Pandora Zoa Care – How to Keep This Zoanthid

Pandora means “all gifts” which is why this particular zoanthid may have got its name!. Not only are Pandora Zoanthids (Zoas) one of the most beautiful zoanthids, with their rich pink base and purple and golden highlights, they are also one of the most adaptive corals. This coral is truly a gift for dedicated hobbyists!

Pandora Zoas are the perfect addition to both novice and experienced coral collectors wanting to create a spectacular zoanthid garden and track down their rare color morphs.

Summary

  • Common Name: Pandora Zoanthid 
  • Family: Zoanthidae
  • Origin: Indo-Pacific
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lighting: Low to moderate (PAR 100-250)
  • Water Flow: Moderate
  • Placement: Lower part of the aquarium on the sandbed

Pandora Zoanthid Care

Zoanthids are colonial corals that are relatively easy to care for. This is because they can tolerate a wider range of lighting and water conditions than more challenging corals like SPS (small polyp stony) corals. Once your Pandora Zoa has acclimated to your aquarium, it will quickly multiply. Their ability for rapid reproduction comes from splitting their mouth or base, which Pandora Zoas are prone to do. This splitting process is fundamental to increase their colony size in the wild. 

A fascinating fact about Zoanthids is the way they absorb sand and other small materials within their tissues to create their structure. As they occupy fringing reef environments in the wild, they are a hardy coral of choice in the aquarium trade, which is why they are perfect for beginner hobbyists too!

Ideal Water Parameters For Pandora Zoanthids

  • Temperature: 75° – 80 °F
  • pH: 8.1 – 8.4
  • Salinity: 1.025 – 1.026
  • Alkalinity: 8 – 9.5 dKH
  • Nitrates: <10 ppm
  • Phosphates: <10 ppm
  • Calcium: 420 – 440 ppm
  • Magnesium: 1300 – 1450

Lighting Requirements

Lighting is important for your Pandora Coral to properly display their fascinating colors. 

Zoanthids are not as demanding as other corals, as long as you provide them with the proper PAR levels. Pandora Zoanthids require low to moderate lighting, with a PAR range between 100 and 250 for optimum coloration and growth. As Zoas can be kept under a variety of lighting types, you can use T5s, Metal Halides, or LEDs in your aquarium. 

Despite their lighting variability, it is always important to acclimate your Pandora Zoa in lower light areas as Zoanthids are more likely to get sick from light overexposure than starve from not enough lighting. 

Water Flow Requirements

Zoanthids like the Pandora Zoa require a moderate water flow. Because of their shape, Zoanthids are very inviting to detritus, therefore providing a moderate water flow helps to prevent detritus from building upon their tissues which can slow down their growth or in extreme cases, cause them to die. 

As your Pandora Zoa came from coral reefs that are known to have dramatic currents (if you have ever been scuba diving in the Indo-Pacific, you know what I’m talking about!), it is recommended you design a flow pattern. A water flow that is moderately strong with short bursts of very strong flow will not only make your Pandora Zoa feel at home, it will also help them get the nutrients they need. 

If you do create a flow pattern, it is only recommended for established colonies that are stuck down. If you blast newly glued frags, they may get blown off their position. 

Acclimation & Placement

I am sure once your Pandora Zoa arrives, you will be super excited to place your coral in your reef aquarium as soon as possible. However, before you decide where to place your Pandora Zoa, you must properly acclimate it. Acclimation is vital to prevent shock from the shipping process. Skipping acclimation can result in your Pandora Zoa coral dying, so below are some easy steps for you to follow!

  • Firstly, submerge your Pandora Zoa in your aquarium for 10-15 minutes, just like you do when introducing new fish. 
  • Secondly, gradually acclimate your Pandora Zoa by adding drips of aquarium water in a small container.
  • Finally, apply a coral dip to kill off any pests that could hitchhike their way into your aquarium. 

Once your Pandora Zoanthid is acclimated, they are best placed on an exposed rock in the sand bed, where they can receive enough direct lighting and water flow. When you have found the perfect placement for your Pandora Zoa, you can use IC gel glue or putty to ensure they don’t go wandering around the aquarium. 

Your Zoanthid coral will soon tell you if they are not happy and want to be moved to an area with lower lighting or water flow if they close their polyps. 

Feeding & Nutrition Requirements

Zoanthids all contain symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae. These microscopic algae provide most of their nutritional requirements, however, your Pandora Zoa will also benefit from additional feeding of brine shrimp and microplankton like rotifers, for continued good health. 

It is highly recommended you feed them directly with a pipette and turn down the water flow, so each individual polyp in their colony can catch the food. 

Pandora Zoanthid Taxonomy & ID

There are a lot of discussions and somewhat “fogginess” when it comes to differentiating if a coral is a Zoanthus or Palythoa

A lot of research has been done on Zoanthid taxonomy and its DNA classification. As with any scientific research, it is not always straightforward…

The coral’s genome is over 90% identical, therefore, it is difficult to find small segments of DNA that can classify them individually. This is further complicated by the environmental effect on gene expression.

In response to environmental changes, the coral reads the genetic code differently, despite the genes not changing themselves. This may sound rather technical, so to put it in simpler terms, two corals that come from the same area and have the same genetic sequence may show differences because of the surrounding environment. 

Scientists have now whittled down coral species by their different morphs to make it easier to differentiate, and continue to expand genetic testing to make classification much easier for hobbyists. 

So when we get down to the “hobbyist-level” it is easier to separate the Zoanthus and Palythoa corals by their polyps; larger polyp corals into Palythoa, and smaller polyp corals into Zoanthus. 

Pandora Zoanthid Toxicity

Some Zoanthids contain a neurotoxin called palytoxin, which is very dangerous when it comes into contact with your bloodstream. An example of how dangerous it can be is the use of it in the 1960s for biological warfare by Polynesian tribes. Legend has it that a Maui warrior dipped his spear into a Palythoa toxica coral to kill his enemies, which is why this particular coral is commonly known as the “seaweed of death”!

So, why is it so dangerous?

Palytoxin is so dangerous as it binds to the sodium-potassium pump found inside our cell membranes. For those that skipped biology class, sodium-potassium is extremely important for biological processes, such as ion movement inside our cells. 

Many people were skeptical how a coral could produce such a potent toxin, but research in 1995 confirmed that when yeast cells (that have no sodium-potassium pump) were exposed to palytoxin, they survived. However, when scientists genetically modified yeast cells to encode a sheep’s sodium-potassium pump, the cells did not survive. 

Now, to ease your mind after reading that, you are very unlikely to get palytoxin poisoning from placing a Pandora Zoa or other Zoa or Palythoa in your reef aquarium. 

As the toxin is embedded inside the coral’s flesh, it is only a problem when the colony becomes damaged. Therefore, always take extra care when handling polyps, especially if you have any open wounds. Also take care when cleaning rock structures that they have had contact with. As palytoxin does not lose its toxicity when heated, when cleaning rocks (even with boiling water), always wear gloves as some hobbyists have become sick from exposure.

Conclusion

Pandora Zoas are fast growers that can tolerate a wider range of lighting and water conditions making them the perfect addition to any hobbyist wanting to create a spectacular zoa garden, and for coral collectors to track down their rare color morphs. 

Even though they are arguably one of the most beautiful Zoa corals, as they contain palytoxin, you must take extra care when handling them as their toxicity can be very dangerous. 

  • Roy Lee

    I have an unhealthy obsession with reef keeping and maintaining successful tanks. If you haven't noticed from the website, I love everything related to saltwater tanks like coral, fish, and everything else in between.

    http://reeftankadvisor.com reeftankroy@gmail.com Lee Roy

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