This study examined the trophic ecology of the zoanthid Palythoa caribaeorum in tropical reefs and evaluated its role in the energy flow in that ecosystem. Colonies of this species were sampled in the infralittoral zone of reefs in north-eastern Brazil in 2008. We calculated the richness, total abundance, relative abundance and frequency of occurrence of prey items. The biovolumes and weighted biovolumes of prey were calculated to characterize the most important food items in terms of their biomasses. To evaluate the selectivity, zoanthid and plankton samples were collected in 2010. Pennate diatoms were the most abundant and most frequent prey and, together with invertebrate eggs, constituted the most important food items in terms of their biomasses. There were no significant differences in abundance or richness among the different beaches studied, nor between the different seasons. The mean size of prey items within the polyps was significantly smaller than of the general plankton, indicating that P. caribaeorum selected for (or limited) certain prey sizes. This species predominantly fed on diatoms, and did not take advantage of many other prey items abundant in the plankton. Our results indicate that P. caribaeorum is suspensivorous and feeds principally on small phytoplankton. As this species is prey for benthic organisms such as polychaetes and nektonic organisms, our results indicate the importance of this zoanthid in tropical reef ecosystems as a primary consumer that serves as an energy transfer link between the planktonic environment and the nektonic and benthic spheres.