of Millepora once it begins to encrust the substrate.

Take care to protect yourself from the nematocysts—these stingers are capable of inflicting a painful injury with powerful toxins.

Powerful Sting Offers Protection to Some

While fire coral are perhaps best known for their powerful defenses—most of us probably know a SCUBA diver or surfer who has been “burned”—they also provide protection for some fishes whose pectoral fins are not covered with tissue (e.g. hawkfish). These fishes are not injured by the coral, and they can frequently be seen perching on fire coral’s branches where they are protected from potential predators.

Other Husbandry Concerns

This is, as has already been stated, a very hardy coral. It is not usually susceptible to parasites or diseases, although it can bleach relatively easily if stressed. Potential aquarium predators include nudibranches from the genus Phyllidia and several species of filefishes.

While extremely dependent on photosynthesis, Millepora alcicornis also feeds on planktonic foods, and may appreciate weekly supplemental feedings.


Overall, this species of fire coral is an excellent choice so long as you take care to provide the right conditions and take measures to protect yourself and your other sessile invertebrates from its powerful sting.

Published 22 July 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics

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