There are a lot of opinions about how and what to feed SPS and LPS corals. An online search reveals so many ideas that it can be hard to sort out which information is correct.
The truth is there is no one right way for all reef aquariums. Each reef tank is set up differently. Your reef tank is not exactly like my tank. The lighting, water flow, and coral population is unique.
Reef hobbyists, commercial coral farmers and marine biologists have been raising SPS and LPS corals for many years. One would think that a standard feeding regime would have been developed. The truth is everyone feeds corals differently, many times with great results.
One thing all successful captive coral growers understand is nutrition is key to strong growth. They’ve developed several time-proven feeding techniques that will work for you. We’ll take a close look at the latest and best corals foods you can use in your reef tank. Then we’ll explore what is known about coral nutrition and feeding behavior.
Best Coral foods for LPS and SPS
1. PolypLab Reef Roids
Reef-Roids is a blend of naturally occurring species of marine zooplankton. PolypLab developed Reef Roids for hard-to-feed Goniopora corals but soon discovered all filter-feeding invertebrates liked to the food.
Zooanthids, mushrooms and other filter-feeding corals all responded positively when offered Reef Roids.
The formula does not use ordinary fish meal as a protein source. Reef Roids takes a proprietary blend of naturally nutritious high-protein plankton and processes it into 150-200-micron particles which are the ideal for all types of filter-feeding corals. Each particle contains protein, lipids and trace elements. Reef Roids are rich in astaxanthin, a natural color-enhancing carotenoid found in zooplankton.
The nutritional and natural color enhancing ingredients are said to stimulate vigorous coral growth with more intensive coloration. Reef Roids can be target fed, broadcast into the water or blended with other foods.
2. Fauna Marin
Fauna Marin is one of the largest coral farms in Germany.
The company raises thousands of LPS and SPS corals in addition to other invertebrates and marine fish.
Fauna Marin Ultra LPS Grow and Color is specially formulated for feeding LPS and AZOOX corals. The food is in pellet form.
Fauna Marin recommends feeding twice a week by placing an individual pellet into each polyp. This is a high-protein food (75%) consisting of marine proteins, lipids, Omega 3 fatty-acids, marine oils, antioxidants and trace elements. The company recommends turning off water flow until the corals can ingest the pellets.
3. Two Little Fishies Marine Snow
The Two Little Fishies company was started by famed reef-keeper Julian Sprung. Julian has been keeping corals for over twenty years. His aquarium experience led to the development of Marine Snow liquid coral food.
In nature phytoplankton, zooplankton, bacteria cells and other organic particles stick together with natural polymers. These particles form a nutritious matrix that floats through the water like snowflakes. Marine snow is consumed by filter feeding invertebrates like SPS, LPS, giant clams and sponges.
Two Little Fishies Marine Snow is a liquid suspension of sea-based phytoplankton, zooplankton and dried seaweed meal. The microscopic particles range from about 20 up to 150 microns. The food particles mimic the planktonic food web found in coral reefs. Each particle is a nutritious packet of vitamins, trace elements, enzymes and fatty acids that provide corals the energy they need to thrive in a reef aquarium.
The recommended dose is 5 milliliters for every 20 gallons. You can add Marine Snow near the outlet of a water pump or use a target feeder. It may be helpful to turn off your protein skimmer when feeding Marine Snow.
4. Kent Marine Phytoplex
Kent Marine Phytoplex is a liquid suspension of natural, aqua-cultured phytoplankton. The food consists of Nannochloropsis, Tetraselmis and Isochrysis algae species. The algae range in size from 2 to 15 microns.
Phytoplex is formulated for feeding SPS corals, sponges, clams, scallops, bryozoans, tunicates, sea fans, filter-feeding sea cucumbers, and many annelid worms such as feather dusters and Christmas tree worms. This is a low-nutrition food containing 0.4% protein, 0.2% fat and 0.02% Omega-3 fatty acids. Kent marine Phytoplex is best fed with a target feeder but can be broadcast into the water flow from a return or flow pump.
5. Coral Frenzy
Coral Frenzy is a fine powder made from marine fish protein, salmon roe, krill meal, Paracoccus bacteria, Schizochitrium microalgae, arctic copepods, spirulina, artemia, rotifers, Dunaliella salina algae, Bacillus subtilis bacteria and Bacillus licheniformis bacteria.
The company claims a 45-gram jar can feed a 100- gallon reef tank for 2-3 months. The protein level is (min) 53.7%. Fat is (min) 18%. The particle size ranges from 53-1700 microns.
Coral Frenzy is recommended for SPS, LPS, zoanthids, softies, and other filter feeding reef organisms. The powder is mixed with water to wet it then either target fed or poured into the water stream.
6. Red Sea Reef Energy
Red Sea Reef Energy is a unique 2-part liquid diet for filter-feeding corals.
Reef Energy is formulated to be a complete coral nutrition feeding formula that provides amino acids and vitamins corals utilize for coral growth and coloration.
The Reef Energy A liquid stimulates extension of the polyps and soft tissue, helping the coral to optimize nutrient uptake by expanding its surface area for absorption.
Energy A is a blend of carbohydrates, amino acids, fatty acids and suspended protein flocks which are filtered out of the water by the corals. The suspension of protein flocks stimulates the natural bacteria that naturally populate the coral tissue. Reef Energy A will increase mucus production for better capture of food particles.
Every ingredient is said to be metabolized in the processes of coral protein production and soft tissue regeneration and therefore does not introduce any unnecessary organic material to the system. Reef Energy B contains vitamins and amino acids needed by SPS and LPS corals. Red Sea states Reef Energy B replenishes the exact vitamins and MAA (marine amino acids) produced by Zooxanthellae. Reef Energy can be target fed or poured into the water flow.
Benepet’s Benereef is a powdered formula consisting of Lactobacillus, Saccharomyces, and Bacillus bacteria species blended in with salmon fish meal, freeze dried planktons, brine shrimp, rotifers, copepods, yeast, corn starch and calcium powder.
Astaxanthin and Spirulina are added for color enhancement. The ingredient list also includes “super foods.”
Benepet says that the bacteria in Benereef are eaten by the coral. The bacteria are said to remove ammonia and phosphate, lowering the chances of algae problems in the aquarium. The powder size is 3 to 3000 microns. Benepet provides a feeding schedule for using Benereef. The powder is wetted to activate the bacteria then dispersed into the aquarium.
8. Hikari Coralific Delight
Hikari, best known for their fish foods, is a Japanese company specializing in aquarium foods. Coralific Delight is a unique food that can be fed in two ways.
When mixed with a small amount of water and allowed to thicken, the food can easily be target fed directly into the polyps. This method is recommended especially for LPS corals.
Hikari’s “Squirt & Go” method involves a more dilute mixture that is target fed close to the polyps. The idea is to let the food drift into the polyps. The main ingredients are Krill meal, xanthan gum, krill extract, cassava starch, lecithin and wheat flour.
The xanthan gum is what makes the product thick when added to water. The formula also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals including ferrous sulfate, magnesium sulfate, zinc sulfate, manganese sulfate, copper sulfate, calcium iodate. Hikari promises your corals will grow faster and have bright coloration.
9. Seachem Phytoplankton
Seachem’s liquid Phytoplankton product contains Thalassiosira weissflogii, Nannochloropsis and Isochrysis algae. The blend is said to contain the proper ratio of fatty acids, carbohydrates, and proteins. The algae cells range in size from 1-20 microns. The solution is fortified with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Astaxanthin, a synthetically-produced color enhancer and anti-oxidant is also included in the ingredient list.
Seachem recommends pouring one capful (5 ml) for every 50 US gallons as a broadcast feeding. Seachem does not recommend target feeding this product. The manufacturer warns that target feeding may overwhelm the corals.
10. Oyster Egg Feast
Aquaculture Nursery farms (ANF) raises many types of live and prepared foods for marine fish and reef invertebrates. Their Oyster Egg Feast contains ovarian tissue and oyster eggs. The ovarian tissue is 1 micron and the eggs are 200 microns in size. Aquaculture Nursery Farms recommends Oyster Egg Feast for LPS, SPS and Zooanthids as well as fish.
The company recommends storing the oyster eggs in the refrigerator. It has a six-month shelf life. Oyster Egg Feast is used at a rate of one tablespoonful per 100 gallons each day. A high flow rate is recommended to keep the eggs suspended in the reef tank. Corals will capture and consume the eggs. The food can be used with other corals foods too. Alternate between foods every few days.
ANF says that after three months of feeding with Oyster Egg Feast your corals will show a dramatic increase in growth and coloration. The product label contains no guaranteed analysis of nutrient levels.
11. Nutramar Ova
Nutramar ova, formerly known as TMC Gamma Lobster Eggs, is a popular fish food for hard to keep species like dragonetts, pipefish, anthias and seahorses. But it’s also a great food for LPS and SPS corals. Nutramar Ova is made from all-natural prawn eggs. The eggs are naturally high in nutrition and are an ideal size for feeding corals.
The frozen food pack contains millions of tiny eggs. The flat package is frozen, containing only water and prawn eggs. Break off a small piece and thaw in tank water. The eggs can be broadcast with high water flow or target fed. The eggs contain a minimum or 31% protein.
Coral nutrition 101
Small polyp stony (SPS) and large polyp stony (LPS) coral tissue contain zooxanthellae (zo-zan-THEL-ee) species of dinoflagellate algae, specifically Symbiodinium microadriaticum.
Some zooxanthellae can swim in the water by moving a pair of whip-like flagella. Zooxanthellae living inside the coral lack flagella. In fact, they spend their entire lifecycle inside the coral tissue.
There are different types of Zooxanthellae algae responsible for the bright coloration of coral tissue. The photosynthetic pigments, fluorescent proteins and non-fluorescing chromoproteins are inside the algae. There are at least nine symbiotic species along with subspecies called “clades.” The coral host provides protection, exposure to light and nutrients like carbon dioxide and nitrogen waste products.
These algae, living inside the coral, supply a portion of the energy the coral needs to survive. Through photosynthesis, the algae “feed” the coral host glucose, amino acids and glycerol. These substances are used by the coral to produce fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
At one time it was thought all corals fed on was the nutrition provided by the algae. But today biologists estimate that reef-building corals obtain about 60% of their energy from Zooxanthellae, 20% from planktonic foods and 20% by adsorbing dissolved organic compounds.
Corals need more than light
It was previously believed that all you had to do was bathe your corals with a lot of light to keep them alive and thriving in the reef aquarium. The thinking was natural reef corals live in ultra-clean water with very little nutrients and are exposed to bright sunlight. This was the paradox.
How can massive coral reefs thrive in nutrient-poor tropical waters? Marine biologists thought corals were solely powered by the nutrients released by their internal algae. But there are a number of newer studies showing reef-building corals need more energy than their algae can supply.
The nutrients supplied by the Zooxanthellae are low in nitrogen and phosphorous. Because the algae produce substances high in carbon and low in nitrogen, some marine biologists have referred to this energy source as “junk food” for corals. This is because the algae use or store most of the nitrogen (ammonium and nitrate) they absorb from the water and coral host.
Nitrogen is especially important since it is a critical component of amino acids and proteins that are used for growth and disease resistance. Phosphorus is required for building new tissue.
On the reef and in the aquarium, SPS and LPS corals capture zooplankton, algae, fish eggs and other solid foods that can be caught with their tentacles. SPS and LPS corals also send out sticky mucus “nets” that gather pieces of particulate organic matter and bacteria. These “solid foods” are ingested, digested and used to fuel new tissue growth, repair damaged tissue and form new skeletal mass.
Too much light can hurt your corals
Before continuing with our deep dive into coral feeding, it’s important to discuss the issue of artificial lighting on reef aquariums. In the early days of reef-keeping no one knew how much light was necessary to keep corals alive in captivity.
Since the algae rely on sunlight for photosynthesis, aquarists tried to duplicate the sun’s intensity above their aquariums. The approach most took to lighting was “more is better.” The thinking was many reef corals live in shallow water and with long hours of intense sunlight. So why not hit your tank with as much light as possible, right? Turns out this is wrong!
Studies of wild and captive corals under different levels of light revealed that too much light can inhibit coral growth. In fact, some corals develop bright coloration to protect themselves from excess light.
We now know that PAR (photosynthetic active radiation) are the specific light wavelengths the Zooxanthellae algae need for photosynthesis. If an aquarium light has high output but doesn’t produce photosynthetic active radiation, it’s not a good light for a reef aquarium. It won’t stimulate coral growth and can even slow down coral metabolism.
The point is, giving your corals all the right trace elements and food won’t have any benefit if there is too much light or the wrong lighting over the tank.
PAR is measured with a PAR meter. The light sensor is placed under water and sends the reading to the meter’s display. Keep in mind PAR levels are relative to the distance from the aquarium light. PAR readings are often taken at the bottom of the reef tank to get measurements at the lowest part of the aquarium.
It is also helpful to measure PAR at different locations on in the tank. The ideal PAR for reef-building corals is in the range of 100 to 400 PAR. The key point is that too much light can have a negative affect on coral growth, even with using good feeding practices.
Feeding corals live foods
In nature corals feed on a variety of live foods. Using their tentacles, polyps capture microscopic crustaceans, called zooplankton, algae and even bacteria. Live zooplankton are rich in essential trace elements, enzymes and essential fatty acids. LPS and SPS corals capture plankton and other organic particulates from the water.
Several experiments have been conducted to find out how feed in captivity and in the ocean. Nearly all the studies used newly hatched brine shrimp (Artemia) nauplii as the experimental prey. “Baby brine shrimp” are easy to culture and feed to corals, so they were used as a plankton substitute.
The brine shrimp nauplii cause corals to go into feeding mode, making it easy for scientists to observe prey capture behavior. But brine shrimp alone are not an adequate long-term food source for captive corals. Nutritionally they have adequate protein but are low in essential fatty acids. To offset this imbalance, brine shrimp can be “fortified” with fatty acids by a process called “enrichment”.
Under proper conditions brine shrimp will hatch in about 24 hours. The enrichment process takes place during the next 24 hours. First, the nauplii are netted and rinsed with clean brine and placed in a new container. Next, a commercially prepared enrichment product is added to the enrichment container. After about a day the live brine shrimp must be fed to the corals. While enrichment increases omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins C and B12, it is a time consuming and labor-intensive process.
The brine shrimp culture must be kept free of contamination or the culture will foul. Even the culturing equipment must be sanitized after each use.
Rotifers and copepods are also popular live foods for captive corals.
These tiny crustaceans are captured and eaten by corals and other filter-feeders. Aquarists have had success adding them to their reef tanks as a perpetual live food source.
But if you want to culture them in great numbers for intensive coral feeding, you’ll have to grow a separate microalgae culture to feed to the rotifer culture. It’s not hard, but the cultures take up counter space and a lighting to maintain the live algae plus the rotifer grow-out tank.
Commercial coral farms, labs and public aquariums have the room and labor force to keep live zooplankton cultures alive. Some reef aquarists really enjoy the live food culturing process. It adds a new dimension to reef keeping.
But many aquarists don’t have the time, space or desire to maintain live food cultures in addition to keeping one or more reef aquariums in their home or office. But you can buy live plankton food products for your corals.
Commercial live foods for corals
Reef aquarists will often supplement their corals feeding program with live plankton. Plankton products can be purchased from online suppliers and direct from aquaculture facilities.
Tisbe copepods are a favorite for SPS and LPS corals. They’re the perfect size range (0.7-1.0 micron) for all filter feeders including corals, clams and a variety of small “finicky” reef fish like pipefish, blennies, gobies and seahorses.
Tisbe copepods are naturally high in essential fatty acids and enzymes that boost the adsorption of nutrients and stimulate growth. They’ll also clean up the aquarium as they graze of algae and other pieces of organic debris. The liquid culture is added to the aquarium as a food source and to establish a background culture of live food.
Beware of foul-smelling live plankton products! When you open the bottle, the liquid should have an earthy or seawater odor. This is normal. If it has a rotten egg or other foul smell, the product is dead and should not be used.
What about fresh and frozen foods?
Fans of large polyp stony (LPS) corals will sometimes take a piece of fresh or frozen shrimp and place it directly onto the coral. The large fleshy types will respond to a piece of shrimp or other meaty food placed directly on the polyps.
The polyp will extend its tentacles and pull the piece of meat into its mouth. LPS corals have even been known to eat a whole fish! Large chunks of seafood are too difficult for SPS corals to consume. They would never be able to filter out a “large” chunk of meat as it flowed past the colony.
Prepared coral foods
There are a growing number of commercially prepared coral foods. Some brands provide a list of ingredients while others hide their proprietary formulas.
Typically, the foods contain essential vitamins, amino acids, trace elements, algae and zooplankton. Fish meal powder may be included to boost protein levels.
Some coral foods contain a single natural food source like oyster eggs or plankton, like copepods, rotifers or brine shrimp. These natural marine foods may be dried and ground into a powder. This can be fed as-is or blended with other ingredients like vitamins, color enhancers and trace elements.
Some products further process the powder into a refined particle or pellet. This allows the manufacturer to control the size of each particle. It also creates a food particle that is a complete diet. The pelletizing process can also help reduce the dissolution of water-soluble ingredients into the aquarium water. Instead, it increases the chances of the micro pellet reaching a coral polyp, before it has a chance to “melt” in the water.
Does feeding corals really make a difference?
For the longest time aquarists wondered if feeding corals in the reef aquarium was necessary and if it made a difference. We all know aquarium products use marketing techniques to hype their products and get attention in the highly competitive reef hobby.
An experiment with Porites compressa, Montipora capitata and Pocillopora damicornis corals tested several commercial coral foods for growth enhancement. The study demonstrated that feeding corals can cause a significant increase in growth. But the study also showed that not all coral foods produce the same level of tissue growth.
The study also used newly hatched brine shrimp nauplii as a food source. Some corals grew better on Artemia nauplii while others put on more tissue mass with a prepared food. Other feeding studies appear to confirm that there is no one ideal coral food.
These observations seem to line up with what thousands of successful aquarists and coral fraggers have been saying. The key to feeding corals in the aquarium is variety. It is a good idea to use several corals foods instead of relying on one food to fed them all.
How to feed your corals
Corals can sense or “taste” food that comes in contact with their polyps. This response is easy to see with LPS corals. A piece of food placed on a LPS results in the coral extending its tentacles to move the food into its mouth. Liquid foods disperse throughout the water and can cause SPS corals to extend their polyps.
But coral feeding involves more than just dumping food into the tank and seeing your corals react. Since our reef tanks are closed ecosystems, we don’t want to add excess nutrients that could cause a bacteria or algae bloom.
As reef-keepers, we strive to add the right amount of light, water movement, skimming. Too much of a good thing is a waste of energy, space and money. With food we want to add just enough to satisfy the coral’s needs but not enough to foul the aquarium.
Target feeding is a method of putting the food right at the surface of the coral polyps. A liquid suspension of food is sucked up into the feeding tube and aimed at the coral polyps. A small amount of food is released onto each polyp or coral colony.
Target feeding greatly reduces the amount of food bypassing the polyp. This will reduce nutrient loading in the reef aquarium. Some foods are thick and viscous, making it easier to place a drop of food onto the corals.
Many reef aquarists use the broadcast method of feeding their corals. It also feeds other reef organisms including resident live foods like copepods.
Broadcast feeding is simply pouring coral food into the water stream. The water movement in the tank carries the food particles to the coral polyps, just like plankton in the ocean. Some of the food reaches the coral. But the some gets caught in rock crevices or filtered out by the skimmer. If you’ve got a refugium, some food will end up there too.
Looking at the big picture, this “lost” food will be eaten by bacteria and even copepods and rotifers living in the tank and refugium. That’s not a bad thing. It may even help develop a thriving population of live foods within your tank. Broadcast feeding is great, as long as you don’t over-do it.
Hand feeding corals
Feeding LPS corals sometimes requires hand feeding. You can use a pair of tweezers to place a pellet or piece of fish directly onto the coral polyp. Some target feeders can be used to drop food onto the corals too.
It is helpful to reduce the flow rate inside the tank when hand feeding. It allows the LPS coral time to move the food into its mouth and not fight against water flow.
When to feed corals
There are lots of opinions on when to feed corals. Based on years of hobbyist and commercial fragging experience, there does not seem to be one particular “best time” to feed.
Corals do develop a daily biological rhythm. Reef-building corals synchronize feeding and symbiotic algae activity based on lighting cycles. It makes sense to work with and not against these biological clocks.
One commercial coral grower likes to feed a few hours before the lights begin to dim in the evening. The feeding starts off with a light broadcast feed to alert the corals it’s close to feeding time. Then the staff target feeds the frags. While water flow is normally strong, it’s cut back during the feeding period. The lower flow helps the food stay close to the polyps instead of being washed away.
You’ll have to develop a feeding regimen that works for your personal schedule. One of the benefits of automated aquarium controllers is that you can automatically regulate lighting and flow rates in preparation for feeding time.
Can I over-feed my corals?
Coral feeding is both art and science. The amount of food added is relative to the size and number of corals in your aquarium. You may have a large tank with a lot of water but only a few corals. Feeding by tank size does not make sense in this case.
Adding more food than the corals can eat is a waste and can have negative effects on water quality. As the food decomposes it release nutrients into the water. This will stimulate algae blooms and nitrate spikes. Some aquarists feed several times a month, others feed every day.
A good approach is to feed small amounts once or twice a week and see how your corals respond. Test the water for nitrate and phosphate to keep an eye on nutrient levels. The aquarium water should always remain clear. You should see no sudden algae growth on the rock or glass. The protein skimmer may make more foam and skimmate after the food is added to the tank. There’s also a chance the increased metabolism of the corals will release more organics into the water and cause a boost in skimmer activity.
Should I turn off my protein skimmer?
The answer is “It depends.” Some coral foods make the skimmer produce excess foam. If this is the case, its best to shut the skimmer down during feeding. Here’s where aquarium automation really shines.
If you feed at the same time every day, an automated system will turn off the skimmer for a set time then turn it on again. Many foods have no affect on the protein skimmer at all. Some reef aquarists leave the skimmer run all the time. Experiment and see what works in your tank.
There are a lot of corals foods to choose from along with a variety of coral-feeding philosophies. All of the foods reviewed have their place in a coral feeding program.
Oyster eggs are natural, but they’re not really like tiny plankton. Some corals love them, others find the eggs too large. A powdered food like Reef Roids is easy to disperse into the water and will be captured by SPS corals.
It’s a good idea to experiment with target feeding too. Try placing small amounts of food directly onto the colonies and see if the coral grows and colors up. Don’t expect instant results. It will take several months to see which foods work with specific corals.
Part of the fun of a reef-keeping is experimenting with a variety of foods. With careful observation you soon find out which foods are the best for your reef tank.
As always, if you have questions or comments, please post them below!