Man, have things changed with this grouping the last few years.  At about the time of my last revision here (mid-06, I believe), most of the acros sold were ‘wild’ colonies, choices were a bit limited as collecting sites were few, and there was much debate over identifying acros.  Now, propagated corals make up more than half of U.S. sales (or so I’m told), with many hobbyists even ‘fragging’ and selling their own.  Certainly, more choices are available than ever as new collecting sites are opening up every year (Australia just recently, for instance), and, well, there is still much debate over identifying acros. The differences here seem to be that a few years ago, the debate stemmed from everyone trying to reach agreement on the ‘scientific’ names of given Acropora while at the same time also trying to convince the hobbyist to eschew common names altogether.  The problem with this, unfortunately, is that despite some of the excellent identification guides out there such as Veron’s series, the best chance of ID-ing CAPTIVE corals could apparently only be gleaned from the skeletons, and THEN only by experts in the field.  That’s because most Acropora species bear little resemblance in our systems than they do on the reef.  We can’t even begin to replicate the intensity of the light they receive, the water flow they receive, and the food they receive ‘back home’. No wonder they look so different when placed in our pathetic little reef tanks. And then, to complicate the matter, there’s the point of our systems even being different from each other!  More variables. Heck, I once had two frags from the same mother colony grow differently from each other simply due to placement in my own tank.  Had I placed them in yours, I’m sure they’d have looked differently still!.  The fact that this happens is, I believe,  the cause for one of the most common disagreements between buyers and sellers of Acropora today.  The buyer feels ripped off because his piece of ‘Mulberry Marmalade’ grew to be fuschia and leggy instead of deep purple and squat like the picture advertised by the seller.  It COULD be the same coral though; the seller simply has his colony growing up high under 400W radiums and in hard, chaotic flow while the buyer placed his frag near the bottom, receiving medium flow, under 250W 10Ks.  Consequently, there seems to be much less of an attempt at identifying corals by their scientific names these days. And given the problems with this, I suppose I understand. But what  I AM having trouble with is what has happened to even the common names today!  Just a few years ago, I thought Tyree’s Purple Monster was about as ‘out there’ as a coral’s name could get.  Today, a wish list reads like a bakery menu, the cast of a Star Wars movie, or a room full of Medievel furniture. I’ve even recently been made aware of acros named Joe, which I hope the vendor hasn’t copywritten or my brother is in some really deep trouble.

I DO get it, of course.  You can no doubt squeeze a few more bucks out of a Montana Blue Yeti frag than a A. tenuis frag, but I’m not sure we’re moving in the right direction here.  I’ve already seen instances of the exact same coral given several designer names. I’ve also seen corals suddenly dubbed Limited Editions and sell at auction for prices usually reserved for the tanks we’re supposed to put them in.  But I’ve also seen instances of that very same coral, once it’s successfully propagated and distributed by hobbyists, drop in price (and, oddly, in popularity) faster than those Ayds diet candies did in the 80’s (“I mean, dude, that stag is sooooo last year’.). Great, so NOW what are we supposed to do with ‘em?  Toss them?  Antique our stands and try to pass off our displays as vintage aquaria? And exactly how does this prepare the next generation of researchers and reefkeepers to advance the science or the hobby ?  Look, as I diehard capitalist, I’m the last person to tell someone how they should spend their hard earned money.  I’ll even admit to having a few of those name-brand ‘rarities’ myself! But I acquired mine either because I had a genuine interest in the coral or because it given to me?and I had a genuine interest in the coral. And while I realize every acro that has a name these days is not a Limited Edition, it is my opinion that the hobbyists who DO choose to play the bandwagon game, meaning the purchasing of every ‘designer’ piece they come across just to say they’ve got it, are truly hurting the rest of us.  After all, NOW how can we ask our wives with a straight face, “What is it with you guys and shoes?”

So, how do I plan to handle this identification nightmare here in this gallery then? By number; each piece will be assigned a number, at least as a way of introduction. Then, if that piece came with a common and/or designer name, I will mention that also, along with the ACROnym (see how I did that?), STM. That stands for ‘Sold To Me’ as.  This will immediately get me off the hook if my Pot ‘O Gold Mille is the same coral as your Sunset- Over-Tucson Prostrata. Sorry it had to come to this but I don’t want any fighting on my website, okay?  Another reason for the STM label is to show you how sometimes there ARE honest (or otherwise) mistakes in identification from vendors so, as the saying goes, buyer beware.  All numbers will be preceeded by the letter ‘N’, by the way, which simply stands for ‘New”.  This is to differentiate the newer (post-crash) corals from the older (pre-crash) stuff, just in case my webguy decides to archive the previous site.

Now, along with that information, I will even attempt, at times, to present the piece’s scientific name, but only if it was a STM or if I’m relatively sure of what it is. And finally, I’ll give you a brief bit of info on each piece, where it is in the tank, and anything important regarding it’s health, care, and feeding.  Not bad for free, huh?

Then with that being said, welcome to my ‘SPS’ gallery.  At this point in time (3/10), I have over 75 different colonies of the so-called Small Polyped Stony corals, all but one in my display tank.  If you count Echinopora (Chalice-type corals) and Cyphestria (I’ve seen them included on both ‘SPS’ and ‘LPS’ lists), the number grows well into the 80s.  This is far too many, even for a tank of my size but I planned it this way because (1) I didn’t want the display to look overly barren in the beginning and (2), I figured once things started to grow in, I could easily frag or trade away pieces I was less happy with.  In any event, right now these corals range in size from a ½” frag to a colony that measures over 12” across.  Due to the crash, none but the Cyphestria, is over 2 years old.

All but one of these colonies came as frags and THAT one was advertised as maricultured. Also, I acquired them from several places; online vendors mostly but, in addition, from LFS’s, other hobbyists tanks, and even from public aquaria.  But no matter where they come from, they all get pretty much the same treatment before I put them in the display:

1.      A 15-30 minute temperature adjustment.  Generally, I just float them in the same bag they came in.

2.      A drip acclimation. I’ll usually set the drip rate at about 3 drops per second and acclimate until the volume triples.

3.      A 5 minute dip in Two Little Fishes Coral Cleaner, or 15 minutes in either Lugols or Tropic Marin Pro Coral Cure, after which I will visually check for problems, pests, and eggs.  I will also check by blowing on the piece AND the plug with a turkey baster.

4.      A 6 hour Interceptor bath.  Interceptor was originally designed as a heartworm medicine for dogs but has been found as a cure for ‘red bugs’ on Acropora.  It can only be obtained by prescription from a veterinarian.  For more information on red bugs, Interceptor, and its precautions, go here:

http://reefs.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=45859

And for pictures of Red bugs:

http://www.smallreef.com/img/BUGS2/pics.htm

This ‘SPS’ acclimation process can take as long as 10 hours, start to finish.  And while other hobbyists run the gamut from just dumping them in to a quarantene period of two weeks or longer, I’ve found this method works pretty well for me as my losses are very low and I appear to be relatively pest free.

Lately, there seems to be a movement toward the notion that these pests are really no big deal, the assumptions being that almost everyone has or will have them, their numbers ebb and flow

without treatment, and the damage they do is minimal.  I am not completely sold yet, though the only infestations I’ve had to deal with were Vermetid snails and red bugs.  The bugs seemed to be selective, only choosing a few corals upon which to congregate but, as I recall, they seemed to weaken those pieces considerably.  I’d think they could harass a frag to death. And perhaps while a large tank may be able to host a population of these invaders, can a smaller tank?  Hopefully, I’ll never get to know because as long as there are AEFW’s (Acro Eating FlatWorms), monti eating nudibranchs, or anything else eating anything elses out there, I’ll continue to do my routine.

And just where do all these little beasties come from all of a sudden?  We older reefkeepers can remember a time when our biggest problem was Aiptasia! Now it seems like every few years, someone ‘invents’ a new creature specifically designed to eat us out of reef and home.  WTH?  Well my good friend, author, photographer, and diver Tony Vargas believes they were with us all along.  Up until recently though, when we purchased wild colonies, many of those colonies came with acro crabs, remember?  Well, perhaps those crabs served a purpose and perhaps that purpose was house cleaning.  Perhaps they actually controlled the infestations we seem to chronically face today.  I can buy that.  It seems too coincidental that with upswing in frags there seems to be a parallel upswing in the stuff that eats ‘em.  The only thing I can’t understand however, is why someone hasn’t yet propagated acro crabs! I mean, is there a problem with that?  Are we waiting for someone to ‘invent’ a creature that’ll eat them first too?  Geez, let’s go guys. Do I have to think of everything?

And another ‘SPS’ issue I get asked about quite often is ‘what’s the best method to mount frags’?  Hell, I don’t know; they all pretty much suck as far as my experience has shown but I’ll tell you what I do.  I make a ‘sandwich’ out of Boston Aqua Farms reef gel and D&D two part epoxy, with the gel on the outsides and the epoxy in the middle.  If the frag is on a small aragonite plug, I simply snip off the plug part completely, trim the remaining disc as close to the frag as possible, then place a dollop of gel on the bottom of the disc.  I’ll then press the disc into an already made ‘ball’ of epoxy, which I’ll have waiting on a small plastic dinner plate, until it’s relatively flat (don’t use too much epoxy.  It’s the weak link here anyway).  Oh, and in regards to the epoxy, make sure you’re hands are dry before you work it.  I don’t know why but even damp hands turn this stuff into crap?literally, in terms of consistency. Next, scrape the whole thing off the plate (a well used Kent algae scraper works well for this) and add another dollop of gel to the underside.  Sometimes, I’ll cut a crosshatch pattern into the base of the epoxy so the gel can really get up in there, and place the newly mounted frag in the tank where you want it.  You don’t have much time before the gel sets so hopefully, you did a dry run first.  Hold in place for a minute or so while applying gentle pressure if possible Also, make sure you’re fingers haven’t bonded to the gel or you’ll end up pulling everything off again when you’re done.  Yeah, it’s messy and probably way overly complicated but once you master it, you’ll be able to mount frags vertically, perpendicularly, and in places you never thought possible?like your forehead if your fingers bond to that reef gel.

If my frags come mounted on ceramic plugs, disks, or those monsterous black ORA things, I’ll usually try to pry them off before proceeding with this method.  A few words of warning though; sometimes it’s better to just cut the frag off of it’s plug rather than trying to force up the whole thing.  I’ve had more than one frag actually go airborne then break into pieces while trying to salvage every single polyp.  Better to cut off what you can, and if you have a frag tank, try to grow another piece from whatever’s left behind.  Also, whenever working with unmounted frags using this method, be extra careful not to get gel or epoxy on the ‘stalk’ of the piece itself.  What I generally do with unmounted frags is use a pair of tweezers when pressing the piece into the epoxy thereby creating only two small pressure points instead of?well, you know.  You won’t have all the leverage you normally would but a solidly mounted dead frag still looks sillier than a slightly wiggly live one. Or is that just me?

So by the way, then, why did I say I thought all the methods of mounting captive coral to captive live rock pretty much ‘sucked’?  At least all the methods I’ve tried anyway. Because they do.  In fact, before they encrusted onto the live rock around them, I probably had to reset two or three frags every week, knocked over by snails, Emerald Crabs, or by fish chasing each other just to tick me off. There is an alternative however, and it does not suck. You simply drill the appropriate holes in your live rock and glue your mounted frags into them. Now, you’d need a Labrador Retriever to pull them over.  But it’s that very permanence that causes me a problem. I just like to experiment with placement too much.  Maybe that piece is getting too much light while perhaps this one is getting too little.  Or maybe the wife simply wants me to see a Tyler Perry movie.  In any event, I gotta keep my options open, even if they suck also.

And now, on to my ‘SPS’ gallery: