News / Species Spotlight / Revisited: Chalice Corals (05/15/13)

Revisited: Chalice Corals

by Charles J. Hanley III

Scientific Name: Numerous
Common Name(s): Chalice Coral (numerous descriptive variations)

Taxonomy:

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Scleractinia
Family: Pectiniidae, Faviidae
Genera: Echinophyllia, Mycedium, Oxypora, Pectinia, Physophyllia, Echinomorpha, Echinpora

Description:

Chalice corals are the rising stars of the hobby, to be sure. With fancifully descriptive monikers like Orange Implosion, Bubble Gum Monster, Flaming Purple Plasma, and Mummy Eye, one could be sold on the name alone! The coral itself rarely disappoints, displaying brilliant hues of green, blue, purple, red, pink, and orange. They also bear a superficial resemblance to corals of the family Mussidae such as Acanthastrea, Blastomussa, and Scolymia. If you havent seen a Chalice Coral before you are missing a rare beauty. Without question, chalice corals are some of the most jaw-dropping corals the trade has ever seen.
Chalices are so-called because they often form cup-shaped colonies upheld by a thin, calcium carbonate skeleton (they are Large-Polyped Scleractians--LPS). However, the name is misleading because there are a number of loosely related species that come from several genera and at least two different families. Some form encrusting colonies, with a lumpy, mountainous look. Others create cup-shaped or foliose formations with their slim skeletal plates. Surrounding the hard peritheca, the part of the corallum (skeleton) connecting individual corallites, is a thin layer of colorful tissue. This area often shows a bumpy texture and can be expansive because the corallites are sparsely distributed. The tissue and bumps can come in any color of the rainbow and may match one another or be contrasting hues. The corallites are most often another, different color which contrasts yet again. Chalice corals literally come in just about every conceivable color combination. And they fluoresce too.
For fun, I have included a list of chalice varietal nicknames I found during my research. Check some of these out:



Natural Habitat and Ecology:

Discussing chalice corals is a little bit tricky since there is such a broad grouping of corals in this category. There are two families, Faviidae and Pectiniidae, and at least seven genera, Echinophyllia, Mycedium, Oxypora, Pectinia, Physophyllia, Echinomorpha, and Echinpora, which are colloquially called chalice corals. Interestingly, two of the most similar looking, Echinopora and Echinophyllia, are not of the same family. Echinopora chalices are actually more closely related to Caulastrea trumpet corals and Favia pineapple corals. Why is that significant? It may or may not be, but such differences could lead to different husbandry needs. The varying genetic backgrounds of chalice corals certainly contribute to the enormous number of color morphs one can find. In fact, my research uncovered at least 60 colorful variationsand 60 equally colorful names.
A few across the board generalities can be made regarding chalice corals. For instance, they are all zooxanthellate, and Indo-Pacific in origin. Chalices also have the ability to passively reject sediment, allowing them to thrive in turbid lagoons. Moreover, they exist in shallow and deep water, and in most types of reef environments. Chalices are hermaphroditic and reproduce sexually and asexually. Often, they form large, colonial coral-heads in encrusting, branching and platelike formations.

Aquarium Care:

There is some debate as to the precise husbandry requirements of chalice corals. It seems likely that the discrepancy is due to misidentification or errant classification caused by the broad taxonomic range encompassed by the chalice moniker. For example, most lighting recommendations for chalice corals prescribe low to moderate light levels. Some have reported having to move specimens into shaded areas to prevent bleaching, while others have only had success with significant metal halide wattage. It can be very difficult to correctly ID chalice corals by species and that may lead to the disparate lighting recommendations. Fortunately, chalices seem to be relatively adaptable to wide range of lighting conditions. Most tend to exhibit the best growth and coloration when placed low in the tank, beneath PC or T5 lights. It may be necessary to introduce the coral in a lower-light, low-in-the-tank location and make incremental adjustments until an ideal position is found.
Water quality needs are generally considered to be similar to other LPS corals. Most aquarists are using a moderate water-flow regime and are sure to create a buffer zone around the coral to prevent stray sweeper tentacles from damaging other invertebrates. Like other LPS, chalices can pack a pretty good sting against other corals. They are also capable of allelopathy, the coral form of chemical warfare.
Chalices do well placed on open sand but can do equally well on live rock, provided they are secured down. They are nocturnal feeders and will expect small meaty foods. They are also zooxanthellate, and so will derive nutrition symbiotically as well.
Once again, most standard reef tank parameters apply, in addition to the use of a good buffer:

Temp72 to 78 Fahrenheit degrees
PH8.1 to 8.4
S.G. 1.021 to 1.025
Alkalinity7.0 to 10.0 dKH
Calcium412-450 mg/L
Magnesium1288 to 1320 mg/L
Ammoniaimmeasurable
Nitriteimmeasurable
Nitrate<10.0 mg/L

I found no evidence of sexual reproduction in captivity. Fortunately, chalice corals are relatively easily fragmented using a rotary tool, bone cutters, or a hammer and chisel. Even a razor blade may be used on particularly thin specimens. Unfortunately, colonies are fairly slow growing, so that fragging opportunities may be infrequent.


References:

Anonymous Animal Library Entry Class: Anthozoa, Subclass: Hexacorallia, Order: Scleractinia, Family Euphylliidae, Euphyllia May 08, 2007;
Brightwell, C.R.Marine Chemistry . Neptune City: T.F.H Publications, 2007.
Chalice Corals. Fish Profiles Web Entry. .
Echinophyllia. CoralPedia Online. . 06/14/2007.
Kleeman, K. Tropical Marine Biology II: Classification of Scleractinian (Stony) Corals. University of Vienna. 2002. Available at: .
Talbot, Ret. Chalice Corals for the Tropical Marine Aquarium. Suite 101 Online Magazine. . 05/23/2009.
Wood, Elizabeth. Corals of the World. Neptune City: T.F.H. Publications, 1989.