It is hard to argue the beauty of a zoanthid and when used to landscape your reef aquarium, they create a mat of color that is simply breathtaking. These colonial polyps are available in pretty much any color or combination of colors you can imagine which is a big part of why collecting the various color morphs is such a popular approach for reef aquarists.

When cared for properly zoanthids and the related palythoa (often called zoas and plays) are relatively hardy and fast-growing making them an ideal candidate for first-time reef tank owners. They "encrust" the rock surfaces in your tank creating colonies of individual flower-shaped polyps. They range in price from being extremely affordable to quite expensive depending on the particular color morph and rarity.

Palytoxin Warning: Certain Zoanthids and Palythoa can contain palytoxin which is a deadly toxin to humans. Under normal circumstances, zoanthids and palythoa do not pose a threat because the toxin must be ingested. That said, a couple of hobbyists have fallen victim to palytoxin poisoning while attempting to clean old live rock by boiling it. The polyps that remained on the rock released the palytoxin during boiling which then became aerosolized and was inhaled causing hospitalization. As long as you don't boil rock, you shouldn't have a thing to worry about. Regardless, always wear gloves, goggles, and a mask when handling (especially fragging) zoanthids and palythoa.   

Environmental Conditions & Care Requirements

Zoanthids will thrive under a variety of conditions in an aquarium and the same variety will often display different traits and colors under varying environmental conditions. Some types tend to be hardier and much faster growing than others regardless of environmental conditions but nonetheless, these cnidarians are one of the best beginner corals because of their relatively easy care requirements and hardiness.

  • Lighting: They are flexible and will thrive in low to high light zones. Most shoot for the LPS PAR range of 75 - 150 PAR. 
  • Flow: Low to medium flow tends to be their preference.
  • Parameters: Stable reef tank parameters with balanced nutrient levels. They are considered soft corals and will not uptake calcium and alkalinity from the water as stony corals do. 
  • Feeding: They do appreciate regular spot feeding at least 1-3 times per week with small particle-sized coral foods.

Aquascaping and Placement

When stocking and placing zoanthids in a reef, aquarists usually take one of two approaches. They can be great for filling open areas of rock in between other corals or you can arrange various color morphs together and create a zoa garden. Collecting various color morphs is very popular and many hobbyists dedicate a rock island or corner of the aquarium for various strains of zoanthids and palythoa to grow together.

  • Sand: Special Grade Reef Sand is our favorite and the best-selling sand for reef tanks because of its grain size. 
  • Aquascape: Zoanthids encrust over the rocks so give them plenty of surface area to cover. Creating islands is a great way to showcase the variety of different zoanthids in your collection. They can grow vertically and will grow up a wall or even on your equipment. 
  • Placement: They can really be placed anywhere there is an open rock face to cover but remember that other corals can sting and irritate them and vice versa. While different zoanthids and palythoa can often grow side by side in harmony, be mindful of neighboring corals. Pay attention to the palette of colors you're creating and place complementary colors side by side to paint a more vibrant picture. Use bone cutters to break or remove as much of the frag plug or disc as possible before gluing them into your tank. 

Equipment & Gear

Special thanks to World Wide Corals for supplying all of the zoanthids featured in this video.