Cup Coral

Porous Cup Coral, Orange Coral, Balanophyllia Coral

Cup Coral, Balanophyllia bairdiana, also known as the Porous Cup Coral, Orange Coral, and Balanophyllia CoralBalanophyllia bairdianaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild

   The Cup Coral makes its debut... this tiny delicate beauty is a very recent arrival, though still quite rare!

   The Cup Coral Balanophyllia bairdiana is a new species in the reef aquarium world, becoming available in just the last couple years. This is a solitary coral, with the colony consisting of a single corallite. But they will sometimes grow close together, even attaching together, making a small cluster of fused individuals. Other common names the B. bairdiana are known for are Porous Cup Coral, Balanophyllia Coral, and Orange Coral.

   As the name Cup Coral implies, these small corals start out in a cup shape, but over time they can become more oval and elongated, some will even form a figure eight shape. The corallite of these tiny beauties generally reach less than an 1.2" (3 cm) in diameter, and is usually less than 1/2" (1 cm). The corallite is covered with a weak tissue, called the coenosteum that is porous and grainy, or spongy feeling. Their stalks are long and usually attached to the substrate. In the wild they can have encrusting organisms, such as sponges, sea squirts, and bryozoans, growing on them around the base. They are ahermatypic, which means they don't contribute to reef building.

   The B. bairdiana have a delicate look about them. They come in a variety of colors including red, orange, pink, lime green, green, or brown. Their beautiful tentacles are usually translucent and can extend as much as 1" (2.5 centimeters) in all directions. They have a spotty appearance due to little wart-like growths on them that contain sticky spirocysts and stinging nematocysts that aid in capturing prey. These pretty tentacles emerge to feed mostly at night, or under very dim lighting conditions.

   The Cup Coral can be moderately difficult to care for. This is due to it needing an extreme amount of food for its captive survival. Though it requires only a low to moderate water movement, the amount of nutrients introduced to the aquarium require good filtration and substantial water changes. It is only recommended for the advanced aquarist. Its success depends on a dedicated aquarist who can provide the right environment and the on-going care of this beautiful coral.


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Scientific name    Family: Dendrophylliidae
   Species: Balanophyllia bairdiana

Distribution / Background    Balanophyllia Coral Information: The Balanophyllia genus was described by Wood in 1844. There are 62 species; a few of the more familiar ones are the Cup Coral B. Bairdiana, Orange Cup Coral B. elegans, Wart Coral B. europaea, Blushing Star Coral or Golf Ball Coral B. grandis, Scarlet Star Coral or Gold Star Coral B. regia, B. cedrosensis, B. calyculus, B. pittieri, and B. floridana. Common names the Balanophyllia species are known for are Porous Cup Coral, Balanophyllia Coral, Orange Coral, Orange Cup Coral, Gold Star Coral, Scarlet Star Coral, Gold Star Coral, Golf Ball Coral, Blushing Star Coral, and Wart Coral.

   This genus represents pretty much all waters and oceans; with many subtropical species, a few tropical species and some temperate ones. These corals are referred to as azooxanthellate or non-photosynthetic corals, which means they only survive with foods, and lighting has no affect on their growth. They are non-reef building corals, or ahermatypic. This genus has not been propagated in captivity.

   The Cup Coral Balanophyllia bairdiana was described by Milne-Edwards and Haime in 1848. Some other common names these corals are know for are Porous Cup Coral, Balanophyllia Coral, and Orange Coral.

   Where Balanophyllia Corals Are Found: The Balanophyllia genus are found in the Eastern Pacific in the USA and Canadian coasts, subtropical parts of the Mediterranean Sea, Western Atlantic, on the coasts of USA & Canada, Western Central Pacific, Philippines, and Australian coasts from 1 to 420 feet (1 - 128 m). The B. bairdiana are found in the Western Central Pacific in the Philippines, and in the waters of south-eastern Australia.

   Balanophyllia Coral Habitat: The B. bairdiana are found on reef habitats, most commonly on the roofs of caves but occasionally in other dimly lit areas. They live in tropical waters, generally at depths to 90 feet (28 m). The Australian specimens however, are reportedly found at depths from 16 to 246 feet (5 - 75 m).

Status    The B. bairdiana is not on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.

Description    What do Balanophyllia Corals look like: The B. bairdiana start out in a cup shape, but over time they can become more oval and elongated, some will even form a figure eight shape. Their corallites generally reach less than 1.2" (3 cm) in diameter, and is usually less than 1/2" (1 cm). Corallites are covered with a weak tissue, called the coenosteum that is porous and grainy, or spongy feeling. Their stalks are generally long and usually attached to the substrate. In the wild they can have encrusting organisms, such as sponges, sea squirts, and bryozoans, growing on them around the base. They are ahermatypic, which means they don't contribute to reef building.

   The Cup Coral B. bairdiana have a delicate look about them. They come in a variety of colors including red, orange, pink, lime green, green, or brown. Their beautiful tentacles are usually translucent and can extend as much as 1" (2.5 centimeters) in all directions. They have a spotty appearance due to little wart-like growths on them that contain sticky spirocysts and stinging nematocysts that aid in capturing prey. These pretty tentacles emerge to feed mostly at night, or under very dim lighting conditions. Life span is unknown.

   Some other Balanophyllia species:

  • Balanophyllia elegans
    The Orange Cup Coral is found in subtropical waters on the western coast of the United States and in British Columbia. They inhabit low inter tidal zones at 26 to 32 feet (8 - 10 m). They have yellow to orange tissue.
  • Balanophyllia europaea
    The Wart Coral is the only species of the Balanophyllia genus that is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea. It is quite odd, with clear tentacles and tissue, enabling you to see the skeletal structure. They can be kept successfully in the aquarium for many years, but they must be introduced to the aquarium with their substrate intact.
  • Balanophyllia grandis
    The Blushing Star Coral or Golf Ball Coral are found in the subtropical waters of the Caribbean in caves and under overhangs. It is the largest species found in the western Atlantic and have red tissue.
  • Balanophyllia regia
    The Scarlet Star Coral or Gold Star Coral are found in the subtropical waters of the southwest coast of England, the southwest Pembrokeshire, and the Scilly Isles. It is attached to rocks in caves, overhangs, or surge gullies from 1 to 32 feet (0 - 10 m). They are a clearish golden yellow, yellow, orange or red. The polyps are short and thick at the bottom, tapering to a point at the tip.
  • Balanophyllia calyculus
    This coral are found in the subtropical waters around the entire Australian coastline from 3 - 420 feet (1 - 128 m) in depth on roofs of caves. They can be orange with orange tentacles, or purple and white with clearish white tentacles, or a translucent brown or green.

Difficulty of Care    Balanophyllia Coral Care: In general the Balanophyllia genus can be moderately difficult to care for. This is due to needing an extreme amount of food for captive survival. The Cup Coral B. bairdiana requires only a low to moderate water movement, the amount of nutrients introduced to the aquarium require good filtration and substantial water changes. It is only recommended for the advanced aquarist. Its success depends on a dedicated aquarist who can provide the right environment and the on-going care of this beautiful coral.

Foods / Feeding    Balanophyllia Coral Feeding: The Balanophyllia genus are referred to as azooxanthellate, or non-photosynthetic corals. This means that, unlike most other large polyp stony (LPS) corals, they do not have a symbiotic relationship with the marine algae zooxanthellae. To feed they capture planktonic organisms, food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter.

   In captivity, the Cup Coral needs to be fed daily or more. Try foods like enriched live or defrosted brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, and other similar sized prey. Soaking the food in a vitamin supplement can help to ensure they get plenty of nutrients.

Aquarium Care    Typical water changes of 20% a month, 10% biweekly, or 5% weekly are needed. It has been noted that 5% weekly water changes replenish many of the needed additives. Frequent water changes help to supply trace elements, but with higher concentrations of coral with calcareous skeletons, there may be a need put in additional additives to maintain proper levels for good growth.

   The following water supplements are suggested for Balanophyllia species:

  • Calcium:  400 to 450 ppm. If a large poly stony (LPS) coral does not have enough calcium, it will not grow. (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient)
  • Alkalinity: 3.2 TO 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 11 dKh, 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero. Phosphates are the worst of all and all corals hate them.
  • Magnesium:  1200 - 1350 minimum. Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.
  • Strontium:  8 - 10

Aquarium Parameters   A well-feed live rock/reef environment is what is needed for the Cup Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. A mature tank is recommended. For the subtropical and temperate species, a chill will be needed.

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

   They need to have a low to moderate water movement. They are tolerant of lighting in the aquarium, but will only extend their tentacles to feed at night, or under very dim lighting conditions. A strong skimmer is recommended to take care of the nutrient load added by the heavy feedings needed for these corals.This is a semi-aggressive species, so provide adequate space between species.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 10 gallons (38 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Any
  • Temperature: 72° - 79° F (22° - 26° C). (55° - 68° F (13° - 20° C) for subtropical species)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.027
  • Water Movement: Low to moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium, or in cave-like structures

Compatibility and Social Behaviors   The B. bairdiana is semi-aggressive, so needs to be kept away from other corals. Another impact they will have on other corals is connected to their need to be fed large amounts of food, that may foul the water. The Balanophyllia genus can have encrusting organisms, such as sponges, sea squirts, and bryozoans, growing on them around the base in nature.

Sex - Sexual differences   Differences are unknown

Breeding and Reproduction   The large polyp stony (LPS) corals are hermaphrodites, male and female within the same organism, and can reproduce both sexually and asexually. In the wild they reproduce sexually by releasing eggs and sperm at the same time, resulting in a fertilized egg which then forms into a free-swimming planula larva. Eventually the planula larvae settles onto the substrate, becoming plankters. This then forms a tiny polyp which begins to excrete calcium carbonate and develops into a coral. Planula larvae are extremely vulnerable to predation, and very few survive. The Balanophyllia genus are not capable of budding under normal conditions, so don't form true coral colonies composed of clonal polyps.

   The Balanophyllia genus has not been propagated in captivity. Most are found in subtropical waters, and similar to cold water anemones, they brood their young internally. They then release swimming, pelagic larvae.

Potential Problems   Light will not harm the Balanophyllia species, but they do have voracious appetites and must be fed regularly.

Availability    Balanophyllia Corals for Sale: The B. bairdiana is still a pretty rare find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $79.00 - $129.00 USD or more depending on size and/or color.

References

Author: Clarice Brough CRS, Carrie McBirney
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