The bizarre fox coral has a thin ridgelike skeleton and fleshy, smooth polyps that extend far out of the corallites. When fully extended, the tissue is reminiscent of elegance coral (Catalaphyllia spp.
) or “mushroom coral” (corallimorphs, family Actinodiscidae
). Fox coral is easy to keep and not too expensive, so it is a great choice for beginning reef hobbyists, and it can be found with some regularity in aquarium stores.
Fox corals are only found in the richly biodiverse area near Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines (the so-called “Coral Triangle”). Most specimens are collected from silty, calm waters in Indonesia. There is only one species in the Nemenzophyllia genus, but it is closely related to some more familiar corals in the hobby, such as pineapple coral (Blastomussa spp.
) and bubble coral (Plerogyra spp.
Aquarium requirements: In the wild, fox corals can grow to several feet across, but they rarely grow this large in reef tanks. Most pieces are 3 to 6 inches at purchase or sometimes sold as much smaller fragments. At this size, they can fit comfortably in an aquarium of 15 to 20 gallons. As they grow, they require more space, so house a mature colony in a 3-foot-long (40-gallon) or larger aquarium.
Fox corals require a reef aquarium. However, while most corals in the hobby appreciate a lot of heavy water flow and extremely bright light, fox corals do well with less of both. This makes them ideal for smaller setups that might not have state-of-the-art lighting and high-end pumps. You can keep this coral under moderately bright compact fluorescent or T5 lighting. Low to moderate flow is best, so either keep it with similar lagoon-type corals or in a lower-flow area of a vigorously circulating reef. Provide calcium of at least 350 to 450 parts per million (ppm) and alkalinity of 140 to 200 ppm (2.8 to 4.0 milliequivalents per liter, 7 to 11 dKH). Phosphate should remain low, and nitrate should stay below 5 ppm.
Nemenzophyllia doesn’t seem to be bothered by other corals’ stings or have a potent sting of its own. This is advantageous, in that it can be placed next to corals that might be troublesome to other neighbors, such as Euphyllia species. Because the fox coral has so much exposed skeletal mass, however, it is prone to being overtaken by soft corals, nuisance algae or sponges. Pay special attention to the skeleton of your fox coral to be sure that nothing is creeping up the skeleton toward the living tissue. It’s much easier to remove nuisance organisms before they reach the tissue margin where the coral could possibly be damaged.
Most reef-safe fish can be good fox coral tankmates. However, clownfishes can select Nemenzophyllia as a host and harass them through tactile stimulation. Sometimes, this relationship seems to work fine for the coral, but other times the coral won’t open properly and may be at risk for starvation due to constant energy expenditure. When keeping clownfishes with fox corals, be sure that the coral is behaving normally and expanding its soft tissue fully. The fox coral is also quite fleshy and could be especially tempting for coral-nipping fish, such as angelfishes or butterflyfishes.
Feeding: This species is primarily photosynthetic and will get the energy it needs in the aquarium from light. It typically won’t accept any foods in the aquarium and won’t require any supplemental feeding.
Propagation: Propagation of a healthy Nemenzophyllia is straightforward, but it requires the right tools. First, blow or wave water toward the polyps so that the tissue deflates. Once it closes up, carefully break the thin skeleton; this can be done gently by hand, but you may need to use pliers with thicker specimens. For cleaner cuts, use a Dremel tool or a tile saw with diamond cutting blades. Avoid tearing or sawing the coral’s fleshy portion, however. Instead use a sharp knife or razor blade to slice through the segments. This will allow the coral to heal much better than simply ripping it apart.
Notes: Purchase captive-grown specimens and try to propagate your colonies, so you can provide broodstock to other reefkeepers. These corals can be a good way for new reefkeepers to transition from the typical “beginner” soft corals to stony corals because it does well in lower levels of light and flow. If you’ve been successful with star polyps, zoanthids and Xenia species so far, this might be a good species to keep as you move toward a more diverse coral community in your reef tank. FAMA—Steve Bitter