Slipper Coral

Tongue Coral, Feather Coral, Plate Coral, Mole Coral

Slipper Coral, Polyphillia talpina, also known as Plate Coral, Tongue Coral, Feather Coral, Mole Coral, and Sea MolePolyphyllia talpinaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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Slipper coral is cute. Even though it' coral it's a good pet.   hunter

   Though it is a coral, the appearance of the Slipper Coral looks like warm fuzzy slippers!

   The Slipper Coral Polyphillia talpina, true to its name, has an elongated shape with shaggy, mop-like tentacles. All the corals in the Polyphyllia genus have equally descriptive names due to their intriguing appearance. Common names for the Polyphyllia spp. include Slipper Coral, Tongue Coral, Sea Mole, Feather Coral, Mole Coral, and Plate Coral. They will also appear in the trade with various combinations of these common names such as Mole Slipper Coral or Hairy Tongue Coral, and so on.

   Polyphyllia corals are flat, or arched when viewed from the side, and can form several shapes. The Slipper Coral P. talpina has an elongated or tongue shape. They have many mouths across their surface (called polystomatous) with the larger mouths sometimes aligned with the central axis or furrow. The tentacles are usually horn-shaped and about two centimeters (.75 inches) long. The polyps are extended during the day and when fully extended, a carpet of tentacles is all that is visible.

   The colors of the Polyphyllia genus are usually brown or gray, sometimes with cream or green. The basal tissue (which means the tissue serving as, or forming a base) can become fluorescent green to teal. Their tentacles are usually brown with white tips, but they sometimes have forked ends.

   The Slipper Coral P. talpina can be easy to care for if it has proper substrate placement, proper lighting and water movement, and regular daily feeding. The Polyphyllia genus is the most tolerant as far as lighting goes, and it can handle a little higher lighting than other fungiids. It is quite hardy.

   These corals have been propagated in captivity and are readily available, yet buyers need to be aware of what they are purchasing. When their polyps are out, the Polyphyllia corals strongly resemble members of the Herpolitha genus such as the Tongue Coral H. limax genus. You can tell the difference between these two genera, because the Polyphyllia spp. lack a distinct central groove (also called an axial furrow). They do have an axial furrow but their many tentacles cover the surface and hide it.

   When researching these corals, you will find the same common names are used for the Herpolitha spp. corals. The scientific name Polyphyllia is also commonly spelled incorrectly as "Polyhillia", with an 'i' after the 'h' rather than a 'y'.


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Scientific name    Family: Fungiidae
   Species: Polyphyllia talpina

Distribution / Background    Polyphyllia Coral Information: The Family Fungiidae which all Polyphyllia spp. corals belong is credited to Dana in 1846. The Polyphyllia genus was described by Quoy and Gaimard in 1833, and the Slipper Coral Polyphillia talpina was described by Lamarck in 1801.

   There are approximately 11 nominal species, three of which are true species, with one being found around Australia. Two of the true species are: P. talpina and P. novaehiberniae. The Slipper Coral Polyphillia talpina was described by Lamarck in 1801. Some common names these corals are know for are Plate Coral, Slipper Coral, Tongue Coral, Feather Coral, Sea Mole, and Mole Coral. The Polyphyllia genus has been propagated in captivity, and they are commonly imported from Indonesia.

   Where Polyphyllia Corals Are Found: The Polyphyllia genus are found in the Indo and Western Pacific, from the Marshall Islands to New Caledonia and Halmahera, then from Indonesia to Kiribati. The Slipper Coral P. talpina are found from Madagascar east to Fiji and Tonga, and around Australia from the Great Barrier Reef in the east and south to the North West Cape on the west coast.

   Polyphyllia Coral Habitat: The Polyphyllia genus inhabit reef slopes, on flat areas between the lagoons and the reef. They are found on rubble, but prefer soft bottoms like mud and sand, that are in areas protected from strong water movement. They are typically found at depths from 3 to 13 feet (1 - 4 m). They are abundant and widespread in the wild.

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

  • Polyphyllia talpina: Least Concern (LC)
  • Polyphyllia novaehiberniae: Near Threatened (NT)

Description    What do Polyphyllia Corals look like: The Slipper Coral or Feather Coral P. talpina can grow to 30" (75 cm). They have a lot of little mouths and their tentacles are long and shaggy. They keep their tentacles extended unless disturbed. Their colors are green, gray, or cream with white tentacles tips.

   The Polyphyllia genus is considered colonial due to all the small mouths it has, but for the most part, it is a free-living creature that is quite mobile. The body or bone structure can be flat or arched. They are long and thin and can be shaped like a tongue, a boomerang, or a T, X, or Y shape. The Polyphyllia genus does not have the deep and prominent central groove down the middle like the Herpolitha genus, which usually goes by the name Tongue Coral. But they do have a small indentation, called an axial furrow, that runs down the center.

   They have many mouths across their surface (called polystomatous) with the larger mouths sometimes aligned with the central axis or furrow. The indent and the mouths are usually covered by the lengthy tentacles. The tentacles are usually horn-shaped and about two centimeters (.75 inches) long. The polyps are extended during the day and when fully extended, a carpet of tentacles is all that is visible.

   The colors of the Polyphyllia genus are usually brown or gray, sometimes with cream or green. The basal tissue (which means the tissue serving as, or forming a base) can become fluorescent green to teal. Their tentacles are usually brown with white tips, but they sometimes have forked ends.

   Juvenile Polyphyllia are usually attached to a rock or coral and detach as they mature. They will travel by inflating their tissue and then use the current to move. Feeding tentacles are usually visible at night.

Difficulty of Care    Polyphyllia Coral Care: The Slipper Coral P. talpina can be easy to care for if it has have proper substrate placement, proper lighting and water movement, and regular daily feeding. The Polyphyllia genus is the most tolerant as far as lighting goes, and it can handle a little higher lighting than other fungiids. They are quite hardy.

   Fungiids usually do fine for some time but then can suddenly die, often for no apparent reason. Once cause of their demise is aquarists placing them on the rock work. This results in falls and/or causes tissue laceration, infection, and death. Another problem is with not feeding them enough, they must be fed daily to thrive in the aquarium.

Foods / Feeding    Polyphyllia Coral Feeding: The Polyphyllia corals, 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 many of their nutrients. They also capture planktonic organisms, food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter.

   With mouths all over the surface and a carpet of tentacles to catch prey, the Slipper Coral will snare brine shrimp and other food easily. In captivity, these corals need to be fed at least daily. They also need to be fed more often under lower lighting conditions.

   Fungiids form mucous nets, at that time that you can put small amounts of shredded meat on this net. They can be fed shredded meat, as well as mysis and brine shrimp. With larger foods, try to feed the whole organism to the coral. For instance if you are feeding it a silverside, chop it up but feed it all, so your Slipper Coral will get the fullest nutritional benefit from the meal.

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.

   The following water supplements are suggested for Polyphyllia 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 Slipper Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. Have an open area of soft substrate or a rubble bottom for this animal, and do not put it on rock work..

Quick Ref 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

   The Slipper Coral is easily kept in the home aquarium as long as it is placed on a soft or rubble-covered bottom, given a slow and gentle current, and bright light. Polyphyllia spp. seem to adapt to lower light levels, making them the most tolerant of all the fungiids.

   The Slipper Coral P. talpina does not attach to a surface (rock, substrate, etc.). It is quite capable of movement and may move itself around a tank to find its own favorable position (as will other fungiids). Though peaceful with other Fungiids, this coral can be semi-aggressive toward other corals. It needs to be placed where it cannot 'walk' up to corals that are not in the Fungiidae family

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 50 gallons (190 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Moderate to high, Polyphyllia spp. do contain zooxanthellae
  • Temperature: 73° - 81° F (23° - 27° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.026
  • Water Movement: Low to moderate, but not strong enough to remove the feeding mucous net.
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors   Polyphyllia coral is peaceful with all the genus and species within the Faviidae family, however they can be aggressive toward other corals. Using their mucous net as a weapon, they can cause necrosis in unrelated coral species. This coral can also move a little bit, so it is a good idea to not have any other corals on the substrate with it except its kin. With that in mind, place your coral where it cannot "walk" up to another substrate dweller that is not in the Fungiidae family.

   Polychaetes (Bristleworms), even those considered beneficial to a tank's life cycle, can irritate Polyphyllia spp. and other corals that live on the substrate.

Sex - Sexual differences    Unknown

Breeding and Reproduction   The large polyp stony (LPS) corals are male and female 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 Polyphyllia genus will also reproduce asexually. Daughter colonies/polyps may form and they will form offspring from broken pieces

   In captivity, propagation of P. talpina can be done by encouraging budding of daughter colonies by scoring the tissue in between the "teeth" of the coral. Make sure the animal has been well fed and is healthy before attempting this type of fragmentation. Simply breaking the coral in half with gloves, using a wedge and hammer is crude, but works. To get a cleaner, more precise frag, using a dremel or other motorized saw works beautifully. You can cut pie shaped frags from a whole animal if you wish and they respond quite well as long as they can recover in clean water and are well fed.

Potential Problems   The Polyphyllia corals should not be placed on rocks as they will attempt to move to a better position (the softer, sandy bottom of a tank) and the rubbing against the rocks while they attempt to move will damage the basal tissue.

   If light and/or currents are too strong, these corals will not expand / extend their polyps. If this behavior is noted, the first attempt to diagnose the problem should be adjusting the water movement / lighting where this coral is within your aquarium.

   The Polyphyllia genus should not be expanded when removing it from the water. Make sure to gently shake the coral until the tissue has receded before exposing it to the air. If they are not fed, they will die, since they have carbon requirements.

Availability    Polyphyllia Corals for Sale: The Slipper Coral P. talpina is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $20.00 to $50.00 USD or more depending on size and/or color, with the rare colors (green etc.) commanding the highest of prices regardless of size. The Slipper Coral P. talpina is rarely found listed with its scientific name so caution must be used as it can easily be confused with Herpolitha corals.

References

Author: Elizabeth M. Lukan, Clarice Brough CRS, Carrie McBirney
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