Waving Hand Coral Anthelia sp. also known as Glove Coral, Pulse Coral, and Feather Coral
Anthelia Sp.

The Waving Hand Coral is so named due to its very long tentacles, or fingers, rising from the tops of its elongated polyps!

At first glance the Waving Hand Coral Anthelia sp. are very similar in appearance to other Xeniids, but this genus is encrusting, which sets it apart. They actually form an encrusting mat and the long cylindrical polyps grow directly from that base. They have a delicate appearance with polyps that are topped with eight long pinnate (feathering) tentacles, or fingers, thus the common names of Waving Hand Coral, Glove Coral, Feather Coral, and Pulse Coral.

The Anthelia genus are found in deeper and more protected waters than other Xeniids, sometimes at depths beyond 60 feet (18 m). They most often are chocolate brown, but also come in some interesting colors like gray, light tan, cream, and ivory. There is even a bright blue colored species, A. flava, that is found in a bit shallower water than the other Anthelia sp..

Though the Waving Hand Coral is also referred to as a Pulse Coral, their polyps do not pulse nearly as much as most of the Xeniids, and often not at all in captivity. They also do not retract their polyps into the coral. Interestingly Anthelia species do not react much, if at all, to outward stimuli, like a touch from your hand.

Although the Anthelia genus does not usually pulse in captivity, the Xeniidae family itself is considered unique in the coral world because of this ability. From this family, at least five other genera will pulse. Some of those common to aquarists include the Pulse Coral Xenia sp. and the Pom Pom Zenias of the Heteroxenia genus, Anthelia corals are different from Xenia corals because the Xenia polyps rise from the top of a stalk, forming small colonies, rather than having their polyps grow directly from an encrusting mat.

The Clavularia corals, like the Palm Tree Polyps C. viridis, can sometimes be confused with the Waving Hand Corals with very similar polyps. You can tell the difference between the two by looking at them when the polyps are retracted. Clavularia can completely retract its polyps until only the closed heads of each calyx can be seen. Anthellia can deflate its polyps too, but one can still see the tentacles as they cannot be withdrawn completely into the calyx.

The Waving Hand Coral Anthelia sp. is easier to care for than the other genera in the Xeniid family. They are less likely to crash, which is quite typical of the Xenia genus. Due to the fact that they are deeper water species, the lighting for most can be more of a low to moderate level. Attach to a plug or rock once introduced to the tank. Exercise proper handling procedures Like Xenia, If you need to handle them, do so very briefly and with gloved fingers. When handled they stress and produce lots of mucous, which in turn attracts bacteria, leading to death. This is also the reason they do not travel well. This production of mucous attracts bacteria, and being trapped in the shipping bag causes the bacteria to consume the Anthelia.

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

Waving Hand Coral, Anthelia sp

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Narrative of Anthelia species

This video of a Waving Hand Coral has a great and useful narrative! These corals can be kept in nano tanks if they are kept cut back or are great in a large aquarium. Imagine the entire back wall covered with these! That would be mesmerizing! Low to moderate lighting is best and adding zooplankton is helpful for growth. If light is higher, acclimate them slowly and watch them for signs of stress. Unlike Xenia, they do not melt away.

Scientific name

Family: Xeniidae
Species: Anthelia sp.

Distribution / Background

Soft Coral Information: The Anthelia genus was described by Lamarck in 1816. There are about 12 species which include A. andina, A. borealis, A. edmondsonii, A. fallax, A. fishelsoni, A. glauca, A. gracillis, A. nivalis, A. simplex, A. strumosa, A. ternatana, and A. tonsana. Some common names these corals are known for are the Waving Hand Coral, Pulse Coral, Feather Coral, and Glove Coral. The Anthelia genus has been propagated in captivity, and acquiring these specimens is a good idea, since they are hardier than their wild counterparts.

Where Anthelia Corals Are Found: The Anthelia genus are found in in the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea. at depths between 26 – 72 feet (8 – 22 m) in waters that are gentle and nutrient rich.

Anthelia Coral Habitat: The Anthelia genus inhabit protected areas of the reef, away from strong water movement. They are not found with other Xeniids, since they are usually out competed for reef space. They are often found growing over dead coral skeletons and other hard substrates.


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


What do Anthelia Corals look like: The Anthelia genus grows very different from the other species in this genus. They actually form an encrusting mat and their cylindrical polyps grow directly from that base. Their polyps do not pulse nearly as much as most of the Xeniids, and often not at all in captivity. It is possible that the Indo-Pacific species may be more likely to pulse than the Red Sea species, which have not been seen pumping.

The Waving Hand Coral Anthelia sp. can come in gray, light tan, cream, and ivory, but more often are chocolate brown, with A. flava being bright blue and A. edmondsonii being light blue. They can have small oval sclerites, yet sclerites are not often found on this species. Sclerites are small calcareous bodies that can help support soft corals. The polyps do not retract inside the coral, but can contract considerably, and are all polyps autozooid (feeding tentacles).

  • A. flava is bright blue and comes from waters that are more shallow than most of the Anthelia species.
  • A. glauca is the most common species and forms small clustered groupings. The polyps are long, up to 5″ (13 cm) or more. They are found a little shallower, at depths of 26-72 feet (8-22 m).
  • A. edmondsonii is light blue and is found only in Hawaii. They have 1/4″ polyps and the colonies are 3-12″ across.

Difficulty of Care

Soft Coral Care: The Waving Hand Coral Anthelia sp. is easier to care for than the other genera in the Xeniid family. They are less likely to crash, which is quite typical of the Xenia genus. Due to the fact that they are deeper water species, the lighting for most can be more of a low to moderate level. Some species, though, may need a little more light so watch your Anthelia and take cues. Adjust the light accordingly and be aware of their nutritional needs.

Foods / Feeding

Soft Coral Feeding: In the wild, Anthelia corals have developed several feeding strategies. They can absorb dissolved organic matter, some species capture microscopic food particles from the water column, and they have a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, where they also receive some of their nutrients.

In captivity target feeding is pretty much pointless, and stocking enough fish as a source of dissolved organics is all you need. Tanks without fish need a mature sand that can be stirred to get the organics in the the water column. Some have stated micro zooplankton may be added if desired.

Aquarium Care

Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Anthelia 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. Soft corals still need to have proper chemical levels for proper growth. Adding trace elements helps to keep those nutrients in the water which benefit them. Maintain pH at least at 8.3.

Some have indicated the use of iodine with Xeniids, yet use sparingly and do not exceed manufacturers suggested doses. It is suggested to only use 1/2 the dosage amount as you start off with your new colony, and then increase it slowly over time as the colony becomes established. One way you can gauge the amount is by watching the development of brown algae, diatoms. Established, well maintained aquariums only need the glass scraped free of brown algae about once a week or even longer. Too much iodine is indicated by excessive algae growth.

Suggested levels for Anthelia species are:

  • Calcium: 400 – 450 ppm
  • 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

If your Waving Hand Coral is pulsing, then keep doing what your doing! There is no proven reason why Xeniid corals pulse. Many experts and aquarists attribute a variety of reasons for the pulsing phenomena. One thought is that they are pulsating to help with respiration and gas exchange. Water chemistry also plays a role in their pulsing, along with lighting and current, just what combination is hard to tell. They are sensitive to falling or low pH and will stop pulsing when the pH is below 8.3. Adding small amounts of carbon will take some organics out of the water. Some aquarists have found this to induce the polyps to pulse, as if the coral is trying to try pull more nutrients from the water. Supplements of iodine are also suggested by some, but with caution as Lugol’s has been found to be detrimental to some Xeniid colonies.

Aquarium Parameters

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

A typical live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Waving Hand Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. Attach the Anthelia coral to a hard substrate once introduced to the tank.

Provide proper lighting and water movement. The Anthelia corals like a moderate to high, and turbid water flow. The brighter species of corals can be slowly adapted to stronger Halide lighting, yet the darker ones need lower light. If the levels are not high enough in the lighting scheme you have, or you need new bulbs, some Xeniids will change color or increase in size. This deepening color change is from the coral actually cultivating more zooxanthellae to catch the lowered light levels. The Anthelia genus is non- aggressive toward other nearby corals

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length:10 gallon Nano (38 L) if kept trimmed, or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Low to high (adapt brighter species to metal halides slowly)
  • Temperature: 74° – 83° F (23° – 28° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 – 1.025
  • Water Movement: Moderate to strong, and turbid
  • Water Region: All areas of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors

The Waving Hand Coral is peaceful and will not bother other corals. They are more likely to be the victim of other corals than the victor. This makes them a great addition to your reef, yet be protective of them if stronger corals are nearby. The Sarcophyton Leather Corals seem to help Xeniids flourish, though this is not entirely understood.

The Anthelia genus is non-aggressive as far as stinging or affecting nearby corals, but they will actually encrust up to areas where there is more light if they need to. Make sure no weak corals are around that can be “grown” over.

Sex – Sexual differences

No sexual difference in appearance is known.

Breeding and Reproduction

Many species of the Anthelia genus will use pinnitomy, which is when pinnules fall from the polyps and attach to the substrate to start new colonies. They will also grow outward from the edges of their colony and form new polyps on the new mat. Some species, like A. glauca broods externally on the surface during the warm season that spans about 5 months. They form a brooding pouch where their planulae larvae grow and then are released fully developed to form new colonies. It is possible that other species breed similarly.

Propagation is easy, since Anthelia is encrusting, the mat of colony can be divided. Simply cut off pieces of a mat and glue them, or better yet, rubber band them to a rock or plug. Letting it grow over and encrust on rubble is a good way to make frags that are connected to a surface. Simply snip out a piece of rubble. Fragging is similar to star polyps, like the the Green Star Polyps Pachyclavularia violacea, and other matting corals.

Potential Problems

The Anthelia genus is hardy and easy to care for. However they may be prey to a little nasty crab that assumes the color of the coral, and slowly eats it away. A. edmondsonii is susceptible to a nudibranch called tritonia hawaiiensis, which can eat them over a short period of time.


Soft Corals for Sale: The Waving Hand Coral Anthelia sp. is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $40.00 to $60.00 USD and up, depending on size and/or color.


Featured Image Credit: Pavaphon Supanantananont, Shutterstock