Pocillopora Coral: Care Guide

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Pocillopora coral is gaining traction in the reef tank hobby. Once a fairly uncommon coral to run across in a home aquarium, this easy to care for small stony polyp (SPS) coral has begun to pick up steam as people have begun to realize exactly how easy it is to care for pocillopora, and how beautiful it is once it grows into its full size.  Pocillopora coral care is simple if you follow basic coral husbandry.

Follow along today as we lead you through a basic guide on how best to take care of pocillopora, and exactly what you can expect if you add this coral to your reef tank.

Pocillopora Coral Quick Reference Sheet

  • Care Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Tank Region:  Middle to Top
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive 
  • Lighting: Medium to High 
  • Flow: High 
  • Feeding: No, broadcast nutrients in tank will suffice 
  • Propagation: Yes, easily and without any help (see below) 

Pocillopora: Don't Worry About Growth -- Soon I'll Be Everywhere

Yes, I know, the title is a bit silly.  But there's a grain of truth to pocillopora being notorious for spreading anywhere and everywhere, once the mother colony gets big enough.  In fact, other than acroporas, Pocilloporas are the second most productive reef-builder out in the wild.  And unlike acropora, Pocillopora are not nearly as sensitive when it comes to water conditions.

This coral truly is a perfect coral for a hobbyist who is newer to the hobby, but would like to get an SPS coral, rather than just sticking with soft corals or LPS.  There is something mezmerizing about SPS coral polyp movement that just can't be replicated by other types of coral.  Not to mention that when laypeople think of corals, they will likely be thinking of SPS coral, and will be somewhat surprised if you don't have at least a few SPS in your tank! 

Placement

Pocillopora are one of the most forgiving SPS corals when it comes to placement, but you still must make some effort to get an acceptable location for this coral.  Since this coral needs medium to high light, and medium to high flow, you will most likely be looking for a spot in the upper half of your reef tank.

Take into account the types of lights installed in your tank.  If you have very bright light settings for large acropora colonies, you should put this coral a bit lower in the tank.  However, if your mushroom or zoas are doing well in the upper part of the tank, you may need to put this coral at the very top.

This coral will grow in a bristly ball shape, so take that into account to make sure you won't crowd out any other corals, or shade anything below them.  This coral will send out sweeper tentacles to sting anything that grows within about an inch of its structure. 

Lighting

Pocillopora coral needs medium to high lighting.  This can be anywhere from 50 PAR to around 200 PAR.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that it's better to start a coral lower in the tank to acclimate it to your lighting when you first get it.  It's far worse to bleach or burn a coral with too much light at the onset than it is for your pocillopora to receive not quite enough light for a few weeks.  

If your coral is bleaching and turning white, move it down in your tank immediately. 

Feeding

Pocillopora does not exhibit any real feeding response if given even small foods.  We reccomend just feeding the tank as usual, and pocillopora will get the majority of its nutrients directly from the water, or through its photosynthetic symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. 

Propagation - Did You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew?

This is the biggest topic that must be discussed with pocillopora, and may in fact turn you off getting this coral all together.  Pocillopora is well-known for engaging in semi-frequent "polyp bailout," where some of the polyps will fall out of the calcium structure and float away in the current.  

While other corals engage in polyp bailout, it's usually a last ditch effort to save itself when it's dying, and is almost never successful.  Pocillopora, on the other hand, is very successful and spreading through strategic polyp bailout.  Once your colony gets big enough, you'll likely find this coral spreading in little patches throughout the tank. 

What can be fun at first, can become very annoying over time.  If the idea of removing small colonies of pocillopora from time to time does not sound appealing, you may want to skip out on this coral altogether.  However, if this sounds fun (hey, free coral frags!) then this coral can be a great addition to any reef tank.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between Pocillopora and Stylophora?

The biggest difference is in the growth pattern of the branches.  We get this question a lot.  Pocillopora and Stylophora are both SPS corals that grow in a remarkably similar fashions.  However, Stylophora are considered a bit more difficult to keep, and do not have the same self-propagation annoyance that Pocillopora are known for.  When in doubt, look for larger branches on the Stylophora.  The branches tend to be a bit more spread out, while Pocillopora usually looks like a solid mass of branches.   

However, there are some variations in everyone's branching structures depending on the conditions of the tank it was grown in.  You will sometimes end up with the wrong coral, and shops routinely misidentify these two corals for one another.