Corals for Beginners: Cutting your Teeth in Reefkeeping
If you’re new to reef-keeping and considering starting your own reef tank, you’re probably wondering, "What corals should I get? This is a relevant question because it’s easy to get a little too excited stocking your first tank with beautiful and exotic corals. The issue is that some of these corals need super specific conditions, which can be incredibly difficult to achieve when starting out. Although it's very possible for beginners to achieve great success with more difficult corals, the likely hood of them surviving goes down drastically. Unfortunately getting in over your head at the start can lead to losses in money and motivation and ultimately can cause people to leave the hobby before they really even start. The corals listed below are some of our favorites when it comes to hardy corals that are also easy on the eyes, making them ideal corals for beginners.
Mushroom corals are a great choice for a reef tank with low to moderate lighting. These soft corals are available in several colors such as metallic green, green-striped, blue-spotted red and metallic blue. Keep in mind there are many varieties or “morphs” in the world of mushroom corals. These generic names are created to describe the look of the morph but aren’t governed by any scientific rules.
Actinodiscus mushroom corals should be placed low or mid-height inside the tank. If the water flow is too strong they won’t fully expand, so keep them in a calm area of the tank. You can feed each polyp with microplankton coral food OR you can also add food to the water flow. And, over time mushroom corals will reproduce and spread out on the rock.
These mushrooms thrive in lower light and slow flow rates. They make great corals for nano tanks or at the bottom of larger reef aquariums.
Rhodactis corals can be placed at any level in the aquarium. They can take bright lighting but will also remain colorful in lower light levels. Avoid direct wave surges, as they thrive in lower flow rates. The corals will fully extend to show off their polyps and vibrant colors once they’re situated.
Mushroom corals receive nutrition from their symbiotic algae, but many aquarists use supplemental feedings to help the corals reach their maximum potential.
Zoanthus polyp rock is another hardy coral. You’ll find multiple polyps attached to a piece of reef rock, often coated with coralline algae. It’s a great way to add corals and seed your tank with purple and pink coralline algae.
Like mushroom coral, polyp rock morphs are often sold with highly descriptive names like “Fiji Bam Bam” and “Kryptonite”. Try not to fall for these marketing gimmicks (giving them fancy names), as they’re mostly a way to hype up a new coral causing crazy price jumps.
Zoanthus polyp rock comes in a rainbow of color combinations including orange, green, red, yellow and blue.
Give this coral bright light and they’ll spread across the rock, creating a carpet of vibrant color. Zoanthus enjoy medium water currents and will filter-feed on baby brine shrimp and micro pellets.
Ricordea mushrooms are another popular coral for BOTH beginners and experienced reefers. The coral is covered in club-like tentacles giving it a highly textured surface.
The Caribbean variety is very hardy and normally green in color. The Pacific Yuma types are considered less hardy but are highly prized for their intense red, pink and yellow morphs.
Ricordea prefers medium to high light intensity and slow flow rates. The polyps contain symbiotic algae, but will also feed on frozen shrimp and prepared coral foods.
Pulsating Xenia, also known as Waving Hand Coral, is also very hardy. The branched stems sway gracefully while their tentacled polyps pulse in the water. The movement creates an almost alien landscape in a tank. I personally think it’s very relaxing just to gaze at them for a period of time. They really give your tank a certain quality of “liveness.”
Xenia contain symbiotic algae but are capable of filter-feeding. They thrive under moderate lighting and medium water flow. Xenia will reproduce and spread throughout the tank. If you happen to own one, you already know they grow like weeds in a healthy aquarium. In fact, you probably have reefing friends that may offer you a branch or two.
Some aquarists surround their colonies with loose rubble pieces. When the colonies spread to the rubble piece, they’ll pull the piece away, and they trade them in at their local fish shop or reefing club.
Favities: also known as brain and star coral, is a large polyp stony variety with intense colors that fluoresce under reef lighting.
There are many color morphs with wild names like Dragon’s Soul and Babies’ Breath. Again, as warned early, be careful of the hype with these fancy names. This coral likes medium light intensity and moderate water flow.
Note that these corals send out long sweeper tentacles at night. Keep them away from other nearby corals, otherwise, they may sting each other. Corals can be very territorial as they are competing for food in the ecosystem. You can feed Favites microplankton food and tiny shrimp in the evenings or when their tentacles are visible.
Star polyps are easy and look great in the tank. Their colorful polyps sway in the water current, showing off their greenish-yellow tentacles.
They like medium to strong water flow and will thrive under dim to bright lighting. Star polyps contain symbiotic algae but also filter-feed from the water.
The Importance of Beginner Corals
These are just a few of the easiest corals to care for, especially if you’re just starting out in the hobby. Reef-keeping is more than buying frags and dropping them into your tank. It really is a balance of art and science.
Just like with everything else in life, it takes time to learn this hobby and to grow in it. There are always new things to learn when it comes to balancing the water chemistry, fine-tuning the filtration system, adjusting lighting equipment, and maintaining a stable marine environment, but as you improve at each, new doors will start opening for you. Sometimes all it takes is a little extra patience and knowledge that time has given you to maintain that one coral that you've never had success with before.
Every reef aquarium is unique. Taking it slow allows you to learn about your corals, letting you see how they react to different conditions and what allows them to thrive. This is the “art of reef keeping”.
The corals that we listed above are great ones to cut your teeth on for the hobby. Once you get your bearing with these, feel free to take the training wheels off and expand your coral horizons. Or, who knows, maybe you'll find that these beautiful low-maintenance corals are just what you are looking for.
Thanks for reading and as always, let's build a better aquarium, together!