I bought this beautiful Euphyllia divisa
in July of 2000. One of the common names for this coral, "frogspawn,"
is most appropriate, as it does remind me of a mass of frog's
eggs immersed in jelly. The colony I purchased had two large
main branches with about six polyps each. The whole colony
was roughly the size of a cantaloupe. The delicate green coloring
on its oral disk and knobby brown tentacles with pinkish tips
were certainly not as flashy as some of my more colorful corals.
However, I found the gentle swaying of its' tentacles in the
current pleasantly hypnotic, thus making it an immediate favorite
All was well with my new Euphyllia
until the spring of 2001. I came home from work one day to
find several polyps completely retracted into their corallites.
That was highly unusual for a coral that generally only retracted
if I pestered it. (Now don't take this to mean that I was
constantly harassing the poor thing! I refer to the time when
I had to move it from one tank to another.) Closer examination
of the withdrawn polyps revealed that the tissue was covered
in a tan-colored slime. Visions of "The Blob" oozing
out of its' meteorite flashed through my head as I realized
that I had the dreaded brown jelly infection. Aughhh! This
being my first encounter with the brown snot-like substance,
I did what any good hobbyist would do: I posted a panicked
message at Reef Central and went scrambling for my reef books.
I learned that a brown jelly infection is really a mass of
opportunistic protozoans and other microorganisms digesting
coral tissue which usually begins at the site of an injury.
Infections of this type can progress rapidly, consuming an
entire colony, and even spreading to other corals nearby.
I separated the three sick polyps from the colony, and treated
them with freshwater dips. Freshwater dips are effective because
the drastic change in osmotic pressure between freshwater
and seawater kills many of the microorganisms present without
killing the coral polyp. (Assuming, of course, you don't leave
the coral in the freshwater too long.) I'm not sure if it
was the stress of treatment, the microorganisms or both, but
after just a few days the sick polyps died. While I grieved
the loss of part of my beautiful coral, I was encouraged when
the remainder of the colony showed no signs of infection.
A week later it still appeared perfectly healthy. Three months
passed with no sign of a "Return of the Blob," and
I breathed a sigh of relief.
My relief, however, was short-lived. In
the summer of 2001, for no apparent reason, a polyp started
lifting from its' skeleton. I watched as over the course of
two days the polyp separated completely from the skeleton
and finally went floating like a fall leaf to the bottom of
I knew that polyp bailout was a form of
asexual reproduction for some corals, and I thought perhaps
the Euphyllia was trying to reproduce. Cool! I confined
the polyp to a corner of the tank by building a retaining
wall out of live rock. I assumed that the unattached polyp
would have to generate a new skeleton (Otherwise, what's the
point of bailing out?) and I was anxious to watch its' progress.
While the retaining wall seemed like a good idea at first,
the water current eventually swept the polyp over the wall
and beneath the rockwork where it died. (Not a very effective
method of reproduction!) When another polyp took the dive,
I decided stronger intervention was necessary and constructed
a small plastic mesh cage to keep the wandering polyp safe.
The difficulties of caring for a polyp in a cage included
such things as keeping algae from growing over the box thereby
cutting off light to the polyp, protecting the cage and it's
occupant from being covered in sand by an excavator-damsel,
or being overturned by a bulldozing abalone. These tasks were
child's play compared to simply keeping the polyp in the cage.
The darn polyp ended up being as talented an escape artist
as Harry Houdini! It was almost comical watching how the polyp
worked its way out of the box. The deflated polyp would somehow
end up with half its tentacles through the mesh. When it expanded
during the day, it was half in and half out of the box. The
next evening after contracting, the polyp would work the rest
of the way out of the box and I would find it floating free
the next morning. I modified the box several times (trying
to outwit the polyp) but it seemed determined to escape. Freeing
itself from its confinement during the day while I was at
work resulted in polyp number two being swept under the rockwork
where it died, just as the first polyp had. I tried again
with polyp number three, but the results were the same. Frustrated,
I gave up trying to rescue the "jumpers" and concentrated
my efforts on the polyps that remained in the colony. I did
my best to find the cause of the bailouts. Nothing was amiss
with any parameter I could test and none of my advisors had
any insight into its cause. I watched helplessly as the mass
exodus continued. In the end, I was left with nothing but
one lonely little bud that had grown just below one of the
original polyps. It seemed unlikely that this one little polyp
(indicated below with the arrow) would survive.
While patience is something I'm always
trying to cultivate, stubbornness I have aplenty, so I refused
to give up on even this one lone survivor. It was a challenge
to find a place where the little guy would be safe. The fact
that it was a very small piece of tissue on a comparatively
large chunk of dead skeleton almost resulted in its demise
on more than one occasion. It was easy to overlook the little
polyp, especially when it was contracted, and it almost ended
up in the rubble rock pile in the sump. Algae overgrowth was
a constant threat. Bryopsis had to be picked off with
tweezers, and cyanobacteria were carefully siphoned to avoid
damage to the delicate tissue. Clumsy mollusks repeatedly
knocked the coral to the tank floor, despite my efforts to
epoxy it securely in place. It seems I was constantly relocating
the polyp to shield it from strong currents and aggressive
neighbors. Feeding the little guy was another challenge. I
would drop a couple of krill pellets on its' oral disk and
then stand with my hand in the tank chasing fish away until
the food had been ingested. Despite the difficulties, the
polyp survived and started to grow.
By February of 2002, my one little survivor
had regenerated a colony that was about half the size of the
Of course, I couldn't be happier. The colony
continues to thrive. I placed it front and center in my tank
where I can once again enjoy its' gently swaying tentacles.
I guess the moral of the story is: it isn't over as long as
one polyp survives. Just ask my "Comeback kid"!