Photograph by ReefBuilders

Toadstool Leather Coral

The toadstool leather coral, a soft coral species in the Sarcophyton genus, is found on reef flats and lagoons in Indonesia and Tonga. Commonly referred to as Elegant Leather Coral, Gold Crowned Toadstool Coral, Green Crown Leather Coral, Green Toadstool, Leather Coral, Mushroom Coral, Sarcophyton Coral, Toadstool Mushroom, or Trough Coral, the colors of the toadstool leather coral are usually brown and cream.

The toadstool leather coral grows from a thick stalk at the bottom and a wide oval disk on the top. Numerous polyps dominate the disk in various colors of brown, cream, white, yellow, gold and green, while 1cm in length.

All of the polyps are connected to tentacles that cover the toadstool leather corals cap, and extend and retract based on the presence of light. Regular extension and retraction of the toadstool leather corals polyps indicate that the coral is healthy. When the toadstool leather corals tentacles are extended, the ocean currents will gently wave the tentacles from side to side, giving the coral the appearance of an anemone. The toadstool leather coral is actually capable of movement because of its ability to slowly detach and reattach from its base.

Sometimes the tentacles remain retracted for up to a week or more while the toadstool leather corals body develops a waxy coat of detritus over its head. The natural currents in the ocean will brush against this coating and eventually lift it off entirely. If there is not a strong enough current to rinse this debris off in a regular fashion it can be potentially dangerous to nearby corals, as the mucus coating contains toxic terpenoids which will settle on neighboring creatures. If the toadstool leather coral keeps its tentacles retracted for extended periods of time, it may signify a rejection of its surrounding environment.

The toadstool leather coral is much larger than other leather corals, with some corals spanning over two feet. Toadstool leather corals reach sexual maturity at a later date than other corals, with male toadstool leather corals reaching maturity between 6-8 years old and females at 8-10 years old. Female corals will grow to be much larger than males, reaching 24x24x24 compared to the males maximum size of 4x4x4. Like other leather corals, the toadstool leather coral primarily relies on its symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae for its nutritional content. The more access the toadstool leather coral has to strong lighting cuts down on the need for supplemental feeding sources, which are obtained often in the form of phytoplankton.

The reproductive systems of toadstool leather corals utilize budding, fragmentation and stolons. Budding takes place at the base of the stalk on toadstool leather corals as a coral moves from its existing location but leaves behind a piece of the coral. Polyps will form on the remaining bud to create a head and eventually develop into a new toadstool leather coral. During fragmentation, a segment of the toadstool leather coral will break off due to natural (or unnatural) environmental causes. The existing coral will regrow immediately, while the fragment will settle elsewhere and develop into an adult size toadstool leather coral. Through stolons, a piece of the toadstool leather coral grows horizontally on top of or below the reef, forming new corals at the ends. Although it is a peaceful coral with a low aggressive nature, it may crowd or dominate nearby reef inhabitants because of its sheer size. In addition, the toadstool leather corals natural defense system of chemical warfare can be dangerous to other creatures, as the toxins are produced in times of stress and overcrowding.

Blane Perun

Diver - Photographer - Traveler

Whale in Ocean