Coral Reefing: Choosing Soft or Hard Coral

 Saltwater enthusiasts have varied opinions of whether soft corals of hard corals are the best. Each type of coral presents its own challenges, but they can both be an enjoyable way to bring life to your saltwater aquarium.

What’s the Difference?

First, to understand the difference between soft and hard corals, we have to go deeper than just whether they are soft or hard.

Related: Coral Reef-Safe Fish Species for Saltwater Tanks

Hard coral has a calcium-based exoskeleton, as well as six smooth tentacles. At one time, coral was believed to be more similar to plants than they are animals, but scientists have proven that corals are actually animals. Hard corals are exceptionally difficult to care for in an aquarium, as they require intense lighting amounting to 5 to 6 watts per gallon.

Hard corals also need to have ample calcium and minerals available to help them to grow and thrive. They sport a branch-like appearance, and when they die, their exoskeletons become the start of a new home for the next coral. Keep in mind that they are capable of administering a lethal stink to corals that are too close to their own territory, so always position them approximately 8 inches away from each other.

Soft corals do not have a hard exoskeleton; instead they contain particles called “spiracles” that help to hold up their bodies. Soft corals have eight tentacles as opposed to the six that hard corals have. They are less complicated to care for, as far as lighting and water quality, and they will grow fine without complication even in less than pristine waters.

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Appearance wise, soft corals are more like a mushroom, and have more variance in their shapes and sizes than that of hard. Soft corals use toxins as a defense mechanism, and so running carbon in your tank is important to remove this from the waters.

There are pros and cons to each type of coral, and like just about anything else, there is no clear cut reason to have one or the other.

Both types can add amazing visual aspects to an aquarium, and even more so if a reef contains both hard and soft corals together to create an amazing visual ecosystem. Each type of coral, regardless of whether it is hard or soft, has specific care requirements just like fish. They have food preferences, lighting preferences, and even fish preferences.

It is important for any reef keeper to remember that corals are animals, and just like any other pet research must be done to offer them the very best care possible. This may be even more important to corals considering the current state of the world’s natural reef systems. Caring for corals in a tank could mean the difference between extinction and existence – so keep on reefing, just always remember to do so responsibly!

summerSummer Davis is the mom of three kids, four dogs, and several tanks of fish. She boasts a passion for all animals, whether they are in the water or on land. This fish aficionado has kept many different species in her time, but holds a special place in her heart for wild and domestic bettas. When she’s not talking about fish, Summer “spins” her extra time as the director of a baton twirling organization.


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