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Coral With Character - Soft Corals
Soft Corals Have Some of the Best Character of Any Aquarium Corals

Colt Coral
A large colt coral (Cladiella spp.) specimen

Bob Fenner, author of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist writes "soft corals are the most appropriate varieties of stinging animals for the marine aquarist graduating from fish to invertebrate to full-blown-reef enthusiast."

Why does he say this? There are several reasons, and all of them are legitimate, but we here at Blue Zoo Aquatics feel it is important to also point out that while soft and leather corals may be ideal "starter corals," they also make outstanding animals for the advanced aquarst interested in dedicating an aquarium to these corals, which, in some people's opinion, he more character than any other group of corals. In this isse of Blue Zoo News, you will find an article dedicated to two aqurists who have done just that, but first, let's take a closer look at wha makes these corals so well-suited to the beginning aquarist.

Amongst the most commonly touted reasons that soft corals are great "starter corals" are the following:

  • Many soft corals are tolerant of a wide variety of conditions (i.e. easier to keep than "true" stony corals)
  • Soft corals are less expensive (generally speaking) than stony corals
  • Soft corals are often beautiful animals (even boarding on downright ostentatious)

While all of the above points are true, and we do heartily recommend soft corals for beginning invertebrate and reef aquarists, there are also a few things about which the potential soft coral customer should be aware before making a purchase.

For example, most soft corals, while generally not capable of sending out longer stinging tentacles, do have the ability to both protect themselves with mucus nets and other fascinating mechanisms that can be harmful (if not fatal) to your other sessile animals. Some soft corals can even go on the offensive with a form of highly evolved chemical warfare that is capable of:

  • Sensing a threat in the water even if it is several feet away in the aquarium
  • Releasing toxins that can harm or even kill other corals anywhere in the tank

Does this mean the beginning aquarist should steer clear of all soft corals? Absolutely not! Following these simple tips will help any aquarist have success with these beautiful animals: 

  • Leave a buffer of six to eight inches around all soft corals, at least until you gain some experience in terms of the various defense mechanisms and toxicity of each species.
  • As a beginning invertebrate or reef aquarist, consider a full-blown softie aquarium, so you don't have to worry so much about chemical warfare.
  • If you do plan to mix soft coral and stony coral in the same aquarium, make sure you have done your homework as to which species of soft coral are the most toxic.
  • In a mixed tank, be sure your filtration is superb in order to quickly dilute and or remove toxins from the water before they damage your other corals. 

Published 11 August 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics

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