When the Yellow Leather Coral is happy its tentacles come out, giving it a fuzzy look!
The Yellow Leather Coral Sarcophyton elegans is a favorite coral from the Sarcophyton genus. The majority of the Sarcophyton sp. have a thick smooth, single stalk with a flared, smooth mushroom-shaped top that can be folded or funnel-shaped. The S. elegans however has less of a stalk, and grows closer to the rock work.
The S. elegans is usually yellow and its mushroom-shaped top has folded edges. This “top” is called a capitulum, and within that area are found autozooid polyps for feeding and siphonozooid polyps for water movement. The polyps can retract all the way, giving it a smooth look at times.
It is a very attractive mushroom in the reef aquarium, but unlike the other leathers the S. elegans is sensitive to many occurrences in the captive environment. The flesh is firm and soft, yet can be easily torn. Touching, air, and traveling can result in stress and possible death. Also the Sarcophyton genus tend to produce a lot of toxic compounds compared to other leathers. With the production of toxins, its sensitivity, and the delicate nature of its flesh, care must be taken when handling this species as well as in shipping and handling.
The Yellow Leather Coral is moderate to hard to keep. They like a moderate water flow and high lighting. For nutrition they use the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within their tissue, as well as extracting nutrients from the water. They are toxic toward other corals due to their release of terpenes (poisons used to ward off encroaching corals) and they do grow large, so they need plenty of space. Propagating the S. elegans is moderately difficult as well, since they are sensitive to stress and wounds heal very slowly, and at times, not at all. Their tentacles come out when happy and make for a “fuzzy” look.
The Yellow Leather Coral is known by many common names including Elegant Leather Coral, Yellow Toadstool Leather, Fiji Yellow Leather, Yellow Fiji Leather. Yellow Umbrella Leather, and Ruffled Leather Coral. Because it is similar in form to other leathers, many of the same common names are used interchangeably such as Toadstool Leather Coral, Toadstool Mushroom Coral, Toadstool Mushroom Leather, Mushroom Leather Coral, Umbrella Coral, Sarcophyton Coral, and Mushroom Coral. When ordering this or any other leather coral, its best to make sure you use the scientific name.
To learn about other types of soft corals, see:
Soft Coral Facts
This is a great video of a beautiful Yellow Leather Coral at 50 seconds. The distinct yellow coloring along with shorter yellow polyps is what sets it apart from a “Yellow Toadstool.” They are highly prized for the home aquaria, as yellow is one of the most sought after colors in a marine tank. They are moderately difficult and should be kept by intermediate aquarists. They can grow about 2 feet if it is a female and only 4″ for a male. A very large tank should be used, being at least 30″ tall and 24″ front to back. Adding a small juvenile to a tank with other leathers may impede it’s growth, so using products to take toxins out of the water that softies produce is a good idea. Do not house with stony corals unless the tank is hundreds of gallons and the Yellow Leather Coral is kept quite small.
Species: Sarcophyton elegans
Distribution / Background
Leather Coral Information: The Sarcophyton genus was described by Lesson in 1834. They belong to the family Alcyoniidae, which are referred to as octocorals. There are over 35 species of Sarcophyton. Some of their common names are Toadstool Leather, Toadstool Mushroom Coral, Leather Coral, Mushroom Leather, Toadstool Mushroom Leather, Umbrella Coral, Sarcophyton Coral, and Mushroom Coral.
The Yellow Leather Coral S. elegans was described by Moser in 1919. This leather has many names similar to other leathers such as Elegant Leather Coral, Yellow Toadstool Leather, Fiji Yellow Leather, Yellow Fiji Leather. Yellow Umbrella Leather, and Ruffled Leather Coral. They have been propagated in captivity, but since Sarcophyton corals tend to be rather bland in color, many times they are dyed. Dyed corals tend to not do as well and are dyed because the areas some come from have been bleached due to pollution and weather patterns.
Where Sarcophyton Corals Are Found: The S. elegans are found in the Indo-Pacific.
Sarcophyton Coral Habitat: The S. elegans are found in a bit deeper waters than other members of the Sarcophyton genus. They inhabit reef tops, reef slopes, and lagoons with hard and soft coral species to depths of 16 feet (7 m). Like others in their genus, they siphon water and utilize the nutrients for growth.
The Sarcophyton elegans is not listed on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.
What do Sarcophyton Corals look like: The Yellow Leather Coral S. elegans, like others in this genus, resembles a mushroom or toadstool. The Sarcophyton corals have a thick smooth, single stalk with a flared mushroom-shaped top, that can be folded or funnel-shaped.
In varying amounts, depending on the species, Sarcophyton leathers will warp their upper surface and direct the water flow by forming ridges that lead to feathery pinnules on their tentacles. These feathery pinnules are designed to sieve the water for nutrients. The capitulum (top) has autozooid and siphonozooid polyps that are rather long when extended. When the polyps are completely retracted, the surface has a very smooth look to it.
The S. elegans has less of a stalk than other Sarcophyton sp. and grows closer to the rock work. It is is usually yellow and its mushroom-shaped top has folded edges, giving a “ruffled” look. It can grow to from 4 x 4 x 4″ for males and to 24 x 24 x 24″ or more for females.
Difficulty of Care
Leather Coral Care: The Yellow Leather Coral S. elegans is moderate to hard to keep. They like a moderate water flow and high lighting. They are toxic toward other corals due to their release of terpenes (poisons used to ward off encroaching corals) and they do grow large, so they need plenty of space. Their tentacles come out when happy and make for a “fuzzy” look.
The flesh of the S. elegans is firm and soft, yet can be easily torn. It also tends to produce a lot of toxic compounds compared to other leathers, so care must be taken when handling. It is common for the S. elegans to retract their tentacles and develop a waxy look on their surface which is a periodic sloughing of the top layer of the skin. You can aid in the shedding by directing water flow for a short time to help whisk the mucus away.
Foods / Feeding
Leather Coral Feeding: The Sarcophyton leathers have reduced digestive systems. They do not use mucus nets, nor are their tentacles designed to catch prey. To make up for this, they will warp their upper surface and direct water flow by forming ridges that lead to feathery pinnules on their tentacles. These feathery pinnules are designed to sieve the water for nutrients. They can also absorb dissolved organic matter, and have a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, where they also receive some of their nutrients.
Because these corals are photosynthetic, they receiving nutrients from the marine algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within their tissue so really do not need to be fed in mature systems. For maximum growth, more intense lighting is needed since this type of coral thrives on light, which supports its zooxanthellae.
Though it is often stated that the Yellow Leather Corals do better in tanks that have regular feedings, it is not because they benefit from direct feeding. Their digestive anatomy has not developed to capture larger foods (even “sand” sized). But with feedings of other corals, extra nutrients are inevitably added to the water and in turn do benefit this coral. The feathery pinnules at the top of their tentacles will sieve nutrients out of the water. These nutrients are especially important if the light is not on the higher end.
Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Sarcophyton genus. A water change that is a standard for any reef system, not to exceed 30% is needed. In general, a typical water change of 20% a month or 10% biweekly, depending on the bio load, is sufficient. Some have found success by doing a 5% water change once a week, keeping water quality high and reducing the need for most additives. Soft corals do need to have proper chemical levels for good growth.
Iodine is used up quickly in captive environments, and does need to be added to the top off water or to the tank regularly. Make sure you have a test to make sure your levels are sufficient. Frequent water changes are preferred over adding supplements other than those listed here.
Suggested levels for Sarcophyton species are:
- Calcium: 385 – 450 ppm (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient. Anything over 400 tends to wear on pumps and other moving parts.)
- Alkalinity: 3.2 – 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 12 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. Strontium levels are suggested to keep the coral happy, and a kit for testing proper levels is suggested.
|Quick Reference Chart
A typical live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Yellow Leather Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production and plenty of room to grow.
Provide proper lighting and water movement. They need a low to moderate water flow. Make sure the water flow does not shoot a straight hard stream directly at the coral, only random water current. They like moderate to high lighting, but if using metal halides, exposure should be indirect. The Sarcophyton genus is very aggressive toward other corals, like stony corals, so be sure to provide plenty of room between these and all other species.
- Minimum Tank Size / Length:50 gallon (190 L) or larger
- Marine Lighting: Moderate to high, indirect if using metal halides.
- Temperature: 72Â° – 83Â° F (22Â° – 28Â° C)
- Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 – 1.025
- Water Movement: Low to moderate, with a random flow is suggested.
- Water Region: All areas of the aquarium.
Compatibility and Social Behaviors
The Yellow Leather Coral is very aggressive. The S. elegans is toxic toward other corals due to their release of terpenes (poisons to ward off encroaching corals). They have been known to harm some stony coral species of Acropora like the Staghorn Acropora A. formosa, some species of Porites like P andrewsii, as well as the death of Catalaphyllia, Euphyllia, and Plerogyra species.
This species can generally be housed with fishes, shrimp, and hermit crabs. Be careful if a clownfish decides to use a S. elegans as a surrogate anemone. The irritation of the clown can prevent the coral from expanding. In this case removal of the clown, or screening off the coral from the fish may be needed. There are also several species of flatworms (planaria), nudibranchs, and other parasites that tend to feed on the tissue of Sarcophyton corals. If these pests are present, they can usually be removed with a simple 5 minute freshwater dip.
Sex – Sexual differences
Sarcophyton males tend to be smaller than females, reaching 4 x 4 x 4″ (11 x 11 x 11 cm) and become sexually mature in 6 to 8 years. The females will reach 24 x 24 x 24″ (61 x 61 x 61 cm) and they reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years.
Breeding and Reproduction
In the wild, the Sarcophyton genus will reproduce naturally by spawning as well as by budding and fragmenting. They will drop off clones of themselves by self fission. A sign of reproduction is a hole that may appear in the middle of the capitulum, and as it reaches the edge, a small piece falls off.
The Yellow Leather Coral is very difficult to propagate since most of the time it results in death by stress for the mother colony and daughter colony. First and foremost, make sure your leather is healthy. The least dangerous way to frag this coral is using restriction, which is slow, but more likely to result in survival of the coral and frag. The frag will take a while to adhere to a rock also.
If insisting on cutting, be forewarned this is not suggested for the S. elegans. In general, the Sarcophyton species are fragged for just a small piece or for a large frag, but with a few variations in procedure. Using either procedure, the coral will more than likely deflate, but with good water flow it will recover. Corals can emit a nasty and at times noxious odor, so be sure there is good ventilation. Clean up any mucous when finished to prevent any possible health problems.
To frag a small piece:
- Make sure your leather is healthy.
- You may use a pair of very sharp scissors or a scalpel.
- Simply cut a small forked frag (1-2″ frag size) away from the mother colony while still in the tank.
- Loosely rubber band the frag between branches and affix to a small piece of rubble that has a natural indent or a plug.
For larger fragging:
- The leather coral should have all polyps retracted before proceeding.
- Remove the coral from the tank, and quickly perform the fragmentation from a mother colony with a clean razor, scalpel, or knife. (scissors can damage tissue from larger fragging cuts.)
- Provide a bath of clean, temperature and salinity adjusted, water (same as main tank) with a little iodine before returning to the tank. This bath will help clear out the mucous that the leather will produce from this procedure.
- The frag can be glued, tied, sewn to a rock or plug, or just set on rubble where the current will not take them away, but will help them heal.
- Return the leather to the same spot it was in before fragging and discard bath water.This placement will depend on the size and shape of the frag. At the very minimum place it at least close to where the mother colony is located, perhaps using the mother colony to block a water flow that is too quick for the frag.
The S. elegans is not as hardy as other members of the Sarcophyton genus, and can contract disease. Coral diseases are commonly caused by stress, shock (like pouring freshwater into the tank and it coming in contact with the leather), and incompatible tank mates including specific fish, or pests such as a Rapa rapa Snail which will eat them from the inside out.
If the coral goes limp for a prolonged period of time, lasting over a week, there may be underlying conditions such as poor water quality, a predatorial snail, or a nearby coral starting chemical warfare, competing for room. Look for rotting tissue and holes that will show up under the capitulum. If the coral sheds for a prolonged period of time, aim a powerhead or return flow at the leather to clear off the mucus.
Some diseases and treatments include:
- Flatworms, Brown Jelly Infections, cyanobacteria
Treat with a freshwater dip of 1 to 3 minutes in chlorine free freshwater of the same temperature and pH as the main display.
- Cyanobacteria, Brown Jelly Infections
These can also be treated with Neomycin sulphite, Kanamycin and other broad-spectrum antibiotics. The pill can be pulverised into a fine powder, mixed with sea water to make a paste, and then applied to the wound or affected site of the coral with a simple artists brush.
- Necrosis, Black Band Disease
To prevent necrosis, and fight black band disease, according to one author the corals can be treated with Tetracycline at 10 mg per quart/liter.
- Lugol’s Solution (as a preventative/cure)
Use a Lugol’s dip at 5-10 drops of 5% Lugol’s solution per quart/liter of newly mixed sea water that has been mixing for 10-20 minutes. Start with a 10 minute dip and observe the reaction of the coral. A daily dip can be done until the coral is cured.
One procedure that can save a coral’s life if nothing else is working is amputation of the affected area. This must be done in a separate container consisting of some of the tank’s water. Cut slightly into healthy tissue surrounding the diseased flesh then reattach the coral to the substrate with the open wound cemented on part of the reef structure.
- “Liquid Band Aid”
For wounds that are on the side or top, some have used “liquid band aid” or super glue to seal the wound.
Soft Corals for Sale: The Yellow Leather Coral S. elegans is very easy to find pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $38.00 USD or more, depending on size and/or color.
- Animal-World References: Marine and Reef
- Anthony Calfo, Book of Coral Propagation, Volume 1 Edition 2: Reef Gardening for Aquarists, Reading Trees; 2nd edition, 2007
- Ronald L. Shimek, Guide to Marine Invertebrates: 500+ Essential-to-Know Aquarium Species, Microcosm, 2005
- Eric Borneman, Aquarium Corals: Selection, Husbandry, and Natural History , TFH Publications, 2001
- Bob Goemans, Yellow Leather Coral, Animal Library, Saltwatercorner.com