Chalice Corals- looking beyond the "hype zone"

Okay, all you tortilla chip lovers- this one’s for you! R2R's L'enfant terrible (moi) is back- uncaffeinated yet rearing to go...

Obviously, this is not the first time I’ve written about the Chalice Corals, but I find many aspects of them fascinating…really- so they deserve more ink (or is that, pixels, or…whatever?).

Trendiness in the hobby often confuses and amuses me, as you know if you read my ramblings and follow my MACNA talks. A case in point is the so-called “Chalice corals” or Echinophyllia, Oxypora and Mycedium species. Don’t get me wrong, they are interesting corals, morphologically speaking, and they have some interesting colors, but man- what’s with the adoration they receive? Okay, okay, I sell them in droves, but I still am amused by them.


The "Reiki" Chalice...deserving of the adoration? Yeah, probably.

Let’s face it- unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’re acutely aware of the popularity of these corals. They seem to be among the most sought after items at many “frag swaps” and conferences. They come in a wide range of colors, and seem to* have “eyes” (mouths, really, you marketing blockheads!), which I suppose gives them some personality. On the other hand, they are basically the “vector”, the “poster child”, if you will-for the “limited edition”* (“LE”) coral movement, delighting trend-mongers everywhere. They have ridiculous names, demand obscene high prices on occasion, and basically make me laugh (and sometimes cry, too…stubborn things they are)!

I try to think why this is so, and I have not quite figured it out. *Even the way hobbyists seem to display them is weird. In my opinion, they are typically displayed in an unflattering manner, making the aquarium look for all the world like a used car lot, with the “designer” corals scattered aimlessly on the bottom of the tank, heaped with other assorted frags of Blastomussa, Zoanthids, Micromussa, and whatever else happens to be trendy at the moment.

Why is that? I mean, if you’re going to pay obscene prices for what amounts to a broken tortilla chip of coral, why not display them in a manner befitting such a prize? Why are they not typically placed in such a way that they have some dignity? Come on!!


The "Trop's Overdose" Chalice. Too much is never enough...

Okay, now that I’ve once again alienated half of my audience, I can get to the real point of this piece…I LOVE these corals! They remind me very much of my (freshwater) Oscar that I had as a kid (yeah, his name was “Oscar”, of course…). They can be a bit ornery, demanding, downright frustrating, and if they could emote, they’d clearly have the regal bearing of aristocrats and consider us fools…In general, they are attractive, interesting, and a downright PITA…Yet we are obsessed with them…

In the tradition of sharing what meager knowledge I have on these corals, and in the interest of shutting myself up before my opinion gets on your nerves I’ll just cut to the chase and talk about some of the stuff we’ve learned about these cool corals at UC.


Chalices live here! One of our "LPS" raceways at UC

First up, they flat out don’t like to be brightly illuminated. I know, I know, there is always someone who has acclimated their colony of “Mummy Eye” Echinophyllia to thrive under 400 watt Radiums, but for the majority of us, our trendy little tortilla chips will turn into so many flakes of calcium if we illuminate them that way. In our facility, we’ve gradually (and I mean, gradually) acclimated them to tolerate illumination about 22” under banks of Kessil A350W LEDs (skewed largely towards blue). It took a LONG time, and they would demonstrate their obvious displeasure by losing color radically if you over illuminated them. They also do okay under T5, in our experience. Whatever lighting you acclimate them to- do it SLOWLY….”Glacial” is a term you should become intimately familiar with when you keep Chalces and want to change stuff like lighting.

We have also found that they tend to do better at the color end of the reef temperature spectrum- around 77 degrees F is where they seem to be happiest for us. They definitely do not enjoy temperature fluctuations, and will begin to lose color if you see more than a 4 degree daily swing, in our experience. Like in so many corals that we keep, stability (OK, Greg Carroll- here we go again with “SPS, your mantra) promotes success. If you have a temperature range that your Chalcie tank operates at- even a tight but fluctuating one, keep it that way. The Chalices, like many people, seem to hate change.

Alkalinity seems very important to the tortilla chips, as well. They do tend to show better growth and color at the higher range of alkalinity (-10 dkh), and we keep this parameter in close control. We used to see some fluctuating alkalinity in our systems back in the day, and yeah- the Chalices gave us the “aquatic finger” by losing color…I’m not an obsessive numbers guy, as you know, but with Chalices, you really do need to watch alkalinity. They don’t take fluctuations well.

As you may already know, these guys like to eat…a lot. We feed them with very fine foods, such as oyster eggs. It’s important to feed them when flow is turned down or off, and at night (or whenever your dark period is), when they seem most eager to display feeding behavior. In our experience, you need to give them a lot of time to feed, but feed they will. You’ll notice measurable growth increases and glaringly obvious color improvement when you feed regularly. This may be one of the single most important aspects of Chalice husbandry.

Which brings us to another critical part of Chalice husbandry: Water quality. I’ve told you before that UC had the most pure saltwater known to man for the first part of our existence. I mean, we could have rented out our raceways to people for relaxation tanks- the water was that clean. Our monstrous ORCA Pro skimmers and massive filtration systems removed everything…everything from the water…it was, well, ridiculous. A shrine to “hyper husbandry.” Then we kind of figured it out. One of the factors in our epiphany was that the colors of our Chalices just looked well- crappy. And then it dawned on us that maybe we were a bit too OCD wit hthe water quality.

After observing these corals in the wild, at exporters in Indo, at retailers, and in numerous hobbyists’ reefs, it became increasingly obvious to us that they don’t like it as “clean” as we kept our systems. They seemed to do best in dimly-lit systems with moderate flow, measurable levels ( although minuscule) of phosphate and nitrate, and even a bit of detritus build up (They used to call it “mulm” way back in the 1960’s in the freshwater biz- basically, the crap that builds up when you don’t siphon your tank all that carefully).


I HATE watermelon..but luuuurrrve it's namesake Chalice!

So what did we do? We moved them to areas of diminished flow, dialed down the lights, and allowed some organics to accumulate in our raceways. Lots of fish were added (Tangs, Wrasses- useful fish), and the systems were fed heavily. We decided to use the skimmers only for short periods of time during the week (OMG! CONTROVERSY ALERT! CONTROVERSY ALERT! FUTURE DISCUSSION TOPIC AND THREAD TANGENT! WE DON’T SKIM 24/7/365 ANY MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!).

In general, we relaxed. And guess what? Our Chalices are thriving!!

Your takeaway here: These corals don’t need spotless aquariums and ultra pure water…like many other corals that we keep!

We do find that they benefit from the addition of potassium (we use the Brightwell brand), and we try to keep it in the 375-400ppm range. Color is noticeably brighter and more satisfying when we dose this stuff!

Let’s talk for a minute about fragging these guys…As you know, they do pretty well when you frag ‘em up. With a reasonably clean tank (not obsessively clean, of course!) and decent water flow around the fresh cut frags, they heal very quickly with few, if any losses. We are very careful about prophylactic dipping Chalice frags, or even the mother colonies after we frag them up, as these corals (Echinophyllia and Oxypora in particular) seem to not like most of the commercially available coral dips. We monitor any dipping very, very carefully, as the Chalices will show stress signs very quickly.


The "Miami Hurricane" - a "Classic" Chalice morph if there ever was one!

As far as shipping, I have concluded that Chalices do ship well, but they really don’t like to travel all that much. After 24 hours in a bag, they will often lose a bit of color, which, in most cases, they will regain once they are acclimated to their new digs. I cringe when I read Vendor Feedback columns (Okay, okay it’s a sort of guilty pleasure to see my competitors get trashed on line, I admit it…LOL...Like reading those trashy gossip rags in line at the supermarket…Does that make me a bad person? Oh, who cares! And, you do it to..come clean!) and see customers rail on a vendor because the Chalice doesn’t look just like the pic on their website.

OF COURSE IT DOESN’T! THE @#$%* THING HAS BEEN TOSSED AROUND IN A PLASTIC BAG IN A BOX FOR THE LAST 16 HOURS! HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? As I stated before, these corals categorically take some time to adjust. Give them that time before you go online and attack a vendor because the color is off a bit. It could take days, or even a week or two. And, if you paid “X” amount per “eye” (IT’S A MOUTH!!!) and think it was too much- it WAS. Don’t believe the hype. You're paying by the eye because someone wasn't patient enough to grow it out to a realistic size before fragging and selling it. Yes, we need to recoup our investment, but I say to us...Make the investment...Force us industry types to do a better, slower job at PROPAGATING and GROWING these corals instead of hacking up fresh imports and charging extortion prices for tiny slivers under the guise of “supply and demand" and "Limited Edition.”

They are fantastic corals that are a joy to keep, well worth the trouble and patience required!

On the other hand, I’d be remiss if I did not at least touch on the fact that Chalices are like the number one most “Photoshop-abused” corals on the market, IMO. Some of the pics I see of these corals are tweaked so absurdly that I can’t believe anyone is stupid enough to fall for them. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is! Yes, there ARE exceptions- some which look amazing without “work”, as we say in SoCal.

However, the Photoshop “abuse” is rampant, IMO. It happens at every level (Importer, Wholesaler, Retailer, and Hobbyist), and it disgusts me. It needs to stop. Photoshop and the awful “saturation” menu are the two most abused things in the reef hobby, IMO. These corals are plenty colorful on their own if you do the right things to take care of them, and they don’t need “enhancement” to sell their charms. We can collectively do so much better than that.

Okay, that felt better. I’ve just trashed my fellow hobbyists, the industry, and the consumer mindset- all before breakfast! Nice. Gonna be a great day!

With that being said, there are so many nuances to the husbandry and “culture’ of the Chalice corals that I could have scarcely broken the surface in this little rant. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the world of Chalices: Their husbandry, care and propagation experiences, opinions on the hype, and thoughts on the economics of Chalices. All fun stuff.

As always, thank you for allowing me to reduce my blood pressure with these morning rants. I can now do my morning workout with a clean mind..LOL

Thanks for spending some time with us today, and as always…

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman
Unique Corals
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