10 Best Corals for a Nano Reef Tank

10 Best Corals for a Nano Reef Tank

With more and more hobbyists opting for nano reef tanks instead of their larger counterparts; it is imperative to ensure that the corals kept in these small aquariums are ideally suited to the conditions they provide.

Selecting corals for a nano tank can be burdensome as one has to make choices bearing in mind that smaller-sized tanks offer very limited space and as such limit the size, quantity, and to an extent— type/diversity of the corals that can be stocked.

Not forgetting other demerits that nano reef aquariums possess; such as difficulty in maintaining pristine water quality and stability of water parameters due to the lesser volume of tank water.

Therefore, the ideal corals for a nano reef tank would be species that have proven over time to be hardy and resilient; in order to tolerate the fluctuations in temperature and water chemistry.

Also, the preferred corals should possess compact sizes, be of peaceful disposition, and lastly, they should be easy to care for. In terms of growth rate, an exception can be made for that — since corals can be fragged when they attain large sizes.

Having considered these factors, we have identified a good number of coral species that make excellent candidates for a nano reef tank.

My Top 10 Corals for Nano Reef Tanks include the following:

  1. Zoanthids (Zoanthus sp.)
  2. Duncan coral (Duncanopsammia axifuga)
  3. Starbust Polyp (Briareum sp.)
  4. Caulastrea (Caulastrea furcata)
  5. Acan Coral (Micromussa lordhowensis)
  6. Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia sp.)
  7. Pulsing Xenia (Xenia sp.)
  8. Mushroom Corals (Ricordea)
  9. Birds’ Nest Corals
  10. Hammer and Frogspawn Corals (Euphyllia sp.)

Best Corals for Nano Reef Tanks

1. Zoanthids (Zoanthus sp.)

How to Care for Zoanthids CoralsZoanthids or zoas as they are fondly called by hobbyists; these corals are widely known due to their ease of care, hardiness, and availability in a variety of attractive color morphs.

Zoas are good choices for nano tanks as little as 10 gallons (40 liters) because of their relatively small polyp sizes and moderate growth rate, and they can thrive in confined environments having minor swings in water parameters.

Zoas comprise a lot of coral species that possess interesting forms and a mix of cool colors that can hugely transform a reef aquascape into a beautiful, captive marine ecosystem.

Note: Toxicity exists in some species of Zoanthids. Therefore, one should be cautious when fragging the polyps to prevent palytoxin from making contact with the eyes or open wounds. Thus, wear safety goggles and gloves when handling these corals.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Flow: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

For more information, read the article “How to Care for Zoanthid Corals”.

2. Duncan coral (Duncanopsammia axifuga)

How to Care for Duncan Corals (Duncanopsammia axifuga)This is a popular fast-growing LPS coral suitable for all reef hobbyists regardless of their level of experience. Duncan coral is prized for its beautiful fleshy polyps, peaceful disposition, ease of care, and ability to thrive in reef tanks with low – medium lighting and medium flow.

The species can be housed comfortably in a 15-gallon tank (60 liters), hence earning it a deserved spot on my list.

Duncan coral grows fast, so you have to frag the coral head from time to time to keep it small.

An interesting feature of this coral is its ability to change colors depending on the tank’s lighting. From observation, actinic lighting makes its whole body glow magnificently, and the movement of the long fleshy polyps is really fun to watch.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Moderate to fast
  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Flow: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

For more information, read the article “How to Care for Duncan Corals”.

3. Starbust Polyp (Briareum sp.)

10 Best Corals for a Nano Reef Tank - Starbust Polyp (Briareum sp.)Yet another suitable coral species for nano reef tanks. Starburst polyps (or Mat Polyps, Daisy Polyps) are identified by the presence of numerous eight-leaved tentacles on each polyp.

They measure roughly 3 inches (about 8 cm) but can grow over 5 inches (12 cm) depending on the tank’s conditions. So, they can be easily kept in tanks as small as 10 gallons (40 liters).

Starburst polyps are easy corals and they are good indicators of water quality— they tend to retract their polyps quickly when there are severe changes in the water parameters.

Starburst polyps or Eight tentacle polyps do not attack other corals, instead, they will encrust rock and remain in the tank without any hassle.

This coral species requires moderate lighting and moderate water flow to grow optimally and thrive in a nano reef tank.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Flow: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

4. Caulastrea (Caulastrea furcata)

10 Best Corals for a Nano Reef Tank - Caulastrea (Caulastrea furcata)Caulastrea, also known as the Trumpet or Candy cane coral is one of the favorite species of coral for a miniature reef aquarium.

This LPS coral is quite hardy and relatively peaceful. It has short sweeper tentacles (up to 2 inches or 5 cm), so keep that in mind if you decide to put anything to close to it.

 It has several, fleshy tubular polyps which ease the fragging process. This is a great beginner’s coral.

Candy cane corals grow in colonies whereas each polyp is about 0.4 inches (1 cm) in diameter. The minimum tank size for housing Caulastrea sp. is 10 gallons (40 liters). Opting for a larger tank is even better as it allows for adequate spacing amongst the corals.

Candy cane coral exists in different color variations (vibrant or fluorescent green, blue, purple, and yellow) which tend to pop under blue lighting, and this makes a great spectacle.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Moderate to fast
  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Flow: Low to moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

5. Acan Coral (Micromussa lordhowensis)

Acan Corals or Acans (Micromussa lordhowensis)Acan corals are wonderful additions to well-established nano reef tanks.

These LPS corals are certain to adorn the lower regions of your nano aquarium with a myriad of vivid and fascinating coloration which occur in contrasting shades of red, blue, orange, yellow, purple, brown, pink and green. There are lots of color morphs to explore!

Acan coral can be housed in a variety of tank sizes, even in a 10 gallon (40 liters) tank, as long as the water parameters are stable.

This coral prefers low – moderate lighting intensity and flow, and they do not tolerate drastic changes in water chemistry like most LPS corals.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Flow: Low to moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

For more information, read the article “How to Care for Acan Corals”.

6. Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia sp.)

Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia sp.)Also known as GSP, Daisy Polyps, Mat Polyps, Starburst Polyps, and Eight Tentacle Polyps, this beginner-friendly soft coral is perfect for filling up spaces in the lower and mid-sections of a nano reef tank.

These corals grow by spreading a mat that encrusts all nearby hard surfaces, including other hard corals or living rock. With time Green star polyps will spread to the entire surface of the tank.

GSP is so hardy and easy to care for that it is possible to keep them even in super small nano-tanks like 5 gallons (20 liters).

Attach it to the substrate or rocks and it will attain an impressive growth form in record time.

Don’t forget to maintain enough space between your colt coral and other corals in your aquarium. Even more, it would be better to put aggressive corals (like Frogspawn, Torch corals or something similar) along the perimeter of the Green Star Polyps. They will help you to prevent any expansion.

Fragging Green star polyps is also very easy, so don’t hesitate to cut them down when they grow big once again.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Flow: Moderate to high
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

For more information, read the article “How to Care for Green Star Polyps”.

7. Pulsing Xenia (Xenia sp.)

Xenia Corals (Xenia sp.)Pulsing Xenia or Pom Pom coral is an amazing soft coral species prized by reef hobbyists because of the rhythmic pulsing or pumping action of the polyps. This phenomenon is entirely unique to Xenia corals and still fascinates owners and scientists to this day.

This distinct activity in conjunction with its impressive color morphs makes it a top choice for hobbyists.

Pulsing Xenia can grow in small tanks as long as you are able to keep their colonies in control! Its rapid growth can become overwhelming. Therefore, I’d start with a 15-gallon tank (60 liters).

preferably under moderate lighting and moderate-high flow, in addition to the availability of stable water parameters.

This hardy coral is equally a fast-grower, so you should be ready to frag the colony after a few months or it will overgrow and cover your nano tank.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Flow: Low to moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

8. Mushroom Corals (Ricordea sp.)

10 Best Corals for a Nano Reef Tank - Mushroom Corals (Ricordea yuma)
photo by Metal

Also on my list of best corals for nano reefs are the mushroom corals of the genus Ricordea which contains two species — Ricordea yuma and Ricordea florida.

Ricordea corals are known for their compact sizes and bright pigmentation. They come in a variety of colors, including blue, green, purple, orange, and yellow. From these color variations, the green variant is the most common.

The body of these corals are fleshy and their tentacles are short and rounded/berry-shaped. Despite being a soft coral, it has similar physical attributes with corals of the order Scleractinia (stony corals) with the exception of a calcified skeleton.

Ricordea corals are hardy and capable of withstanding variations in water parameters, they do well when — placed on the substrate of nano reef tanks, fed smaller invertebrates, and provided with moderate to high lighting and relatively low flow.

Because of its semi-aggressive nature, it’s best to maintain adequate spacing between Ricordea and other sessile organisms.

These Ricordea corals grow only up to 3 inches (8 cm). Their small size makes them a great addition to any nano tank. However, because of their temperament, you need a few inches of space between the mushroom and other types of corals. Therefore, the minimum tank size is 10 gallons (40 liters).

  • Care Level: Easy to moderate
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Flow: Low to moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

For more information, read the article “How to Care for Ricordea Coral”.

9. Birds’ Nest Corals (Seriatopora sp.) 

Birds Nest Corals (Seriatopora hystrix)
Birds Nest Corals (Seriatopora hystrix)

Once the coral has adjusted, you can expect it to act much hardier than when first inserted into the tank. 

As the name implies, Birds’ Nest Corals will grow quickly to assume a shape similar to one of a bird’s nest with pink, yellow, green, or purple, branches.

This is because their hard skeleton composed of calcium carbonate, with small polyps that grow at various points along the structure. 

Birds’ Nest Corals require mature tanks and stable water chemistry. So, as long as you meet their requirements, they will thrive.

A 10 gallon (40 liters) tank should be the minimum size for these corals. More is better and can provide extra room to space out your corals when needed.

  • Care Level: Easy to moderate
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Flow: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful 

10. Hammer and Frogspawn Corals (Euphyllia sp.)

How to Care for Frogspawn CoralsEuphyllia corals are equally suitable additions to nano reef aquariums.

Species such as Hammer coral (Euphyllia ancora) and Frogspawn coral (Euphyllia divisa) can be introduced into a 20-gallon tank (80 liters). On condition that the colony will be fragged periodically to minimize its size.

Note: However, the Torch coral (Euphyllia glabrescens) is not ideal for confinement in nano reefs because they possess long sweeper tentacles with potent cnidocyte that can lethally torch other tanks inhabitants, including its relatives.

The branching varieties of Hammer and Frogspawn corals are more resilient. They grow faster and they are easier to frag due to the possession of a branching/phaceloid skeleton.

Moreover, polyps of Hammer corals are shaped like an anchor or hammer while that of Frogspawn corals resemble a mass of frogspawn.

Both species will do best in moderate lighting and water flow. Avoid high/direct water flow, as well as artificial lighting sources that emit too much heat to prevent damage to the coral’s tissue.

Also, the sweeper tentacles of Euphyllia corals serve as a defense mechanism, so endeavor to keep them distant from other corals to prevent all sorts of competition and chemical warfare.

Euphyllia corals may provide refuge/protection to clownfish, hairless orangutan crab, and commensal shrimp species.

These corals can be acquired in small frags. Simply place them on the substrate or affix them to live rock and soon, you will be rewarded with lots of motion and a pop of bright colors in the nano reef tank.

  • Care Level: Easy
  • Growth Rate: Slow to Moderate
  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Flow: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

For more information, read the articles:

In Conclusion

If you are looking to add corals to your nano reef tank, we hope you find this list helpful. The listed corals are those that can be properly kept within the confines of a nano reef tank, and most importantly, they are hardy and tolerant of changes in water parameters — but that’s no excuse to be negligent.

So which species of coral should you acquire? It all boils down to what you seek to achieve: a mix of Zoas will add a lot of color and depth to your nano tank. Mushroom corals (Ricordea) can be paired with Acans or Duncan coral to create a stunning display — you should see the fluorescent polyps of the Duncan coral glow under actinic lighting, absolutely remarkable!

Colt and Xenia coral will make a great pair in a nano reef due to their distinct character, movements, and attractive growth forms. Also, Euphyllia corals are resilient and adapt easily to varying tank conditions, but the possession of sweeper tentacles means you have to be careful while housing them with other corals.

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