The elegance coral (Catalaphyllia jardinei) is one of the most beautiful corals available to the reef aquarist. The elegance coral was once readily available in the marine trade, but the number collected has been cut considerably since the 1990s (the number taken from the waters off the Indonesian Islands has dropped by 60 percent in the last 12 years). The elegance coral was once considered a fairly durable species for the home aquarium. But in recent years, the hardiness of this coral has been brought under question.
Difficulty: Too many elegance corals that are currently entering the aquarium trade die an early death. However, if you start with a healthy elegance coral specimen, it should do well. The elegance coral gets some of its nutrition from the algae (zooxanthellae) that live in its tissues. It also ingests food particles and should be fed in the aquarium. Place a small piece of meaty food (whole freshwater mysid shrimp or finely chopped table shrimp) into the tentacles. You should feed this animal once a week. If the food item is too large, the elegance coral may ingest it but is likely to regurgitate it after a while. The elegance coral will also absorb dissolved compounds from the surrounding water.
Physical description: The elegance coral is a colonial coral that is typically free-living, but it can also be attached to hard substrate. The elegance coral has a huge fleshy polyp with multiple mouths and long tentacles around the edge of the polyp. Each tentacle has a pale to pink tip, while the polyp itself it fluorescent green, brown or even dark gray with striations (you should never purchase a specimen that is extremely pale in color, as it probably has expelled its zooxanthellae). The elegance coral has sweeper tentacles that will damage corals that are placed too close to it. The skeleton is cone-shaped and is adapted to anchor the coral into position in soft substrates. The elegance coral can reach at least 20 inches when fully expanded.
Range: The elegance coral is found from the east African coast east to Vanuatu and Micronesia. The elegance coral is typically found on sand or mud flats and slopes, in turbid to clear water. In some locations it is found in shallow sea grass beds, while in other areas these animals are scattered over the soft substrate. The elegance coral occurs at depths of 4 to 130 feet.
Compatibility: You will want to leave plenty of room, as this species will sting its neighbors. The distance between its nearest coral neighbors should be at least 6 inches. Shrimp have been known to steal food from the tentacles of Catalaphyllia jardinei. The polyp may be fed upon by a number of different butterflyfish, triggerfish, filefish and pufferfish. Other fish that may nip at the elegance coral occasionally, especially if these fish are not well-fed, include angelfish, surgeonfish and rabbitfish.
Aquarium conditions: The elegance coral requires moderate to strong lighting — this may include power compact, T-5 and VHO fluorescents, and metal halide lamps. Aquarists are often tempted to place the elegance coral on top of rockwork. While they will sometimes survive in this unnatural position, they do best if placed directly on the sand bed. Strong, direct waterflow is best avoided for Catalaphyllia jardinei — it will retract its polyp if the waterflow is too turbulent. Water parameters for the elegance coral are: calcium 400 to 450 ppm, alkalinity 3.2 to 4.8 meq/L, magnesium levels of 1200 to 1350 ppm and a specific gravity of 1.024 to 1.026. Keep the elegance coral at a water temperature of 76 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Care considerations: Avoid purchasing elegance coral specimens that have a swollen oral disc with shrunken tentacles. The elegance coral is most likely near death. An elegance coral (and some other large-polyped stony coral species) can be adopted as a surrogate host by anemonefish and may provide sanctuary to some anemone shrimp (e.g., Periclimenes magnifica). As long as the elegance coral is healthy, these associates will not damage the coral.
Breeding: The elegance coral Catalaphyllia jardinei may reproduce asexually in the home aquarium, although these events are rare. The elegance coral does this by dropping off daughter colonies.