Lobophyllia corals, sometimes casually referred to as Brain corals or lobed brain corals are attractive and popular centerpiece reef specimens. But are they hardy? Tolerant? Good for a mixed reef? This article will answer those questions and more about how to care for Lobophyllia coral in a saltwater tank.
Quick facts about Lobophyllia coral care
Here is a quick summary about the Lobophyllia coral care facts to help you get started learning about these attractive LPS corals.
- Genus and species: Lobophyllia hemprichii, L. hawaii, L. corymbosa
- Natural location: Indonesia and Great Barrier Reefs
- Common names: Lobophyllia, Lobos, Brain coral, Lobed brain coral
- Difficulty level: Moderate
- Placement: Sand bed
- Lighting needs: Lower to moderate light (80-120 PAR)
- Water flow needs: Lower to moderate water flow
- Feeding requirements: Mysis shrimp-sized and below
- Special care instructions: Minimize touching to prevent damaging soft tissue
- Category: Large Polyp Stony (LPS) Corals
- Cost: Moderately high
- Minimum tank size: 10-gallon – size of tank probably doesn’t matter
Genus and species
There are many different species of Lobophyllia corals, but the three species you are likely to encounter in the aquarium trade are: Lobophyllia hemprichii, Lobophyllia hataii, and Lobophyillia corymbosa.
There was also a taxonomic reclassification of some Symphyllia genus corals to Lobophyllia (Kelley 2022).
Natural location for Lobo corals in the wild
Most, if not all of the Lobo corals you see in the aquarium hobby come from either the Great barrier reef or Indonesia, where they are collected from the upper reef slopes, or the front of the reef slopes, in both horizontal and vertical orientations (Borneman 2001).
Please keep in mind that even though we described this as the upper reef slopes, that still corresponds to a lower level lighting intensity in your reef tank.
Lobophyllia coral common names
Lobophyllia corals can be found in aquarium stores and online with a few different common names including Lobophyllia, Lobo, Lobos coral, Brain coral, and Lobed brain coral.
Lobos difficulty level
Lobos are generally considered to be a coral type that is moderately difficult to maintain, because the individual results will vary significantly between individual specimens. They have large, fleshy polyps and dense, heavy, bulky skeletons. Since the fleshing polyps extend along the entire surface of the coral, they are difficult to hold without causing soft tissue damage and subsequent infection.
Since Lobos are so prone to soft tissue damage, they often don’t last that long after shipping or handling. However, if the coral was properly collected, carefully shipped and handled from the reef to your tank, they are actually then considered relatively hardy corals.
There are anecdotal reports from those who handle a lot of corals that the Australian-collected individuals tend to survive better.
Lobophyllia lighting needs
Lobophyllia corals require low-to-moderate lighting, which I consider to be in the 80-120 PAR range, as a target estimate. Please keep in mind that lighting needs are related to what the specific individual coral piece you acquire is used to, so use the 80-120 PAR range as a guide and consider scaling that up or down gradually, depending on how you observe the coral acclimating to your tank.
Lobos water flow needs
Similar to their lighting requirements, Lobos need low to moderate water flow. Too much flow will cause them to keep their soft tissue polyps retracted. Retracted polyps is an adaptive strategy to prevent tearing of the soft tissue, which is a good thing, in the short term. But long-term the coral will wither away if the issue is not addressed.
Lobophyllia placement: Where to place lobo corals in a reef tank
The best placement for a Lobophyllia coral is generally on the bottom of the tank, on the sand bed, bottom glass, or lowest rock structure, with space all around them, away from other corals. The rationale for that placement is to try and deliver low-to-moderate lighting and low-to-moderate water flow. If you don’t have sufficiently strong lighting above your reef tank you may need to move them up a bit higher but should start out low first to avoid bleaching.
Another important consideration, when placing Lobos is to avoid areas where they might fall off of rocks or rocks and corals might fall on them. The large, soft, fleshy polyps are very easily damaged. You may lose the entire colony if it gets crushed by falling live rock.
You want to provide a lot of space around lobo corals that is free from other coral species because they can be aggressive towards other corals, if threatened. Under the cover of darkness, they may release digestive mesenteric filaments to secretly digest neighboring corals while you’re not watching.
How to feed Lobophyllia corals
Feeding Lobos is not required, but will likely have a healthier, faster-growing coral if you do. My own personal rule of thumb is that…if it has a mouth…you should feed it. Lobos have rather large mouthsand are capable of eating everything from single celled phytoplankton, zooplankton (or zooplankton-sized powders), and frozen, thawed mysis shrimp or brine shrimp.
Lobos will also occasionally snag their own food as it floats by.
Aggressiveness level: how aggressive are Lobos?
Lobos are considered to be inconsistently aggressive corals. A Lobos most deadly method of aggression is by digesting neighboring corals with a mesenteric filament attack under the cover of darkness. A lot of times this aggression goes unnoticed because it happens when you’re sleeping.
You may go to bed one night, thinking the coral is peaceful and wake up to see a ‘burned out’ neighboring coral, unsure what happened.
But one of the other elements that makes it tricky to detect this aggression is that the lobo may actually not be aggressive at all. Sometimes they peacefully coexist in close contact with neighbors, which works out well for all the corals…right up until the time it doesn’t.
Not sure exactly what triggers it, but your best bet is to give Lobos plenty of room.
Water parameters and chemistry for keeping Lobos
Lobos don’t have any specific, unique, or odd water parameters or chemistry needs. The usual great reef tank water parameters for LPS corals are appropriate:
- Temperature: 73-84 F, 22-29 C
- pH: 8.1-8.4
- Hardness: 8-12 dkh
- Calcium: 400+ ppm
- Magnesium: 1,300 ppm
- Salinity: 35 g/L
Water parameters are often given as a range, as you can see in the examples above. Please note that having a lot of fluctuation or variability of your water conditions, even within the ideal ranges provided is generally going to mean bad news for your Lobo corals. The best bet is to peg water parameters somewhere within the ideal range and keep them there.
Check out this article to learn more about the most important reef tank water parameters.
Fragging and coral propagation
Fragging Lobos can be a bit challenging. The large, fleshy polyps, dense skeletal structure, and propensity to get infections when the soft tissue is damaged makes it difficult to propagate this coral.
Lobos are also slow-growing corals, which makes them difficult and expensive as fragging or propagation targets.
If you do choose to frag them, your best bet is to use a tile saw or dremel tool to saw the skeleton in between the individual coral polyps.
You can learn more about How to Frag Corals in this book.
Similar looking corals
Certain Scolymia, Acans (Micromussa) and Blastomussa corals can share similar appearnances with Lobo Brain Corals and may be mislabeled as such. So be on the lookout for such mislabeled cases. And also, consider learning more about the care of those other great corals--because if you like Lobo Brain Corals, you’ll probably like Scolys, Acans, and Blastos, too.
Special care instructions
The most important special care instruction for Lobo corals is to be extremely careful when handling them. Lobophyillia are particularly prone to damage from transit and damage from touching.
Frequently asked questions about Lobophyllia coral care
Here are some fast answers to a few of the frequently asked questions about Lobo Brain Coral care that were not addressed so far.
Corals like Lobos have only two cell layers near the hard stony skeleton, so they are easily damaged even with a relatively moderate or gentle touch (Kelley 2022).
How big do Lobos get?
Lobos are a slowly growing coral type that is found in aquarium shops and online retailers as tiny colonies, less than 1.5 inches across, up to larger individuals that are between 4-6 inches across. Old colonies on a natural reef can grow to be several feet wide, but they are unlikely to come close to that in a reef tank.
Can lobos touch?
Lobo corals should not touch other corals. Lobos can be aggressive towards neighboring corals and may attack them with digestive mesenteric filaments.
You may see anecdotal reports of hobbyists online suggesting they have been successful with Lobos touching, but it is only a matter of time before it becomes problematic. Aggression between coral colonies can be inconsistent and hard to predict. But you should assume every Lobo colony you come across has the capability to become quite aggressive towards neighboring colonies.
Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by reports of lobos touching without problems. I’m not disputing their report, but rather I’m disputing that the report is a predictor that they won’t have problems in the future.
Borneman, Eric. Aquarium Corals. Microcosm Ltd. 2001.
Kelley, Russell. “Genus Lobophyllia: Let’s Look at Lobos…”. Coral Magazine Volume 19 Number 2. March/April 2022 page 68.
Kelley, Russell. “Genus Lobophyllia, Part II.” Coral Magazine Volume 19 Number 3. May/June 2022 page 72.
Ulrich III, Albert B. How to Frag Corals. Harleysville, PA. SaltwaterAquariumBlog Publishing. 2015.