Reproduction of Catalaphyllia jardinei
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
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,
Figure 1. The author's Elegance coral -
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.
Figure 2. The
author's Elegance coral -
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
This Elegance coral has done well
for me under a variety of different lighting schemes, including:
The author's Elegance coral -
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
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.
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
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.
Figure 4. The first daughter colony located - December
Figure 5. Twin daughter colonies forming - December
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
Figure 6. Triplet daughter colonies forming -
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Figure 11. Twin daughter colony separated via
a fresh razor blade - May 2005.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
A special thanks to Eric Borneman, Brian Retz, Dr. Ronald
Shimek and Skip Attix for their editorial feedback in preparing
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. http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2004-02/eb/feature/index.htm
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. http://reefkeeping.com/.../eb/feature/index.htm
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). http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR/coralidmanualfront.html
Durso, R. 2005. In-wall Tank Construction Project. Discussion
thread at Reef Central online community. http://reefcentral.com/forums/...threadid=505355
Sprung, J. 2000. Reef Notes. FAMA 23(1): 14+
UNEP-WCMC. 1 June 2005. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring
Centre Species Database: CITES-Listed Species. http://sea.unep-wcmc.org...animal&tabname=names
Vern, JEN. Corals of the World. Townsville, Australia: Australian
Institute of Marine Science, 2000.