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The Long-Tentacle Plate Coral Heliofungia actiniformis Wells, 1966
(Easily kept under suitable conditions)

Robert Fenner

This most beautiful of Fungiid corals is easily lost by aquarists for similar reasons as the Elegance Coral, Catalaphyllia (Fenner 2000 ); as do other Scleractinians that occupy muddy to mucky inshore settings of extreme sedimentation fare poorly in hobbyist systems that over-emphasize a lack of nutrient concentration.

Should you ever find yourself on Jeopardy with Alex Trebek, faced with a question about non-attached, indeed ambulatory stony corals, do remember the Fungiidae; the various mushroom corals. Our subject, Heliofungia actiniformis does one better than slowly scooting across the substrate. By means of inflating its soft tissue with water, allowing it to rise off soft sediment.

Some Heliofungia actiniforms

Lembeh, N. Sulawesi, Indo.

Wakatobi, S. Leyte, Indo.

Ari Atoll, Maldives

Heron Island, Queensland, Australia

Like Elegance Coral, this Mushroom leaves its tentacles out day and night; like Catalaphyllia, Heliofungia have stinging cnidocysts for both gathering food, securing space and warding off predation along with stinging sweeper tentacles. And both species are notable for living directly on soft/mucky substrates (not on rock) where they derive nutrient and photosynthesize.

Classification:

Family Fungiidae, was established by Dana in 1848. The Mushroom Corals could be poster children for LPS (Large Polyped Stony Corals) if they weren't so odd in many ways. These are solitary, non-reef building (ahermatypic) zooxanthellate animals that unique amongst the true or stony corals are ambulatory... yes, they're capable of movement. All but three genera remain free, unattached from the substrate as adults, including Heliofungia. 

    Structurally, the Fungiids are unified as being solitary, circular to oblong in shape with septo-costae radiating from their upper surface center to over the edge, continuing as less-tall costae from flattened underneath sides. 

Identification Notes: There are some 40 plus species in eleven genera that make up the Fungiid family... they are described and discerned out in the field and lab mainly by their hard skeletal make-up. Septa/e are radiating ridges on their upper sides, costa/e in-between... the shape, number, regularity of the "teeth" on these structures are species identifying characteristic. Heliofungia is distinctive with its always-exposed tentacles of 2" plus length of blue, gray, green, tan color.


Heliofungia (monotypic genus; just the one species) actiniformis is a member of the family Fungiidae, commonly labeled as mushroom or plate corals though some are more elongate, others look like inverted bowls. Most all reef hobbyists have come across more common Fungia and Cycloseris species at stores, reef conventions and online. Discerning the several genera to species level requires close examination of skeletal details and reference works like J.E.N. Veron’s in print coral works, or Net
https://coral.aims.gov.au/ or http://www.coralsoftheworld.org/page/home/ . The species was initially named scientifically as Fungia actiniformis by the French team of Quoy and Gaimard in 1833. It was placed in its own genus by Wells in 1966.

Heliofungia distribution spans eastern Indian Ocean, western Pacific; including north and eastern shores of Australia, southern Japan and island groups of the western tropical Pacific. This plate coral is found in shallow reef flat and slope areas from a meter to some 82 feet. Huge ones grow to about eight inches across and three inches high at the middle.

Some other Fungiid Corals

Ctenactis crassa (Dana 1846)

Fungia (Cycloseris) costulata

Sandalolitha robusta Quelch 1886

Halomitra pileus (Linnaeus 1758)

 

Aquarium Care Note:

Compatibility:

Though these mobile Scleractinians don't sting each other, other sessile invertebrates must be placed, arranged out of harm's way, including climbing harm's way. Most other corals will suffer given contact with a Fungiid skeleton, polyp or its mucus, or vice versa. It’s best to allow a minimum six inch gap twixt your Fungiids and other Cnidarian livestock.


Bos (2012) lists juvenile wrasses, cardinals, damsels and more adult goby species observed in close association with Heliofungia actiniformis. Siokunichthys nigrolineatus Dawson 1983, the Mushroom-coral Pipefish. Indonesia, Philippines. To 80 mm in length, but very thin. It’s found in close association (within tentacles) of Heliofungia corals. N. Sulawesi photo.

 

 

If you look closely, you’ll see a juvenile wrasse hiding amongst the tentacles of this Heliofungia down in S. Sulawesi

And invertebrates! There are crabs, Anomurans and four commensal Palaemonid shrimp as well. Here are some Periclimenes holthuisi Bruce 1969, Holthuis' Cleaner Shrimp on a Heliofungia in Queensland, Australia. This shrimp is found in association with numerous types of stinging-celled life (anemones, corals, mushrooms, the upside-down Jellyfish, Cassiopeia...) (best not kept with Clownfishes though) that they should be purchased with. Eat detritus, any foods. 

 

And a Periclimenes koroensis Bruce 1977. Small, but with a conspicuous white head, long chelipeds... antennae, abdomen often hidden in hosts tentacles (mushrooms, anemones, corals). Western Pacific; Philippines, Australia, Marshall Islands. To 4 cm. N. Sulawesi pix.

 

Achaeus japonicus Haan 1839, the Orangutan Crab. Bodies have long processes that the crab attaches algae et al. for camouflage/protection. Usually found in association with cnidarians: Plerogyra, Dendronephthya, Parazoanthus... S. Sulawesi.

Concerning tankmates, large crabs, hermits, lobsters can be trouble; as are eels, triggers, large puffers and big wrasses; by being clumsy as well as errant sampling. Butterflyfishes may nip your Plate Corals and Clownfish have been known to adopt Heliofungia as an ersatz symbiont.

 Selection:

Examine prospective purchases carefully for discontinuous tissue coverage; either discolored flesh, or with their septal skeleton showing through where the tissue is torn. Healthy Heliofungia are open, displaying tentacles continuously and should be colored consistently when in good health. Damaged specimens rarely recover.

Take care in moving the Plate Corals. They tear easily. Wafting your hand gently near an expanded one before moving will cause it to retreat into its chitinous/calcareous skeleton. Touch it gently on the bottom/underside and slip it into a water filled bag underwater. 

     As a general rule all Fungiids with the exception of Heliofungia actiniformis (which IMO should be removed from this family... taxonomically) are pretty sturdy aquarium species... given initial good health, suitable, established homes... Heliofungia/Long tentacle plate corals rarely fare well for any length of time... due to not being placed on soft/fine sand substrates, and too "clean" settings mostly. Am hopeful my purpose is obvious here; to give hobbyists fair warning as to this species needs; not to discourage its keeping outright.

Habitat:

    Most Fungiids are found in shallow water (under ten meters in depth) on various types of substrates; rocky, sandy, to silty. Ones with a high relief (dome-shaped), and spines/septa of low relief utilize these aspects of their morphology, expansion of their polyp-bodies, and/or muco-ciliary action. The more flat-profile, un-toothed septa species that are more often offered to the hobby don't have as much latitude at throwing off sediment and should be placed accordingly on softer, low-detritus bottoms out of the way of direct current. 

Heliofungia are found in "less than ideal" reef conditions; on muddy, muck substrates with all that you can imagine go with the setting: high dissolved nutrient concentration, bright but often diffuse light, little to no water circulation at times. To state categorically the species practical environmental conditions:

1) Need to be placed horizontally on suitable non-sterile substrate, ideally fine sand and/or muck with appreciable interstitial organic content; perhaps in your RDP mud-packed refugium/sump.

2) Heliofungia inhabits settings of little circulation; not with linear blasts of water streaming over them. IF you have high turnover in your reef, situate your plate corals in areas of least water movement.

3) Lighting of full-spectrum, low to medium intensity is preferred. Less than 100 PAR/PUR suits this species fine.

4) Again, the emphasis on available organic nutrients; no need to fuss with "high" nitrate, moderate phosphate. This arrangement may well call for not mixing more nutrient-deprived SPS.

5) Away from other stinging-celled life other than Fungiids.

Foods/Feeding/Nutrition:

    Fungiids bear endosymbiotic algae that require moderate to strong light, but do benefit from regular feeding as well. Foods may be placed on their upper surfaces or a mash of appropriate size matter can be basted in their direction... with the filter pumps temporarily cycled off. Heliofungia, though photosynthetic and largely a detritus feeder, should be offered foods a couple times per week; and will show acceptance by further extension of tentacles, movement of food to the central mouth.

Reproduction:  Reproduction can be sexual, via planula larvae attaching to hard substrate; detaching as adults. More often encountered is a form of asexually produced buds or daughter colonies, called anthocauli. These asexual bits grow and break off a parent, making their lives on the bottom separately. Fragmentation is another way Fungiids may be reproduced. This requires at most the breaking of a donor into six pieces. 

Acanthocauli attached on a rock in captivity.

Cloze:

Heliofungia are often lost by aquarists unaware or unwilling to provide their simple needs; a non-sterile environment with a soft substrate; with sufficient dissolved organics to support them nutritionally. The vast majority of lost specimens are due to their placement in unsuitable circumstances. This mushroom coral is actually very tough given suitable conditions, known to have survived unchanged through the Ice Ages.

Bibliography/Further Information:

Bos, A.R. (2012). Fishes (Gobiidae and Labridae) associated with the mushroom coral Heliofungia actiniformis (Scleractinia: Fungiidae) in the Philippines. Coral Reefs. 31 (1): 133. doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0834-3.

http://dpc.uba.uva.nl/cgi/t/text/get-pdf?c=ctz%3Bidno%3D8002a02 A molecularly based phylogeny reconstruction of mushroom corals (Scleractinia: Fungiidae) with taxonomic consequences and evolutionary implications for life history traits

Borneman, Eric H. 2001. Aquarium Corals; Selection, Husbandry and Natural History. Microcosm-TFH NJ, USA. 464 pp.

Fatherree, James. 2006. Plate Corals. TFH 11/06.

Fenner, Bob. 2000. Catalaphyllia- What’s wrong with your Elegance coral, Family Caryophyllidae? FAMA 3/2000.

Fossa, Svein A. & Alf Jacob Nilsen. 1998 (1st ed.). The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium, v.2 (Cnidarians). Bergit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany. 479pp.

Hoover, John. 1998. Hawai'i's Sea Creatures. A Guide to Hawai'i's Marine Invertebrates. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu HI. 366pp. 

Humann, Paul. 1993. Reef Coral Identification; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, FL.  239pp.

Vargas, Tony. 1997. Feature Coral: Fungia. FAMA 10/97.

Veron, J.E.N. 1986. Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific. U. of HI press, Honolulu. 644 pp. 

Veron, J.E.N. 2000. Corals of the World. Australian Institute of Marine Science. Queensland, Australia. three volumes. 

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