The Ultimate Zoanthid Coral Care Guide

Are you looking for a unique coral to add to your aquarium? Look no further, Zoanthid Corals are undoubtedly epic additions to any reef aquarium. They will provide you with a diversity of bright colors, and if you are after a fast-growing coral to quickly cover your aquascape, you are in luck!

This “Ultimate Zoanthid Coral Care Guide” will tell you everything you need to know to create that Zoa garden you have been dreaming of.

What Are Zoanthid Corals?

While you may know what they look like, there are probably many cool things you don’t know about this captivating coral! 

Another thing you probably already know is that Zoanthids go by many names, which can often be confusing at times. They are frequently referred to as “Zoos”, “Zoas”, and “Palys”, even though people are usually talking about the same thing – brightly colored corals that resemble flowers. 

Zoanthids are fast-colonizing corals that are arguably the most popular coral in reef aquariums. But before we get into why they are so popular, let’s kick it off with a quick summary!

Zoanthid Summary

  • Scientific/Latin Name: Zoanthus
  • Order: Zoantharia
  • Class: Anthozoa
  • Care Level: Easy/Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lighting: Low – High
  • Water Flow: Low – High
  • Placement: Low – High Region
  • Growth: Moderate

Zoanthid Corals come in a whopping 100+ unique varieties. They are characterized by having a polyp with a mouth and tentacles that surround the mouth. To visualise a Zoanthid, if you were to stick your arm up in the air, draw a mouth on the palm of your hand and move your fingers around, that is what a Zoanthid Coral polyp looks like!

Are Zoas The Same As Palys? Taxonomy Explained!

You see this discussion ALL the time on aquarium forums, therefore I am going to hopefully shed some light on the topic for you!

Without a microscope handy, it is very difficult to tell the difference between Zoanthids and Palythoas (Palys), however, there are some differences that even newbie hobbyists can use to identify them. When we get down to the “hobbyist-level” it is easier to separate the Zoanthus and Palythoa corals by their polyps; generally larger polyp corals into Palythoa, and smaller polyp corals into Zoanthus.

Luckily, there are some experts out there that can help us understand Zoanthid taxonomy on a scientific level. These experts know that a 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 simplify it: 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 tell them apart. Hopefully, these coral experts continue to expand genetic testing to make classification much easier for hobbyists like you and me!

Zoanthids That Are A MUST!

Corals in the hobbyist trade have ‘wacky’ names, and Zoanthids are no exception. When you see their epic color morphs, you will soon understand where people got such ridiculous-sounding names from!

Reef Tank Advisor’s Top Picks!

Rare Zoanthid Corals

Coming across something rare is exciting. Over the last couple of years, many coral collectors have ramped the prices up of rare Zoanthid color morphs. 

Examples of rare Zoanthids include the Bubble Buster Zoa, Taser Zoa, Tyree Space Monster Zoa, and the Bloodshot Zoa. So, if you are after one of these beauties, get ready to dig deep into your pockets, as these guys don’t come cheap! 

However, if you do find a rare Zoanthid, pop onto one of the forum threads online and just double-check the prices other hobbyists have paid match your quote, as often inexperienced hobbyists are overcharged. 

No matter whether you go for a well-known Zoanthid or a rare one, the strange names we use help us trade and sell, despite how funny it may sound to people around us. For example, imagine overhearing someone saying “Can I trade my Radioactive Dragon Eye for your White Zombie” – If you were not an aquarium hobbyist you may be very confused!

Zoanthid Appearance: Colors & Sizes

Zoanthids come in almost every color you can imagine, and every year we find new variations to add to the 100+ already found on our planet – there is no limit to the color and variations Zoanthid Corals come in!

We can thank the microscopic algae Zooxanthellae, which live inside their tissues for a Zoanthid’s extraordinary color morphs. Most Zoas have a purple-like body that extends out into their head or mouth, which ranges in color. Now, I may get slightly jealous if you were to get your hands on a true blue Zoa, as these are one of the rarest color forms you can find!

Just like their coloration, Zoanthids come in a large variety of sizes. While some are teeny-tiny small (often referred to as “Micro-Zoas”), some are gigantic, and then there are the ones that fit in between. 

Some Zoas also have very long tentacles that move around (just like your Grandma’s frilly skirt!), while others are less of a “show-off” and have short tentacles. 

The placement and lighting intensity inside your aquarium can typically determine your Zoanthid’s size and coloration. A high light intensity usually results in a brighter coloration and shorter polyps, and low light intensity usually ends in your Zoanthid swelling and reaching towards the lighting fixture. 

If you notice your Zoanthid exceedingly stretching (about 1/2”), something is probably wrong, as this is their way of signaling they are stressed – just like our four-legged pets, corals also cannot verbally communicate to us. 

How To Pick A Zoanthid Coral

Picking out which Zoanthid Coral to buy can be very overwhelming, similar to the feeling when you walk into a large candy store on a budget! 

Before you pick a coral ‘willy-nilly’, take a good look at it, as picking the right coral increases the chance of success in its new home. 

So, what things should you look for?

  • Ensure they are colorful & not washed out. 
  • Make sure their tentacles are not retracted. 
  • Overall, would you say it looks happy? If YES, get it in your basket right away before it’s gone!

What Is A Zoa Garden?

Possibly the coolest thing to do as a hobbyist is to fill your reef aquarium with Zoanthids to create a Zoa garden. Your Zoanthid makes the perfect candidate for a garden because they virtually have no sting, therefore they are very unlikely to hurt one another.  

Creating a Zoanthid garden is easy, often too easy, as Zoanthids are fast to dominate reef aquariums. So, make sure you plan ahead, and know where you want your Zoa garden to be, as they have no off button once they start replicating. 

Zoanthid Coral Toxicity

Just a word of caution, some Zoanthids may contain a neurotoxin called palytoxin, which is very dangerous when it comes into contact with your bloodstream. Palytoxin is so dangerous as it binds to the sodium-potassium pump found inside our cell membranes. Sodium-potassium is extremely important for biological processes, such as ion movement inside our cells. 

As the toxin is embedded inside the coral’s flesh, it is only an issue if the colony becomes damaged. Therefore, always take extra care when handling your Zoanthid, especially if you have any open wounds and if you are fragging them. It is also highly recommended to wear gloves, a mask, and eye protection to protect yourself, just in case.

Essential Zoanthid Coral Care

Because they are less forgiving than other corals in terms of light, flow, and nutrient requirements, they are extremely popular with beginner hobbyists because of their ease of care. 

Zoanthid Coral Water Chemistry

Becoming a coral keeper means you need to pay attention to the calcium (Ca), alkalinity (Alk), and magnesium (Mg) levels inside your aquarium. To make your life easier, it is recommended to use a dosing pump that automatically doses the aquarium water for you, a few times a week. 

Regular testing (API and RedSea test kits are great for this!) and the use of a dosing pump can help you maintain perfect conditions, which as aquarium hobbyists, doesn’t always go our way, especially if you have a busy work schedule or go on holiday. 

Keeping the following water conditions in range will help make your Zoa brighter and keep them happy and healthy!

Ideal Water Conditions

  • Temperature: 75° – 80 °F
  • pH: 8.1 – 8.4
  • Salinity: 1.024 – 1.026
  • Alkalinity: 8 – 9.5 dKH
  • Nitrates: <10 ppm
  • Phosphates: <10 ppm
  • Calcium: 420 – 440 ppm
  • Magnesium: 1260 – 1350

Another thing we have to squeeze into this section is iodine. Zoanthids need iodine to grow, which is usually replenished when you do a water change. However, if you have an impressive collection of Zoas (we would love to see – drop us a reply below!), your aquarium may be slightly iodine deficient, so you may need to supplement the water. 

Zoanthid Coral Lighting (& PAR) Requirements

Corals are not scared of the dark, but lighting is required for your Zoanthid as they rely on photosynthesis to survive. The good news is, most Zoanthids are pretty forgiving and tolerant of different lighting, but note that too much light will cause more harm than too little, while too little light may cause your Zoanthid to turn brown

If you have been in the “reefing world” a while, you probably noticed your Zoas growing like weeds when you only had access to Metal Halide lighting. However, with advances in technology, many hobbyists are switching to T5 or LED lighting for optimal growth and vibrant coloration.

The best way to monitor your aquarium’s lighting is to get yourself a PAR (Photosynthetically Active/Available Radiation) meter. They come in a broad price range, but when it comes to the health of your Zoanthid Coral, I’m sure you would agree you can’t put a price tag on it.

Zoanthid Coral Water Flow Requirements

Water flow provides corals with the minerals they need to grow, flourish, keeps aquarium waste off their precious polyps, and helps the coral expel any nasty toxins that could make them sick. Zoanthids should never be placed too close to a powerhead as they prefer a broad indirect flow which can be achieved using a wavemaker. 

As there are so many different species of Zoanthid, always check with the retailer what water flow they require. If you are still unsure, a moderate water flow usually benefits most Zoas. Just remember, you should always aim for a fast enough water flow to keep aquarium waste off their polyps, but not too powerful or else your zoanthids will not open – imagine someone blasting you in the face with a leaf blower all day!

Zoanthid Food & Nutrition

Feeding corals play a vital role in growth and reproduction. You may already know that all Zoanthids get most of their food from photosynthesis. 

Zoanthids have a photosynthetic partnership with symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae. The symbiotic algae live inside your Zoanthid’s tissues, and are also what produce the amazing colors that Zoanthid Corals emit. 

However, most Zoanthids will LOVE the occasional feeding of something meaty such as oyster-eggs, brine shrimp, and mysis shrimp.

When it comes to “dinner time”, it is recommended you feed your Zoa directly with a pipette and turn down the water flow, so the colony can catch the food.

Zoanthid Coral Acclimation

Your Zoa has arrived, and I’m sure you are super excited to get it into your aquarium as quickly as you can, but hold your fire before you go rushing into something that will only give you a headache further down the line… 

The process of acclimation is vital to prevent shock from the shipping process and ensure you have no hitchhikers on board. 

Skipping acclimation can result in your Zoanthid Coral dying, which is heartbreaking whether it be the first time or hopefully the last!

“But, I have no clue how to acclimate a coral”. Well, do not fear! Below, I have put together some easy steps for you to follow!

  • Firstly, submerge your Zoanthid in your aquarium for 10-15 minutes, just like you do when introducing new fish or invertebrates.
  • Secondly, place your Zoanthid into a small container and gradually acclimate it by adding drips of the aquarium water directly over it.
  • Have you noticed any unwanted neighbors? Not an issue for corals if you follow this final step! To prevent any hitchhikers, dip your coral for 5-15 minutes with a coral dip such as Seachem Reef Dip. 
  • And there you have it, your Zoanthid Coral is ready to go!

Zoanthid Coral Placement 

Once your Zoanthid Coral is acclimated, it is time to get them in the aquarium – YAY! 

As with any coral, where to place your Zoanthid is a key step for its survival and happiness. Zoanthids feel at home placed on an exposed rock in the sand bed, where the conditions are just right, usually near the bottom to middle region, however some hobbyists have been successful keeping them slightly higher up in the aquarium. 

If you are worried about your Zoanthid’s placement, trust me, they will soon tell you if they are not happy. Here are some things to look out for.

  • Polyps closing = water flow too strong.
  • Polyps stretching towards the light = not enough light. 

How To Attach Your Zoa To A Substrate

When you have found the perfect placement for your Zoa, you can use IC gel glue or reef-safe putty to ensure they don’t get blown around the aquarium. If your Zoa arrives already fixed onto a plug, I advise you not to try to remove it, as this can damage it. Instead, you can use gel glue or putty to attach the plug to a rock. 

Here are some glues and putties I recommend:

  • D-D Aquascape Putty
  • Oceans Wonders Coralline Purple Reef Safe Epoxy

These are just two that are recommended. There are many other ones that are fine to use, even some superglues you can buy at grocery stores. However, if you do just head down to the grocery store, you will want to look for the ingredient “Ethyl Cyanoacrylate” when searching for a reef-safe superglue.

Zoanthid Coral Reproduction 

The sex life of a coral is complicated, for example, we cannot visually determine male or female corals which complicates any animal reproduction. 

Zoanthid Corals can reproduce both sexually and asexually, however, asexual reproduction is more common among corals via budding. 

All Zoanthid Corals (except Sphenopus) can form colonies and propagate via budding. If your Zoanthid reproduces asexually, new polyps are formed as buds and break away from the parent polyps (main colony), this is one-way new Zoanthid colonies can form. 

OR 

Your Zoanthid polyps will either produce sperm or eggs, which are then released into your aquarium at the same time, performing external fertilization. This is why coral sexual reproduction is also known as spawning.  

Zoanthid Coral Growth 

Zoanthids are fast-growing corals, possibly one of the fastest in the world! Unlike stony corals (LPS & SPS Corals), they do not have a skeleton structure to maintain, therefore they can grow much more quickly. 

Even though they are fast growers, their growth rate differs between Zoa type and the conditions they live in. Many factors can affect the growth of zoas such as tank maturity, water quality, light, water flow, and their neighbors. To find out more information, check out our latest Zoa growth article

If your Zoanthid Coral is taking over, they are easy to propagate, as already mentioned, remember to always handle them with care when fragging. 

Common Issues With Zoanthid Corals 

Unfortunately, sometimes things do not go our way (or for our Zoa corals!). Here are a few common issues hobbyists face when keeping Zoanthid Corals. 

  • Zoanthid Coral Pests
  • Zoa Pox

Summing Up Zoanthid Corals

Zoanthid Corals are perfect for everyone from beginners just dipping their toes in the water to coral experts, and everyone in between!

Introducing a Zoa into your reef tank will be one of the best decisions you make in your hobbyist journey. The more time you spend in the reef-keeping world, the more interesting coral morphs and colors you will discover!

  • 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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