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Do you want to know all about Montipora coral care? If so, this blog post is for you! We cover all the basics in order to keep your corals happy and healthy. There are many different types of Montipora that exist today; however, they all require the same basic care. We’ll cover everything from lighting requirements, parameters, and placement. Don’t worry, it’s easy as 1-2-3! Let’s dive in!
An Overview On The Montipora Coral
|Scientific Name||Montipora spp.|
|Common Names||Montipora, vase corals, velvet corals|
|Origin||Widely found throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans|
|Common Colors||Purples, greens, oranges, reds, blues, yellows|
|Care Level||Easy for SPS|
|Lighting||Moderate-High (150-200+ PAR)|
|Tank Placement||Middle, Top|
|Flow Rate||Moderate – High|
|Temperature Range||76-82 degrees F|
|pH Range||8.0 – 8.4|
|Salinity||1.025 or 35 PPT|
|Alkalinity||8 – 12 dKH|
|Calcium Level||350 – 450 PPM|
|Magnesium Level||1250 – 1350 PPM|
Origins And Habitat
Species of Montipora coral can be found at all depths of the reef. They are largely found throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with most specimens within the aquarium hobby originating from waters around Australia and Indonesia.
These corals are a type of small polyp stony (SPS) coral, which means that they excrete a hard calcium carbonate skeleton that houses photosynthetic zooxanthellae. SPS corals, such as Montipora, are the foundation for coral reefs as they build hard structures that shelter a plethora of life; they have evolved to be able to withstand turbid waters where other soft corals and large polyp stony (LPS) corals would be damaged by strong waves and currents.
SPS corals also thrive in intense light. Some of the most notable species, like those from the Acropora coral genus, can be found at the top of the water column under direct sunlight. Montipora corals are not as demanding when it comes to lighting, but they will still thrive in areas with lots of light available.
Plating varieties that grow outwards from the reef will also choke out any other corals that might fall in the shadow below them.
Is This Hard To Keep In The Aquarium?
In regards to SPS, Montipora is one of the easiest species you can keep in the aquarium. That isn’t to say that they can be kept by anyone, though.
Montipora corals need high lighting, high water flow, and stable water parameters. Though this might sound reasonable for beginners, many hobbyists aren’t at that point with their tanks yet. At the very least, an aquarium should be one year old before attempting to add any SPS. This will allow time for the tank to settle, for algae outbreaks to end, and to develop a true understanding of how this mini-ecosystem works.
However, if you have successfully kept soft corals and LPS and have seen growth and stability, then you may be ready to try SPS corals. On top of being relatively easy to keep, Montipora coral is a popular entryway SPS species due to the many different varieties, shapes, and colors it’s available in.
Montipora can come in branching, plating, and encrusting coral varieties in almost all colors. Alongside with birdnest corals, the montipora is considered a good stepping stone into advanced SPS species like Acropora corals.
What Does Montipora Coral Look Like?
Montipora can be somewhat challenging to identify since it can come in so many varieties and be categorized under many designer names. In general, it’s best to know the general attributes of each type of Montipora coral variety regardless of the color or common name given.
The most popular branching species of Montipora coral is Montipora digitata. From there, the most common colors of Montipora digitata are orange (‘Forest Fire Montipora digitata’) and green (‘Green Montipora digitata’).
Like other branching SPS corals, branching Montipora grows into fascinating, complex structures. These corals have thicker branches with antler-like tips. The polyps are very concentrated and can create a very fuzzy appearance. A healthy branching Montipora will have white tips that indicate new growth.
Though these corals will grow towards the light on their own, new growth will start to shade out any old branches below. Because of this, it’s often necessary to regularly frag and trim the colony for optimal health.
Plating Montipora is probably the most popular variety of this particular coral species and definitely one of the easiest to recognize. Most specimens of plating Montipora coral belong to Montipora capricornis, though true identification can be difficult.
These corals are aptly named after their mostly horizontal circular growth. Plating Montipora corals have a rough texture with polyps that do not extend very far. These corals will continue to expand outwards as far as they can, but will eventually start to plate upwards as well.
Though plating Montipora coral brings another dimension to the reef aquarium, a colony can take up a lot of space. Due to its outwards growth, it eventually shades out anything that grows below it. This can take a lot of real estate from the rest of the reef; because of this, many hobbyists try to place them as low as lighting allows.
Encrusting Montipora corals aren’t as popular as branching or plating varieties, but they’re still a good choice for bringing some additional color into the reef aquarium. Most encrusting corals will belong to Montipora verrucosa, though this is not always true.
This coral has a very hard and bumpy appearance; the individual polyps are barely noticeable. They do not come in as many color options as the previous varieties of Montipora coral and are mostly limited to orange, green, and purple.
Encrusting Montipora quickly grows over rock and other structures in the aquarium. Though they are not the most obvious coral in the aquarium, they can bring unique color and texture.
Placement In The Reef Aquarium
In general, all varieties of Montipora coral can be placed in the middle or top of the tank. They need moderate to high light and moderate to high water flow. Based on the setup of the aquarium, this could even allow Montipora to be grown farther down towards the substrate.
The most important factors about placing Montipora coral are adequate and even water flow, especially with branching varieties. Branching Montipora can quickly create a dense cluster of coral which can lessen water flow. This means that nutrients and gas exchange lessen, which can start to affect the overall health of the coral over time.
This can be solved by adding more water flow or fragging the corals to increase water circulation once again. In general, it is also best to have random water flow throughout the tank rather than unidirectional water flow to keep debris from piling up in one spot. This can be achieved with multiple pumps or ones that have a randomized setting.
Do they Need High Light?
Yes, Montipora needs high light. As one of the least light-demanding species of SPS, they still need at least 150 PAR with appropriate frequencies and intensities.
Like other corals, Montipora can be acclimated to higher portions of the tank over time and many have successfully been kept at areas receiving 200-300+ PAR. If they are not receiving enough light, they will usually start to lose their color and may even turn brown; if they are receiving too much light, they will start to bleach.
A brown Montipora is usually a sure sign that the coral is not receiving enough light, though this could also be due to other stressors as well. Shadowing is also a problem with SPS corals as they get larger. This is more pronounced when using LED lighting. It’s best to work with a high end LED light like an EcoTech Radion. or consider a hybrid system when working with a heavily stocked SPS tank.
The newest Radion G5 is a massive update to the prior generation. It's the light of choice for pro level reefers.
How Do You Place Encrusting?
Though branching and plating Montipora corals don’t need much special consideration in regards to placement, many hobbyists choose to keep their encrusting species on rock islands.
While SPS growth isn’t fast at first, it can start to become exponential in a very short period of time. This is especially true with encrusting Montipora that will shamelessly grow over anything that it can, including pest algae and other corals.
In order to control the spread, many hobbyists dedicate a certain area of the tank just to encrusting Montipora. It is also a popular option to allow it to grow up the wall of the aquarium, though many hobbyists prefer a green star polyp (Pachyclavularia violacea) backdrop instead.
Temperament In The Aquarium
One of the best things about Montipora coral is that they are almost completely harmless to other corals. These corals have barely any sting and will not hurt other corals they come into contact with. However, this is not true if they come in contact with other corals.
SPS are delicate animals. They do not have much ability to sting and tend to bleach if you look at them the wrong way. Because of this, it is crucial to keep more aggressive corals far away from SPS colonies.
LPS with long sweeper tentacles are especially to blame as they can quickly hit a branch of SPS and cause injury. Though most Montipora are able to recover from injury, there is time for infection and algae to grow which can negatively impact the overall health of the coral.
If attempting a mixed reef, make sure that there are distinct zones of aggression, allowing plenty of space for sweeper tentacles and potential growth.
Care And Maintenance
Montipora coral does not require a lot of maintenance. If an aquarium is stable, it is most important to keep that stability. When dealing with SPS, that mostly means maintaining water parameters through dosing.
Because SPS corals build calcium carbonate skeletons, they need a good supply of nutrients, including trace elements and alkalinity and calcium supplementation (like E.S.V). Since Montipora coral is a faster-than-average growing coral, dosing might also be necessary to keep up with growth even if the colony isn’t large and if there aren’t many other SPS in the aquarium.
Great For Beginners
ESV B-Ionic is a great 2 part solution that works for all levels. Approachable for a beginner to use and can be used for all reef tank builds.
Each system will be different and dosing frequencies and amounts can only be determined by recording and documenting how nutrients are used throughout the tank. It should also be noted that some species of Montipora are much more forgiving of instability and less-than-optimal conditions than others.
The main parameters you may need to dose for successful Montipora coral growth are alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, and trace elements. It is necessary to analyze how these levels change with and in between water changes to determine how much dosing is necessary.
As new water is circulated throughout the aquarium, nutrients are used for skeletal growth. This depletes nutrients, which can only be added through new water or through dosing; in order to minimalize maintenance and to increase daily stability, it is simpler and more effective to dose.
Because of this need to dose, many hobbyists equip an auto-doser to their system. These can be costly at first, but they will add the exact amount of product needed to maintain ideal levels and eliminate the need for additional upkeep.
The Best Dosing Pump
With great premium features like the ability to auto change water and an industrial level pump, the DOS is the best piece of equipment you can purchase today for your doing needs.
If you are running a very clean system in regards to nutrients, then it might also be necessary to dose nitrates and phosphates–though, most reefers are usually trying to bring these two parameters down instead of increasing them.
It might seem counterintuitive to feed SPS as they lack fleshy polyps that will quickly accept foods, but SPS actually appreciate broadcast feedings every now and then; target feeding is not recommended and can actually cause the coral to retract.
Most of the food your coral needs will be given through the photosynthesis processed by symbiotic zooxanthellae. However, you may supplement feedings with amino acids and zooplankton.
Chemically, amino acids are the backbone of proteins. Increased proteins mean increased growth, which can improve the size, color, and overall health of the coral. On the other hand, zooplankton can be processed as regular food.
As Montipora coral gets most of its ‘nutrition’ from lighting, amino acid and zooplankton supplements are not regularly needed and should not be overdone; some systems that run higher nutrients don’t need them at all. In low nutrient systems, supplemental feedings should be done one to two times a week at the most.
Again, the schedule will depend on how your system responds.
What Are Good Tankmates?
Montipora coral can be kept with all reef-safe species. SPS can be easily picked at by more advantageous species, like marine angelfish and butterflyfish, so it is best to go with those that are guaranteed to be safe, like:
It is not impossible to keep certain species of butterflyfish with SPS, like the copperband butterfly (Chelmon rostratus), though this will largely depend on the personality of the individual fish.
It should also be noted that plating Montipora coral can easily be irritated by wandering snails and crabs. Though they shouldn’t cause too much damage, you might want to avoid hermit crabs and larger snails that will unknowingly scrape the top of your Montipora.
Fragging Montipora coral is relatively easy (video source), especially plating varieties. In some ways, fragging SPS is easier than fragging LPS or soft corals, though the recovery rates can be a little trickier.
In order to frag plating Montipora, simply break the plate up. This can be done inside or outside of the tank as long as you have full control over where the break is. A bone cutter can also be used to make smaller, more precise incisions.
In order to frag branching or encrusting varieties, you will need a bone cutter to split a branch or to get an encrusted piece off the rock. Once done, simply glue the frag to a frag plug or back to a piece of rock in the aquarium.
A coral dip, like iodine, is recommended to help speed up recovery, though this step is not entirely necessary.
Even though Montipora are some of the easiest SPS to keep, they come with some unique challenges. One of these challenges is that they’re one of the most susceptible corals to bring unwanted pests to the aquarium, namely the Montipora eating nudibranch (For more info, check out my friend Aaron and his video above).
Montipora eating nudibranchs will evade most coral dips and find their way into the aquarium regardless; some adults may die during the dipping process but eggs largely remain unscathed.
These invertebrates are small and white. They have several appendages that come out from the sides of their body that facilitate movement. They can be found on the glass of the aquarium, in the substrate, or directly on the Montipora coral. It is usually easiest to find them at night with a flashlight.
There are a few ways to tell if you’re facing a Montipora nudibranch outbreak. These signs include:
- Exposed areas of skeleton when there are no signs of aggression from other corals and stable water parameters
- Random bleached areas of the coral away from the edge
- Egg clutches on the underside of the coral
- Visual observation of nudibranchs
Tanks are especially susceptible to Montipora eating nudibranch if introducing a wild-caught coral. In order to prevent this and to receive a hardier coral in general, it is always best to choose aqua-cultured specimens. Still, there is always the chance that nudibranchs will be introduced from an aqua-cultured setting.
The best way to avoid Montipora eating nudibranchs is by allowing enough time for quarantine. Several weeks should give enough time to observe the telltale signs of an infestation. Quarantine allows for much more aggressive treatments without having to worry about other more sensitive fish and corals that are waiting in the display.
Even then, it is possible to find nudibranchs on a quarantined piece of Montipora. At this point, it will take persistence and dedication to get rid of them. There are a few options for dealing with Montipora eating nudibranchs, and usually, the solution will be a combination of all methods.
One of the most aggressive ways for eliminating Montipora eating nudibranchs from the aquarium is to persistently dip the coral. This dip should be strong and administered regularly; basically, you want to dip as frequently as you can without risking damaging the coral. At the same time, check the undersides of the coral for eggs and manually remove them.
In addition to dipping the corals, you may try more organic remedies, such as introducing a wrasse that is a natural predator. In particular, the yellow coris wrasse (Halichoeres chrysus) and the six-line wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia) have proved to be the most helpful.
Keep in mind that your tank should be able to accommodate for long-term housing of these species, or plans should be made to safely rehome them after the nudibranchs have been eliminated. It is very unlikely that the yellow coris wrasse will solve this problem alone though and usually you will need to dip the corals as well.
Lastly, you may need to sacrifice a piece of coral. Some hobbyists have found success in removing all Montipora from the aquarium except for one piece. This piece will act as a lure that can be removed once nudibranchs have occupied it. However, as nudibranchs can live in other parts of the aquarium, this method is not always guaranteed to be completely effective.
Still, Montipora eating nudibranchs are extremely difficult to get rid of and anything is worth a try. Though these invertebrates mainly target plating Montipora, they may also go after encrusting and branching varieties as well.
Where To Buy
Montipora corals can be purchased at local aquarium stores or online. I tend to prefer online coral vendors as they will sell what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG), offer guarantees, and generally have a better reputation for not having corals infected with pests.
Montipora is a very popular genus of hard coral to keep due to its hardiness, available varieties, and color selection compared to other species of SPS. Montipora can be plating, branching, or encrusting, and requires high lighting and high water flow.
These corals can be more susceptible to pests than other SPS corals, but they are very easy to frag and pretty forgiving when it comes to instability in water chemistry. They are also relatively easy to find and can be an inexpensive addition to the aquarium.
Have a question? Leave a comment below and let’s start a conversation. Welcome to the reef aquarium community :).
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.