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A tale of two corals


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One of the most common corals offered to reef aquarists is the open brain coral Trachyphyllia geoffroyi, and for as long as I’ve been in the hobby, I’ve seen occasionally offered specimens of a different open brain coral called “wellsophyllia,” a.k.a. the Pacific rose coral. However, as it turns out, this less common open brain, which has long been given the name Wellsophyllia radiata, is actually just a form of T. geoffroyi. Yep, they’re really the same species, and this month I’ll explain how two corals have become one, and give you some care and shopping tips for them/it.


A Tale of Two Corals

First of all, the “regular” open brain, which has always been called T. geoffroyi, has a skeleton that usually has a cone-shaped base, which typically develops into something of a figure-eight shape as they get bigger. These most commonly come in various mixes of fluorescent shades of green and red, with some being almost entirely green, others being almost entirely red, and many that are something in between. When it comes to common names, specimens that are predominantly green are accordingly called green open brains, while those that are predominantly red are called red open brains. Still, they can sometimes come in other forms, being perfectly round to very elongated, and may even have more of a clover-leaf or convoluted shape with several prominent lobes. They can also come in shades and mixes of brownish, pinkish, or even bluish colors, as well. So you can see that there can actually be a good deal of variability in their appearances.


Likewise, wellsophyllia also typically comes in a range of greens and reds. However, they’re always distinctly round in form and have a flattened bottom rather than a cone-shaped one. While I couldn’t tell you where I got this information from anymore, at some point in the past it was thought that W. radiata also lived on/was collected from hard bottoms in deeper waters, while T. geoffroyi lived in shallower, soft-bottomed environments. Thus, it was thought that the two corals were not just separate species, but were actually members of two separate genera, Trachyphyllia and Wellsophyllia.


This idea went away though, as coral experts eventually decided that these apparently different corals really weren’t that different after all, and that’s how Wellsophyllia radiata became Trachyphyllia geoffroyi. If you look in older coral books you’ll find both of them, but you’ll no longer find W. radiata in coral biology/identification books such as Veron (2000). On top of that, it has also been observed that both of these corals are sometimes found living side by side in the same environment, and that there’s a continuum of shapes that spans the variety of forms exhibited by the “regular” open brains and the round ones that were always called wellsophyllia (Borneman, 2002). So, for a few years now they’ve all been called Trachyphyllia geoffroyi and are apparently nothing more than different-looking forms of the same coral, which are referred to as morphotypes (morph means “shape” or “form”). However, I still see occasional specimens being offered at a retail shops or online that are called wellsophyllia anyway.

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