Hedgehog Coral

Leafy Hedgehog Coral

Hedgehog Coral, Echinopora sp., also known as the Leafy Hedgehog CoralEchinopora Sp.Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild

   Keep Clown gobies with the Hedgehog Coral, and watch them form an intriguing relationship!

   The Echinopora genus is often found with Clown Goby species from the genus Gobiodon bopping around its surface. These energetic little coral gobies hardly reaching 2 1/2 inches, and they have a toxic body slime so other fish don't bother with them. They are quite content living among Hedgehog Corals as well as Acroporas, much like a clownfish and an anemone. Offer them plenty of space for individual territories, and these happy Clown Gobies may even spawn in the reef aquarium.

   Hedgehog Corals have more varied growth forms than any other genus, except for perhaps the Merulina genus. In the wild their massive colonies that can be arborescent, forming elongated tree-like branches, or foliaceous, shaped into thin leaf-like sheets, or a mixture of both of these. For instance, encrusting plates can develop branches, which in turn can develop more plates higher up.

  The Hedgehog Coral species most commonly seen in the aquarium trade are the Leafy Hedgehog Coral E. lamellosa and Hedgehog Coral E. mammiformis. Also E. horrida is seen from time to time. E. lamellosa colonies form whorls and tiers, with a rare tubular shape here and there. E. mammiformis colonies have flat plates as bases and form bent branches. E. horrida colonies are unique in that they have branches, shooting out of a plate-like base, that twist and bend.

   Echinopora colors include amber, tan to dark brown, cream, green, mustard yellow, pink, and purple; with the center of the corallite having contrasting colors. Wild caught specimens usually just come in green, cream, brown and yellow, with an occasional pink and purple in the Leafy Hedgehog Coral E. mammiformis. Aquacultured specimens have been developed into much more colorful animals including more intense variations of these colors as well as sky blue.

   The Hedgehog Corals are easy to care for as long as their needs are met. They need high light and high turbid water movement for their best health. They are peaceful with other genera, but thrive best in a low stocked aquarium. They do not do well in tanks with soft corals as they are very sensitive to the chemicals that these corals produce, even if they are not close to them. Acroporas can also affect Echinopora if the tank is heavily stocked. Hedgehog Corals need to be fed at night when their tentacles are out. Feed at least once a week or more, they grow quite well with regular feedings.


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Scientific name    Family: Faviidae
   Species: Echinopora sp.

Distribution / Background    Echinopora Coral Information: The Echinopora genus was described by Lamarck in 1816. There are approximately 30 nominal species, 9 of which are true species with 5 being found around Australia. The nine true species are: E. ashmorensis, E. forskaliana, E. fruticulosa, E. gemmacea, E. hirsutissima, E. horrida, E. lamellosa, E. mammiformis, and E. pacificus.

   The common name for these corals is Hedgehog Coral, with E. mammiformis being known as the Leafy Hedgehog Coral. The Echinopora genus has been propagated in captivity and some unique names from propagators include such things as: Vivid Hybrid Watermelon Chalice, Firefly Echinopora, and Blue Alien Eye.

   Where Echinopora Corals Are Found:The Echinopora genus are found in the Indo-Pacific, from Singapore to the Philippines, the Red Sea to New Caledonia, Fiji, and the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Australia.

   Echinopora Coral Habitat: The Echinopora genus are found on reef crests and rims, reef slopes, and in other shallow-water habitats on flat substrates, such as lagoons and back reef margins. They are found in bright turbid waters at depths from 10 - 114 feet (3 - 35 m), but most are found shallower than 114 feet (35 m).

Status    The following species from the Echinopora genus are on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species:

  • Leafy Hedgehog Coral Echinopora lamellosa: Least Concern (LC)
  • Hedgehog Coral Echinopora mammiformis: Near Threatened (NT)
  • Hedgehog Coral Echinopora gemmacea: Least Concern (LC)
  • Echinopora ashmorensis: Vulnerable (VU)
  • Echinopora forskaliana: Near Threatened (NT)
  • Echinopora fruticulosa: Near Threatened (NT)
  • Echinopora hirsutissima: Least Concern (LC)
  • Echinopora horrida: Near Threatened (NT)
  • Echinopora pacificus: Near Threatened (NT)

Description    What do Echinopora Corals look like: The Echinopora genus have a lot of variation in their growth pattern, even within the same area of the reef. All species are large and encrusting, they can develop branches or plates, or have both in the same colony.

   The corallites, the raised areas in which polyps reside, all have separate walls within the colony and the very center or calices are up to 5 mm in diameter. Within the corallite, there are septa. Septa is what they call the bone or teeth on the inside of the corallite. The septa are irregular and protrude, making for a little rougher look. The surface tissue that is in between, connecting the corallites, is called coenosteum. The coenosteum has a textured sort of grainy surface on all species except for E. mammiformis, which is smooth. Like other members of the Faviidae family, the polyps tentacles come out at night to feed.

   Hedgehog coral colors include amber, tan to dark brown, cream, green, mustard yellow, pink, and purple with the center of the corallite having contrasting colors. To tell the difference between the species, you need to look at the skeletal structure, as shown In the following descriptions:

  • E. lamellosa is one of the most commonly seen species in the aquarium trade. Their colonies have thin bones and form whorls, and tiers, with a rare tubular shape here and there. The corallites are thin-walled and the calices (inside area where the polyp is) are 2.5 to 4 mm in diameter.
  • E. mammiformis is very commonly found in the trade, and is the most colorful. The colonies have flat plates as bases and form bent branches. The differences between this species and E. horrida are that the coenosteum is smooth in this species.
  • E. horrida is seen from time to time in the trade. The colonies are unique in that they have branches that twist and bend. These branches shoot out of plate like bases and the Corallites have 6 primary septa. (the teeth on the inside of the corallite walls, near the polyp). The coenosteum is not just grainy, but the bone under the flesh has very pointed and tall spinules, yet is it not as apparent on a living animal.
  • E. gemmacea is not commonly seen as far as the aquarium trade goes. The colonies form straight plate like shapes with an occasional contorted branch. Both sides of the plate have tissue, as long as there is enough light to support it. The corallites have calices that are 3.5 to 4.5 mm in diameter.
  • E. hirsutissima is an encrusting species that is rarely seen. The colonies are plate like or column shaped, and their bone is quite thick compared to other Echinopora.

Difficulty of Care    Echinopora Coral Care: A Hedgehog Coral easy to care for as long as there is strong water movement and strong lighting, and it is in a low stocked aquarium. Like other members of the Faviidae family, the polyps tentacles come out at night to feed.

Foods / Feeding    Echinopora Coral Feeding: The Echinopora genus, like other large polyp stony (LPS) corals, have developed several feeding strategies. Through a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae, known as zooxanthellae, they receive some of their nutrients. They also capture planktonic organisms, food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter.

   In captivity, the Hedgehog Coral needs to be fed at night when their tentacles are out. Feed rotifers, newly hatched brine shrimp, mysis, and zooplankton type foods, including foods for filter feeders. They do need to be fed at the very least, once a week, and grow quite well with regular feedings.

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 and it is ultimately cheaper than purchasing additives for the water. With higher concentrations of coral with calcareous skeletons though, there may be a need put in additional additives to maintain proper levels for good growth. For aquacultured specimens, the rule of thumb is stated as one frag per 10 gallons of its own water. Use of carbon may also be advantageous.

   The following water supplements are suggested for Echinopora species:

  • Calcium:  400 to 430 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:  3.5 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. 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 your Hedgehog Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. A mature tank is recommended.

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

   Be sure to have proper water movement and provide sufficient lighting. It needs high light and high, turbid water movement for the best health. This is a peaceful species, but does need distance between it and other corals.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 50 gallons (190 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: High
  • Temperature: 73° - 81° F (23° - 27° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.024 - 1.026
  • Water Movement: High / turbid
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors   The Echinopora genus is peaceful with other genera. However these corals will need distance between themselves and other corals due to their peaceful nature. They do have tentacles that come out at night, but will not win wars, so place accordingly.

   Pick tank mates with care. Keeping them in a well stocked tank with small polyp stony (SPS) corals, and especially soft corals often leads to their demise. They are very sensitive to the chemicals that these corals produce, even if they are not close to them. Acroporas can also affect the Echinopora if the tank is heavily stocked.

Sex - Sexual differences    Unknown.

Breeding and Reproduction   The large polyp stony (LPS) corals are 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 Echinopora genus are hermaphrodites that fertilize externally through mass spawning events, and this genus reproduce asexually as well.

   In captivity, the Echinopora genus can propagate by fragmenting, by extratentacular budding (budding on the outside edges and sides of the colony), or intratentacular budding (when a polyp divides into 2 polyps). They will also use polyp bailout and polyp balls to reproduce.

   Propagation should be similar to other Faviidae. Start with a fully acclimated specimen. Using a dremel or similarly powerful tool, cut at least a 1" size off. Cut this from the edges if possible, since the bone is less dense there. Make sure the frag has good water flow to help it heal.

Potential Problems   The Echinopora genus are not only unusual and attractive, but they are durable when their needs are provided for.

Availability    Echinopora Corals for Sale: The Hedgehog Coral Echinopora genus is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $45.00 USD or more depending on size and/or color. Echinopora species have been propagated in captivity. In general, aquacultured specimens are hardier, and have been developed into much more colorful animals, including more intense variations of their colors.

References

Author: Clarice Brough CRS

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