Published on May 10th, 2013 | by John Clipperton


Fire Coral – Millepora alcicornis

SCIENTIFIC NAME/S: Millepora alcicornis, m. dichotoma
PHYLUM: Cnidaria
CLASS: Hydrozoa
ORDER: Milleporina
FAMILY: Milleporidae
GENUS: Millepora
RANGE: Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: The Fire Corals of the Milleporidae get their common name from divers who have brushed against their powerful and painful stinging hairs. Although they bear a passing resemblance, they are not actually stony corals at all, instead being Hydrozoans, and more closely related to jellyfish. Widely distributed in tropical and subtropical waters across the world’s oceans, they grow on rocks in a variety of forms, including branching, plating and encrusting. Generally abundant on upper reef slopes, reef crest, and in lagoons, they can also occur down to depths of 40 metres. Anatomically, their polyps are almost microscopic and are mostly embedded in the skeleton (Millepora actually translates as ‘thousand pores’). Protruding from the pores are hair-like polyps that possess clusters of potent stinging cells, which serve to capture prey. As well as prey capture, they gain nutrients via photosynthetic zooxanthellae which live symbiotically inside their tissues.

CAPTIVE CARE: Perhaps the primary concern in the care of Fire Corals is that their fragile skeletons can be broken very easily. This means that special care should be taken in the shipping of specimens, and in their introduction to a system. Although the powerful stinging hairs can usually be induced to contract simply by wafting the coral, being stung is a real possibility. Thin skin such as that on the back of the hand or wrist is likely to be affected the worst, and such a sting can cause intense pain which may take up to 2 weeks after the event to fade. Requiring high light and strong water circulation, Millepora sp. can be reasonably hardy, even tolerating less than perfect water conditions. Although hey pack a powerful sting, it doesn’t seem to bother certain species. Certain hawkfish, for example, may use the colony as a perch, resting on their skinless, and thus immune, pectoral fins. Although common in the wild, Fire Corals are not frequently collected specifically for ornamental purposes, perhaps due to their rather plain colouration. They are far more likely to occur as extras that come in accidentally. If so, take note that they have the potential to compete vigorously for space if they take hold in a system.

Written by John Clipperton

About the Author

An award-winning photographer and lifelong aquarist, John has worked for numerous marine retailers, publishers and manufacturers on a freelance basis. He has also collaborated on a range of projects with senior aquarium experts, and supported organisations such as zoos, public aquaria, conservation initiatives and educational establishments.

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