Are you a fan of corals but put off by the amount of work they sometimes need? There are a few corals that are on the easier side for beginners and are still attractive to look at.
Toadstool Corals are a variety of Leather Coral that are popular due to their size and ease of care. They do have some issues we’ll get to in a bit, especially involving other corals. But they are a great first coral if you’re looking to try something new!
What are Toadstool Corals?
Toadstool Corals go by a few names but all of them are quite descriptive and appropriately describe this distinctive species. They are typically a rather plain brown color but are large and fascinating to watch.
Toadstool Corals (and Leather Corals in general) have a few strange habits to watch out for. Every few months they may withdraw their tentacles and retract into themselves. While some corals do this due to stress Toadstool Corals periodically shed their slime coats.
This shedding takes place over the course of a few days to a week and the coral expands back into its normal proportions once complete. This shedding helps remove any attached bacteria, algae, and other microorganisms all at once. But it can be alarming to watch if you’re not expecting it as the coral appears to be shriveling up and dying.
However they are some of the most beginner-friendly corals around. They don’t require lighting as intense as many stony corals do and they have a high tolerance for dissolved organic material.
In fact, they don’t actually eat in the traditional sense at all. Toadstool Corals shape their caps to direct the flow of water around them. In doing so they can absorb dissolved nutrients from fish waste, leftover food, and other sources.
Despite being so easy (for a coral) to care for, attractive, and hardy, they are also one of the more difficult corals to keep with other species. They have aggressive chemical defenses that can kill neighboring corals, especially stony corals.
So let’s talk all about how to counteract these defenses and how to care for Toadstool Corals!
- Common Names: Toadstool Coral, Mushroom Coral, Rough Leather Coral, Umbrella Coral
- Scientific Name: Sarcophyton glaucum
- Origin: Indian Ocean
- Size: 16-30 inches tall
- Aquarium Size: 55+ Gallons
- Temperament: Aggressive
- Ease of Care: Easy
Caring for Toadstool Corals
Toadstool Corals are one of the easiest soft corals to care for. So long as you provide for their needs you may even see them breed!
Considering how tall and wide Toadstool Corals can grow they should be kept in large tanks as they mature. Small frags can grow out in nano tanks but care must be taken at all tims to keep your Toadstool Coral isolated from other corals. Their toxic slime and slow release growth inhibitors will damage or kill other corals that remain too close.
Toadstool Corals do best with a moderate flow rate; not too low but not so high that the current batters them about. Since they passively filter water through their tentacles we want to strike the right balance by watching the coral to see whether it reaches out into the current or retracts from it.
Toadstool Corals otherwise prefer standard reef conditions of 75-82℉, an alkaline pH, and a salinity of 1.023-1.025. While they don’t build a stony base they do still use calcium for internal structures called “spicules.” Spicules offer support to the coral and stiffen it.
All corals also need magnesium, which makes dissolved calcium available in the first place. Strontium and iodine should also be present and tested for periodically. The following parameters are ideal for Toadstool Corals.
Toadstool Coral Water Conditions
- Temperature: 75-82℉
- pH: 7.9-8.2
- Specific Gravity: 1.023-1.025
- Alkalinity: 9-12 DKH
- Calcium: 400-450 ppm
- Magnesium: 1200-1350 ppm
- Nitrate: 1-10ppm
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Lighting for Toadstool Corals
Toadstool Corals require moderate to high lighting as they are entirely photosynthetic and don’t eat like other animals. High lighting tends to keep them compact and also brings out green and other colors in their flesh. In moderate or low light conditions they tend to remain brownish in color. They may also grow a bit thinner in appearance and taller as they try reaching for the light.
A PAR rating of 75-150+ should be enough for Toadstool Corals in any tank. Metal halide lighting isn’t required for them; standard fluorescent fixtures of the right spectrum offer enough output.
Feeding Toadstool Corals
More good news: you don’t actually have to feed Toadstool Corals! They rely entirely on their photosynthetic zooxanthellae for nutrition with a side of dissolved organic chemicals for dessert.
The toadstool shape of the coral is designed to manipulate the flow of water so that it passes with maximal efficiency over their tiny tentacles.
The cap of the coral has a highly increased surface area compared to the stalk, allowing it to more effectively screen the water for the chemicals it and its algae symbiotes need to survive. The 8 pronged polyps have tentacles that add further surface area and channel water in between them.
As a result, Toadstool Corals can actually be a bit of a challenge if kept in pristine water conditions, such as alongside SPS corals. They may not get the nutrients they need if you keep nitrates at 0ppm and aggressively scrub out all organic matter from the water.
Unfortunately, due to their toxic secretions you still need to keep up with water changes and polishing, which complicates their care. It’s best to find a balance between organic accumulation and cleanliness or simply keep Toadstool Corals separate from stony corals.
Toadstool Corals are also good tank mates for active feeding corals like Hammer, Torch, and Frogspawn Corals (Euphyllia sp.) as well as sea anemones. Since these animals eat they create messy organic leftovers that the Toadstool can then absorb.
Toadstool Corals also feed off of the leftovers that fish leave from their food and poop decay.
Toadstool Coral Chemical Aggression
Toadstool Coral is one of the more aggressive species in the hobby. Unlike most corals simply distancing your Toadstool isn’t enough to prevent their attacks, either.
Toadstool Corals don’t have sweeper tentacles and they don’t have a digestive system so they don’t use mesenterial filaments (stomach secretions) to liquidy their neighbors. Instead, they engage in continuous passive chemical warfare.
The first line of attack or defense is the mucus covering the coral. The active agents aren’t entirely well understood because there are so many different chemicals. Toadstool Coral mucus actively inhibits bacteria, viruses, algae, and other microorganisms that are abundant in sea water and waiting for a chance to attach to or infect a weakened animal.
These chemical compounds are so effective that research is ongoing to find applications for cancer treatment, novel antibiotics, and other medical uses. This drug cocktail also includes agents that poison other corals that come in contact with the Toadstool Coral.
Since Toadstool Corals like moderate current you need to ensure they don’t end up brushing against other corals, especially sensitive stony corals. Even a well-placed Toadstool may end up getting knocked over and ends up falling onto another coral, which can be fatal for both corals.
I mentioned earlier that Toadstool Corals are known to shed their mucus coating occasionally. If you suspect this process is about to occur you need to be very diligent about collecting the shed slime in a reef tank. Excess slime that attaches to another coral can burn and possibly kill it over time.
But that’s not all to the story. Toadstool Corals have a secondary active defense that’s just as problematic for reef keepers. They continually secrete dozens of chemicals in the terpene family. These are gluey, strong-smelling essential oils used by many plants (such as pine trees) and animals (termites) for defensive purposes.
These terpene compounds are especially interesting to medicine because their inhibitory action may provide new cancer treatments. In the ocean they inhibit the growth of nearby corals in low to moderate levels and can actually kill sensitive SPS corals in high enough levels. Acropora, Porites, and some LPS corals like Euphyllia have been known to die from the toxins released by Toadstools.
However these chemicals usually just halt their growth enough for the nearby Toadstool Coral to grow above and shade the slower growing stony corals. This shading is what eventually kills their competitors.
That said, this terpene release can be managed somewhat if you intend on keeping Toadstool (and other Leather Corals) with stony corals. Frequent water changes are your first line of defense and may be enough if you have only one Toadstool Coral.
Activated carbon absorbs most organic molecules, including terpenoids. Biweekly changes of the filter carbon should provide enough of a defense, assuming the Toadstool Coral isn’t right next to the stony coral.
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- Operating Voltage 12-15 VDC
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Lastly, you might consider an ozone generator. Ozone is an incredibly reactive triple oxygen molecule that viciously attacks anything organic. Ozone generators can leave aquarium water pristine and odorless. They greatly improve protein skimmer efficiency as well as neutralize Toadstool Coral toxins.
Tank Mates for Toadstool Corals
Despite how unfriendly Toadstool Corals can be to other corals there are still plenty of other animals you can keep them with. Toadstool Corals are some of the best corals for tanks with fish since they feed on the organic matter and nitrogenous waste fish release. They are also too bitter even for most fish that like nipping at corals.
Therefore they are safe with most fish, shrimp, snails, and other invertebrates. Toadstool Corals are perfect beginner corals for aquarists who aren’t sure if they can provide the water quality that more sensitive types demand.
Clownfish are a great pairing because they will often host Toadstool Corals if their preferred anemone species isn’t around. Clownfish do tend to be very active, which can disturb the Toadstool enough that it retracts fully. So keep watch on the pair to make sure the Clownfish doesn’t stress the coral to death.
Good Tank Mates for Toadstool Corals:
- Most fish, especially Clownfish
- Shrimp, Snails, Clams, and other Invertebrates
Poor Tank Mates for Toadstool Corals:
- Most Stony Corals
Propagating Toadstool Corals
Toadstool Corals are very easy to breed once established and healthy. While you can help them along with the right tools it can be just as satisfying to watch your coral breed on its own. Toadstool Corals can reproduce both sexually and asexually.
In the aquarium you’re only likely to see asexual reproduction happen. In this instance the coral will split off pieces of its capitulum (cap) that fall to the substrate. These pieces will eventually attach or fall into a crevice where they slowly grow into new Toadstool Coral colonies.
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You can help this process along by using a coral fragging kit. You’ll want to cut off a section of the cap and treat both sides with a mild iodine solution to prevent infection at the site of the injury.
The sliced piece is too slimy and gelatinous to be glued to a bit of rubble or a fragging disk, unlike hard corals. Instead, you can use a piece of mesh tied over the fleshy coral piece. By binding it to the rock the Toadstool Coral will grow through the mesh into a miniature clone of its parent. At this point the clone simply needs light and nutrients to grow!
Toadstool Corals also reproduce sexually but this process only rarely happens in home aquariums. Corals rely on signs from the tides and lunar light to coordinate their mass spawning events.
In the ocean, hundreds to thousands of corals will release eggs and sperm in sync with one another once per year. Female Toadstool Corals need nearly 2 years to develop eggs so they always have two sets in development overlapping each other. Male corals need 10-12 months to produce sperm. It sounds strange until you consider how slow their metabolisms are.
Since the Toadstool Corals don’t have natural cues in your fish tank its best to rely on propagation and watch out for asexual splitting of the cap.