Zoanthid Corals: Ultimate Care Guide

| Updated: April 15, 2023
Zoanthid Garden

Do Zoanthids fascinate you? Here, we are passionate about all things related to these amazing, hardy, fast-growing corals. Whether you’re a beginner looking to set up a tank, an expert in search of the brightest colors, or just a fan of these coral wonders, we’ve got something for you. We’ll discuss their needs, benefits, and how to care for them properly. We’ll also provide you with some of the most stunning pictures of zoanthid colonies and share fun facts about these intriguing creatures. Join us as we explore the world of zoanthid corals and learn why they have become so popular in the aquarium hobby.

What are Zoas?

Zoanthid corals, also known as sea mats, zoanthids, button polyps, and zoas, are a type of hardy, fast-growing, brightly colored coral that make a great addition to any reef tank. These polyps come in a variety of colors and morphs, so you can find the perfect zoanthid for your tank. Zoanthids prefer bright light, as they rely on their zooxanthellae for nutrition.

They also feed on bacteria, algae, and other small food particles. To get the best growth from these corals, it’s recommended that you target feed them periodically with appropriately sized food (although this isn’t always required). Be sure to wear protective gear and always wash your hands when handling them, and don’t forget that corals are animals, and animals like to eat! Some species of zoanthid coral also produce a toxic chemical called palytoxin, so handle them with extreme care. If you’re looking for a hardy, fast-growing, brightly colored coral, look no further than zoanthid corals – they won’t disappoint!

SalinityNormal ocean salinity (1.025 specific gravity)
TemperatureTropical water temperatures (78F/25.5C)
RegionFound in shallow reefs in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Indo-Pacific.
DifficultyZoanthids are forgiving/tolerant of different lighting and placement, making them a great option for beginner hobbyists.
AggressionZoanthids are generally peaceful but can release a toxin called Palytoxin, so be sure to wear protective gear when handling them.

Zoanthid Placement:

When it comes to placement, the general rule of thumb is to place zoanthids in an area of low-medium to medium-high flow. Too much flow may make it hard for the polyps to open. You’ll know your zoanthids are happy if they open and are fully extended without seeming to stretch too far upright. Look to the vibrancy of the color of the coral as an indication of how much light the coral needs. The more intense and fluorescent the color is, the more likely the coral has been exposed to high-intensity lighting up to that point. The more dull, drab, or darkly colored, the more shaded the zoanthid coral’s existence has been, typically.

When it comes to flow, zoanthids are fairly forgiving. The polyps are able to close their tentacles when currents are too strong, so you don’t need to worry about them being blown around. However, too much flow can be hard for them to open, so you want to find a balance. If possible, try to mimic the flow that the zoanthids were exposed to in the wild. Generally speaking, you want to aim for a flow that is gentle yet consistent.

Zoanthid Lighting and Par:

Zoanthid lighting is an important factor when planning your next zoanthid garden. While they don’t require as much light as other reef inhabitants, they still need some light to thrive. Thankfully, it’s easy to get the right lighting for your zoanthid garden.

To start, you want to make sure you have bright, focused lighting. Zoanthids are photosynthetic and need light to absorb nutrients from the water. Aim for an intensity of between 80-120 PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation). You can use either metal halide or LED lights to achieve optimal light levels.

You may not need as much light if you have a smaller tank or shallow water. In this case, you can use a lower-wattage bulb or a fixture with a lower Kelvin rating. You can also choose to use actinic bulbs, which have a higher Kelvin rating and are perfect for shallow water.

One thing to remember is that you want to distribute the light throughout your tank evenly. This will help ensure that all of the zoanthids get the light they need. You can also experiment with different lighting schedules, such as alternating between metal halide and LED lights throughout the day.

Finally, when setting up your zoanthid garden, make sure you give it enough time to adjust to the light. Keep the lights on for at least 8 hours a day, and gradually increase the intensity over the first two weeks. This will allow the zoas to get used to the light and will help them to stay healthy and vibrant.

Most zoanthids are rather forgiving and tolerant of different lighting so that you can place them almost anywhere, excluding the darkest and brightest extreme areas of the tank. Many of the most popular name-brand zoas, like fruit loops, orange bam bam, fire and ice, and whammin’ watermelon, have eye-popping colors that will show the best when placed under actinic lights. You could place them higher in the water column, too, provided you properly acclimate them to the light intensity.

Feeding Zoanthids:

Feeding your zoanthids is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of saltwater reef keeping! They are some of the hardiest and brightest corals around, and they will reward you with plenty of growth if you feed them properly.

Zoanthids, like many other corals, have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, which provide them with energy in the form of photosynthesis. This means that in order to keep your zoanthids healthy, you need to make sure your aquarium is adequately lit. If your zoanthids aren’t getting enough light, they won’t be able to make use of the zooxanthellae, and their growth will be stunted.

If you want to see your zoanthids really thrive, you should provide them with a supplemental food source. It’s not necessary to feed your zoanthids every day, but they will benefit from being fed a few times a week. The best way to target feed your zoanthids is to use a thick food mixture that is heavier than water. This will cause it to slowly fall on the polyp and allow the zoanthid to open its mouth and take in the food.

It’s important to remember that zoanthids are animals, and they need to eat in order to survive. If your zoanthids aren’t eating, try changing the size or type of food you are offering. Some zoanthids are pickier eaters than others, so you may need to experiment a bit until you find the food that your species prefers.

If your zoanthids are having difficulty competing with other inhabitants of the aquarium, such as macroalgae, you may want to consider adding algae-eating crabs, snails, or sea hares. These animals will help keep the competition in check and allow your zoanthids to thrive.

Sports and Competitions:

They are a staple of many reef tanks, with their bright colors and hardy nature. But even though they are one of the hardiest of all corals, they can still be challenging to keep healthy. Here are some of the common problems that hobbyists may encounter when keeping zoanthids.

First and foremost, one of the most common problems with zoanthids is their sensitivity to water parameters. Zoas require stable and consistent water parameters; any sudden changes can cause them to close up and eventually die. Make sure to keep an eye on your salinity, pH, and other parameters to ensure your zoanthids stay healthy.

Another issue that can affect zoanthids is predation. Zoanthids are particularly vulnerable to predators, including fish that may nibble on them, as well as small invertebrates such as zoanthid-eating nudibranchs. If you notice your zoanthids slowly disappearing, this is a sure sign that something is eating them.

A third potential issue with zoanthids is something called zoa pox. This is a disease characterized by tiny growths on the sides of affected zoas, and it can cause them to close up and eventually die. If you notice this, you should treat it with an antibiotic such as Furan-2.

Finally, one other issue you may encounter with zoanthids is the competition they may face from macroalgae. Macroalgae can try to grow over zoanthids, so you may need to add some algae-eating crabs, snails, or sea hares to help your zoas compete.

Overall, zoanthids can be a great addition to your reef tank, but you need to be aware of the potential problems that can arise and be prepared to handle them. With the right care and attention, your zoanthids should remain healthy and colorful for years to come!

Diet and Nutrition:

Looking for the perfect additions to your zoanthid garden? Zoanthids are a popular choice in the reef tank world, thanks to their easy care and unlimited range of dazzling colors. But where should you buy them? Here’s a quick guide on where to get the best zoanthids for your tank.

Online stores are a great bet for Zoanthid shopping. You can often find a wide selection of zoanthids that are shipped directly to your door. Just make sure you research the store’s reputation and check out their reviews before placing your order. One of our favorites, QAC (Queen Anne’s Corals), usually has some fantastic zoas at great prices.

Local Shops:
If you’re lucky enough to have a local fish store nearby, you can check out their selection of zoanthids in person. This is a great way to make sure you’re getting the best quality since you can get a closer look at the specimens.

Some people prefer the thrill of bidding at auctions for their zoanthids. This can be a great option if you’re looking for rarer specimens, but it’s recommended that you research the seller and auction rules before jumping in.

Zoanthid Clubs:
Don’t be afraid to join a Zoanthid club! It’s a great way to meet other hobbyists, learn tips and tricks, and get access to special offers. You can even get special deals when buying from fellow members.

So there you have it – your guide to where to buy zoanthids for your tank. Now you’re ready to start building your dream zoanthid garden!

Zoa Palytoxin: DANGER!

It’s time to talk about zoas and palytoxin, a topic that is always on everyone’s mind, especially after cases like palytoxin poisoning in a UK family a few years ago make the news. Now, before we dive in, I want to reiterate that I feel terrible for everyone affected by that case, and I hope that they are doing well.

So, what is palytoxin? It’s a chemical compound produced by certain species of zoanthids, parazoanthids, and palythoa. It can be found in their tissues, which can be released into the water column when these corals are disturbed, such as during scrubbing or moving the rocks they are on. It’s a pretty potent toxin – if it comes into contact with human skin, it can cause irritation, blisters, and in some cases, serious illness.

Now, in the UK case, it was initially thought that the source of the palytoxin was a pulsing xenia coral. However, this was never officially confirmed, and there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not the palytoxin could have come from a zoanthid or palythoa. The United States Centers for Disease Control published a report in 2012 that looked back at 10 palytoxin poisoning cases, and all of them pointed to some form of zoanthids as the source of the toxin.

So, what does this mean for us as reef keepers? Well, it means that we need to be extra careful when handling our live rock and corals. We need to be mindful of the potential for aerosolizing the toxins and take steps to minimize their creation. We also need to be aware of the potential for palytoxin to be present in our tanks, even if we don’t have any zoanthids, palythoa, or parazoanthids.

At this point, it’s not clear what the best course of action is if you think that you have palytoxin in your tank. The CDC hasn’t given any definitive guidelines, but I would suggest removing the rocks and corals with as much ventilation as possible and getting them all the way out of the house.

At the end of the day, we all want to make sure that we’re taking the necessary steps to keep our tanks safe and healthy. So, let’s keep our eyes open and remain vigilant when it comes to palytoxin and other toxins.


Zoanthids are a great addition to any aquarium, and with the right care, you can create a dazzling display of color and movement in your tank. Whether you’re looking for something to add a little bit of extra color or are interested in creating an entire zoanthid garden for your aquarium, zoanthids are a great way to go. Just remember to take your time and research the proper care requirements for your particular species, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the beauty and splendor of your new zoanthid garden!


What are zoanthids?

Zoanthids are a type of soft coral found in many of the world’s oceans. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, and they’re popular in saltwater aquariums due to their hardiness and beauty. Zoanthids are easy to care for and can create stunning displays with careful planning.

How do you care for zoanthids?

Zoanthids are fairly easy to care for! They require moderate lighting, moderate water flow, and regular feedings of small amounts of food. You should also make sure to keep the tank clean and free of excess nutrients.

What kind of lighting do zoanthids need?

Zoanthids prefer moderate lighting, so you should use a light that’s between 80 and 120 PAR. You should also make sure to keep the light on for 8 to 10 hours per day.

Can I keep zoanthids in a reef tank?

Yes, zoanthids can be kept in a reef tank. However, you should make sure to provide enough space between the zoanthids and other corals, as some species can be aggressive toward each other.

How can I create a zoanthid garden?

Creating a zoanthid garden is a great way to add color and interest to your tank! Start by choosing a variety of different colors and shapes of zoanthids. Once you have your selection, you should place them in the tank in a way that creates an interesting pattern. Make sure to leave plenty of room between the colonies to prevent aggression. Finally, use rock and sand to create a natural-looking landscape, and you’ll have a beautiful zoanthid garden in no time!

Shane Elliot Author Image
Shane Elliot

Shane Elliot is a pet lover and a coral enthusiast. He has been keeping saltwater aquariums for over ten years and enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with other hobbyists. He writes about coral care, fish compatibility, aquarium equipment, and more. He also covers topics related to other animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and reptiles. Shane works as a freelance writer and editor when his menagerie of pets allows it.

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