Reef keeping is fascinating art; the saltwater equivalent of a planted aquascape. Many, but not all, corals need loads of attention to water quality, lighting, currents, and other parameters just to stay alive…But not all. If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly large polyp stony coral that doesn’t need as much fussing, the Trumpet Coral is worth taking a look at!
What is Trumpet Coral?
There is a bit of confusion surrounding which is the precise scientific name for the Trumpet Coral (Caulastrea sp.). There are closely related species, Caulastrea furcata, C. curvata, and C. echinulata. The problem is that both the common and the scientific names are used interchangeably at times for all three.
It’s also a possibility that they actually are the same coral and it simply looks different depending on genetics, location, or other conditions. Generally speaking, Trumpet Corals get their name because they are taller and trumpet-shaped in appearance.
On the other hand, Candy Cane Coral tends to be squatter. Caulastrea echinulata often goes by the name “Big Pipe Trumpet/Candy Cane Coral.” Of the three, it has a distinct look as its individual polyps grow fused together into a solid mass.
The other two Trumpet Corals look almost identical in many cases. Fortunately, their care requirements are identical as well, so there’s no reason to fuss over which “species” you have.
The most colorful is the Candy Cane Coral (C. furcata), which is also often called Trumpet Coral. The others tend to be a dull grayish green in coloration, but have diverse shapes ranging from a cluster of trumpets to loose aggregates of individual coral polyps.
- Common Name: Trumpet Coral, Candy Cane Coral, Torch Coral, Bullseye Coral, and many other names
- Scientific Name: Caulastrea sp.
- Origin: Pacific Ocean
- Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
- Ease of Care: Easy
Trumpet Coral Care
Easy to care for and not too aggressive, Trumpet Corals are a staple of the marine reef hobby and are one of the best beginner LPS corals!
Water Conditions for Trumpet Corals
Reef keeping is one of the most advanced aspects of the aquarium world. You really need to be on top of your water conditions because corals crave stability alongside specific parameters. Trumpet Corals are hardier than most corals but still don’t do well with fluctuations in water chemistry. Growth can halt or they may even die back in conditions that fish thrive in.
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Several elements are essential for proper stony coral growth. Besides sodium and chloride, calcium is extremely important because it’s taken up continually by SPS (small polyp stony) and LPS (large polyp stony) corals to build their skeletons.
Coral skeletons are the foundations of the reef itself and they are built almost entirely out of calcium carbonate or aragonite (CaCo3). Ideally, you’ll have a constant, steady source of calcium as the low to high concentration pulses that occur when you perform monthly water changes can cause issues for more sensitive coral species.
Magnesium is another essential element for Trumpet Corals. Magnesium is only taken up in small amounts directly by corals but it has a huge effect on marine water chemistry. It allows calcium and carbonate levels to stay elevated; when magnesium levels get low, these molecules get removed from the water. Levels of 1200-1350 ppm ensure your corals sustain healthy growth.
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Strontium is a trace but essential element that corals uptake. It’s used in skeleton construction but not nearly as much as calcium. Any good reef salt blend has elevated levels of all three of these elements to ensure your corals don’t go hungry between water changes.
Corals also prefer stable salinity, pH, and water temperatures. Anywhere from 72-78℉ is ideal, with the warmer side fueling rapid growth. And a pH of 8.0-8.23 coupled with a specific gravity (salinity) of 1.023-1.025 closely replicates tropical reef conditions.
Alkalinity is an indirect measure of carbonate hardness; the higher the numbers the better buffering capacity your water has against pH swings. Reef aquarium conditions are actually a little higher than natural reefs (dKh 6-10) in order to boost growth!
Trumpet Corals do like low to moderate water currents, which help remove debris and excess mucus from their polyps. But nothing so strong that it causes them to retract with stress.
Trumpet Coral Water Conditions:
- Temperature: 72-78℉
- pH: 8.0-8.24
- Specific Gravity: 1.023-1.025
- Alkalinity: 9-12 DKH
- Calcium: 350-450 ppm
- Magnesium: 1200-1350 ppm
- Nitrate: 1-10ppm
- Phosphorus: 0ppm
Lighting for Trumpet Corals
Trumpet Corals are a very easy coral to care for when it comes to lighting. They prefer low to medium output light sources and can be stressed easily from the direct output of metal halides and other intense sources. Your PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) levels need not be much higher than 75-150.
If you have higher light intensity throughout your tank, finding them a spot shaded by rock or neighboring corals can keep Trumpet Corals healthy. Just make sure that neither coral can reach each other with their sweeper tentacles and that the Trumpet Coral still has the slight to moderate currents it craves.
Tank Mates for Trumpet Corals
Trumpet Corals are classified as semi-aggressive because they don’t have very much reach for an LPS species. That said, anything within reach of its sweeper tentacles is in danger because these corals have a fairly powerful sting.
When not conditioned to feed during the day, Trumpet Corals extend their sweeper tentacles at night to catch floating food. These tentacles are no longer than 2 inches so anything beyond their grasp is safe from their aggression.
That said, many corals have much longer sweeper tentacles. If the currents are right, they can reach out and damage the Trumpet Coral without consequences. Torch coral and Hammer coral are aggressive LPS corals with sweeper tentacles up to 6 inches long. Acan corals also have quite a bit of reach. Corals like these can live with Trumpet Corals – just not right beside them!
Good LPS corals that don’t have aggressive levels of reach include most Mushroom Corals, Disk Coral (Fungia sp.), and Lobed Brain Corals (Lobophyllia sp.).
SPS corals are a good fit as the majority don’t have sweeper tentacles long enough to harm their neighbors. Bird’s Nest Coral (Seriatopora hystrix), Green Bali Slimer (Acropora yongei), and other beginner SPS corals are a great fit. Just remember that most SPS corals love both strong currents and lighting so place them and your Trumpet Corals accordingly.
Soft Corals are also a good match for Trumpet Coral. Just be aware that many of them grow extremely quickly and will need to be trimmed back to keep them from overgrowing your LPS and SPS corals. Some, such as Toadstool Leather Corals, also release terpene compounds which slow the growth of nearby corals. Extra water changes, activated carbon, and other mitigation strategies are necessary to keep them from poisoning your Trumpet Corals.
As low light corals that do well even with less than ideal conditions they make fine tank mates for reef safe fish. This includes most Clownfish, smaller Damselfish like the Yellowtail Blue Damsel (Chrysiptera parasema), Tangs, Blennies, Gobies, Firefish, Basslets, Grammas, and other popular marine fish.
Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge sp.) as a whole can be kept with caution. They are reef grazers by nature and if they aren’t getting enough macroalgae they may start picking at your Trumpet Corals and other juicy polyps.
Trumpet Corals are otherwise invertebrate safe and can be kept with any shrimp, crabs, and snails that won’t bother them. Larger crabs can be problematic as can Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni), so choose carefully!
Good Tank Mates for Trumpet Corals:
- SPS Corals, LPS Corals that can’t reach them to sting and are compatible with their lighting and current needs
- Sponges, Clams, Feather Duster Worms, and other sessile invertebrates
- Clownfish, Tangs, Firefish, and other reef-safe fish
- Shrimp, small Crabs, Starfish, and other invertebrates
Poor Tank Mates for Trumpet Corals:
- Aggressive LPS Corals (Torch, Frogspawn, Hammer, Acan Lord Corals)
- Non Reef-Safe Fish or Invertebrates (Many Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Parrotfish, Peppermint Shrimp, many crabs)
Feeding Trumpet Corals
Like most corals, Trumpet Coral uses a multipronged feeding strategy. One of the main ways they get food is from their symbiotic zooxanthellae. These are single celled algae that live right inside the cells of the coral polyps!
In a classic case of symbiosis the algae obtain nutrients and shelter from the coral polyp. And in exchange they share some of their sugars with the coral. Many corals can live solely on light, dissolved chemicals, and nutrients from their algae symbiotes. But Trumpet Corals, as a low light species, need supplemental feeding at least once per week and up to twice per week.
Trumpet Corals aren’t picky at all when it comes to precisely what you feed them. They enjoy liquid planktonic food blends, organic chemical concentrations, and small animals like brine and mysis shrimp. Being sessile (unmoving) organisms, they have evolved to be able to eat just about anything that drifts by. Coral prepared pellet formulas are also extremely high quality, provide added variety, and are much more convenient to use than frozen or fresh foods.
In this video you can see the feeding tentacles each Trumpet Coral extends! They respond quite rapidly (for a coral) to the presence of food in the water and can be either target fed or broadcast fed the right foods. Both approaches have their upsides and downsides.
Target feeding is better if water quality is your main concern. Broadcast feedings can allow food particles to go uneaten, which decay and can cause problems with ammonia, nitrates, and phosphates. Target feeding will also ensure each polyp gets a maximal amount of food, which will boost their growth.
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However, if you have several corals, fish, invertebrates, and other animals, it may make more sense to broadcast feed. Animals can also learn to pick at the Trumpet Corals and get them to release whatever it is they are eating, which is very stressful for them.
When broadcast feeding, turning off the filter and other water pumps can help suspended food find its way to the corals. The corals often learn that when the pumps turn off it’s time to eat. You may see them start to extend their feeding tentacles every time the pumps shut down!
Propagating Trumpet Corals
Corals are as strange when breeding as they are when eating. Trumpet Corals are hermaphrodites and in the wild, they use lunar cues (tides and light) to coordinate mass spawnings.
They release both eggs and sperm into the water simultaneously, which are fertilized and become part of the flow of plankton around the reef. Over the course of weeks, the free swimming planula make their way to the reef structure where they attach themselves and begin building a skeleton.
While not too weird by animal standards, Trumpet Corals have two other breeding strategies you can capitalize on! Since they don’t have tides or moonlight to coordinate their spawnings within your aquarium, you pretty much have to.
The first is that they may periodically drop polyps from their own flesh, which drift a short distance away before forming new colonies. These are clones of the coral it fell from and help the colony cover bare real estate before competing species can, which is always at a premium on the reef.
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The second way to propagate Trumpet Corals is by doing it yourself. By cutting into the coral colony with a saw, dremel, or other propagating tools, you can take one or several “frags” from the main colony. These frags will then grow into new Trumpet Coral colonies over time. Typically you glue each new frag onto a fragging disk or a bit of coral rubble that can then be placed wherever you want.
A fragging kit provides sterile, surgically sharp tools for the job. You’ll also need an iodine bath nearby in case you accidentally cut into one of the Trumpet Coral polyps. They usually retract as you jostle them and remove them from the water but it’s a good idea to give them time to retract by moving them underwater a little beforehand. Once retracted, the skeletal stalk is laid bare and you’re free to start cutting!