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Soft Coral Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

soft coral care sheet

This care sheet covers a variety of soft coral species, including:

  • Leather corals
  • Mushrooms
  • Zoanthids
  • Star polyps
  • Xenia
  • Anthelia
  • Cespitularia
  • Sympodium
  • Tree coral
  • Blue ridge coral
  • Gorgonian



Soft corals are fleshy with no hard skeletal structure. Although they do not possess a hard skeleton base, except for the pipe organ coral, most soft corals form sclerites that help support the coral. Most soft corals have a symbiotic partnership with a photosynthetic dinoflagellate called zooxanthellae, which provides the coral with nutrients. Most soft corals do not require as intense lighting as their hard-skeleton counterparts. Soft corals tend to be hardier than hard corals and can grow rapidly.


Typical appearance and behavior

  • Soft corals typically have a leather or fleshy appearance
  • Soft corals are very diverse, inhabiting various environments throughout the world, even the cold polar waters
  • Some soft corals produce toxins and one palytoxin
  • Soft coral polyps contain eight tentacles
  • Cespitularia
  • Sympodium
  • Tree coral
  • Blue ridge coral
  • Gorgonian



Care Difficulty Beginner to advanced, depending on the species
Average Life Span Depends on the species
Average Adult Size Depends on the species, feeding habits and age
Diet Omnivore and photosynthetic
Minimum Habitat Size 10+ gallons, depending on species
Water Temperature 74-80°F, depending on the species, as some may prefer temperatures outside these parameters
Specific Gravity 1.023-1.025



Habitat size

Keep soft coral in an appropriately sized aquarium. A minimum of 10 gallons, depending on the adult size of the species is recommended.


Building your habitat

Water health

  • Provide proper filtration to ensure optimal water quality to help maintain health. Moderate to strong intermittent water circulation should be provided to mimic water currents and high oxygen levels found in the soft coral’s natural habitat. Stable water quality (pH, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite) and water temperature are critical to the health of aquatic life. If you are unsure of your water quality, bring a sample to Petco for free testing. The addition of a protein skimmer can aid with maintaining great water quality and high dissolved oxygen levels. An aquatic heater should be used to stabilize water temperature, ensuring it does not fluctuate more than +/-2 degrees in a 24-hour period. The specific gravity should remain stable. Do not allow specific gravity to fluctuate more than +/-0.001 in a 24-hour period


Full-spectrum moderate to high-intensity lighting is essential for many soft corals

Live rock can provide a stable location for the coral to attach to while also enhancing biological filtration



A well-balanced soft coral diet consists of:

  • Soft corals are omnivores and feed on zooplankton, phytoplankton and bacterioplankton
  • Many species of soft coral contain photosynthetic algae in their bodies called zooxanthellae, which help meet most of their nutritional needs
  • Frozen, liquid or powdered coral diets


Things to remember when feeding your soft coral:

  • Feed once or twice weekly, depending on the species
  • Calcium and trace element supplements may also be given


Soft coral care

Water care: Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your soft coral healthy

  • Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
  • Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week
  • Weekly to monthly: Change 10 to 25% of the total volume of water every two to four weeks or as needed; change filter media monthly

Avoid overcrowded conditions, which are a major cause of stress and disease

Use of copper-based medications is toxic to soft coral.


Where to buy

Various soft coral species are available for purchase at Petco online and in store; availability varies by location. If visiting your local Petco , please call ahead to check availability.




Tank mates

Soft corals can secrete a defense chemical that inhibits the growth of nearby corals and should not be placed close to other sessile (attached at the base) invertebrates. Some aquatic life may feed on coral polyps

  • Clownfish
  • Blennies
  • Gobies
  • Damsels
  • Anthias
  • Dragonets
  • Dartfish
  • Cardinals
  • Chromis
  • Tangs
  • Reef-safe wrasses



Signs of a healthy soft coral

  • Smooth body
  • Fully open polyps
  • Free of disease and pests


Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian.)

  • Loss of color
  • Tissue erosion
  • Polyps are closed
  • Limp, slumped stalk


Common health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health IssueBody or surface erosion Symptoms or CausesPoor water quality; nutrient deficiency. Suggested ActionTest and improve water-quality concerns immediately; maintain proper diet. Consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.
Health IssueBleaching Symptoms or CausesPoor water quality; stress, lighting concerns—too strong or weak, temperature and specific gravity fluctuations. Suggested ActionTest and improve water quality and/or lighting concerns immediately. Consult your local aquatic specialist or aquatic veterinarian for treatment.



  • What do soft corals eat? Many soft corals contain the algae cells zooxanthellae, which provide the coral with most of their nutritional needs, but they and the soft corals that do not have zooxanthellae also feed on zooplankton, phytoplankton and bacterioplankton.
  • What is a soft coral? Often resembling plants, soft corals are sessile colonial animals that do not possess a solid skeletal structure.  
  • How do you attach soft coral to live rock? There are several ways of attaching soft corals to live rock. Some soft corals can be fragged and placed into a crevice of live rock, where it will attach on its own. Cyanoacrylate glue can be used to attach coral to a smaller rock that can then be placed onto the live rock. Fishing line can also be utilized.
  • Is it hard to care for soft corals? Soft coral care differs from species to species. Some are easier to care for and recommended for the beginning coral hobbyist, while some species of soft coral require a more advanced level of care.


Additional care sheets


Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as atypical mycobacterium and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at for more information about aquatic life and disease.


The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.