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What Are SPS Corals: Stony Corals Explained For Beginners

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SPS coral is a term that’s often thrown around when people are talking about coral. When I first got into corals I did not even know what SPS stands for, and nobody seemed to explain it. I’ve created this page to help you get a better understanding of SPS Corals.

SPS corals are a group of stony corals that are characterized by their small polyps. SPS stands for Small Polyp Stony, and describes a wide group of corals. SPS corals are the most difficult to take care off in a reef tank due to the strict care requirements.

I’ll explain more about SPS corals throughout this post. I will also continue to define SPS corals and go into the care of these living creatures so you can set up a healthy and thriving reef tank! So, continue reading to the next section! 

What Are SPS Corals?

SPS corals, also known as Small Polyp Stony corals, are a type of hard coral. As I mentioned before, these types of corals are covered in small polyps and have a stony skeletal base that houses their polyps.

Polyps are like living animals, and they are made up of several different parts. They help SPS corals thrive in underwater environments. Coral polyps are also found on Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals, but the ones on SPS corals are much smaller. This difference in polyp size is what typically separates LPS coral from SPS corals.

If you look closely at a piece of SPS coral you’ll be able to see all the individual polyps.

Here’s another great image that shows all the tiny polyps of a branch of SPS coral:

These polyps are a key part of defining SPS corals and also keep this type of coral alive. Polyps are attached to the stony skeleton of corals. They have an opening for food to enter, tentacles to capture and stun prey, they also have a stomach and roots.

In addition to having small polyps, SPS corals also have their own lighting requirements, feeding requirements, water parameter needs, and general care needs. I’ll go over this information in a later portion of the article though. This way you can fully understand SPS corals.

Still, as a general rule of thumb, SPS corals are usually more difficult to care for than LPS corals, and other types of corals. SPS corals need excellent water quality to thrive and perfect water conditions!

How to Choose an SPS Coral?

All SPS corals have a stony body and small polyps, but there is still a lot of variety to be found in this category of coral. You can find different shapes, sizes, and colors with this coral type. Some SPS corals can also be less or more challenging in terms of care.

It might be confusing trying to find the perfect SPS coral for your tank. However, I suggest considering your skill level, aesthetic preferences, and budget when picking out your SPS coral.

SPS corals are generally pretty difficult to care for, as I mentioned. However, some SPS corals are easier to care for in comparison to others. So, do some research on any corals you plan on getting. This way you know what to expect, price-wise and care wise,  when you choose your SPS coral! 

Staghorn coral or Acropora Cervicornis

The most prestigious SPS coral that people want to keep in their tanks is called Acropora. which has amazing branches and makes up a big part of reefs in nature. They’re pretty difficult, an easier SPS coral that you could try to grow first is Montipora

Montipora grows is plates/plateaus and also is covered with loads of small polyps.

What Kind of Tank Should SPS Coral Have?

The type of tank you will need will heavily depend on the SPS coral you have. Still, you want to make sure that you get a large aquarium with plenty of room for your coral to grow. This is true regardless of the SPS coral breed you have.

Water quality and parameters are much easier to control when a tank is larger. It is possible to have very small SPS corals in a twenty-gallon tank. But, I recommend going for a much larger tank, especially if you plan on growing many SPS corals!

Water Parameters For SPS Coral

There are many aspects of water parameters to consider when setting up your reef tank. Especially when you are creating an ideal environment for your SPS coral. Temperature is a big deal, as SPS will only be able to live in warmer waters.

You want your temperature to be consistent and not waver. In addition, though, calcium, magnesium, and alkalinity need to be perfected. SPS coral eats up a lot of calcium and magnesium to support their skeletal system and its growth.

Alkalinity also keeps this skeletal system from collapsing so you don’t want to mess up these parameters.  Calcium should be at around 300-440 ppm, magnesium and 1300-1400 ppm, and alkalinity should be kept at a constant 9 or 10. I suggest testing your water regularly to keep these levels in check.

Also, always make sure that your tank water is in top condition. With SPS corals, this is especially important. You don’t want the quality of water to dip ever. Otherwise, your coral could end up dying.

SPS corals are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrate levels. So, ensure that you change your tank water often and have an excellent filtering system in place!

Lighting Conditions For SPS Corals

Lighting is essential for any type of coral. In fact, corals get most of their nutrients and food through the process of photosynthesis. SPS corals do need other trace elements like calcium and magnesium, but the light aimed at them is a big part of their diet!

So, you want to get the lighting in your tank right! Each SPS coral will have different light needs, of course. But generally speaking, SPS corals tend to like moderate levels of light and even high levels of light. Do some research on your SPS breed though to get this exactly right.

LED lights are a good option for coral reefs, as well. But choose a lighting system that has enough power and the right color range for corals. Coral tend to like lighting that is more on the blue spectrum.

Food Preparation For SPS Coral

Feeding your SPS coral might also be necessary, as well. As you now know, coral also takes in calcium and magnesium from the water. They also eat zooplankton, bacteria, and algae that are floating around in the water.

In other words, SPS corals need a lot of nutrients to upkeep their skeleton and attached polyps. You can put in all kinds of food with your SPS corals. Zooplankton, small brine shrimps, and other pre-prepared food can be added to the water.

However, I recommend getting a liquid nutritional supplement for your SPS coral. You just squeeze in a little bit of this liquid into your tank and your SPS coral will get all its nutritional requirements.

Products like Reef Energy Plus and liquid zooplankton can help keep your SPS well-fed and colorful!

Water Flow For SPS Corals

Finally, you want to ensure that you have proper water flow in your SPS tank. Water flow helps keep your tank free of major waste buildup. In addition, water flow helps get nutrients flowing throughout the tank and to your coral. Oxygen will be able to saturate your reef tank much more easily this way, as well.

In particular, for SPS coral, you will want to have a high water flow. Strong circulation keeps your corals well fed. It also prevents algae from growing as easily in the water and on corals! This part of tank care is crucial for SPS coral’s health. So, make sure you have a good pump system installed in your aquarium for higher water flow!

Final Care Tips For SPS Corals

SPS are unique corals with their own personal attributes and sets of care needs. You want to make sure that you follow the advice I laid out for you. Especially when it comes to water conditions and lighting. These two factors are crucial to your SPS coral’s health!

In addition, though, be careful when placing other types of coral with your SPS coral. In particular, you want to keep your SPS coral away from LPS corals. LPS corals are known to be a little aggressive. Like SPS corals they have stingers and tentacles. They could end up using these and harming your coral. And, if your coral is nearby they will lash out! 

SPS corals are not normally aggressive themselves. But do make sure to give them space when they are in the same vicinity as other corals. Really, it is best to place your SPS with other SPS corals if you plan on having multiple colonies in your tank.

Other than this, just make sure to handle your SPS coral with care. Gently place your coral in the water. And, you always want to wear gloves. This is in case you contaminate your coral, or your coral has contaminants on them.

In some rare cases, corals can be poisonous or will try and hit you with their tentacles. This is rare for SPS corals and corals in general. But, it is never bad to be safe when handling any type of coral!

Finally, make sure that you place your coral in a prime location. As I mentioned, these types of coral thrive under higher amounts of light. You want to make sure your coral is under your light system and gets all the light and water flow they need. So, plan where you will place your SPS coral ahead of time.