toadstool coral care guide cover image

Toadstool Leather Coral Care

Introduction to caring for the Toadstool Leather Coral

The toadstool coral is a perfect beginner coral for the saltwater aquarium. They are a saltwater reef soft coral and require the conditions typical for success with just about any reef tank. Toadstool leather corals are often sold as different varieties, based on their color or the size of their polyps. Long polyped, short polyps, green polyp, and Yellow Fiji Leather are three commonly available varieties of toadstool coral. 

Yellow Fiji Leather

Yellow Fiji Leather

Don’t be fooled by a tiny frag. I have seen a toadstool coral frag the size of a nickel grow up quite large. The coral in my tank currently is at least 10 inches in diameter, although it spends most of the time folded up, so the actual footprint of the cap is about 10 inches across by 5-6 inches.

The Toadstool coral gets its name from the resemblance smaller frags have to toadstool mushrooms, which is why you may also see them for sale at your local fish store listed as a mushroom coral.

A Toadstool coral has a long stalk and a small mushroom cap-like top (called a capitulum). toadstool shape As they cap grows larger, it folds and looks a bit like a carpet anemone.

When the polyps are fully extended, toadstool leather corals almost have a fuzzy appearance. Every night, and a few times during the day, the toadstool will retract its polyps, revealing a smooth surface.

Care requirements in a saltwater aquarium

The toadstool coral is ideally suited to life in a saltwater aquarium. You’ll note that the requirements for care are directly in line with what you would expect with a reef tank.

  • Temperature: 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Specific gravity: 1.023-1.025
  • Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Water flow: Moderate
  • pH: ~8.2
  • Harness: 8-12
  • Source: LiveAquaria.

toadstool coralSome websites report that they would benefit from the addition of strontium, iodine, and other trace elements, but I have kept Toadstool Corals for years without direct supplementation because they get most of the nutrition they need from light. They have photosynthetic dinoflagellates, called zooxanthellae, that live inside of them and convert the light from your aquarium into life-sustaining sugars through the process of photosynthesis. They are also thought to absorb nutrients directly from the water.

Natural habitat

Toadstool coral is found from Fiji islands through the Indian Ocean.

Most often, they are sunning themselves in shallow water flat reefs or lagoons, in reefs that are mixed with both soft and hard corals. Shallow water reefs are generally pounded with high-intensity light–so while we often consider this coral to be a moderate-to-low light coral in the aquarium world (because they are tolerant of lower levels of light than many corals), there is no reason to shy away from the beautiful toadstool leather coral if you have a high-intensity reef setup.

Surrogate Anemones for Clownfish

Toadstool corals can make great anemone surrogates for clownfish. Clownfish are needy houseguests. toadstool and clownfish They seem to need constant contact with the polyps and will also clean and peck at the polyps. Toadstool leather corals are fairly tolerant of all this attention.

Some of the polyps will retract away from all that clownfish love, but I have had a pair hosting in a toadstool leather happily for several years now. However, there are also reports that clownfish may irritate the coral so much that it eventually perishes.

It is important to watch the behavior together to ensure they are growing happily with each other. The clownfish in my tank have actually tried to lay eggs on the toadstool leather coral itself–which was not an effective strategy. The eggs didn’t stick.

You can see the ovipositor from the female coral in the picture below. it’s the blurry (sorry about that, bad photo) white triangle sticking out below the white stripe in the middle of the body. She rubbed and wiggled all over that poor coral for hours trying to get the eggs out and eventually laid a few on a nearby rock. 

clownfish in toadstool

This clownfish is actually trying to lay eggs on the toadstool

Toadstool coral care: Compatibility

Toadstool corals don’t have any stinging cells or sweeper tentacles, so in a mixed reef aquarium, they are generally peaceful tankmates. They do produce more than 50 chemicals, at least some of which are thought to have a negative impact on the growth of some small polyp stony (SPS) corals. Even though they come from mixed reefs living alongside stony corals, this is sometimes reported as a problem in the confines of the home aquarium.

Is my toadstool coral sick?

From time to time, a toadstool coral will retract their polyps, clam up and release a stringy, gross-looking mucus slime. It is thought to be a way of removing detritus, algae and other particles from the surface of the coral. Most times this is harmless, but it can be an irritant to other corals.bald toadstool leather coral

Reproduction and propagation

According to Borneman, in Aquarium Coral, a toadstool coral reaches maturity in about 6-10 years. Male colonies reach maturity faster and at a smaller size than female colonies (4 x 4 x 4 inches vs. 24 x 24 x inches!!!) That’s a big coral. I can’t wait for the toadstool coral in my home tank to become mature. Better it than me.

They can also make tiny clones of themselves by dropping off tiny bits of the cap or dropping off a small bud from the side. toadstool buds Luckily for us, these corals are also great candidates for fragging. Just about any small piece of the coral is capable of forming an entirely new full-sized colony. coral fragging shearing method Toadstool leather coral frags are slippery and slimy and will not stick to live rock rubble with cyanoacrylate glue.

Instead, I find that using the rubber band or plastic mesh methods (described in detail in How to Frag Corals) work best.

Scientific name

The scientific name for the Toadstool coral is a bit tricky because it is quite challenging to tell different species of toadstool corals apart.

Most of the time, I see this genus represented as Sarcophyton sp. Sarcophyton is the genus, but since the species name is not actually known, it is generally abbreviated with the sp. In the case of the Yellow Fiji Leather, the species name is known and can be appropriately referred to as Sarcophyton elegans.  Toadstool leather corals are octocorals, or octocorallians–which is a fancy way to say their polyps have 8 tentacles.

Where to buy

Want your own toadstool coral to care for your in your saltwater aquarium? The best place to get one, in my opinion, is to make a trade for or purchase a frag from a fellow toadstool leather macro shot of polypshobbyist in the area. That will give you the greatest chance of success while simultaneously costing you the least. Of course, you could also secure your specimen from a local fish store or online. If you do, try to get an aquaculture, rather than a wild-caught specimen.

For more information

For more information about setting up your own saltwater aquarium, I recommend The New Saltwater Aquarium Guide. To learn more about how to frag the Toadstool Coral, check out this step-by-step tutorial and pick up How to Frag Corals to learn additional tips and techniques.

Written by Albert B. Ulrich III–author of The Reef Aquarium Series of books.

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Comments

  1. Hi there,

    I have recently purchased a small toadstool coral (approx. 2-3′) from my local marine pet store and have had it in my tank for a few days now. In the store, the coral was open and looked very healthy; however since it was placed in my tank at home it’s polyps have closed up completely and hasn’t opened up for 3 days, and it has also moved itself to face away from the light.

    The water conditions of my tank match the conditions of tank at the pet store so I doubt that is the problem; and I have placed the toadstool in a medium flow with good lighting.

    Is this just a natural process that toadstools undergo to adjust to a new tank?

    Thanks!

  2. Author

    Hi Lewis,

    Yes, you will find that–when disturbed–the coral will ‘close up’. It will also close up for a day or two every now and then, even once acclimated. At this point, if you are fairly comfortable with the knowledge that your water flow, water parameters and lighting are all good–that the coral will open up soon. If you start to see other signs of deterioration, that would be when to worry–but based on what you describe, I would consider this to be on the slightly slower than average side of normal.

    One more thing to consider–if you knew it was ‘the wrong place’ or otherwise had a strong feeling that you needed to make a change–you could do that–but keep in mind that you really don’t want to move your corals around a lot–when I first started out–I was very impatient, and I would move the corals around, trying to find the perfect spot–and that caused more damage than good.

    If you know there is a problem, don’t delay, fix the problem. But if you aren’t sure (like in your case here) and the things you know to check seem fine–then patience is often the best remedy. Keep us posted to see if it opens up within the next day or two.

    Regards,
    Al

  3. Thanks Al!

    Great advice, I’ll keep you posted. Also, loved the article by the way…great stuff!

  4. Lewis Hi!
    I have two Toadstools alive and open most of day. The light, water conditions and water flow just as you recommend.
    One of the toadstools have some problems? at its root.
    It seems that it is rotting – growing dark brown spot and discoloration of a bottom on the stem. Is there a way to cut it without damaging the remainder of coral? And how to attach it
    back to the live rock?
    The other corals in my tank is just are very healthy and happy.
    What treatment would you recommend?

  5. Author

    Hi Valdimir, thanks for the comment. it is difficult to troubleshoot without seeing it. I’ll send you an email so we can chat there and perhaps you can more easily share an image. I can tell you that my toadstools always had a little bit of ‘skin’ at the base that was a darker color, as you describe, from the rest of the body of the coral–but I want to put eyes on what you’re seeing before I say, ‘don’t worry about it’. In terms of cutting and re-attaching, yes, that’s very, very easy. Check out this article–just cut the stalk.

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