California Hydrocoral

Lace Coral, Hydrocoral, Stylaster Coral, Fire Coral

Picture of a California Hydrocoral, Stylaster californicus, Lace Coral, Hydrocoral, Stylaster CoralCalifornia HydrocoralStylaster californicusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

   The Lace Coral comes in some crazy bright colors, and the yellow California Hydrocoral is a beauty!

   The California Hydrocoral Stylaster californicus tends to have a variety of growth patterns from delicate lace formations with pointy tips to a dense network of fragile branches. It is quite attractive in colors of purple to pinkish purple or orange, on a smooth surface.

   Stylaster corals can occasionally be encrusting, or heavily arborescent (tree-like). But more often they are finely laced structures with delicate branches, growing on the same plane. They have thick tissue and a smooth surface. Their colors are truly crazy bright; pink with white margins and tips, or orange, yellow, white, and purple. Some common names these pretty animals are known for are Lace Coral, Hydrocoral, Fire Coral, and Rose Lace Coral.

   The Stylaster genus belongs to the class Hydrazoa. It is found worldwide, in all oceans, extending to the Arctic and Antarctic. The only exceptions are the extreme colds of the northern and southern waters of the planet. They are called a hydrocoral, not a stony coral due to their internal structure. They do produce an aragonite and calcite skeleton, yet inside they are canals. These canals house all of the polyps and aid in food distribution. This tubular structure makes them nowhere near as dense and hard as a stony coral. The Stylaster corals also do not have the potent sting of their close relative, the Millepora Fire Coral.

   Being a deep water coral, the Stylaster genus usually need cooler tanks and a lot of food. These hydrocorals are difficult to care for since they do not use light for nutrition. They tend to die from dietary deficiencies, and need microzooplankton, bacterial particulates, and small particulate organic matter. You may help them by regularly feeding them plankton and similar preparations, but such large amounts of plankton can pollute captive environments. The most important need they have, next to a strong linear water movement, is shade.


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Scientific name    Family: Stylasteridae
   Species: Stylaster californicus

Distribution / Background    Stylaster Information: The Stylaster genus was described by Gray in 1831. There are at least 48 species, with a few being S. californicus, S. elegans, S. hattorrii, S. lonchitis, S. roseus, S. sanguineus, and S. venustus. Some common names these hydrocorals are known for are Lace Coral, Hydrocoral, Stylaster Coral, Fire Coral, and Rose Lace Coral. The Stylaster genus has not been propagated in captivity, at least not on a commercial level.

   Where Stylaster Are Found: The Stylaster genus are found all over the world's oceans. The only exceptions are the extreme colds of the northern and southern waters of the planet. California Hydrocoral Stylaster californicus is found along the California coast.

   Stylaster Habitat: The Stylaster corals are found in deep waters and shaded under ledges, caves, and overhangs with the flat part facing the strong current to make use of the passing plankton and other prey.

Status    The Stylaster genus is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species:

Description    What do Stylaster look like: The Stylaster genus can be encrusting or arborescent, and form mostly lace structures that grow on the same plane with pointy and delicate branches. They can also have slightly thicker branches with blunt tips. This genus is not considered a stony coral due to its internal structure. They do produce a hard calcium/argonite skeleton, yet inside are canals that house all of the polyps and aid in food distribution. This makes them no where near as dense and hard as a stony coral. Their surface is smooth with thick tissue, which aids in prey capture. The colors of the Stylaster spp. can be pink with white margins and tips, or orange, yellow, white, and purple.

   On the smooth surface there are lines of small pores called, gastropores, that come in two sizes. The larger polyps are called gastrozooid polyps. They tend to stay within the corallum, (not extending outward past the surface of the coral), and help to digest food and pass it through the colony within the skeletal structure. There are 2 to 3.smaller pores, called dactylozooids, running in a line on each side of each gastrozooid polyp.

   Dactylozooids look like tiny hairs that stick way beyond the surface, giving the hydrocoral a fuzzy appearance. They consist of two types of hairs, with one being typical of the hydrocorals and the other being much longer and sweeping. The dactylozooids sweepers sting prey, and with the help of the shorter dactylozooids, will then bring the prey toward the gastrozooid polyp, which will then engulf and digest it. However, the Stylaster corals do not have the potent sting of their close relative, the Millepora.

   Stylaster Life Cycles: The Lace Corals Stylaster spp. can grow from 6 to 12" (15 - 30 cm) in height.

   Common species:

  • S. californicus
    The California Hydrocoral tends to have a variety of growth patterns including delicate, lace formations with pointy tips and a dense network of fragile branches. In faster, stronger water movement, they can form a plate-like growth at the base, with longer slightly thicker branches with blunter tips. This depends where they are found on the reef.
    They are purple to pinkish purple or orange in color, and prefer cooler waters. Being from much deeper waters that have a lot less sunlight, they need a lot of plankton and other prey to survive.
  • S. roseus
    The Rose Lace Coral tends to have a more branchy formation, and grows on one plane. They are found in the Caribbean and like other cool water species, need shade and good water movement.

Difficulty of Care    Stylaster Care: Being a deep water coral, the Lace Corals usually need cooler tanks and a lot of food. These hydrocorals are difficult to care for since they do not use light for nutrition, thus they need a lot of plankton and other prey to survive. However, large amounts of plankton can pollute captive environments. Not having a skimmer may help them to survive since they need the very things that the skimmer takes out, but they are not a skimmer substitute. The most important need they have, next to a strong linear water movement, is shade.

Foods / Feeding    Stylaster Feeding: Fire Corals tend to die from dietary deficiencies. They need microzooplankton, bacterial particulates, and small particulate organic matter. You may help them by regularly feeding them plankton and similar preparations, but such large amounts of plankton needed for their survival can pollute captive environments.

   Position them in a way that the broad side of the coral faces the current so when feeding, they can make the best use of their structure as you send food their way.

Aquarium Care    Stable tank conditions are required to keep the Stylaster genus. Do typical water changes of 20% a month, 10% biweekly, or 5% weekly. It has been noted that 5% weekly water changes replenish many of the needed additives.. Although similar to a "soft coral", they do have a aragonite and calcite skeletons, so need parameters similar to hard corals. Additions of iodine are also recommended.

   Suggested levels for Stylaster species are:

  • Calcium:  400 to 450 ppm (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient for corals)
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 TO 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 11 dKh - 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero.
  • Magnesium:  1200 - 1350. Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.
  • Strontium:  8 - 10

Aquarium Parameters

Quick Reference Chart
Lighting: Prefers Low Lighting Levels Prefers Medium Lighting Levels Prefers High Lighting Levels
Water Flow: Prefers Low Water Flow Levels Prefers Medium Water Flow Levels Prefers High Water Flow Levels
Temperament: Peaceful Temperament Semi-Aggressive Temperament Aggressive Temperament

   A typical reef environment is what is needed for your Lace Coral. A mature tank (well over a year old) is advised to increase the chance of successfully keeping Stylaster. Mono specific displays are suggested for their continued survival. Light can easily bleach them.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 100 gallon (380 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Dim to low
  • Temperature: 68° - 75° F (20° - 24° C) S. californicus needs to be in a cool water tank, providing a chiller can help with this.
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 to 1.025
  • Water Movement: Strong, linear flow.
  • Water Region: Anywhere in the aquarium that provides shadows.

Compatibility and Social Behaviors    The Stylaster genus is semi-aggressive. Yet due to its natural habitat, any corals that need light will likely not grow near this hydrocoral. Various fish will perch on this coral awaiting the little commensal creatures that live within its branches to come out to dinner.

   Though closely related to the Millepora Fire Coral, they do not have the potent sting.

Sex - Sexual differences   Lace Corals primarily consist of hydroid colonies. These usually have separate sexes consisting of either male or female members. Thus each colony can produce only one type of gamete, either eggs or sperm. There is not usually both sexes in the same colony.

Breeding and Reproduction    Stylaster hydrocorals predominant body type is the polyp. Animals in the polyp stage are known as "hydroids". Their life cycle originates as a sessile polyp, and in this stage it multiplies asexually. The Stylaster genus form ampullae that produce gonophores. These gonophores stay attached to the colony during reproduction.

  The Stylaster genus has not been propagated in captivity, at least not on a commercial level. Due to the poor survival in captivity and their natural reproduction method, disturbing this coral is not suggested for propagation.

Potential Problems    The ailments of the Stylaster genus are largely unknown. Light will cause algae growth which will kill them, if they don't bleach out first from over exposure to light.

Availability    Stylaster Hydrocorals for Sale: The Stylaster genus is very hard to find at pet shops and on line. These corals could be sold under "Hydrocorals" or "Fire Corals". They may possibly be special ordered from a local fish store. It's best to make sure you are getting a tropical specimen, as cold water species require much more stringent tank requirements.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough, CFS

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