Elephant Ear Coral

Green Toadstool Coral, Ruffled Leather Coral, Trough Coral<br />Toadstool Leather, Mushroom Coral, Toadstool Mushroom

Elephant Ear Coral Sarcophyton trocheliophorum, also known as Green Toadstool Coral, Toadstool Leather, Mushroom Coral, Toadstool Mushroom, Ruffled Leather Coral, and Trough CoralSarcophyton trocheliophorum

   The Elephant Ear Coral is a large toadstool or mushroom coral with a cool ruffled look!

   The Elephant Ear Coral or Green Toadstool Coral Sarcophyton trocheliophorum is one of the other leather coral favorites in the Sarcophyton genus. Like the other members of this genus it resembles a mushroom or toadstool, but as it matures it develops many deep folds on its cap. Thus the name Elephant Ear. With its hardy nature and ruffled appearance, it is a great beginner's coral and adds a touch of diversity to a soft coral tank .

   The Sarcophyton sp. have a thick smooth, single stalk with a flared, smooth mushroom-shaped top that can be folded or funnel-shaped. Depending on the species, younger colonies are mushroom-shaped and mature colonies are more lobed and folded like a toadstool. Some keep the toadstool look their entire life. The flesh is firm and soft, yet can be easily torn. The "top" is called a capitulum and within that area are found long autozooid polyps for feeding and siphonozooid polyps for water movement. The polyps can retract all the way, giving them a smooth look.

   The capitulum of the S. trocheliophorum is very convoluted (many deep folds), almost giving it a cauliflower look from a distance. The extended polyps are shorter and finer than others in its genus, and can be brown or green. It also grows very large, up to 36" (91 cm) across and 36" to 48" (91-122 cm) tall! The flesh is yellow/tan, cream or tan. It is firm and soft, yet easily torn, so care should be taken when handling this species.

   The S. trocheliophorum is known by many common names including Green Toadstool Coral, Ruffled Leather Coral, Trough Coral, and Gray-Green Soft Coral. Because it is similar in form to other leathers, many of the same common names are used interchangeably such as Toadstool Leather Coral, Toadstool Mushroom Coral, Toadstool Mushroom Leather, Mushroom Leather Coral, Umbrella Coral, Sarcophyton Coral, and Mushroom Coral. When ordering this or any other leather coral, its best to make sure you use the scientific name.

   The Elephant Ear Coral is one of the hardiest of corals. It is easy to keep and propagate, making it a great coral for the beginner. They like a moderate water flow, medium to high lighting, and for nutrition they use the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within their tissue, as well as extracting nutrients from the water. They do grow very large and are aggressive if allowed to touch other corals, so they need plenty of space.

   The Sarcophyton sp. tend to produce a lot of toxic compounds compared to other leathers. The Elephant Ear Coral is one of the better understood leathers. Research has also shown it has properties to help with skin cancer, breast cancer and leukemia. With the production of toxins however, care must be taken when handling. They are also toxic toward other corals due to their release of terpenes (poisons used to ward off encroaching corals).

To learn about other types of soft corals, see:
Soft Coral Facts


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Scientific name

   Family: Alcyoniidae
   Species: Sarcophyton trocheliophorum

Distribution / Background

   Leather Coral Information: The Sarcophyton genus was described by Lesson in 1834. They belong to the family Alcyoniidae, which are referred to as octocorals. There are over 35 species of Sarcophyton. Some of their common names are Toadstool Leather, Toadstool Mushroom Coral, Leather Coral, Mushroom Leather, Toadstool Mushroom Leather, Umbrella Coral, Sarcophyton Coral, and Mushroom Coral.

   The Elephant Ear Coral S. trocheliophorum was described by Marenzeller in 1886. This leather has many names similar to other leathers such as Green Toadstool Coral, Ruffled Leather Coral, Trough Coral, and Gray-Green Soft Coral. They have been propagated in captivity, but since they tend to be rather bland in color, many times these corals are dyed. Dyed corals tend to not do as well and are dyed because the areas some come from have been bleached due to pollution and weather patterns.

   According to the Bioscience Center in Singapore, and other medical research centers in Hong-Kong, there is a compound that slowed the growth of human promyelocytic leukemia cells (HL-60), skin melanoma (M14) and breast carcinoma cells (MCF7) in laboratory tests. In layman's terms, they may have found a way to slow leukemia, skin cancer and breast cancer.

   Where Sarcophyton Corals Are Found: The S. trocheliophorum are found in the Red Sea and Indo-Pacific.

   Sarcophyton Coral Habitat: The S. trocheliophorum inhabit reef flats and lagoons with hard and soft coral species. They are found at depths of 7-16 feet (2-5 m).

Status

   The Sarcophyton trocheliophorum is not listed on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Description

   What do Sarcophyton Corals look like: The Elephant Ear Coral S. trocheliophorum, like others in this genus, resembles a mushroom or toadstool. The Sarcophyton corals have a thick smooth, single stalk with a flared mushroom-shaped top, that can be folded or funnel-shaped

   In varying amounts, depending on the species, Sarcophyton leathers will warp their upper surface and direct the water flow by forming ridges that lead to feathery pinnules on their tentacles. These feathery pinnules are designed to sieve the water for nutrients. The capitulum (top) has autozooid and siphonozooid polyps that are rather long when extended. When the polyps are completely retracted, the surface has a very smooth look to it.

   The capitulum of the Elephant Ear Coral S. trocheliophorum is very convoluted (many deep folds), almost giving it a cauliflower look from a distance. When its polyps are extended, they are shorter and finer than others in its genus, and are typically brown or green in color. Bright lighting levels, 10K or higher, can bring out the green.The flesh is yellow/tan, cream, or tan. It is firm and soft, yet easily torn, so care should be taken when handling it. The S. trocheliophorum also grows very large, up to 36" (91 cm) across and 36" to 48" (91-122 cm) in height.

Difficulty of Care

   Leather Coral Care: The Elephant Ear Coral S. trocheliophorum is very easy to keep and propagate, making them a great coral for the beginner. They like a moderate water flow, medium to high lighting, and for nutrition they use the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within their tissue, as well as extracting nutrients from the water. They do grow large and are aggressive if allowed to touch other corals, so be sure to leave enough room between species.

Foods / Feeding

   Leather Coral Feeding:    The Sarcophyton leathers have reduced digestive systems. They do not use mucus nets, nor are their tentacles designed to catch prey. To make up for this, they will warp their upper surface and direct water flow by forming ridges that lead to feathery pinnules on their tentacles. These feathery pinnules are designed to sieve the water for nutrients. They can also absorb dissolved organic matter, and have a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, where they also receive some of their nutrients.

   Because these corals are photosynthetic, they receiving nutrients from the marine algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within their tissue so really do not need to be fed in mature systems. For maximum growth, more intense lighting is needed since this type of coral thrives on light, which supports its zooxanthellae.

   Though it is often stated that the Elephant Ear Corals do better in tanks that have regular feedings, it is not because they benefit from direct feeding. Their digestive anatomy has not developed to capture larger foods (even "sand" sized). But with feedings of other corals, extra nutrients are inevitably added to the water and in turn do benefit this coral. The feathery pinnules at the top of their tentacles will sieve nutrients out of the water. These nutrients are especially important if the light is not on the higher end.

Aquarium Care

   Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Sarcophyton genus. A water change that is a standard for any reef system, not to exceed 30% is needed. In general, a typical water change of 20% a month or 10% biweekly, depending on the bio load, is sufficient. Some have found success by doing a 5% water change once a week, keeping water quality high and reducing the need for most additives. Soft corals do need to have proper chemical levels for good growth.

   Iodine is used up quickly in captive environments, and does need to be added to the top off water or to the tank regularly. Make sure you have a test to make sure your levels are sufficient. Frequent water changes are preferred over adding supplements other than those listed here.

   Suggested levels for Sarcophyton species are:

  • Calcium:  385 - 450 ppm (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient. Anything over 400 tends to wear on pumps and other moving parts.)
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 - 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 12 dKh - 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero.
  • Magnesium:  1200 - 1350 ppm. (Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.)
  • Strontium:  8 - 10. Strontium levels are suggested to keep the coral happy, and a kit for testing proper levels is suggested.

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 live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Elephant Ear Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production and plenty of room to grow.

   Provide proper lighting and water movement. They need a moderate water flow and they also like moderate to high lighting. Make sure the water flow does not shoot a straight hard stream directly at the coral, only random water current. The Sarcophyton genus is aggressive toward other sensitive corals, like stony corals, so be sure to provide plenty of room between these and all other species.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 100 gallon (380 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: High is recommended
  • Temperature: 68° - 84° F (22° - 29° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.025
  • Water Movement: Moderate, with a random flow is suggested.
  • Water Region: All areas of the aquarium.

Compatibility and Social Behaviors

   The Elephant Ear Coral is aggressive. The S. trocheliophorum is toxic toward other corals due to their release of terpenes (poisons to ward off encroaching corals). They have been known to harm some stony coral species of Acropora like the Staghorn Acropora A. formosa, some species of Porites like P andrewsii, as well as the death of Catalaphyllia, Euphyllia, and Plerogyra species.

   This species can generally be housed with fishes, shrimp, and hermit crabs. Be careful if a clownfish decides to use a S. trocheliophorum as a surrogate anemone. The irritation of the clown can prevent the coral from expanding. In this case removal of the clown, or screening off the coral from the fish may be needed. There are also several species of flatworms (planaria), nudibranchs, and other parasites that tend to feed on its tissue. If these pests are present, they can usually be removed with a simple 5 minute freshwater dip.

Sex - Sexual differences

   Males tend to be smaller than females, and take 6 to 7 years to sexually mature with the females reaching sexual maturity at 10 years.

Breeding and Reproduction

Picture of a Toadstool Budding
Sarcophyton "Bud" Photo © Animal-World

   In the wild, the Sarcophyton genus will reproduce naturally by spawning as well as by budding and fragmenting. They will drop off clones of themselves by self fission. A sign of reproduction is a hole that may appear in the middle of the capitulum, and as it reaches the edge, a small piece falls off.

   As can be seen in the photo this coral is reproducing by "budding" in which a small coral grows from the base and starts its own coral. The "bud" can be severed from the parent coral at this point and glued to its own rock.

   The Elephant Ear Coral is very easy to propagate, for just a small piece or for a large frag, but with a few variations in procedure. Using either procedure, the coral will more than likely deflate, but with good water flow it will recover. Corals can emit a nasty and at times noxious odor, so be sure there is good ventilation. Clean up any mucous when finished to prevent any possible health problems.

   To frag a small piece:

  • Make sure your leather is healthy.
  • You may use a pair of very sharp scissors or a scalpel.
  • Simply cut a small forked frag (1-2" frag size) away from the mother colony while still in the tank.
  • Loosely rubber band the frag between branches and affix to a small piece of rubble that has a natural indent or a plug.

  For larger fragging:

  • The leather coral should have all polyps retracted before proceeding.
  • Remove the coral from the tank, and quickly perform the fragmentation from a mother colony with a clean razor, scalpel, or knife. (scissors can damage tissue from larger fragging cuts.)
  • Provide a bath of clean, temperature and salinity adjusted, water (same as main tank) with a little iodine before returning to the tank. This bath will help clear out the mucous that the leather will produce from this procedure.
  • The frag can be glued, tied, sewn to a rock or plug, or just set on rubble where the current will not take them away, but will help them heal.
  • Return the leather to the same spot it was in before fragging and discard bath water.This placement will depend on the size and shape of the frag. At the very minimum place it at least close to where the mother colony is located, perhaps using the mother colony to block a water flow that is too quick for the frag.

Potential Problems

   The Sarcophyton genus is generally very hardy and adaptable, but can contract disease. Coral diseases are commonly caused by stress, shock (like pouring freshwater into the tank and it coming in contact with the leather), and incompatible tank mates including specific fish, or pests such as a Rapa rapa Snail which will eat them from the inside out.

   If the coral goes limp for a prolonged period of time, lasting over a week, there may be underlying conditions such as poor water quality, a predatorial snail, or a nearby coral starting chemical warfare, competing for room. Look for rotting tissue and holes that will show up under the capitulum. If the coral sheds for a prolonged period of time, aim a powerhead or return flow at the leather to clear off the mucus.

   Some diseases and treatments include:

  • Flatworms, Brown Jelly Infections, cyanobacteria
    Treat with a freshwater dip of 1 to 3 minutes in chlorine free freshwater of the same temperature and pH as the main display.
  • Cyanobacteria, Brown Jelly Infections
    These can also be treated with Neomycin sulphite, Kanamycin and other broad-spectrum antibiotics. The pill can be pulverised into a fine powder, mixed with sea water to make a paste, and then applied to the wound or affected site of the coral with a simple artists brush.
  • Necrosis, Black Band Disease
    To prevent necrosis, and fight black band disease, according to one author the corals can be treated with Tetracycline at 10 mg per quart/liter.
  • Lugol's Solution (as a preventative/cure)
    Use a Lugol's dip at 5-10 drops of 5% Lugol's solution per quart/liter of newly mixed sea water that has been mixing for 10-20 minutes. Start with a 10 minute dip and observe the reaction of the coral. A daily dip can be done until the coral is cured.
  • Amputation
    One procedure that can save a coral's life if nothing else is working is amputation of the affected area. This must be done in a separate container consisting of some of the tank's water. Cut slightly into healthy tissue surrounding the diseased flesh then reattach the coral to the substrate with the open wound cemented on part of the reef structure.
  • "Liquid Band Aid"
    For wounds that are on the side or top, some have used "liquid band aid" or super glue to seal the wound.

Availability

   Soft Corals for Sale: The Elephant Ear Coral S. trocheliophorum is very easy to find pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $50.00 USD and up, depending on size and/or color.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CFS
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