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SPS and LPS Coral: Your Guide to Care and Feeding

Sworls of Montipora aequituberculata, a core coral, attract fish at Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific, about 1,300 miles southwest of Honolulu. (Jim E. Maragos/USFWS)

Corals are among the most diverse and beautiful species of animals on the planet.
LPS coral and SPS coral make for amazing pets but require certain knowledge and equipment.

Coral Biology 101

As with any animal, it is necessary to to appreciate and understand their biology in order to best care for them.

Polyps are individual organisms that make up colonies of corals and anemones. Different species of polyps coalesce to form coral reefs. Countless types of fish and other marine life depend on the coral reefs for shelter.

Their vibrant colors and dreamlike shapes have captured the fascination of many marine biologists and nature lovers throughout history. Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations brilliantly presents their dazzling geometry. They can make unique pets that will stand out in any room of the house.

Unfortunately, changes in the aquatic ecosystems have devastated many coral reefs across the oceans. Much of this is due to human activity.

What Kinds of Corals are there?

More than two thousand species of corals have been described. They have a diverse and complex family tree.
Most can be categorized as soft or hard corals, the latter use calcium carbonate to strengthen their skeleton.
For this article we will focus on hard corals. Two of most popular types of coral for home saltwater aquarium enthusiasts are large polyp stony (LPS) and small polyp stony (SPS) corals.
The type of coral you choose will have an impact on the maintenance it requires. Inform yourself so you can choose what best suits your needs.

Getting Started

You will need to make an investment of time and money to own and maintain healthy corals in your home aquarium.

What You Will Need:

  • Aquarium/tank – What size are you looking for? Do you want an acrylic or a glass tank?
  • Lighting supplies
  • Filtration system
  • Powerhead – a type of underwater pump that creates currents to mimic those of the ocean
  • Saltwater/sea salt mix
  • Live rock
  • Test kits – You will need to ensure that salinity, pH, toxin concentrations, and other parameters are within acceptable limits
  • Heater/thermometer
  • Aquarium tools – includes cleaning tools, containers, nets and other equipment

LPS vs SPS Coral

LPS Coral

  • Less expensive lighting equipment required
  • Less maintenance (relatively)
  • More likely to breed in captivity
  • More aggressive

LPS coral are generally easier to maintain than SPS. However, it is still a challenge and you can just forget about it like that sad, forgotten plant in the office lounge. But with the right knowledge and equipment you can enjoy the company of these fascinating creatures.

SPS Coral

  • greater lighting requirements
  • greater flow requirements
  • more sensitivity to toxins

Experts consider maintaining SPS coral a more difficult feat compared to LPS coral. If you succeed here you will surely gain the respect of your fellow saltwater aquarium enthusiasts.

Feeding: Direct vs Indirect vs Zooxanthellae Algae

Zooxanthellae Algae

Zooxanthellae algae are a type of plankton that live in symbiosis with coral, jellyfish, and other ocean creatures. They rely on photosynthesis for energy. The host coral provides the zooxanthellae will shelter, nutrients, and an elevated position receive extra sunlight. In return, the coral receives up to 90% of its energy and oxygen requirements from the products of photosynthesis.

Great results will happen when you routinely spot feed 2-3 times per week or broadcast feed 1-2 capfuls per 10 gallons. Whenever possible, it is best to spot feed corals and filter feeding inverts from a small syringe or baster.

Direct Feeding

Corals with larger tentacles and mouths can be feed directly with macroscopic prey. This includes shrimp, fish, squid, krill, phytoplankton, and others. This type of feeding is appropriate for many types of LPS coral.

It is good idea to buy coral food that comes in a variety of particle sizes. Different size polyps will prefer different sizes and types of seafood. It is best to have variety in both food type and particle size.

Indirect Feeding

This occurs when coral absorb dissolved nutrients from the water. This happens naturally when fish eat food and then excrete the nutrients that the coral can then use.

You can mimic this process in your own home. Clownfish, damselfish, firefish, and blue-green chromis are examples of fish that make good neighbors for coral. Be sure that you buy LPS fish food that will contain ingredients that coral can utilize, such as plankton and shrimp.

Lighting

Corals need light to survive. Remember, corals depend on the photosynthetic zooxanthellae that live in them for energy and oxygen. This is why corals are only found in shallow ocean water.

Generally speaking, hard corals require more light than soft corals. SPS corals have even lighting demands than LPS corals. SPS/LPS corals do best with very high output (VHO) fluorescent lighting. Alternatively, compliment non-VHO T5 fluorescent lighting with reflectors.

Keep in mind that using high-powered lights will probably generate a spike in your electric bill.

Flow requirements

Water currents help corals eat, get rid of waste products, reproduce, and carry out biochemical processes such as photosynthesis and respiration.

Too little current results in dead zones of stagnant water and the nutrients will not disperse evenly throughout the tank.

Signs of much current include the presence of sand piles from being pushed around. The flow may even be strong enough to kick up from the bottom of the tank.

Most LPS corals do best with a medium current. If the flow is at the right setting, the longer tentacles present on some corals, such as Euphyllias, will be extended and should gently sway with the current.

SPS corals require a stronger flow than LPS corals. This is because they need better water quality to thrive.

Toxins: Nitrates and Phosphates

Maintaining a healthy saltwater aquarium depends on keeping toxins at acceptable concentrations. Two of the most common offenders that can accumulate and devastate your corals are nitrates and phosphates.

They promote the growth of toxic algae blooms, a condition known as green water. Also, nitrates hurt the ability of SPS coral to produce their skeleton.

Bacteria living in your aquarium act as natural filtration system. They produce nitrates as by product after breaking down ammonia and nitrites, which are extremely harmful. Unfiltered tap water or certain sea salt mixes can be another source of unwanted nitrates.

Phosphates are produced naturally in your aquarium. Decaying plants, left over food, fish feces, dead fish, contaminated water, and commercial aquarium chemicals are all potential sources.

Final Thoughts

LPS coral and SPS coral make great pets for serious enthusiasts. They are fascinating to watch and will surely wow your guests.

But no one is going to be impressed by your bleached, dying coral. Not to mention, neglecting them is akin to animal cruelty.

So make sure you are prepared to take on this responsibility. Don’t go it alone. Count on us for all your saltwater aquarium and coral needs.

 

65 thoughts on “SPS and LPS Coral: Your Guide to Care and Feeding

  1. well spoken. I think I have more thinking to do before making the jump

  2. What about calcium requirements. I’m still not sure what failed with my LPS in the past, but all I could think was calcium being low.

    1. We like to keep our Calcium at 420,

  3. Love the article

  4. Great info guys

  5. great info

  6. I love feeding my LPS – they’re so responsive and interesting to watch.

  7. thanks for the info

  8. great stuff

  9. i needed that info

  10. great info i needed that

  11. I was nervous at first but you need to take the leap and get into it. There will be troubles along the way but this is how you adapt and overcome. The rewards outweigh the risks in my eyes. Also, every tank, every coral, every condition is different. I have had stuff die in my tank where the same species directly next to it thrives and won’t stop growing.

  12. Great guide

    1. Super helpful!

  13. Always love looking at informative information, always learning something new each and everyday in the hoby

  14. Lots of good info here

  15. Very helpful info. Thanks

  16. I love the corals I got from your auction except I piggybacked shippingbwith someone that dont know how to take care of corals where left out in the cold bought I brought em back and there beautifully colored now

  17. Great info

  18. Leaning.. good things

  19. Good to know. Thankz

  20. Omg, I needed this blog. Totally book marking it.

  21. that’s alot of good info I love these blogs

  22. Really good read and reminders.

  23. Nice article

  24. Great Information

  25. Good informative article

  26. That photo of the mini caps is awesome!

  27. Great article!

  28. I love my stony corals it’s very rewarding seeing them open and thriving.

  29. SPS is definitely my favorite. Quite difficult but beautiful if cared for properly.

  30. I just got my first Acropora the other month and they seem to be doing very well. Very helpful information.

  31. I have softies zoas and sps mostly what would be good parameters for all of them the softies are zoas but good info as always

  32. Nice read

  33. Another great article. Sps are gorgeous but I’ll stick to my ponape birdsnest for the time being lol.

  34. Thank you for the great article.

  35. Jarvis Island pic? I’ve been SCUBA diving a lot in the indo-pacific over the past 20 years but never heard of ‘Jarvis Island’ until now. Now…how to find a SCUBA charter that will get my 1300 miles from Hawaii? Wow! That is truly the middle of nowhere in the best way possible.

  36. Great article

  37. Great guide ty
    Will be getting into sps soon an this came in handy

  38. Great info! Very Helpful!

  39. LPS are definitely my favorite coral type, especially Euphyllia!

  40. Good summary. Too bad it wasn’t available when I first started my mix reef. Could have saved me some $$$

  41. Nice info

  42. Thanks for the info!

  43. Love lps but will try to keep sps later.

  44. I love Los and sps this is about the 5th post I’ve made I dont know anything else to say they have all been posted but still no points

  45. Awesome read truly great information

  46. I love LPS corals and I am building a collection at this time!!

  47. Love LPS!! Building collection at this time.

  48. Great write-up. Very informative.

  49. Wonderful info here. Thank you!

  50. Always understanding your corals and the fundamentals of how they live and grow is definitely a must for me and for anyone wanting to start a reef tank. Having a strong foundation on the basic needs of coral and the other inhabitants in you tank sets you up for success. This article definitely highlights those things

  51. I’m an SPS man, but I enjoy a select few LPS coras that I can place out of the way of my sticks. Adds a nice bit of flair and movement.

  52. Great article!

  53. Great info

  54. great info.if you keep your calcium @ 420 is it ok the keep all at 8 to 10 and mg at 1400 or so or is there a ratio that needs to be kept like if your alk is 12 should everything be higher

  55. Wish more people would read before they jump right in. But sometimes, unfortunately, the best way to learn is through failure.

  56. Thanks for the info on sps

  57. Thanks for the info!

  58. Ty for this article. Very informative

  59. Thanks for this article it’s nice to see top companies giving back not only with contest but information and knowledge

  60. Love the feeding response from lps. Also can’t bear the movement with a wave maker.

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