Stylocoeniella Coral Care
Stylocoeniella are an encrusting stony coral that has features similar to small polyp stony corals such as Montipora but also bear some similarities to the small polyp varieties of Goniopora depending on how extended the polyps are. It does have a common name, that being “thorn coral” because they often host these wormlike critters whose tubes extend out from the colony making it look like a thorny ball.
In terms of taxonomy, their classification is every bit as oddball as their name. They are a member of the sub-order Astrocoeniina and the family Astrocoeniidae.
These corals are found throughout Indonesia and Australia however it isn’t frequently imported. When they initially hit the market, Stylocoeniella were quite rare, but luckily they are a very easy coral to propagate and thus became more commercially available than one would expect given their spotty rate of import. Right now there are only a handful of color morphs, but who knows? As more color variants are discovered it may become as diverse any other coral.
We primarily keep Stylocoeniella in low to medium light intensity here at Tidal Gardens. That translates to around 50 to 100 PAR. I haven’t really tried keeping them in brighter light, but it might be possible to get brighter coloration under the higher intensities. The main reason we don’t have them in higher light, believe it or not, comes down to space issues here. They did well in one of our lower light systems and grew like crazy so that’s where they stayed. When in doubt, try lower lighting intensities until it is clear that the coral is stable before ramping it up. The lowest lighting we have grown this coral in was around 40 PAR.
The coral seems adaptable and if we are able to clear some space out for them in brighter aquariums we might give them a try there. If you have a colony of Stylocoeniella and want to experiment with higher light, remember that lighting that is too bright risks burning the coral and it will happen quickly so if you start to see the coral starting to turn lighter and bleach out, move it to a dimmer location sooner rather than later.Low Light
Low light translates to about 30-50 PAR
Medium Light is between 50-150 PAR
High Light is anything over 150 PAR
Lighting is a loaded topic, so for a more in-depth discussion of lighting, please see our Deep Dive article.
As for placement, I would try to find it a spot lower in the tank, possibly even under an overhang. I probably wouldn’t place it on the top of the rock structure. Assuming it could handle the light at the top of your tank, I don’t know how well that would work aesthetically because this coral will stay kind of flat to the rock work and often times hobbyists are looking for a coral that is going to extend up towards the light structurally like branching corals. One other thing about placement to consider is future growth. Stylocoeniella is a fast growing coral that will spread quickly as it encrusts. You don’t want to crowd it right away and have it grow into neighboring colonies of corals.
Stylocoeniella appreciate low to medium flow. There are two things that I am looking to accomplish with flow for this coral. The first is to give it enough flow to keep it clean. Stylocoeniella is an encrusting coral that can quickly spread onto the rocks or bottom glass. As a result, it can attract its fair share of detritus. Detritus build-up can cause the coral to die back where it collects. Providing elevated flow around the coral can prevent this accumulation. Even moderate flow can serve to keep the coral clean, but pay attention to any detritus accumulation and consider altering the flow in your tank to compensate.
Detritus issues aside, one benefit to lower flow is that it gives the coral a chance to extend its polyps. In higher flow I notice that the polyps remain tight against the body and the whole colony resembles a Montipora or a Porites.
Providing periodic low flow is also beneficial for this coral for the purposes of feeding. Spot feeding Stylocoeniella is not something that a lot of hobbyists do, but I am all for it if people want to be proactive. They are not a particularly aggressive feeder especially given its small polyp size, and if the colony only receives strong flow it won’t get a good opportunity to capture food.
If you want to feed Stylocoeniella, what should you feed? Despite not being the most aggressive feeders in the world, there are a couple types of food that work well for target feeing. These three are amino acids, small zooplankton, and simply having fish present as a nitrogen source. In other words, treat it as you would any other small polyp stony coral. Most hobbyists do not go out of their way to spot feed, say, a Montipora so directly feeding a coral like Stylocoeniella may be a little overboard. Ours have grown exceptionally fast without a lot of attention. Still, if you feel like going that extra mile with feeding your corals, we can talk about it briefly.
Starting with amino acids, they are simple organic compounds that play a major role in building proteins as well as other biological functions at the cellular level. There are a little over 20 different types of amino acids. Most of them can be synthesized by the organism but some cannot be and must be taken in by feeding. Those amino acids are termed essential amino acids and they vary from species to species. Corals regularly take in available amino acids from the water column so it is easy to provide them with adequate quantities by broadcast feeding an amino acid solution. They are available from any number of commercially available reef supplement manufacturers. This may be the easiest way to feed Stylocoeniella because as long as amino acids are bioavailable in the water column, the corals will soak them up. If you want to know more about amino acids, I made a video going into great detail about them so check that out below:
Next up, Small zooplankton include organisms such as rotifers and cyclops plankton. There are two kinds, frozen and powdered. Both varieties do a great job of eliciting a feeding response from a wide range of corals. They are small enough that many small polyp stony corals can make a meal out of them but you have to be careful because they are a very nutrient dense messy food which can elevate your nutrient levels. Last point on nutrition, having fish in and around coral colonies tends to have a positive effect. Fish provide a steady dose of nitrogen and phosphorous which in small quantities is helpful for their nutritional needs.
Although coral nutrition is important, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Most of the nutrition Stylocoeniella needs will come from the lighting and they will be absorbing other nutrients from the water. If you are going to experiment with broadcast feeding or target feeding, start slowly with it and don’t expect explosive changes overnight. Having some phosphate and nitrate in the water is beneficial but overfeeding can cause these parameters to rise to dangerous levels that can be hard to remedy.
Proper acclimation is extremely important considering the stress imposed on the animals by the shipping process. Please take a moment to review our Acclimation Guide.
The images were taken with a Canon 5D mk II and 100mm macro lens under T5 Fluorescent lighting. Quite a lot goes into how we go about shooting the corals and anemones you see on Tidal Gardens. For an in-depth look at our methods, check out our comprehensive Reef Aquarium Photography FAQ.