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Looking to learn about proper Toadstool Coral Care? If so you are in luck! Toadstool Corals are a perfect choice if you are looking for a beautiful, hardy coral to add to your reef tank at home Toadstool corals are known for their bright colors and easy care. In fact, these beauties will thrive in even some of the most basic aquarium setups! Learn more about this fascinating invertebrate below so that it can become an integral part of your underwater ecosystem!
A Brief Overview Of The Toadstool Coral
|Scientific Name||Sarcophyton spp.|
|Common Names||Toadstool, toadstool mushroom leather coral, leather coral, mushroom coral, trough coral|
|Origin||Widely found throughout the Indo-Pacific (Fiji, Australia, Tonga, Solomon Islands)|
|Common Colors||Greens, browns, tans, yellows|
|Lighting||Low-Moderate (50-150 PAR)|
|Tank Placement||Bottom, Middle, Top|
|Temperature Range||76-82 degrees F|
|pH Range||8.0 – 8.4|
|Salinity||1.025 or 35 PPT|
|Alkalinity||8 – 12 dKH|
|Calcium Level||350 – 450 PPM|
|Magnesium Level||1250 – 1350 PPM|
Origins And Habitat
Like so many other species, the toadstool leather coral is commonly found throughout the Indo-Pacific off the coasts of Fiji, Australia, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands. These corals thrive in shallow, mixed reefs where they often grow into huge plates that can quickly overshadow life below.
Though they will always grow towards the light, toadstool corals an be seen growing at most levels of the reef. If they are overshadowed by another coral, they can easily extend their stalk so that tentacles are once again at optimal lighting conditions.
What Kind Of Coral Is It?
In conversation, toadstool corals are regularly referred to as leather corals. However, there are actually several genera of leather coral, which can get confusing as they look and act pretty similar to one another; they are also all soft corals that lack an internal skeleton structure.
The most common species of leather coral to come across in the aquarium hobby are:
- Sarcophyton spp. are types of toadstool leather coral. Both Sarcophyton spp. and Lobophytum spp. have dimorphic polyps which means that some tentacles are extended while others stay in the flesh of the coral; toadstool leather corals have much longer extended tentacles than the other genera.
- Lobophytum spp. include devil’s hand leather corals. These corals also have dimorphic polyps, though their extended tentacles are much shorter and less present than those of toadstool corals. Devil’s hands are popular for their unique claw-shaped formations instead.
- Sinularia spp. are even more branched than Lobophytum spp. and are largely referred to as finger corals. These corals have small tentacles close to the flesh of the coral that can make for a fuzzy appearance.
Other leather coral genera you may come across are Kenya trees (Capnela), colt corals or finger leathers (Cladiella), colt corals or cauliflower colt corals (Klyxum), and nepthea or cauliflower corals (Nepthea).
These corals can be very difficult to tell apart as undeveloped frag pieces. As you can also see, their names are very confusing, which can make identifying your leather very difficult even as fully grown corals.
What Do Toadstool Corals Look Like?
Toadstool corals are one of the most recognizable species of leather coral and one of the easiest corals to identify in general. A Toadstool leather coral has a singular stalk with a large cap. This cap features extended tentacles which can vary in length across species. Toadstool corals are very accurately named after their similar appearance to toadstool mushrooms.
Though toadstool corals are relatively plain in color, only featuring greens, browns, tans, and yellows, they are a popular addition to the reef aquarium because of their impressive sizes. These corals can grow to be almost 2 feet across, though they usually stay under a foot in the aquarium setting!
Luckily, toadstool corals are very easy to propagate so they are easy to handle if they get too big.
Placement In The Aquarium
Toadstools are very adaptable corals, however, they aren’t necessarily the least demanding. For being such a beginner-friendly coral, toadstools do best under low to moderate lighting with moderate to strong flow requirements.
Many hobbyists find that lighting plays a big role in the colors expressed by your toadstool leather coral. Higher lighting will usually cause your toadstool leather coral to be brighter and more vibrant. However, these corals are a low-light species and only need about 50-150 PAR1. They need to either be acclimatized to higher areas in the tank over time or left to grow their stalk naturally.
Keep in mind that these corals can get huge and will block out light from other corals below. While they can be placed at all levels of the aquarium, it takes some planning to make sure that you don’t lose a big chunk of real estate in your reef aquarium.
Toadstool corals also need moderate to high flow. In most cases, flow can never be too strong as the coral will adapt and strengthen its stalk; of course, move the coral if it is being bent over by the current. On the other hand, flow can be too low.
Leather corals are unique as they have the ability to shed. This happens about once every one to two months and is a natural part of how they keep algae and waste off of them. When your toadstool coral is getting ready to shed, you might notice that it changes colors and has its tentacles retracted for a couple of days.
Eventually, you will see a thin shiny layer form on top of your toadstool coral. Over the next few days, this layer will be shed; this shed can get stuck on other rocks and corals in the tank, but it is not harmful. Once done shedding, your toadstool coral will emerge brighter and fuller than before.
In order to make sheds easy for your toadstool leather coral, it is best to keep it under moderate to high flow.
While shedding is a natural process to keep algae and waste from building up on your coral, it can also be a sign that something is wrong in the water column. Toadstool leather corals are notoriously temperamental with some hobbyists having corals that refuse to open on weeks on end.
For the most part, this isn’t a concern if water parameters are stable and all other livestock is doing well. Expect your leather coral to shed towards the end of this ‘dormant’ period.
Temperament In The Aquarium
For being such a large coral, these corals are very peaceful and almost harmless to other species. There are two main concerns you might have if planning on getting a toadstool coral.
These corals get huge and their growth is unpredictable. Their stalk does not take up much space on the rockwork, but their cap can spread out several inches.
The direction of their growth also largely depends on the water flow and light, so they can take on weird shapes that you might not have allowed for. In general, it’s best to place toadstool corals first and allow some time for them to grow before adding more corals below them.
Luckily, these corals do not have sweeper tentacles and can’t sting, so that is not a concern.
Some species of toadstool coral are toxic and can engage in chemical warfare. This might sound scary, and the effects can devastate a tank, but there are ways to be prepared should this happen.
In most cases, toadstool leather corals release their toxins under stress and or if they’re dying. If this happens, you will see other corals also start to rot, shed, or die. For this reason, it is important to remove melting leather corals from the tank as soon as they are noticed; it is possible to frag dying corals if healthy areas still remain.
Once the problem coral has been removed, add activated carbon to remove organic impurities (toxins) from the water and perform large water changes over the next few days. If possible, the remaining corals should also be removed from the reef aquarium and moved into quarantine until the tank is ready again.
Care And Maintenance
Otherwise, toadstool coral care is easy and straightforward. These corals check all the boxes of growing quickly, bringing movement to the tank, and being easy to keep.
There are many different species and varieties of toadstool leather coral, which can bring some difficulty to more advanced hobbyists if preferred. For example, the Fiji yellow coral (Sarcophyton elegans) is one of the hardest species to keep as it requires high light and high water flow to keep its yellow frilled appearance fully vibrant.
Are They Easy To Keep?
Leather corals, especially toadstool leather corals, are very easy to keep. These corals are hardy, easy to find, and easy to frag. They also grow very quickly and are very large, which can be appealing to beginner hobbyists who are looking to quickly fill their saltwater tank. In fact, there is little to no maintenance needed after adding a leather to your aquarium.
Water Parameters And Dosing
Toadstool corals do not need any special water parameters. As a soft coral, they do not need to build a calcium carbonate skeleton so they do not heavily rely on many nutrients to grow like large polyp stony corals (LPS) or small polyp stony corals (SPS).
That being said, toadstool corals need average reef conditions with available nitrates and phosphates. Too often, hobbyists strive for perfect parameters with 0 ppm across the board. Though this might seem like the perfect system, limited nutrients are actually a sign of an unhealthy tank.
Instead, nutrients should be available for coral growth. If keeping only soft corals, these nutrients usually do not need to be dosed and are introduced naturally into the tank through fish waste, food, and other debris. However, if keeping larger LPS or SPS, then it is recommended to dose those nutrients that are being used for growth.
These corals do not need to be fed and will grow quickly enough on their own. In fact, these corals are actually too slow to be fed effectively; their tentacles are very slow to retract so food has the chance to be swept away or eaten by something else in the meantime.
If you are really wanting to feed your toadstool leather coral, then small planktonic foods and specific coral foods, like coral powders, Phytoplanton, and pellets, can be given once or twice a week.
This phytoplankton package is loaded with 4 types of phyto. Excellent for corals, fish fry, and larvae
What Are Good Tankmates?
Toadstool corals can be kept with nearly all reef safe fish and invertebrates. It should be noted that toadstools with long tentacles may be mistaken as an anemone by clownfish. Unlike other anemone-lookalikes that retract when hosted, like Euphyllia, toadstools are typically better at withstanding annoyances from tankmates and will stay expanded.
In fact, I have personally had hermit crabs crawl all over the tops of toadstools. Though the coral retracted when touched in that one location, it left its other tentacles open and was quick to extend to full size once the hermit crab left.
Still, more coral-hungry fish and invertebrates should be avoided. Anything with teeth or pincers is capable of cutting through the soft flesh of a leather coral, which can lead to toxin release in extreme cases.
Toadstool corals are one of the easiest corals to frag but can be a little intimidating due to their size and the possibility of toxin release. There is little reason to worry though as long as all tools and equipment are laid out ahead of time.
First, you will need to decide if you want to frag the toadstool coral still inside the main display or if it is possible to remove it and frag it in another tank or bucket. Sometimes the coral is too large or too integrated to remove from the tank, in which case you will need to frag it directly in the aquarium. Here is a good video on how to frag a toadstool coral by Eric’s Marine Life. I’ll have some details below if you want to keep reading along.
To frag a toadstool that is still in the aquarium, simply use a scissor or a razor blade to cut pieces from the top. Be sure to avoid the stem as the parent toadstool will use this to grow a new cap. Remove the pieces of frag. It is strongly recommended to run activated carbon and perform larger water changes the following days to remove any possible toxins.
Many hobbyists like to trim their toadstool frag pieces more uniformly in order to get a more symmetrical appearance once the coral grows; this is not required, but simply trim the pieces into squares and discard or frag the remaining scraps.
In order to attach the frag to a frag plug or a piece of rock, you may use superglue (cyanoacrylate) or rubber bands. Superglue isn’t as effective with toadstools as these frags may shed several times before attaching to the given surface. In this case, be prepared that some frags may fall off before fully attaching.
A more secure way to attach your toadstool frag is by using a rubber band. Simply wrap the rubber band around the frag and the rock/frag plug. Make sure that the pressure isn’t too tight as this can cause the frag to split apart.
Once everything is done, simply dip the frag in fresh saltwater and/or a coral dip to make sure that no toxins are released back into the display aquarium and to help with recovery.
How Fast Do They Grow?
One of the reasons toadstools are so easy to propagate is because they recover very quickly. Most times, frags will open their tentacles immediately after being cut but will still take several weeks to completely attach to their new surface; the parent coral may take a little longer but should recover within a couple of weeks.
After that, toadstools grow very quickly. A frag can turn into a mature coral in less than a year and continue to grow in girth and circumference.
Why Won’t Your Coral Open?
As mentioned before, toadstools are notoriously temperamental and have been known to close for weeks on end without any signs of improvement. But how long is too long and when should you start to be concerned?
As mentioned before, toadstools are very hardy. However, this does not mean they will thrive in less-than-ideal conditions. Instead, they can take a long time to acclimatize to changed conditions. For example, a toadstool introduced to a new aquarium may take several weeks to fully open up even if water parameters are ideal.
A closed toadstool leather coral can also be a sign of poor water quality, though other fish and corals will likely show signs of unhappiness first. Another reason might be that your coral is going to shed, whether it be because of stress or because it needs to clean itself. If you notice other corals closing up during this time as well, it would be best to test water parameters.
Lastly, a closed toadstool could be a sign of brown jelly disease. These corals bruise very easily, which can invite infection, namely brown jelly disease. In which case, it is best to remove the affected coral and treat it vigorously as this can be highly contagious.
The toadstool coral is a large, impressive coral that doesn’t require much extra care. Not only are toadstool leather corals easy to care for, but they’re also very affordable, quick to grow, and can be fragged easily. These corals might not be the showiest in terms of color, but their extended tentacles can bring movement to the beginner or advanced reef aquarium setup. Leave us your thoughts on this type of leathery reef builder below!
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.