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Close Up On Corals:

Family Euphyllidae



By Bob Fenner


            Amongst the stony corals (Order Scleractinia), the family Euphyllidae includes nothing but stand-out species for aquarium use; all are beautiful, and captive-hardy; their one down-side being their ranking high on the scale of physical and chemical allelopathy. But even this last challenge can be met with some simple planning as you’ll soon see.

 Detail on Taxonomy:

            Likely the highest living authority on stony coral systematics, J.E.N. (Charlie to his friends) Veron used the publication of his monumental year 2000 three volumes publication of Corals of the World, to erect the family Euphyllidae. Putting this simply, the previous inclusion in the family Caryophylliidae was determined to be artificial (via mDNA analysis). More regarding the reorganization can be seen at the references below and online (wiki et al.). All species occur with fleshy tentacles out day and night, and are considered by hobbyists as “Large Polyp/ed Stony Corals”, LPS.

            Euphyllidae contains five genera; Euphyllia, Catalaphyllia, Nemenzophyllia, Plerogyra and Physogyra. All are Indo-Pacific, colonial (multiple polyped), and Zooxanthellate (bear endosymbiotic Zooxanthellae). If you’ve lost specimens and saved their calcium carbonate skeletons, you’ll find they share gross morphology; having big, substantial widely spaced septo-costae (“ribs”, inside and outside the polyp) of little ornamentation; as well as having colonies which are phaceloid (uniform coralites forming individual tubes, joining at their base), meandroid (coralites in valleys) or flabello-meandroid (curving, wall-like) in arrangement.

Detail showing nature of septa and costae for the family


Species Variety:

Genus Euphyllia




Euphyllia cristata Chevalier 1971, Grape Coral. Usually just small (20-40 mm diameter) singular polyps with tubular tentacles that bear knobby tips. Typically greyish but may be greenish in colour. Aquarium pic at right, and N. Sulawesi below




Euphyllia glabrescens (Chamisso and Eysenhardt, 1821), Torch Coral. Corallites 20-30 mm in diameter and the same distance apart. Longer, thinner and more circular tentacles with knobbed ends. At right in S. Leyte, Philippines, below in an Aquarium.


Euphyllia paradivisa Veron, 1990, Branched Frogspawn. Have short, branching tentacles similar to E. divisa. Occur in greens and grays. Aquarium pic.





Euphyllia paraancora Veron, 1990, Anchor Coral. Polyps like E. ancora but arrayed in a more circular arrangement. N. Sulawesi at right and Aquarium pic below.




Euphyllia divisa Veron and Pichon, 1980.

Frogspawn Coral. Large, tubular tentacles with smaller branchings that terminate with knobs. Both pix shot in S. Sulawesi, Indo.




Euphyllia ancora Veron and Pichon 1980. Hammer or Anchor Coral. Large, unbranched tentacles with anchor-like tips. At right in Sipadan, Malaysia; below in S. Leyte, P.I.


Genus Catalaphyllia, Wells 1971; monotypic. Flabello-meandroid colonies with septa forming deep V-shaped valleys.



Catalaphyllia jardinei (Saville-Kent, 1893); Elegance Coral. Tubular tentacles with colored tips; fleshy striated oral discs. Both shots from Lembeh Strait, N.E. Sulawesi. Detail at right showing mouths; below where the species occurs, in mud/muck; NOT on rock or sand.


Genus Nemenzophyllia Hodgson and Ross, 1981; monotypic




Nemenzophyllia turbida Hodgson and Ross, 1981. Fox Coral. Tentacles as distinctive fleshy circular discs. Aquarium pic at right. N. Sulawesi below.


Genus Plerogyra Milne Edwards and Haime, 1848. Coenosteum as blister-like vesicles. Put out tentacles only at night.




Plerogyra simplex Rehberg, 1892. Bubble Coral. Branched colonies of uniform size and spacing. Phaceloid, round colonies. S. Leyte at right, Bunaken, Sulawesi below.




Plerogyra sinuosa (Dana, 1846), Bubble Coral. Flabello-meandroid colonies with grape—sized light-colored vesicles. Cream, grey, bluish and greenish in colour. A small colony off Queensland, Australia at right, a large one in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea below.


Genus Physogyra: monotypic          




Physogyra lichtensteini (Mile Edwards and Haime, 1851); Bubble Coral. Coenosteum blisters are bifurcated in shape; which retract slowly when touched.
Aquarium close up at right; Wakatobi, S. Sulawesi, showing skeleton below.


Occurrence in the Wild:

            Most species are spotty in their occurrence on shallow reefs in the Indo- West Pacific (E. glabrescens, Plerogyras and Physogyra extend into the Red Sea); but some may occur in abundance locally. I’ve come across large stands of Euphyllia ancora in Lembeh Strait for instance, and Catalaphyllia is found clustered at a few tens of feet and about hundred foot depths in the muck at times.


Conservation Status:

According to the IUCN (http://www.iucnredlist.org/search), Red List of Threatened Species, Euphyllids are “near threatened” or “vulnerable”… where known. I’ll reiterate that but for occasional stands of Euphyllia ancora, nowhere are Euphyllids “abundant”… they are found “here and there” rather; and IF folks were to make a concerted collection or habitat destruction effort they could be greatly reduced in a given locality.

            There have been governmental efforts at limiting the collection and importation of Euphyllids out of conservation concerns; and I’d mention that all but Catalaphyllia are easily asexually fragmented, and fast growers… hence the trade can and perhaps should turn to aquaculture to supply most all stocks.


Captive Care Guidelines

Acquisition: Be on the look-out for reef and saltwater aquarium clubs in your area, and regional hobbyist shows where you may be able to trade or pick through larger selections of these LPS than your local stores have on offer.


Due to their beauty and genus Euphyllia species capacity to get along with conspecifics and congeners, Euphyllids are generally widely available; most all the branching ones as starter “frags”, and all species as wild-collected specimens.

    At right, some Catalaphyllia on offer at a premiere marine livestock wholesaler: Quality Marine in Los Angeles, CA.


Introduction: Placing new specimens of all Cnidarians is a crucial step where failure or success is determined. First off; the usual strong suggestion that ALL NEW specimens be isolated; quarantined if you will… NOT placed directly in an established main/display. Keeping your new acquisitions apart for a few weeks accomplishes so much for so little cost and trouble. First off, it allows the newbie to rest up; recover from the trials of being transported. Best to use water from your principal system to allow it not only to become accustomed to your water quality, but the water has “chemical identifiers” and “messengers” from your extant livestock collection.

            Isolation grants you time to observe the new stock, and determine its health; as well as look carefully for the presence of unwanted hitchhikers, pests and possible parasites; MUCH better than having to deal with these troubles amidst your permanent large display.

            During the observation/isolation period, when you’re assured there are no health or pest issues, it is a very good practice to exchange a cup or two of water twixt your main display and the quarantine system; serving to introduce the novel parties to each other. This will greatly decrease the potential for allelopathy; negative interaction… chemical and physical, amongst especially your stinging-celled life.

Placement: Where you put your Euphyllids can be as important as the introduction protocol. Again, think about how these benthic, attached organisms make their lives… they can’t just leave to find better circumstances should there be challenges; including biological, to contend with. Over-shadowing, digestive dominance, competition for space; are dealt with powerful chemical and physical tools continuously. Folks somehow think of the world’s reefs as places of calm and peaceful coexistence. Indeed, they are not. One MUST keep in mind that some species are more or less dominant and when they meet up, there is war. The Euphyllids as a group tend to be on the “winning” side of the scale here; and should therefore be placed later in a given stocking scheme, and always with a good deal of room about them to allow for space for growth and expansion.

            Where to put them? The family is best placed near the bottom; all but Catalaphyllia substantially supported on rock. Elegance coral itself needs to be placed on fine substrate, actually mud/muck best.

Lighting: Euphyllids will tolerate bright/intense full-spectrum illumination; PAR/PUR values of more than 100 (µmol photons m−2s−1); though other than the genus Euphyllia do well in much less; Nemenzophyllia usually occurring under overhanging rock, and Plerogyra, Physogyra and Catalaphyllia in otherwise subdued settings. Unless your lighting is extremely weak, likely being on several hours a day directly overhead will be fine.

Flow: Here too the Euphylliids are unlike what most reefers consider required for stony corals. These species occur in low-current settings in the wild; they can/will tolerate more, let’s say 5-10 or additional turns per hour, but if your system has other life that prefers being in rather brisk water movement; relegate your Euphyllids to the slower areas.

Feeding: Like almost all Cnidarians known, this family derives its nutrition in three ways: Photosynthesis, direct chemical absorption and via feeding. Making food with light involves mostly the manufacture of sugars… the last two can greatly make up for insufficient photosynthesis and can supply most all nutrient otherwise.

There is a general misunderstanding amongst hobbyists that reefs are “nutrient” free; rather, they are nutrient concentrated; and often there are troubles in “too clean” settings. To wit, some measurable Nitrate and soluble Phosphate are essential to the well-being of these animals as well as most other chemo-photosynthates. Yes; to reiterate, you do NOT want 0.0 NO3 or HPO4. You say you don’t use chemical filtrants but still have undetectable essential nutrient levels? Try feeding a bit more heavily, perhaps adding some liquid juice from foods to your system.

I suggest twice weekly feeding of planktonic, or mashed up meaty foods (rinsed in a net with sink water if this last), applied directly to their tentacles during a temporary low/slow circulation period (a timer on pumps is great for this; lest you forget to re-start them). More food, feeding is not warranted, and may indeed lead to polluting the system.

Some folks suggest feeding larger food items; particularly to Catalaphyllias; again, I advise otherwise. Use smaller foods, and when/where in doubt, very sparingly.

On the issue of supplements, I am a fan of vitamin, HUFA et al. soaks and would administer this to foods about once a week.

Compatibility: I’ve mentioned this as we’ve gone along here. By and large Euphyllids don’t play nice. Yes; they can learn to get along with other Cnidarians; growing up near them over months and years’ time; but immediately placing them next to another “coral” or vice versa, often results in immediate to later negative reactions that may in turn cascade into real trouble for all life in your system. Heed my statements concerning isolation, mixing of waters and placement of these (and all new) “corals”. 






An example of physical warfare… This Plerogyra is sending out mesenterial filaments to “reach out and do more than touch someone” it perceives as an intruder.






Elegance coral has sufficiently potent stinging capacity to capture and eat small, unwary fishes; to lesser degrees do Euphyllias. Nonetheless the latter can serve as surrogate hosts for Clownfish species.



            Branching species of Euphyllia are darlings of the “fragging” crowd; easily clipped below the tissue area to make new pieces out of one. As always, DO wear eye protection, long-sleeve shirt and gloves when cutting up Cnidarians. Do all work outside the main tank, and isolate newly fragged pieces as if they were new specimens.

            There are quite a few excellent YouTube videos online that you can view that show propagation of Euphyllia. Basically, take the specimen colony out of the system, and invert it, giving it a few shakes in water to gently close up the polyps. With cutting pliers, snip the branch segment a few centimeters below the tissue line. I’m a huge fan of administering a few times dosage of iodide-ate to recovery baths and isolation systems containing new frags.



            Euphyllids are amongst the “star” families (are my fave) of stony corals. They’re hardy, gorgeously beautiful, and given some care in introduction and placement, relatively hardy animals. What is necessary in their general care is isolation from other Cnidarians, provision of chemical and material foodstuffs, and good general system maintenance.


Bibliography/Further Reading:

http://www.iucnredlist.org/search (status in the wild)

Veron, John Edward Norwood (1995). Corals in Space and Time: The Biogeography and Evolution of the Scleractinia. Cornell University Press. pp. 109–120. ISBN 0-8014-8263-1.

Veron, John Edward Norwood (2000). Corals of the World, Vol. 1, 2, 3. Australian Institute of Marine Science and CRR Ald Pty Ltd (December 2000), 1382 pages

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