Pulsing Xenia – A Unique Soft Coral But Buyer Beware!

In this post I’m going to highlight the Pulsing Xenia – one of the most unique soft corals available, but also a coral that needs to have a warning label for anyone looking to put one in their tank.

Background on Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia goes by its scientific name Xenia elongata. It has study stalks covered with a crown of featherly polyps. The polyps open and and close in a pulsing motion which is where it gets its name from. As they grow, they group into colonies and spread into mats across the rockwork.

Scientific NameHeteroxenia fuscescens
Common Name (Species)Pulsing Xenia
FamilyXeniidae
OriginIndo Pacific
Coral TypeSoft Coral
DietNutrients via water absorption
Care LevelEasy
ActivityActive
LifespanUsually to 10 years
TempermentPeaceful
PlacementAll Areas
Minimum Tank SizeAny
Temperature Range73 – 81 Degrees F
pH Range8.1 – 8.4
Salinty1.023 – 1.025
LightingLow to Moderate
Flow RateMedium to Strong Flow
Water TypeSaltwater
BreedingSplitting or spreading across tank
ColorsGrey, Pink, Tan White
Dosing RequiredNo
CompatibilityAll Corals

Pulsing Xenia in the Aquarium

Xenias tend to vary in hardiness. Some aquarists cannot keep them alive while others grow them so well that they become invasive in the tank. Usually this is because one’s tank actually may be too specialized for xenia. A SPS heavy tank would be a tank where Xenia would not grow as fast as SPS tank setups have as low phosphates and nitrates as possible while soft coral tanks have some phosphates and nitrates above trace amounts.

Usually a beginner reef tank has higher nutrient levels – which will make Xenia grow faster as they absorb these. The best chance for success would be to purchase a specimen that is aquacultured. They are easily found as aquacultured either from a local store, online, or even from local aquarists trimming them or wanting to get rid of them.

But what if you are visiting this post and actually want to get rid of them? Yes, that is the issue with these corals. They can grow so fast that they can overtake a tank. To illustrate, let me show you an example case from TRex from the reef2reef forum.

TRex’s tank was a 65 gallon reef tank that had a single pulsing xenia placed in. Within a year, the pulsing xenia had grown, reproduced, and completely taken over the tank:

Before:

Pulsing Xenia Before

After:

Pulsing Xenia After

A picture says a thousand words doesn’t it?

Factors to Consider When Deciding on Purchasing a Pulsing Xenia

If the pictures above have not discouraged you, let’s talk about factors when purchasing a pulsing xenia. They are pretty corals no doubt and in a species only tank they are actually pretty breathtaking with the non-stop pulsing and movement in the tank. Here are some things to consider to prevent an invasion.

Place Them On An Island

Place the xenia on its own rock away from others. You will want to place them at least 4 or 5 inches away from any other rock. Any type of grow that appears on another rock should be removed immediately.  Removal can be done by gently pulled out by walking a fingernail around the base of the coral to slowly loosen it. If you are planning to have them in your tank long-term, you will need to be prepare to trim them down as they grow to keep them contained.

Put Them in The Sump

Xenia feed off of Nitrate in the tank as they grow and would have uses in a refugium. The key is to regularly remove the growth so they can grow again and consume more nitrates. A Xenia refugium also serves as an excellent sanctuary for fry as they provide limitless hiding places. Here is a video from Troy V showing off his Xenia Refugium.

Consider a species only tank

A Xenia only tank is actually pretty breathtaking, though I personally would never consider one in a large display tank. If you have a smaller tank, it’s definitely something you can consider and would provide an easy to care coral. They actually are very compatible with clownfish as they readily host them.

Consider Having Nature Take Its Place By Placing More Aggressive Corals Near Them.

I have seen this as a last measure for reefers who have had their aquarium taken over, but do not want to break down their tank or remove rocks. Aggressive LPS corals like hammer, torch, and frogspawns excel at clearing the way with their sweeper tentacles. Any of these corals with etch out their own space and clear out anything within 4 or 5 inches from it. Anemones will also do the trick.

Let’s Hear Your Stories

Have a story or have pictures you would like to share about pulsing xenia growing in your tank or maybe you have a xenia tank of your own? Share in the comments below.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

22 COMMENTS

  1. I have xenia in my tank on an island in the middle of the tank away fro other rocks and glass.Its not the pulsing type.My fish peck at them ,im assuming they keep them at bay,so far no wanderer’s

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this awareness. you are right because key is to regularly remove the growth so they can grow again and consume more nitrates.

    Reply
  3. I purchased a beautiful frag 3 month ago that has grown quite a lot. Just recently and to my amazement I noticed that one of its stalky branches that is connected to the center of the coral has thinned out to the point that it is just hanging by a thread, as if it were a stretched out piece of chwing gum. This part of the coral is doing great and is pulsing with good coloration. My question is if this is the way they actually reproduce or split up to become another coral?

    Reply
    • Xenia grow by spread through their mat, You would need to cut the footing and move the cutting. However, given the grow rates of Xenia, I probably wouldn’t worry about fragging them. They reproduce quite readily in a tank.

      Reply
  4. “Awwwww dang”…I was already excited on purchasing one…. After reading some of these posts…UMmm…..”HECK NO TECHNO”……..

    Reply
  5. Just found out that if your Xenia coral is not pulsing it doesn’t like the spot it is on so it needs to be moved until it pulses and then it should be ok.

    Reply
  6. Xenia – – If no one wants their XENIA – I will gladly take it! I’ve started a new tank for my son and he really likes the movement – – but just on principle won’t buy from a store when so many here can’t seem to get rid of it….. located in Bronx, NYC – [email protected] – it would be great to hear back from some of you that hate the stuff…

    Reply
    • Kept my colonies in check with a tessellated filefish. I thought his sole purpose was going to be aptaisia control turns out many of them enjoy nipping Xenia too!

      Reply
      • That’s awesome to hear 😊. I’m glad your filefish gets a plentiful snack. Xenia are pretty, but super invasive. Happy that it has worked out for you 🙂

  7. Bought a beauty of a silver tipped xenia from LFS. 2 months later it is all but dead. I have it off to a corner to get lower light. It get low-medium flow. My tank is very stable with almost no nutrients. I tried to feed my fish a bit more to get some organics in the tank but its still shringking. All other softies are doing well and are wide open. I guess Im one of those who wont be able to keep this species alive and happy.

    Reply
    • Hello Bob
      Thank you for the warning.
      Just reading this article and posts for first time and I purchased a frag back in March 2020. It is growing beautifully but now that I read what u posted I’m going to really be extra careful and get gloves.

      Reply
    • That was a false report on what actual coral started that.. 🙂 palythoa and zoanthids and certain types of dinos have palytoxin Xenia’s do not. Maybe a trace to a certain degree..

      Reply
  8. Hi, I have had 2 situations in my tank where Xenia’s were overgrowing and I was working to clear them then them all of a sudden all died . Within a few days. I have a 500 gallon tank with lots of spf and high calcium. Everything else is super healthy. It’s ok if I can’t keep them, they are cool but they do tend to grow like crazy and start to take over without routine maintenance. But the sudden die off is confusing me . Any thoughts? Thanks!
    Btw Even all the ones in the sump all died at the same time as the ones in the tank and no other corals were near the ones in the sump. Just weird

    Reply
  9. To Matt..dont know if you have tried it but if they have to much current can cause them not to pulse. Try another spot in your tank where there is not much current.

    Reply
  10. Hi Matt,

    It is possible that your tank is too “clean” for the Xenia to thrive. Softies prefer more nutrient rich tanks. My guess would be that you have very low nutrient levels that are more appropriate for coral that demand more pristine water like SPS.

    Reply
  11. I cannot get xenia to stay pulsing in my tank. I buy frags that pulse like crazy in a tank, then they hardly pulse at all in mine. Have never been able to figure out why. Any ideas?

    Reply

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