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 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 polyped, green polyped, and Yellow Fiji Leather are three commonly available varieties of toadstool coral. 

Yellow Fiji Leather Coral

This is a fine, wild specimen of the sought after Yellow Fiji Leather Coral

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
  • Water flow: Moderate
  • pH: ~8.2
  • Harness: 8-12

 

Anthias saltwater fish and toadstool coral in a reef tank

Love the color pop between this anthias and toadstool coral

Some 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.

Why are they called Toadstools?

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.

toadstool shape

Before the cap grows large enough to fold up, they do look a bit like toadstools

A Toadstool coral has a long stalk and a small mushroom cap-like top (called a capitulum).

As the 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.

Natural habitat

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

Natural habitat of a toadstool leather coral

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.

Size

Don’t be fooled by the size of a tiny frag. I grew a toadstool coral from a frag the size of a nickel to a colony with a cap that was at least 10 inches in diameter.

toadstool leather coral and clownfish

This beauty in my own tank grew from a tiny frag

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.

Placement

These are not particularly fussy corals. They will do well in multiple areas of the tank. The best general advice is to keep them in areas of moderate flow and light. Not too high, not too low.

green toadstool coral

Note the green colors on this toadstool

I have historically had a deep sand bed in my 92-gallon tank, so that has meant on the sandbed or mid-level rockwork and on the perimeter of the light. It may be slightly different for you. Just know they don’t need the prime real estate you might otherwise reserve for your SPS corals and may struggle in the twilight or darker regions of the tank that you might otherwise reserve for non-photosynthetic sun coral polyps but will do well in the ~60-70% in between.

Surrogate Anemones for Clownfish

Toadstool corals can make great anemone surrogates for clownfish. Clownfish are needy houseguests. Once bonded, they seem to need constant contact with the polyps and will also clean and peck at the polyps. Toadstool leather corals, in my experience, are fairly tolerant of all this attention.

clownfish nesting in a toadstool coral instead of an anemone

clownfish nesting in a toadstool coral

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

Is my toadstool coral sick?

From time to time, a toadstool coral will retract its 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

Toadstool coral shedding

Check out this video to see coral shedding in action.

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) works 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 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 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 my book, How to Frag Corals to learn additional tips and techniques about fragging this and any other coral type.

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

toadstool coral care guide cover image

 

For more information about caring for the toadstool coral, check out this video here:

Or continue learning about other leather coral species:


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Toadstool coral care

Comments

  1. 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?

    1. 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.

  2. I have a green finger leather coral that was quite large and very healthy. However over the last three weeks it has drawn up , it is still attached to the original rock. This it it has always been. I have had my water tested and changed along with adding supplements but no change. I did recently move a power head to the other side of the tank to direct more flow to the bottom of the tank. Can a moderate change in water flow be the cause? All other lighting has remained the same? Can i send you before and present pics. thank you Carl

    1. Author

      Hi Carl, thanks for the comment, and appreciate your stopping by the site and joining in the conversation. It is hard to tell, with some leather corals. They do retract their polyps from time to time and also slime up. The challenge in diagnosing is that it could be normal…or it could be a sign of stress.

      While these are hardy corals, a water flow change may be a stress it is adjusting to. That could certainly be it. Are you sure there are no other changes? Have you completed water changes to ensure highest quality water? I would certainly consider moving back the pump as a test to see if it opens back up. I would recommend you continue to troubleshoot and try to rule out stressors in the meantime. Are there any animals that could be bothering it? Pesky fish? Is it rubbing on another coral? Hopefully it perks back up soon and/or you can find the culprit.

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