Okay, we spend absurdly large amounts of time talking about Acropora and their care around here, don’t we? I know it seems crazy, but there are actually some other corals in the ocean that are interesting and colorful.
Really. I’m serious.
Enter the “Brain Corals” (my spell checker wanted to call them “Bran” Corals…kind of goofy, huh?). These corals get their creepy common name from the grooves and channels on their surfaces that look like the folds of the human brain.
Man- if there has ever been a poster child for the danger of common names in our hobby, the “Brain Corals” are it…The common name is a bit misleading, as several species from different families go by this nom de guerre. So, you’ve got corals from Trachophyllia, Lobophyllia, Wellsophyllia, Favia, Symphyllia, Platygyra and some more…Kind of a mess, huh? For this little blurb, let’s just talk about the Trachys, Lobos, and Symphyllia, as they have similar care and requirements..We’ll hit the others some other time, okay?
Oh- wait a minute, news flash- We’ve kind of got it wrong…the genus Wellsophyllia has actually been eliminated from taxonomy, and species formerly called Wellsophyllia are now Trachyphyllia radiata (But we still call them “Wellsos” for some old school reason!)…Just so you know, the way to tell them apart from the “other” Trachy- T. geoffroyi, is that T. radiata is usually more convoluted in appearance, with fused walls. It’s sometimes given the name “Folded Brain” to describe this look.
Cool fact: In nature, while the Acros and other corals get the crap kicked out of them by wave action and storms, turning into “live rock”, the Brain Corals take advantage of their strong skeleton and massive stature, designed to withstand the harsh surf. In true “Tortoise and Hare” fashion, they grow slowly, but “win the race” when it comes to long-term survival!
Some of our most popular and coolest “Brain Corals” are the “Trachys”, Trachyphyllia, Symphyllia wilsoni, and the “Lobos”, the Lobophyllia species.
The best part about the Trachyphyllia Brain Corals is that they are collected from the reef without much trauma, because they are usually free-living, growing on pieces of shell, rock, or dead corals, right in the substrate. And, really, this is how they should be kept in the aquarium. If you place these corals on rocks, as a lot of reefers tend to do, you open up the potential for the coral to damage its tissues when it expands, as it may abrade itself on the rough surfaces of live rock.
That's a nice Trachy!
They seem to enjoy moderate lighting, leaning towards the bright side as well. They do fluoresce under actinic type lighting, and are amazingly attractive corals. We keep them under T5, and occasionally under LED’s. I’ve personally kept them down low under metal halides without any issues. Trachy’s appreciate decent flow, but not enough to batter them around- and certainly not enough to blast directly into their tissues, which will cause long-term damage.
They have the annoying tendency to be a bit aggressive towards other corals living in proximity, so you need to provide ample space for them between their neighbors to avoid issues. These species are largely photosynthetic; however, they will do well when provided small, “meaty” foods, like cyclop-eeze, oyster eggs, or phytoplankton-type foods. As with other corals, they should really only be fed when their feeding tentacles are extended. This is usually after dark or before “lights on”, which is important, as they won’t capture food if the tentacles aren't out!
Symphyllia are pretty cool, too. The one that we seem to offer the most is Symphyllia wilsoni, which is quite abundant in Eastern Australia. Not much different in their care from the Trachys, really. They do seem to come in some pretty crazy colors, though!
Wilson! Wilson..Okay, Wilsoni! Wilsoni! Symphyllia wilsoni!
Lobophyllia, also called, curiously enough, the ‘Open Brain Coral” sometimes, and even the “Modern” coral at others (Who came up with THAT? LOL), is another one of those corals that holds a lot of interest for the reefer. They’re surprisingly hardy, particularly the ones from Australia. The genus contains 10 species, but the one we see most often is L. hemprichii. The main considerations with Lobos are the initial health of the specimen upon receipt, and the placement.
It’s pretty important that the coral is not seriously damaged at its skeleton, as this can typically lead to infection and death of the colony. Make sure that the skeleton of the specimen you collect is in good condition. Often, these corals are collected by chiseling them from the reef structure, and will typically come with some rock attached. IMHO, the optimal way to place a Lobo is into your reef structure- just slip the coral and it’s host rock into a nook or cranny in your reef, and you’re good to go. One word to the wise: These are decidedly nasty corals, with a serious penchant for zapping more docile species if they are placed to closely- so give these guys a wide berth!
To say that Lobos are "hot" is- well- using your brain!
Lobos don’t need to be fed heavily, but they do appreciate the occasional feedings of stuff like oyster eggs, finely chopped mysid, etc. when their feeding tentacles are extended (usually during the dark hours).
Lobos are one of those species that, at least in my experience- dwarf angelfish LOVE to nip at. Maybe it’s the mucous they give off- maybe they taste good- who knows. All I can say is that the one LPS that I have personally seen Centropyge go to town on with remarkable consistency is the Lobo. Also, if your Lobo or other “Brain” is damaged, it’s best to remove it to an isolation tank for recovery, as the opportunistic feeders in your tank )the aforementioned Angels, as well as crabs, shrimp, etc.) will just jump on the opportunity to finish a damaged Lobo or Trachy off!
Lobos like “moderate” lighting, like balanced T5 or even LED, but can adapt to brighter lighting regimens. They also tolerate a considerably higher amount of flow than some of the other corals in this category, and that’s probably because of that robust skeletal structure they possess.
Yet another example of the beauty and variety of Lobophyllia!
People ask us a lot about our care regimen, and I must say, other than careful handling and placement, and regular feeding, we will add amino acids and potassium t the water in the raceways that they share with other LPS corals, and they respond with deep, rich coloring and nice tissue expansion.
Oh- when you receive your “Brain” coral, it may be a bit pale and withdrawn into the skeleton at first…This is normal, and the coral should expand fully once it acclimates and is exposed to light. A Brain coral that does not expand, particularly the Trachys or Symphyllia, is in trouble, and you need to observe carefully for signs of damage, environmental issues, a “picker” in the tank, etc. Bes sure to drip acclimate them slowly before placing them into a new environment, as they don't take well to rapid changes.
As far as propagation, most of these corals are, unfortunately, typically not great candidates for taking to the saw. Natural reproductive strategies will be more effective in the long run, and much work needs to be done in this area before reliable captive propagation is a reality. Fortunately, Trachyphyllia and Symphyllia are pretty easy to collect in a responsible fashion, without doing significant damage to the reefs. Lobos are a bit more problematic in this regard; however, the vast majority of the ones we tend to carry hail from Australia, where the reefs are well studied, and responsible collection is more rigorously enforced than in other parts of the Indo Pacific.
Ok, so there is a quick and dirty round up on some of the more popular “Brain” corals…There is much more work to do with them, and much more to learn about their care, and we’d love to see more reefers contributing their observations to the body of knowledge on these guys!
So I pose to you the question….How are your Brains doing? Do you have any stories, suggestions, interesting facts to share? This is the place!
Remember- always take good care of your Brains…
And Stay Wet.