Within the reef aquarium hobby you often hear the terms soft corals, LPS and SPS used to identify different groups of corals. Grouping corals in this fashion is very useful because it not only describes the coral itself but also helps aquarium hobbyists understand what a particular coral will need from us (lighting, placement, flow, parameters, etc.) in order to survive.
Soft corals lack a rigid stony skeleton. Typically they require lower light and moderate to low water flow. They are often more forgiving with water quality and easier to care for. Common soft corals include Leathers, Zoanthids, Palythoa, Discosoma and Ricordia.
LPS: Large Polyp Stony Corals
Large Polyp Stony Corals consist of a rigid skeleton with large fleshy polyps. LPS usually require moderate to high light levels and moderate flow rates. They are a bit more forgiving with water quality compared to SPS corals. Growth rates and patterns vary dramatically from one species to another. Common LPS corals in the aquarium trade include Acanthastrea, Euphyllia, Favia, Fungia, Blastomussa, Dendrophyllia, and Tubastrea.
SPS: Small Polyp Stony Corals
Small Polyp Stony Corals have a rigid skeleton with small polyps and thin flesh surrounding the skeleton. They generally have high light requirements and prefer high water flow. SPS are very sensitive to water quality and are the most difficult corals to grow in an aquarium. Common SPS corals include Acropora, Montipora, Pocillopora, Stylophora, and Seriatopora.
Shopping for corals becomes easier and more enjoyable once you know basic coral care requirements. Based upon my own personal experience in the hobby, choosing the right corals for your aquarium plays a huge role in your success as a reefkeeper. Today I’m going to share some helpful tips on how to choose healthy LPS corals and care for them in your own aquarium.
Let’s first discuss what you want to look for and what you want to avoid when shopping for LPS corals.
Look for corals with healthy polyps that are extended and fleshy. Avoid LPS specimens with dying or retracted polyps/heads because the affliction may quickly spread. Usually if the dying heads are removed from the colony the coral will have a much better chance of survival. Avoid any corals with brown jelly or black tissue. That is a red flag and something that may spread if introduced into your aquarium. Tears or cuts in a coral’s flash can be detrimental. Be extra careful when handling or transporting corals because the fleshy polyps are easily damaged, especially when fully extended.
Once you’ve brought the coral home safely, be sure to give it plenty of time to acclimate to your aquarium’s water temperature and chemistry. You may also want to dip the coral as a preventative measure to avoid introducing unwanted hitchhikers into your aquarium system.
Find a spot in your tank that will give the coral plenty of room to grow and thrive in its new home. Pay careful attention to the coral’s light and water flow requirements. Too much flow can cause tissue damage; not enough may make it difficult for the coral to feed. Typical placement for LPS would be mid tank or on the bottom based on lighting needs.
LPS corals often have long sweeper tentacles that can kill just about anything they touch. These sweeper tentacles may extend quite far—6” or more—depending on the size and species. Bottom line: give your new LPS coral plenty of room and keep it away from other corals of any kind.
Some LPS corals will accept larger particles of food. You can spot feed with mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, squid chunks and sometimes sliced-up Silversides or krill if the coral will accept it. Most corals naturally feed at night so this would be the best time. You can stimulate a feeding response during the day by adding phytoplankton or zooplankton to the aquarium prior to spot feeding. Just be careful not to overfeed as this will lead to elevated waste levels and poor water quality.
Generally speaking, LPS corals are pretty easy to grow in reef aquariums as long as they are given the proper care. Best of all, they are frequently the most stunning pieces of coral in your tank since they tend to have heavy fluorescent colors. Under the right actinic lighting, LPS corals can create a psychedelic reef aquarium Jerry Garcia himself would approve of.