It’s all in the name. The name says it all. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. We have all heard countless phrases that extol the importance of a name. Last names like Miller or Baker referred to the family business while Jackson or Johnson referred to who the father was. So from this it is easy to see how names are there for clarification and to show lineage.
Organisms are classified or named down to genus and species using ‘binomial nomenclature‘, so that it is possible to separate one from another relatively easily and with some semblance of order. In the early days of the hobby, when most of the corals were brown, many of us knew the genus and species of just about every coral we kept.
Many of us could look in a tank and readily point out the Acropora valida from the Acropora nasuta or the Acropora humilis from the Acropora gemmifera, which even then most of us could not keep alive. Knowing this the name of the coral was actually useful as we could then look these corals up in the books of Veron and see where these corals grew, what conditions they preferred and what colors they might show.
This last part was often wishful thinking as we were often under the false impression that if a coral showed a little bit of color at the tips, while the rest of the colony was brown, the whole colony might actually someday show that color if we provided the proper conditions. But it also gave us an idea of what these corals could look like once we grew them out into larger colonies, which was the main goal back then.
However over the past few years things have changed, and they have changed rather dramatically. No longer are genus and species used to describe our corals, but now every coral seemingly has to have its own name and often these names have little relevance to any characteristics the coral possesses. The names provided to the corals now are done so with the idea of being able to market the corals rather than helping people understand what the coral actually is, and which helps maximize the profit on the small frags being sold.
Now I fully appreciate marketing, having worked in sales my entire career, and I also appreciate the desire and need to make money. It is my opinion that in this regard, things have gotten a bit out of control in regards to the name game for corals.
The naming of corals is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for at least the past 20 years. However what is occurring now, is significantly different than how and why the naming of corals began. As I mentioned, twenty years ago most of the corals being imported were brown, and not just soft corals, but also most of the sps and even lps corals were brown.
LED lighting had not even been thought about for a saltwater tank and most of us were happy if we could just keep the corals alive and growing. However, even under these circumstances every now and then a colorful and for lack of a better term, “special” coral would make its way into the hobby.
During this time fragging corals to propagate them was also in its infancy, but the Reefer’s Code was much stronger then, so many of us who knew our limitations for keeping a coral alive indefinitely in our tanks knew that if we came across something special we needed to share it lest it die and we never see it again. One of the first people to start naming corals was the late Leroy Headlee.
Leroy had a gift for keeping any coral alive that he got, even if it only had a few polyps on it. So since we knew this some of us gave frags to Leroy for safe keeping. After Leroy grew these out he sold frags of many of the colorful corals he got in, and in order to keep track of where they came from he named them for their source.
Hence there is the Paletta blue Acropora as well as the GARF, the name for Leroy’s company purple bonsai Acropora. I would like to point out that I have never named a coral after myself. Most of the corals that have my name associated with them were just corals that I was lucky enough to come across that I propagated and shared either via trade or gift with other hobbyists as that is how we kept rare corals in the hobby alive.
Shortly after this, Steve Tyree, who also was a collector and fragger of colorful corals took it a step further and began marketing “named” corals as well. We are all familiar with the Leng Sy cap and the Tyree Purple Monster. Steve often named the corals after the person or shop who “found” these colorful corals and he usually included not only their name but also the species of coral that it was.
This was useful in that it was helped in providing at least some information as to the husbandry the animal preferred. Because these corals were for the most part rare they commanded a higher price than the more common corals that were available. While some complained, at the time it was one of the only ways that many of us would have the opportunity to get these colorful corals.
Now however, in my opinion things have gotten totally out of control. Now when I look online virtually every coral has a name, and sadly most of the names have little to do with what the coral will look like once the tiny frag of it has grown into a colony. A simple look around some sites and I found a common green Acropora millepora listed as a Green Mamba, a Leprechaun’s Wish and a Green Fuzzy Mammoth.
And while I understand how this marketing may excite hobbyists into buying a cool named coral, I also think it does a disservice in a number of ways. First often the name has little to do with what the coral will look like when it grows out. As I mentioned in a previous article many of these frags are photoshopped to such a degree that there is virtually no chance that they will look anything like the frags that are seen in the pictures they are sold from.
I would love to see mother colonies of these corals under relatively “normal” lighting to see how closely they look like their names and how the frags compare with the mother colonies. Also since every tank differs in terms of its lighting and its parameters many of these corals morph in coloration depending on the conditions that are present.
In fact some corals can morph significantly in the same tank if they are placed to receive different amounts of light. So again even if the photo is a true representation of what the coral looks like there still is a strong possibility that it will look different in every tank. As a result it is kind of unfair especially to newer hobbyists to make them think that a coral will look like such or worse that they are doing something wrong and that is why it does not look like the coral in they bought from a picture.
I don’t really care what the name of a coral is, to be honest I do not remember the names of most of the corals I own, especially since most look markedly different from the pictures I bought them from. However I do think the name should reflect something about the coral such as species, origin or what color it might grow into.
However, this is just part of the reason why I have a problem with the naming of seemingly every coral for sale. While as I said I can’t keep track of the names of my corals, this is made even more difficult by the fact that the same coral may be given a different name by each individual selling it. Most of our corals come from the same sources and as a result there is a somewhat limited variety of corals coming in at any one time.
So when a collector or mariculture facility sends in a group of corals, they often send in a lot of the same corals. Then when wholesalers, shops or online suppliers get these corals they all have gotten corals from the same batch. So in order to differentiate themselves from one another the corals are given different names by each of them.
Again I understand the need to do marketing, but I am bothered that this adds further to the confusion about what the coral is and what it will actually look like. This confusion is added to further when many of these corals are fragged in ½” or smaller cuttings, which are then super enhanced with LED lighting, macro-photographed and photoshopped.
It is also a disservice when a coral is simply called a Purple Crayola or a Green Lantern, Acropora plana and Acropora suharsonoi respectively, and not tell the hobbyist that these are deeper water corals. So for newer hobbyists who think these look like typical high light loving corals, without their name having any relevance, they may put them in a typical Acropora spot where they will unfortunately often bleach out without the hobbyist understanding why.
I realize that we are not going back and that corals will continue to be named and that this is done for the most part to enhance their value. I also will admit that I have bought a lot of named corals over the years from just about every online vendor and shop I have visited. What I hoped to do in the article was to not only point out how this started and how crazy it has gotten, but also to try and get people to look at what a coral may become and how to keep it before they buy it.
Also I should point out that you do not have to keep the multi-dimensional rainbow orgasm coral in order to have a great looking tank. Colorful healthy growing corals, are still an impressive sight to behold whether they have a name or not.