Psammocora Coral Care
City Lights Psammocora
Psammocora are an uncommon stony coral in the aquarium trade. They are infrequently imported compared to other corals and fly under the radar of most hobbyists. I don’t typically see a lot of reef keepers go out of their way to track down this genus of corals.
It is an oddball coral in the sense that most reef hobbyists, even those that are enthusiastic about SPS tanks, are unfamiliar with it. Its appearance in many ways resembles other encrusting small polyp stony corals such as Montipora, Leptastrea, Pavona, or Leptoseris. When they grow out, the coral encrusts over the surface of the rock and can make for a bright and beautiful landscape. Some varieties can form branches but most of them are encrusting. There are structural variations from species to species within Psammocora so is understandable for hobbyists and vendors to misidentify this coral.
There is a surprising number of color morphs that Psammocora express. In the past there were only green ones that I was aware of, but over time our collection of color morphs increased to the point that it is now one of the most diverse SPS corals we are culturing. It will be interesting to see if there are more color morphs that will turn up in the future.
That is not to say that they are not abundant in the wild.
Psammocora are found throughout reefs in the Indo-Pacific including Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
When it comes to lighting and placement in the tank, Psammocora are pretty flexible. We have kept Psammocora in different lighting intensities, however we favor keeping them in aquariums with medium to high light. Anything around 100-200 PAR is a good starting point. Psammocora have consistent coloration meaning they won’t completely shift color palate in the way Acropora or Montipora will, but that is not to say that better lighting won’t bring out more desirable coloration. In my tanks at least they seem to have brighter colors and better highlights when provided more intense light than say in a dimmer aquarium under 50 PAR.
One thing to always consider is to not fry corals under too much light too quickly. Even if you plan to keep it under 200+ PAR lighting it is always a good idea to acclimate it slowly to those intensities. Lighting that is too intense will kill off a coral much faster than lighting that is too dim, so when in doubt, go with dimmer light and slowly move the coral into higher light. If you start to see Psammocora starting to bleach out, the most likely cause is high lighting intensity and I would recommend relocating the coral immediately or turning down the light if you can.Low Light
Lighting is a loaded topic, so for a more in-depth discussion of lighting, please see our Deep Dive article.
Sun Drop Psammocora
Psammocora appreciate medium to high flow. Water movement serves two main functions for corals. The first is that it carries away waste and helps prevent detritus from settling on the coral. The second function that strong water flow provides is transporting nutrients to the coral.
As a practical tip, pay attention to the flow in the tank over time. Corals like consistency and Psammocora is no different in that regard. Unfortunately, water flow is one of those things that tends to be inconsistent as a tank ages. Coral growth, especially with fast growing species reduces flow in the tank. Also, other organisms like to grow on aquarium pumps and plumbing which will reduce flow. Some pumps are really sensitive to any obstruction so it is best to routinely clean them out.
Psammocora have small polyps are you would not expect to see dramatic feeding displays, but Psammocora are a surprisingly good feeder. I say surprising because their polyps are very small and much of the time corals with very small polyps tend to shy away from direct feeding. Psammocora though can grab onto small food particles and quickly consume them. I would not go out of my way to spot feed them, but they are more than capable of eating small pieces of mysis shrimp if given the opportunity. Going back to our talk of water flow, some hobbyists like to turn off the pumps to feed the corals to give them more of an opportunity to grab food because if the flow is too strong, it usually just blows around them.
Having said that, even in strong currents these corals are likely taking in other forms of nutrients in the water such as amino acids. Amino acids are simple organic compounds that play a major role in building proteins as well as other biological functions at the cellular level. Corals regularly take in available amino acids from the water column so it is easy to provide them with adequate quantities by broadcast feeding an amino acid solution. There have been some studies that suggest water flow increases the efficiency in which the corals take in amino acids, so it is possible that what the corals lack in prey capture, they can make up in increased amino acid uptake when provided stronger flow.
Starting with the growth parameters, because Psammocora are stony corals, there are three major chemical parameters that are needed to power that skeletal growth. These parameters are Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium.
Real quick, Calcium is one of the major ions in saltwater. In the ocean, its level hovers around 425 parts per million (ppm). As a coral grows calcium is absorbed from the water and used to forms its calcium carbonate skeleton.
Alkalinity on the other hand is not a particular ion, but rather a general figure of carbonate availability in the water. There are over a dozen different ions constantly interacting with one another. Technically it is the amount of acid required to lower the pH of saltwater to the point bicarbonate turns into carbonic acid. If you have more alkalinity, it can soak up more acid. Less alkalinity and you have less buffering capacity making the tank more susceptible to chemical changes. This is why in practice alkalinity tends to be the parameter that fluctuates the most. There are a lot of different ions that could be potentially thrown off balance resulting in a dip in alkalinity.
In the wild, the alkalinity of the water is around 8-9 dkh so try to keep it steady in that ballpark. Remember, consistent levels is much more important than chasing a specific number. Even if your levels are low, I would be more inclined to just keep it there if the corals are doing well. If you do decide to elevate the levels to more closely match natural sea water, I recommend doing so slowly over a long period of time.
That brings me to the next point. Raising both calcium and alkalinity together can be tricky because of how they interact. Calcium ions and carbonate want to react with one another. Addition of a calcium supplements often comes with a corresponding fall in alkalinity levels and vice versa. If you are experiencing this in your systems, it is normal, but you really want to avoid wild swings. If you are experiencing wild swings of calcium and alkalinity every time you use an additive, you may want to look at your Magnesium levels.
Magnesium behaves chemically similar to calcium. It can bind up carbonate ions thus increasing the overall bioavailability of alkalinity compounds in the water. If you are tweaking calcium and alkalinity and getting strange results, you may want to make sure it is not your magnesium level that is low. In the ocean, Magnesium sits at about 1350 ppm and it tends to be the most stable of the three parameters.
Moving on to the pollution parameters, we have Nitrate and Phosphate.
These two parameters are the measurements of water cleanliness most commonly performed by hobbyists. We recommend shooting for 10-15 ppm Nitrate and .05 ppm Phosphate but in practice here we keep both levels higher. If Nitrate levels get too high corals may react negatively by taking on drab coloration or suddenly dying back. If Phosphate levels are too high, it may feed into an unwanted algae bloom.
There can be trouble as well if these two parameters are too low. Some people keep their systems insanely clean and that may lead to other problems because corals do need to have some present for their nutrition. Nitrate and Phosphate are compounds that they cannot get from photosynthesis alone. The corals first take on a shrunken emaciated look and then they start dying off.
That should give you a little bit of background on the chemical parameters to keep an eye on.
Let’s move onto the topic of aggression. Psammocora isn’t any more or less aggressive than any other SPS coral. If it touches another coral, it is going to fight so I always recommend giving it plenty of space to grow and to keep an eye on it to make sure that it does grow and touch another coral or get dislodged and fall into something. I have not noticed them extend sweeper tentacles.
Ok, that about does it for Psammocora. So who is Psammocora best suited for? I see it as an SPS coral for someone that is just looking for something different. It is a nice change of pace from a sea of fuzzy sticks in an SPS dominant reef.
Hopefully this blog is helpful for those looking to try them for the first time. If you would like more information or perhaps purchase Psammocora for your home aquarium, I invite you to visit us at tidalgardens.com and see what we have in stock. We are always on the lookout for new and interesting color morphs of this coral to add to our collection.
Until next time, happy reefing.