Suncoral Care (Tubastrea sp.)
I'd seen pictures of Sun Corals in forum discussions many times, but always thought they were too picky to be a good coral to keep in my own aquariums. I'd heard how important it was that every single polyp was carefully fed food daily or at least every other day. People came up with feeding domes and syringes with tubing to target feed it. All in all, it seemed like a lot of work and more than I was interested in performing.
In 2004, I saw a discussion thread about a bright pink sun coral, and there was quite a bit of debate whether it was dyed or not. As I read page after page of comments, I came across a couple of excellent articles about this coral's needs, as well as comments by proud owners. It wasn't nearly as difficult to care for as I'd previously understood. Tubastrea • Black Sun Coral • Tubastrea by Eric Borneman
So I went to my LFS to see what they had, and found a tiny frag of a former sun coral with a two polyps barely alive. I figured I could practice on this piece, and if all went well I could get a healthy coral and maintain it properly. I brought it home and tried to coax it out to eat. In the meantime, a club member from DFWMAS offered to trade his own Sun Coral for an easier-to-keep coral, so I offered him a large piece of Hammer Coral in exchange. We both are very satisfied with the trade.
I placed the coral at the end of the tank, partially shielded by LR so the lights weren't too harsh on the tissue. From what I've read, these corals tend to live in dark caves, feeding frequently. I don't have a cave to offer it, plus I'd like to enjoy this brightly colored specimen when I view my tank.
After acclimating it slowly, this is what it looked like at 6:41 p.m.
At 8:21 p.m. it was hungry and extended its polyps. It had been trained to expect food at 8pm daily.
At 9:41 p.m. it looked like this.
A couple of hours later, I grabbed a flashlight to see how it was doing, and saw it was wide open! This picture was taken with the flash.
Some people have requested images of it feeding, so the following images can give you an idea of the process. I bought frozen Mysis Shrimp from a LFS, and thaw one cube in a small cup of tankwater for about 5 minutes. Using a small turkey baster, I can suck up some of the food (liquid and solid mysis) and drizzle it over the coral. The first day I turned off the pumps when I fed, but lately I've been leaving everything on to see how it does. Similar to an anemone, these little polyps seem a bit sticky and hold onto the food if it brushes up against the 'petals'.
It takes about 10 minutes to feed a cubes worth of food to the coral.
About every 3 minutes, several if not all of the polyps are waiting for the next batch of food.
It is surprising how large each mouth opens to swallow the mysis. An hour later, the coral was still extended waiting to be fed, so I fed it another cube's worth of food. I was told by one owner that they feed their coral three cubes worth each time, and I was very surprised. After seeing mine eat two cubes, I believe it.
Some have suggested feeding Cyclop-Eeze as well, but I've not tried that yet.
Look how the polyps are sharing the food, or should I say playing tug-of-war with it?!
Trying to keep the fish away from the coral during feedings, I'll drop more food in the tank to keep them busy. However, much to my shock, this Target Mandarin came over to the coral after already being feed live baby brine shrimp and the nightly dose of food. It hovered over the coral, and actually ate a few mysis and drifted away. While it is good to know this fish will eat frozen prepared foods, I don't want it stealing from my Sun Coral!
The daily feedings of mysis seems to be drawing some attention from the rest of my livestock. The fish hide nearby and wait for the moment I look away to steal some of the meaty food I'm feeding my coral. Late at night, my cleaner shrimp are picking things clean. The Mandarin comes over daily now, eating huge chunks of food that I'd expect he'd avoid considering the fact that they normally eat pods.
So here are the images. The first one is the original frag I bought with one sole surviving polyp. I moved it next to the healthy sun coral where it can benefit from the same feedings.
This next shot, the polyp has bigger eyes than its stomach, but that didn't stop it from thinking big!
Here my Target Mandarin is just about to pounce. The 'dust' you see is the mysid cloud that was drizzled over the coral moments before:
And a little later, it was "Table For Two, please":
Then my Hippo Tang dashed in when he thought I was away...
Even the coral beauty stole a snack:
And here's a shot of some of the traffic this section gets now.
I didn't get a decent picture of the Royal Gramma, and the two clowns aren't interested in the food but they'd prefer it if I'd stay away. The only fish I've not seen over here is my Anthias. She's a beauty too, but stays out of sight 90% of the time unfortunately.
The sun coral was opened up again before the lights came on, so I thought I'd be able to feed it before the fish woke up. This particular fish was captured stealing some food. I used the flash for this shot...
July 17, 2004: After feeding baby brineshrimp to my tank, the sun coral posed for this shot:
January 10, 2005: My suncoral continues to do well in my 280g reef. I feed it about 2 times a week, maybe more. Pumps are turned off, and I drizzle food over it and let it eat. Sometimes I cover it with a dome to protect the feeding process, other times I don't. Here are a few macro shots of the polyps.
June 5, 2005 - A year later, the sun coral is doing great. I'm very pleased with this coral and have to admit that it is far easier to care for it than I originally thought a year ago. Here it is, during the day time with the polyps closed up. You can see how healthy the tissue is all around the base, and the little baby polyps forming between the main branches or polyps.
It is important in my opinion to keep the coral on a rock where it can't settle into the sand. If it becomes submerged in the sand, the tissue will quickly die exposing skeleton. I'm currently feeding it directly once a week, under a dome to keep hungry livestock away. It is open all night feeding from the water. Since I feed the tank within 30 minutes of lights out, the water is nutrient rich for a good hour or more. I turn off the skimmer for two hours to avoid removing the planktonic food too quickly, and this seems to be working out nicely.
October 5, 2005: Over the past few months, I've acquired two more suncorals. One is a black one, and it does show some polyps during the photo-period (when the lights are on). It is branching suncoral, as is the new orange one I picked up.
Here are all three when the lights are on.
And again at night around 2 a.m.
Also... I discovered two suncoral babies in my tank. Here is one!
A different coral that looks very much like a suncoral is a Dendrophyllia. I don't want to confuse you so I'll only post one picture. As you can see, it looks quite similar. The polyp is probably three times larger than a suncoral polyp, and this coral stays open all day long with the lights on. I put this in my Pico (2 gallon) tank. Feeding it meaty food like mysis or cyclop-eeze will keep it growing and happy, just like a suncoral.
January 3, 2006: For the past few weeks, I saw some detritus / sand / cyano bacteria collecting within the core of the suncoral. Finally I tired of that and used a turkey baster to blow that stuff out of the coral. Much to my surprise, I found all the tissue in the core was gone, and I could see white skeleton. I'm sure with heavier feedings, this tissue will regrow again.
This coral is 1.5 years old now, and the other two branching suncorals nearby seem to be doing quite well. I need to resume feeding them a little more often so they'll grow more abundantly. I've gotten into the bad habit of only feeding them once a week, so growth is minimal. I might as well focus on them a little more so they'll become larger colonies.
December 21, 2007: A lot of time has passed since this page has been updated. During 2007, this coral deteriorated because I stopped feeding it regularly. Back in August I moved it out of my main reef and into a suncoral tank, a small 9" x 9" x 9" cube that is set up over the sump. It is very easy to target feed the coral each night in this small area, plus it adds something pretty to see when in the fishroom.
The main coral that has been featured on this page for years now is in the center of this tank. It took about 90 days to get it back to this point, and while it looks good in this picture, that is only half of what the colony was. With continued feedings, it'll regain its former glory. The orange coral(bottom left) is a Dendrophyllia that is doing very well with babies sprouting at its base. The rock with a few polyps is a very recent addition.
The suncoral in the back of the tank is the branching one pictured earlier on this page.
May 2012: I still have the parent colony of Tubastrea, and it enjoys nightly feedings. I've added a beautiful black suncoral, and a "Curlycue" coral.