The beautiful Cat’s Eye Coral Cynarina lacrymalis is perhaps the most delicate beauty in the coral world. It is the largest single polyp coral in nature, and can be free living or attached to the substrate. They have either a round or oval structure topped with fleshy translucent bubble shaped lobes. The large underlying septa can be visible through the lobes when they are expanded during the daytime.

   Cynarina corals come in wonderful mixes of almost any color. The Cat’s Eye Coral can range from bright hues of red, pink, and green to drab browns or gentle pastels. The center can be the same or a contrasting color. Depending on the tank conditions, these corals have an almost chameleon-like ability to change their surface appearance from a dull mottled look to a high glossy sheen.

   Some other names this coral is known for are Doughnut Coral, Modern Coral, Solitary Cup Coral, Meat Coral or Meat Polyp, Cynarina Doughnut Coral, Teary Star Coral, Teary Eye Coral, Owl’s Eye Coral, Donut Coral, and Eye of Cat Coral. The “Meat Coral” name comes from the red variation. However most are called the Cat’s Eye Coral or Doughnut Coral for the other colors, especially if the center is contrasting. It can be confused with its relatives in the Scolymia genus, like the Fancy Doughnut Coral Scolymia vitiensis. But the Scolymia corals differ in that they do not have large puffy translucent polyps or the large, toothy ridges in the skeletal structure found in the Cynarina species.

   The Cynarina genus is highly prized due to its hardy nature. They are tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, more so than any other member of the Mussidae family. In spite of its delicate appearance, the lovely Cat’s Eye Coral is generally a hardy large polyp stony (LPS) coral in most aquariums. Providing low to moderate lighting is suggested, as well as a lower water current to allow for full expansion.

   This wonderful coral makes a prize show piece for both the beginner and the experienced reef keeper. C. lacrymalis have been propagated in captivity. Due to their slow growth however, Cynarina corals are not always available, and when they are they can be pricey. The red variation is the most popular, pulling almost $100.00 USD for a good sized polyp.

Cynarina lacrymalis Cat’s Eye Coral
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Very cool shape changing

The Cat’s Eye Coral looks very different at night when feeding, compared to it’s daytime shape! The end of the video shows the daytime shape which is MUCH more familiar. Keep them in a tank that is matured by at least 6 months after ammonia has reached 0 ppm and is at least 50 gallons. Low water movement and low to moderate lighting is best as well as lots of yummy minced foods! Feed several times per week.

Cynarina lacrymalis in red
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Great up close of shape and color

This red Cynarina lacrymalis, or Meat Coral probably set this aquarist back a pretty penny! This color has been known to fetch about $150.00 USD easy! Good thing this an easy to care for coral as long as the water movement isn’t too strong and it is fed regularly!


Scientific name

   Family: Mussidae
   Species: Cynarina lacrymalis

Distribution / Background

   Cynarina Coral Information: The Cynarina genus was described by Bruggemann in 1877. According to author Vernon in his book “Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific”, there are nine nominal species and one or two true species, with one of these from Australia. All of these species have characteristics similar to those of the valid species Cynarina lacrymalis. Some of the names they are known for are Tooth Coral, Doughnut coral, Cat’s Eye Coral, Meat Coral, Owl’s Eye Coral, and Button Coral.

   The C. lacrymalis was described by described by Milne, Edwards, and Haime in 1848. Some common names these corals are know for are Cat’s Eye Coral, Doughnut Coral, Modern Coral, Solitary Cup Coral, Meat Polyp Coral, Cynarina Doughnut Coral, Teary Eye Coral, Owl’s Eye Coral, Donut Coral, and Eye of Cat Coral. The C. lacrymalis has been propagated in captivity, but due to their slow growth, they are not available as often, or if they are, fetch a high price.

   Where Cynarina Corals Are Found: The Cynarina lacrymalis are found in the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific, from Africa’s east coast to Australia’s reefs (with exception to the west coast), then north to Japan and everywhere in-between.

   Cynarina Coral Habitat: The Cynarina lacrymalis inhabit rocky substrates, overhangs, reef slopes, and at times are found on muddy substrates. They range from 0-131 feet (0 – 40 m) in depth in various water movement environments. They feed at night, extending tentacles.


   The C. lacrymalis is listed on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species as Near Threatened (NT)


   What do Cynarina Corals look like: The Cynarina genus consists of one giant corallite, or polyp, that has a round or oval skeletal structure. It has large, prominent septal teeth in several different heights, with the tallest teeth being much thicker. These corals can be free-living or attached, as they have a pointed base that can connect the polyp upright to its desired location.

   The tallest septa is usually visible throughout the Cynarina’s translucent flesh, which is usually brown, but can be green, bright red, pink and several light pastel colors. The centers can be the same or a contrasting color. Cat’s Eye Coral C. lacrymalis comes in mixes of almost any color with the center being the same or a contrasting color. Their body reaches up to 6″ (15 cm) in diameter.

   The Cynarina corals have an almost chameleon way of changing their surface to a glossy or dull appearance. It is unknown why they do this, but has been suggested it is due to ambient tank conditions. They can change shape as well. This coral is smooth and bubbly during the daytime, but at night the corals deflates and it shoots out long tentacles for feeding. This night time appearance resembles an anemone, and if the tentacles are disturbed, it will contract in the same fashion.

Difficulty of Care

   Cynarina Coral Care: Like other Mussids, the C. lacrymalis is easy to care for. Provide a low to moderate light. Water flow should be lower as well to allow for full expansion of the polyp. Like other members of the Mussidae family, the polyps tentacles come out at night to feed.

Foods / Feeding

   Cynarina Coral Feeding: The Cynarina 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,C. lacrymalis does very well being fed pieces of fish, shrimp or other flesh, as well as mysis. Feed at night when tentacles are present, or illicit a feeding response using shrimp or fish juice. When feeding, make sure you feed the entire organism to your coral. For instance, if you have a silverside, chop it up, yet give the entire fish to the coral. This is so it gets all the nutritional elements they need from the whole organism. Feeding several times a week will help them grow faster.

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 Cynarina species. Trace elements and iodine may also be added.:

  • 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.
  • 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 Cynarina Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production, and dissolved organics. It needs to be placed facing upward. A mature tank is recommended.

Quick Reference Chart
Lighting:Prefers Low Lighting LevelsPrefers Medium Lighting LevelsPrefers High Lighting Levels
Water Flow:Prefers Low Water Flow LevelsPrefers Medium Water Flow LevelsPrefers High Water Flow Levels
Temperament:Peaceful TemperamentSemi-Aggressive TemperamentAggressive Temperament

   Be sure to have proper water movement and lighting. Provide low to moderate lighting and a lower water flow for the best health and to allow for full expansion of the polyp. This is a peaceful species, though it does extend feeding sweeper tentacles at night. There needs to be plenty of space between it and other corals.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 50 gallon (190 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Temperature: 74° – 82° F (23° – 27° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.024 – 1.026
  • Water Movement: Low to Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors

   The Cynarina genus is peaceful. The C. lacrymalis will tolerate their same species, but they do need to be kept some way from other corals. They have feeder tentacles that come out at night. But due to their non-aggressive nature, they can sting others but more than likely they are the ones that will be over taken.

   Cynarina corals are also affected by toxins from soft corals, including mushrooms. In a tank with an abundance of soft corals, they can eventually perish. Lack of expansion is an indication something is wrong. Use of carbon may be helpful..

Sex – Sexual differences


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 Cynarina genus are hermaphrodites that use external fertilization in the wild. In captivity, the C. lacrymalis can be propagated with shading. When the animal is shaded its natural instinct is polyp bail-out or ejection, where it drops part of its fleshy middle with hopes of finding light elsewhere. Cutting is not recommended.

Potential Problems

   The C. lacrymalis are attractive and durable when their needs are provided for. Turning brown or bleaching may be an indication that the light is too strong. Filamentous algae can encroach around the outside of the tissue, and the tissue is subject to tearing if not handled carefully. When removing the coral from water, gentle shake it until most of the tissue has retracted. Otherwise it can be torn from its own weight when removed.


   Cynarina Corals for Sale: The C. lacrymalis is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. The cost for online stores is around $90.00 USD per polyp and up, depending on size and/or color.


Featured Image Credit: Core Coral, Shutterstock