Notes From The Trenches with Richard Durso

Asexual Reproduction of Catalaphyllia jardinei
(Elegance coral)

Background and Introduction

Catalaphyllia jardinei (Saville-Kent, 1893) is commonly called the Elegance coral, Elegant coral or Wonder coral; all three of which are appropriate common names because, to me, this is one of the most beautiful of the large, fleshy-polyped stony corals. Catalaphyllia is a monotypic genus, meaning it includes only a single species, Catalaphyllia jardinei. Catalaphyllia is a member of the Family Euphyllidae along with Euphyllia (Hammer, Anchor, Torch, Frogspawn), Nemenzophyllia (Fox) and Plerogyra (Bubble, Octobubble). Catalaphyllia distribution covers the west and central Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Catalaphyllia distribution covers the west and central Pacific including Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Seychelles and Vietnam. (UNEP-WCMC, 2005) Catalaphyllia are collected mainly from deep flats (greater than 120 feet) with sandy/silty bottoms, lagoons, seagrass beds and near shore mud flats (Borneman, 2005).

Catalaphyllia jardinei is a colonial coral which may be free-living or attached. Its corallites are fused together in winding rows that are joined at the base of the colony. The rows are separated from each other (flabelloid or flabello-meandroid) with gaps between the walls (Bruckner, 1998). The free-living colonies are smaller, found on soft substrates with a V-shaped base and lack the elaborate meandroid features of the attached forms (Borneman, 2003).

During the mid to late 1990's Elegance corals became very difficult to keep alive for extended periods of time. I was aware of the many difficulties being reported by fellow hobbyists with their husbandry when I acquired my specimen in April 1999. I gathered anecdotal comments from fellow hobbyists and made a small checklist of what to look for. Based on the information gathered, I did not want a purple tip specimen or one with a vibrant green oral disc. The tentacles needed to be fully extended and the flesh firmly attached to the skeleton. The Pink-tipped Elegance seemed like the ideal specimen. Now, when I look back at that list, I know it was foolish to think such a list would prevent acquiring a specimen that would die. It was by pure luck that I found this healthy one. For further reading on many of the issues related to the recent decline of Elegance corals, visit Eric Borneman's Elegance Coral Project.

Elegance corals are becoming a rare gem in the reefkeeping hobby, not only because the of their horrid survival records but because their collection has been greatly reduced. CITES export quotas for Indonesia alone have been cut by over 60% from 1999 (67,500 quota) to 2005 (26,500 quota) (UNEP-WCMC, 2005).

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Figure 1. The author's Elegance coral -
April 1999.

Although it is not the intent of this article to cover the issues concerning Elegance coral demise, a few references that touch on that subject are included in the Bibliography. I've read anecdotal reports saying these corals simply starve to death. I disagree with this notion as they clearly are meat eaters and getting them to eat finely chopped shrimp, mysid shrimp and similarly sized items is fairly easy and should be done several times a month, if not weekly. This does not mean that past reports of Elegance corals demise were not from starvation; it is likely many do not feed them appropriately. Provided these corals are properly fed, an otherwise healthy specimen should not simply starve to death as they are easy corals to feed. Some people believe that Catalaphyllia will not thrive in heavily skimmed aquaria because they tend to come from nutrient rich lagoons. I cannot argue this either way. I can only observe that my specimen has been doing fantastic in a very aggressively skimmed tank. At this point it really could be anything in the realm of parasites, pathogens, virus, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, algae, nematodes and who knows what else that is causing their early demise in captivity. Hopefully, studies such as Borneman's Elegance Coral Project will unlock the secret and make Catalaphyllia a hardy beginner's coral again.

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Figure 2. The author's Elegance coral -
March 2002.

Perhaps it was attention to details, dedication and careful observations or perhaps I'm just lucky. Either way, this is the only Elegance I have owned and it has thrived year after year and survived several tank moves, winter power outages (very cold temperatures), stuck heaters (tank temperature into the 90°'s F), failed CO2 regulator (tank pH of 6.2), hyposalinity (failed RO/DI float switch), even hypoxia (very low dissolved oxygen levels) after two massive tank spawns that made the water white as milk. I've had this Elegance coral longer than any other coral I own, longer than any pets I've owned; it's even older than my children. We've been through a lot together over the years, and I'm glad to see that my eight-year-old mated pair of Percula clownfish (Amphiprion percula) have now made it their surrogate host.


This Elegance coral has done well for me under a variety of different lighting schemes, including:

  • VHO

  • 250 watt Iwasaki 6500K

  • 400 watt Iwasaki 6500K

  • 175 watt Ushio 10,000K

  • 250 watt Ushio 10,000K

  • 400 watt Ushio 10,000K

  • AB 250 watt 10,000K DE

  • Ushio 250 watt 10,000K DE

  • XM 250 watt 20,000K DE

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Figure 3. The author's Elegance coral -
June 2004.

Although in nature this coral is typically found on sandy lagoons and even mud, I keep it on a rock plateau in the lower third of the display. This helps free up sand space for other critters, increases the amount of light it receives and helps to expose it to increased flow rates without kicking up too much sand.

I've found it opens up best with moderate indirect random currents such as current deflected off the glass or rocks. It will retract and stay closed if the current becomes turbulent.


Only a select few items will trigger its nematocysts to capture food items. These include mysid shrimp, finely chopped cocktail shrimp, mussel, clam and other such similar foods (it's definitely a meat-eater). If the food item is too large the Elegance will release it after a few minutes. Observe the coral to ensure the food is passed to its mouth and that it is ingested. I have to say not to waste your time trying to feed an Elegance coral brine shrimp or planktonic foods such as phytoplankton, golden pearls and Cyclop-eeze, as mine has shown no interest in these foods. If you have any ornamental shrimp such as cleaner or peppermint shrimp be aware that they will steal the food from the Elegance's tentacles before it can move the food to its mouth.

Environmental Changes

Between May 2003 and April 2005 my Elegance coral was held in a 58-gallon storage tank in my basement while construction was completed for the basement and in-wall tank display. Since this tank is so much smaller, I was able to reuse very little equipment. Instead of my AB Aquaspace 3 x 250 watt HQI lighting system, I used a single 175 watt bulb with no actinic supplementation. Instead of a calcium reactor, I used ESV B-Ionic and kalkwasser. Instead of a monster 40-inch dual Beckett driven skimmer, I made a four-foot tall counter-current dual airstone skimmer from PVC which was fed by a Magnum HOT-1 hang-on canister filter. Luckily, even with all these changes, the Elegance coral continued to thrive.

Asexual Reproduction

I noticed a minor outbreak of Aiptasia anemones in the holding tank around December 2004. I cleaned off the side of the holding tank's glass wall to inspect for any Aiptasia anemones near the Elegance and did not find any. At first glance, however, I thought I had found a pretty big one behind the rock structure the Elegance was mounted on. Upon closer inspection I could see it was no Aiptasia… it was a mini-Elegance!! (See Figure 4 below.) I was amazed that this coral had dropped off a daughter colony without me noticing it. This process must have taken a significant amount of time. How could it have done that without showing some sign of stress? I quickly cleaned off the rest of the glass to see if I could locate any other daughter colonies, and I was able to locate three more, all of them in the back of the tank behind the rock work. I must admit that I was a bit stumped about why the back was dropping so many colonies but none elsewhere. I've read that stress is one potential cause of asexual reproduction (Borneman 2005, Borneman 2000). Just to be safe, I carefully inspected the environment and could not locate anything that may have caused stress to this particular side of the coral. It was the only coral in the holding tank and no Aiptasia anemones were under its flesh or near its skeleton.

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Figure 4. The first daughter colony located - December 2004.

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Figure 5. Twin daughter colonies forming - December 2004.

Later that night I decided to inspect the tank after the lights were out to see if I could spot some of the peppermint shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni) that were in the tank to help deal with the Aiptasia anemones. Before I could locate any of the shrimp something else caught my eye. It turns out that during the day the Elegance coral would expand so much that it was hiding daughter colonies that were in process of forming.

I noticed that in several locations the Elegance coral's outer oral disc was expanded beyond what is normal as can be seen in the lower sections of the image from June 2004 above.

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Figure 6. Triplet daughter colonies forming - December 2004.

This oral disc, which is hyper-extended, starts to secrete a calcium skeleton separate from the skeleton of the rest of the colony. Apparently, this skeleton continues to gain mass, and its weight stretches the flesh of the coral that is holding it to the parent colony. Eventually, this weight is great enough to tear it away from the parent and a new daughter colony is created. Elegance corals are not exactly considered rapid growers. It takes several months for the new skeleton to become heavy enough to complete this process. My guess is that wave action in the wild helps to accelerate this process.

I was puzzled to find these daughter colonies growing not in singles but in duplicate and triplicate formations (see Figures 5 & 6). However, all of the daughter colonies I located in the rockwork were single skeletons. I'm not sure why this is. As can be seen in Figures 5 and 6 they are growing so closely together that they will fall off as a cluster and not singularly.

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Figure 7. Triplet daughter colony flesh cut free of the parent colony. Two of the detached skeletons are shown- May 2005.

These daughter colonies were so far into the development process that I could not guess when this process had started, but I could monitor them to see how long it would take from this point on to complete the process of daughter separation.

Around February 2005 I cleaned the glass again to take updated pictures. I could tell by the size of the oral disc that the daughter colonies had not dropped off. What triggered my curiosity, however, was that the area where the triplets were forming was no longer hanging downward as if being pulled. I cannot explain what happened, but it seems that the new skeletons were heavy enough to tear off the daughter colonies but not heavy enough to tear the flesh from the parent colony. I found three skeletal stubs on the substrate at the base of the Elegance coral (see Figure 7). The twin colonies were still attached and growing.

Manual Propagation Assistance

The tank room and basement construction was completed by May 2005. The in-wall tank had finished cycling and I was ready to start moving the items from my holding tank into it. Upon inspecting the Elegance coral, the area of the triplet was free floating from the parent and attached by only a small section of flesh. This daughter colony was still separating from the parent colony without the assistance of a heavy skeleton. Its underside, however, showed evidence of a new skeleton in the early stages of development.

I decided to remove these daughter colonies from the parent. I wanted to allow the parent colony enough time to recover before stressing it further by moving it to the new display tank. Using a sharp pair of scissors, I cut the triplet daughter colony away from the parent with a single swift cut.

Since this section of skin lacked significant skeletal structure my plan was to glue it to its former skeleton to help weight it down. However, the ZapGel glue I use for mounting corals had been in storage for nearly two years and had turned hard as a rock - poor planning on my part. Plan "B" was to attempt to loosely tie the flesh to the old skeleton using monofilament fishing line.

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Figure 8. Elegance flesh cut in half and a mounting attempt made using monofilament fishing line - May 2005.
Figure 9. The author holding an Elegance coral fragment which was cut and tied to a former skeletal section - May 2005.

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Figure 10. Twin daughter colony cut from the parent - May 2005.

I was able to locate only two of the three known skeletal sections that had dropped off the daughter colony a few months prior. I decided to cut only this section of flesh in half and attempt to tie each part to one of the skeleton's sections (Figure 8). This quickly became trickier than I thought it would be as the coral started to produce a lot of mucus from the excess handling; the skeleton's odd shape made it difficult to handle and rest in a useful position. Additionally, with my fingers covered in coral mucus, it was difficult to tie a knot (Figure 9). I really think crazy glue would have been a better option but this method should have worked until I got more glue. The two fragments were promptly acclimated and added to the new display tank.

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Figure 11. Twin daughter colony separated via a fresh razor blade - May 2005.
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Figure 12. The Elegance coral daughter colony showing the exposed wound where the twin corals were cut apart - May 2005.

After inspecting the area of the twin daughter colony I figured it would be best to cut it free instead of allowing its skeleton to become separated as had occurred with the triplet. With careful placement of the scissors I used a single swift cut to remove it. Apparently, the process of dropping daughter colonies does take a very long time. Six months after the first image of it was taken, this daughter colony was still attached.

As pictured in Figure 10, the twin daughter colony was two separate skeletons connected by one section of flesh. The excess white flaps of flesh were holding this daughter colony to the parent. It is a different texture and color than the flesh of the oral disc.

Using a clean razor blade I cut between the two skeletons (Figure 11). All of this cutting and slicing seemed risky and obviously stressful to the corals, but I felt I had enough daughter colonies that some experimentation was worth the risk. My plan was to place each daughter colony in a different light and flow pattern to see if it affected their recovery.

The two corals that formerly had been the twin daughter colony were placed in higher flow areas of the new display tank as each had adequate skeleton to keep the coral in place. The additional flow should help to flush the area of excess mucus as well.

The two corals that formerly had been the triplet colony were placed in a moderate flow area protected by a rock structure. After several minutes, though, it was clear that using monofilament fishing line to secure the coral was a bad idea. Even in moderate flow areas the corals came loose from the skeleton they were tied to. I decided to let them float freely for a little while to see if they would settle in a low flow section of the tank. A turbulent pulse of water carried one of the cuttings high into the water column heading toward a Tunze Turbelle Stream 6100 pump (3175 GPH). Luckily, the Tunze multi-controller has a feeding mode button which doubles as a temporary kill switch and saved the Elegance coral from becoming puree.

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Figure 13. Two Elegance corals, formerly part of the triplet section, open and expanding only a few hours later - May 2005.

I quickly cut a one-gallon water bottle in half. I then cut numerous slits into the bottle to allow adequate water flow into the container (Figure 13). This protective covering was placed between two rock formations with moderate to high flow rates. It was inserted deep into the sandbed which helped to anchor the protective covering. This covering worked perfectly, preventing the free floating coral cuttings from being sucked into the Tunze water pump or being misplaced behind the rock structure.

Approximately one week later all of the Elegance corals were healthy and appeared to be fully healed and showing excellent polyp expansion. The twin coral cuttings placed in higher flow rates were not expanding as much as they could have. This was likely caused by the excess flow rates they were exposed to. They were relocated to a lower flow area of the tank near the parent colony. The parent colony appears to be fully healed where the cuttings were removed.


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Figure 14. Three daughter colonies adapting to the new tank conditions near the parent colony. A mated pair of Percula clownfish watch over them - May 2005.

Some may feel that the stress of being moved to the storage tank may have triggered the asexual reproduction. Perhaps that is possible. However, from my many years of observing this coral, I know when it is stressed. I did not see signs of stress. This appeared to be a normal reproductive process perhaps triggered by its age and fairly large size.

I've never noticed the Elegance coral showing any signs of sexual reproduction. Even during the massive tank spawns in prior years when the giant clams, long tentacle anemone, snails, mushrooms, bristle worms and sea urchins all spawned on the same night, the Elegance coral showed no signs of spawning during the short window of visibility. Within a few minutes the tank was white as milk, and I was unable to see anything inside the tank even with the halides on.

If you have an Elegance coral that has been growing for a number of years, give it a good inspection for daughter colonies after the lights are out. Perhaps you will be pleasantly surprised. If you do locate them, consider manually removing the daughter colonies once their skeletons reach a decent size.

If you currently do not have an Elegance coral I would highly suggest you avoid attempting to keep one until the issues with specimens currently being collected are resolved. Please do not use my rare success with this coral as an excuse to purchase one.


A special thanks to Eric Borneman, Brian Retz, Dr. Ronald Shimek and Skip Attix for their editorial feedback in preparing this article.

If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.

Bibliography and Resources of Interest:

Borneman, E. 2005. Reproduction in Aquarium Corals. Proc 10th Int Coral Reef Symp, Okinawa. In press.

Borneman, E. 2005. Personal communication.

Borneman, E. 2004. Elegance Coral Project. Reefkeeping Magazine, February 2004 issue.

Borneman, E. 2004. Personal communication

Borneman, E. 2003. Personal communication.

Borneman, E. 2002. Bacterial Infections: A response to Recent "Reef Notes" columns. Reefkeeping Magazine, May 2002 issue.

Borneman, E. 2000. Unreported forms of asexual reproduction in scleractinian corals: reproduction by "tissue dripping" and "tissue bubbles." Proc 9th Int Coral Reef Symp Abstracts: 297

Bruckner, A. (1998). Guide to Indo-Pacific Corals in International Trade. Online (July 2003).

Durso, R. 2005. In-wall Tank Construction Project. Discussion thread at Reef Central online community.

Sprung, J. 2000. Reef Notes. FAMA 23(1): 14+

UNEP-WCMC. 1 June 2005. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre Species Database: CITES-Listed Species.

Vern, JEN. Corals of the World. Townsville, Australia: Australian Institute of Marine Science, 2000.

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Asexual Reproduction of Catalaphyllia jardinei (Elegance coral) by Richard Durso -