Red Gorgonian

Sea Fan, Carmine Sea Spray, Violet Sea Whip

Red Gorgonian Leptogorgia chilensis, also known as Sea Fan, Sea Spray, and Sea WhipLeptogorgia chilensisPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

   The tall and elegant Red Gorgonian is a coral that can grow from the bottom to the top of your tank!

   The colorful Leptogorgia genus are gorgeous with several shape formations, depending on water movement. They can have a pinnate or feathery branch structure or a dichotomous structure, which is a random "Y" shaped branch pattern. And they are tall, with some species reaching upward of 18" in height. The general common names for these gorgonians are known as are Sea Fan, Sea Spray, and Sea Whip.

   The Leptogorgia gorgonians are often found in red, and at times yellow and orange, with all having light yellow to white polyps or other light colors. The Red Gorgonian L. chilensis is just one of these attractive gorgonians. It is red with white or yellow flowers and It has branches that usually point upward, although they can be affected by water flow direction. Another is the Carmine Sea Spray L. miniata which is red or yellow with white flowers. Its branches are relatively straight but facing various directions, giving it an almost thicket bush like look. There is also the Violet Sea Whip L. virgulata which is violet red and all the branches basically point upward.

   The Leptogorgia genus can be moderate to difficult to care for. They are aposymbiotic which means they do not carry zooxanthellae, so they must be fed regularly with zooplankton and other similar sized foods. Once 10% of their polyps have stopped feeding, death is immanent. They are easily over grown by algae, so a dim area of the tank is needed to keep them healthy. They cannot shed off their tissue like other gorgonians to rid themselves of algae, thus the need for water movement and low light.

   These corals are best kept by experienced aquarists who have had success with other gorgonians. It has been noted that yellow specimens have done better in captivity than red ones. Yet they are an exception, in that they do need light. Buying a Leptogorgia gorgonian that has roots attached is your best bet. You must feed your Leptogorgia regularly for its continued health.

To learn more about these fascinating Octocorals see:
What Are Gorgonians?
Types of Gorgonians, Sea Fans and Sea Whips

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Scientific name    Suborder: Holaxonia
   Family: Gorgoniidae
   Species: Leptogorgia sp.

Distribution / Background    Gorgonian Information: The Leptogorgia genus was described by Milne, Edwards, and Haime in 1857. There are at least 12 species that are definitely in this genus, although up to 40 others may also be included over time. A few of the more common ones are L. californica, L. cardinalis, L. caryi, L. chilensis, L miniata, and L. virgulata. The Red Gorgonian L. chilensis, that is featured here, was described by Verrill in 1868.

   Some common names these corals are known for are Sea Fan, Sea Spray, and Sea Whip, with some individual species being called Red Gorgonian, Carmine Sea Spray, and Violet Sea Whip. The Leptogorgia genus has grown in captivity under ideal circumstances. The Leptogorgia corals actually secrete a substance that inhibits diatom growth, called homarine.

   The classification of gorgonians in general is done by some simple visual clues such as colony size, shape, axis structure, color, polyp placement, and pattern of branches. Getting a little more technical, they also look to see if the polyp is autozooid or siphonozooid. Then there is the more exacting use of chemotaxonomy, used to show the different terpenoids or other chemicals produced by each gorgonian species.

   Where Leptogorgia Corals Are Found: The Leptogorgia genus are found on reefs of the tropical Atlantic, Indian Ocean, western Pacific, and the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States.

   Leptogorgia Coral Habitat: The Leptogorgia genus inhabit coastal areas in moderate water flow and also are found in areas there light is dim.

Status    The Leptogorgia genus is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Description    What do Leptogorgia Corals look like: Gorgonians in the Suborder Holaxonia have a rigid structure of branches that consist of a protein substance called gorgonin, thus the name. In this family, Gorgoniidae, there is a central "chord" that is the main branch from which the rest of the coral grows from. The structure is covered by a rind which is a tissue layer, and there are polyps on raised areas of the rind.

   The Leptogorgia genus can come in white, orange, yellow and red, but red is the most common color. They are aposymbiotic which means they do not carry zooxanthellae, so they must be fed regularly. They have thin branches that are meager in number compared to other gorgonians. They have a pinnate or feathery branch structure or a dichotomous structure which is a random "Y" shaped branch pattern. The polyps can be yellow, white or other light colors. The orange variety may be a little hardier in captivity. They can be 18" tall (45 cm) and their life span is unknown.

  • L. chilensis
    Red Gorgonian has branches that usually point upward, although that can be affected by water flow direction. They have white or yellow flowers and prefer lower water flow, and need to be fed regularly.

    The name Leptogorgia chilensis is the scientifically accepted name for the Red Gorgonian, although you may need to use Lophogorgia chilensis to find information on the internet. However, there are 3 Lophogorgia species, so don't confuse them.

    A notable species is the King Sea Fan Lophogorgia sp. originating from the Caribbean and Colombia. It is similar to the Red Gorgonian but more bushy in appearance as its branches are of differing heights. Besides red, it can also be orange or purple, and has polyps that are usually white or transparent.

  • L. miniata
    Carmine Sea Spray is red with white flowers and an almost thicket bush like look. The branches are not crowded, typical of the genus, but they are relatively straight and facing various directions. They are found in deep waters and like turbulent flow. Yellow varieties have white flowers and need moderate lighting.
  • L. virgulata
    Violet Sea Whip is, well violet red and all the branches basically point upward.

Difficulty of Care    Gorgonian Care: The Leptogorgia genus can be moderate to difficult to care for. They need to be fed regularly with zooplankton and other similar sized foods. Once 10% of their polyps have stopped feeding, death is immanent. They are easily over grown by algae, so a dim area of the tank is needed to keep them healthy. They cannot shed off their tissue like other gorgonians to rid themselves of algae, thus the need for water movement and low light.

Foods / Feeding    Gorgonian Feeding: In the wild, Leptogorgia corals have developed several feeding strategies. They capture planktonic organisms and microscopic food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter. They are aposymbiotic which means they do not carry zooxanthellae.

   In captivity, these Sea Fan, Sea Spray, or Sea Whip corals can be fed enriched Artemia nauplii, rotifers, dust-sized pellet food, Cyclopeeze, daphnia, and other similar sized foods. Some say Marine Snow is a good food source. Feed daily or every other day depending on appearance.

Aquarium Care    Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Leptogorgia genus. Doing water changes of 20% a month or 10% biweekly is needed, although it is suggested that doing 5% water changes once a week will replenish many of the needed additives. With higher concentrations of coral with calcareous skeletons, there may be a need put in additional additives to maintain proper levels for good growth. Iodine, calcium, strontium, and other trace elements can be added.

   Suggested levels for Leptogorgia species are:

  • Calcium:  400 - 450 ppm (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient)
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 - 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 11 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

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 the Sea Fan, Sea Spray, or Sea Whip, along with some fish for organic matter production. A mature tank (well over a year old) is advised to increase the successful keeping of Leptogorgia.

   Provide proper lighting and water movement, and they must be anchored down. A moderate and turbulent water flow and a dim light source are needed for the Red Gorgonian to do well. Some Leptogorgia species can need more light. These Octocorals are very peaceful but can be overgrown by other gorgonians, so adequate space should be provided between the different species.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 50 gallon (190 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Low, unless stated otherwise in description of specific species.
  • Temperature: 70° - 83° F (21° - 28° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.025
  • Water Movement: Moderate and turbid
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors    The Red Gorgonian and other Leptogorgia corals are very peaceful and pose no threat to any other corals or gorgonians. Other gorgonians can over take the Leptogorgia corals, so they will need to be kept at a distance. They get along with their own genus.

   Butterflyfish feed on gorgonian polyps or tissue. Butterfly fish will constantly chow, so they are not the best idea for a tank mate. Some angelfish will also pick at the polyps, but can be housed with them if the angelfish is well fed.

Sex - Sexual differences    No sexual difference in appearance is known.

Breeding and Reproduction   The Leptogorgia genus may reproduce by by breakage, fragmentation. and they may also spawn like other gorgonians for sexual reproduction.

  Propagation of gorgonians consists of using severing or clean cuts. Tearing the coral will result in infection. Be cautious with the use of glues, as many gorgonians react badly to the chemicals. However an underwater epoxy has been suggested by some. Containment is recommended if the frag survives. This involves keeping the frag in one spot, say a small piece of upright pvc, around the same height as the frag, with sand or rubble at the bottom. This will keep the frag from blowing over before it can take root. It is suggested to drill holes in the pvc to keep the water flowing.

Potential Problems   The Leptogorgia genus is preyed on by White Frilly Sea Slugs in the Urticina and Tritoniopsis genus. Many gorgonians are susceptible to algae and cyanobacteria accumulating on its branches, keeping a turbulent water flow will help prevent this. If your gorgonian does get this, you can at times cut off the bad part and hope the rest will recover.

Availability    Gorgonians for Sale: The Sea Fan, Sea Spray, or Sea Whip corals Leptogorgia sp., including the Red Gorgonian Leptogorgia sp. is not readily available at pet shops and on line, but can run about $50.00 UDS and up depending on size and/or color. The Leptogorgia genus has been grown in captivity under ideal circumstances. Some reef clubs may have a specimen.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CRS
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