The Leather Coral are a unique soft coral. A type of soft coral in the family Alcyoniidae, they come in rich assortment of colors and shapes, the hardiest and most readily available for the aquarium are corals in the Octocorallia, Order Alcyonacea, Suborder Alcyoniina Sarcophyton, Lobophytum, Sinularia, and Cladiella genera. These breed of soft corals can adjust their form by expanding and deflating their body or extending and retracting their tentacles.
The corals found in Alcyonacea are non-reef building variety because they lack a skeleton form; this is a direct result of them not producing calcium carbonate. Like all octocorals, leather corals have eight tentacles and eight mesentaries on their polyps. They lack the skeletons of the stony corals, but leather corals do have sclerites, small calcite pieces located throughout their bodies. Even though they are not considered hermatypic, their bodies do discard the sclerites when they die, contributing indirectly to the overall welfare of your aquarium's reef.
With their rich and colorful palette, the Leather Corals take many exotic forms and can be quite enthralling. Soft corals in general tend to cover all colors of the rainbow, but are predominantly rust, red, orange, yellow, olive and purple.
Leather Corals are primarily colonial sessile animals, meaning they are anchored steadfastly to the substrate, and from there they can be either erect or encrusting. They can have either a fleshy or leather-like texture and include some of the most vibrantly colored corals. These corals have many colorful hues, but are predominantly yellow, orange, red, rust, olive, and purple. They tend to have a more leathery feel, while other Soft Corals tend have more of a sticky and/or slimy feel to them.
Generally speaking, leather corals are a soft skinned coral with visible polyps all over their skin. The lack of a calcified skeleton structure making them a little more tolerant of some water parameters like calcium. There are hundreds of different species of leather corals. A Leather Coral can look one way in a aquarium and then (over time) look very different when placed in another tank.
As Leather Corals do not have a calcified skeleton structure, they can be more tolerant of swings in the alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium when compared to other corals. However, they have a hard time dealing with swings in PH, Temp, or salinity fluctuations which is no different than any other coral or fish.
The Leather Corals are among the easier corals to harvest they are the easiest coral to kill and one of the hardest corals for someone new to the hobby to identify as a potentially died coral. The best approach to help identify a potentially died coral is to research the coral before purchasing it so you will have a good idea of how a healthy species of the coral should look like.
The Leather Corals have very short stalks and long polyps, short polyps with long stalks, and others without stalks. Some have polyps that are colored in contrast with the main body of the animal.
An interesting fact about Leather Corals; is that some will accept a Clownfish, when no other suitable anemone is present. This has been recorded in the wild, not just in captivity. Clownfish have spawned in captivity with a Leather Coral for a host.
The most common Leather Corals are the genera Sarcophyton (Toadstool, Mushroom or Umbrella Leathers), and Lobophyton (Ridge, Rose, and other wrinkled types).
The main reason that the Leather Corals so popular and are often referred to as the 'starter Coral' could be contributed to the fact that they are a hardy, encrusted coral that will reproduce easily and requires very minimal maintains to cultivate, this makes it an ideal coral for both sea water aquarium beginners and pros. Please be warned that some species of Leather Corals are infamous for the toxins they produce, which they produce in order to keep other corals out of their territorial waters.