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What is Tube Coral?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 21, 2024
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Tube coral is a type of asymbiotic stony coral. The term "tube coral" includes several species in the genus Tubastraea, which differs greatly from many other stony coral genera. Found around the coast of Fiji, the Solomon islands, and Indonesia, this coral is also popular in home reef aquariums.

Also commonly called sun coral, sunflower coral, or cup coral, tube coral differs from most coral in many significant ways. Unlike most coral, whose small polyps secrete stony skeletons that are joined together, tube coral has large polyps which overshadow the secreted skeletons. Also, instead of being found on the sea floor, tube coral can most often be found in underwater caves, suspended from the ceiling.

Most coral live in symbiosis with microalgae called zooxanthellae, which provide the coral with nutrients via photosynthesis. Tube coral lacks zooxanthellae and so has to provide its own sustenance. Because of this independence, tube coral is considered asymbiotic. Since it does not need to rely on photosynthesis for its food, it has no light requirements and is often found where there is little light.

Tube corals capture their prey. Their primary food source is zooplankton, tiny organisms which are carried along by the ocean's current. For this reason, tube corals always live in areas that have a strong current.

Like all coral polyps, tube coral consists of a tube-like structure attached to a surface on one end and topped with a mouth surrounded by tentacles at the other end. When the coral is not feeding, the mouth is closed and the tentacles are drawn in. The tentacles extend and the coral resembles an anemone when feeding. Tube corals are usually shades of orange, but one species Tubastraea micranthus is black.

Popular in home aquariums, tube coral can usually be purchased in lengths of 2–5 inches (5-13 cm). This coral can be kept in well lit or dark places, since it neither needs light nor is harmed by it. Tube coral is considered moderately challenging for the home aquarium owner, however, since its feeding requirements are unusual. Additionally, this coral normally feeds at night, though it can be trained to feed during daylight hours, so its striking tentacles can only be seen after dark.

Captive coral must be placed in an aquarium set up to provide at least moderate currents. The coral is then fed from an eyedropper each evening. Brine shrimp or plankton are common foods for these corals. Black tube coral is rare in captivity because of the strong current and increased food availability it requires to feed properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is tube coral?

Tube coral, belonging to the family Tubiporidae, is a type of marine organism that forms long, tube-like structures composed of calcium carbonate. These corals are sessile, meaning they are anchored to the ocean floor, and they possess vibrant colors, often in hues of pink, red, or purple. Unlike many other corals, tube corals do not have symbiotic algae living in their tissues.

Where can tube coral be found in the ocean?

Tube coral predominantly thrives in shallow, tropical marine environments, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. They are commonly found at depths ranging from just below the low tide mark to about 20 meters deep, where sunlight can easily penetrate, allowing for the optimal conditions for their growth and the rich marine life that surrounds them.

How does tube coral differ from other types of coral?

Tube coral is distinct from other corals primarily in its skeletal structure, which is composed of parallel tubes connected by horizontal platforms. This unique formation sets it apart from the branching or massive structures seen in other coral species. Additionally, tube corals lack the symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae algae that is typical in many reef-building corals.

What role does tube coral play in the marine ecosystem?

Tube coral contributes significantly to the marine ecosystem by providing habitat and shelter for a variety of marine life, including fish, invertebrates, and microorganisms. Its complex structure offers protection and breeding grounds, enhancing biodiversity. Moreover, tube corals, like other coral species, help in the formation of coral reefs, which are crucial for coastal protection and nutrient cycling.

Is tube coral endangered, and what are the threats to its survival?

While not all tube coral species are endangered, they face threats similar to other coral species, such as ocean acidification, climate change, pollution, and destructive fishing practices. These factors can lead to coral bleaching and mortality. Conservation efforts are essential to protect these organisms and the intricate ecosystems they support.

Can tube coral be kept in home aquariums, and if so, how can they be cared for?

Tube coral can be kept in home aquariums, but they require specific care to thrive. Aquarium enthusiasts must maintain stable water conditions, with appropriate salinity, temperature, and pH levels, along with moderate water flow and lighting. It's crucial to research and replicate their natural habitat as closely as possible to ensure their health and longevity in captivity.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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