Montipora Coral Care Tips and Guide
- Aug 28, 2019
- Web Aggrigator
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Tidal Garden's Montipora Coral Care Tips
Tidal Garden goes over their coral tips for Montipora corals whos common/uncommon name is Velvet corals which is a name that is hardly ever used in the hobby.
Montipora is the second most popular Small Polyp Stony (SPS) corals just behind Acropora corals. The Montipora posses both diverse color variations as well as a multitude of growth forms including plating, encrusting, or branching varieties of Montipora in just about any texture or color. Montipora also tends to be easier to care for then Acropora making them appealing to beginner hobbyist looking to try SPS corals for the first time.
Montipora is a super popular coral, and this is a big topic, so let's dive in!
Montipora is a genus of small polyp stony corals found in reefs throughout the world. They are one of the primary reef-building corals and are responsible for a large percentage of a reef's calcium carbonate structure.
Most of the specimens found in the hobby today originated from the Pacific, mainly Indonesia and Australia. The care requirements for Montipora vary to some degree because of their diversity. Some species are hardy and fast-growing to the point that they can overgrow an aquarium such as the ubiquitous orange plating Capricornus. Other varieties are slower growing and more sensitive to tank conditions like the Palawanesis. Sometimes the sensitivity of a particular Montipora doesn't have anything to do with growth rate or survivability. They may take on sub-optimal coloration which undermines a major reason why an aquarist selected a particular piece, to begin with.
Now that you have some background information on Montipora, let's talk about their care requirements.
The care tips we will go over are intended to provide a baseline that will give hobbyists the best chance for success. They may be overkill for the hardier species of Montipora while the more delicate specimens may require additional TLC to keep them healthy. It's easier to jump right into talking about care requirements like lighting, flow, and water chemistry but first and foremost, Montipora like consistent parameters. The challenge with maintaining consistency in those parameters are a moving target. When you provide Montipora with favorable conditions, they grow and in many cases grow quicky which changes those conditions. A fast-growing SPS reef is a constantly shifting dynamics that the hobbyist has to adjust for. For example, lighting can change as bulb and fixtures age but the light a coral receives also changes as the colony grows. The intensity increases for parts of the colony that extend upwards towards the light while simultaneously shading all the parts below it. Water Flow changes as pumps get gummed up over time; however, even if you are on top of maintaining all of your pumps. The Montipora colonies can grow densely packed branches and plates that dramatically cut down the flow in the tank. Lastly, chemistry changes as the uptake of major elements accelerate as colonies grow. This is not a linear process. Once a colony takes off in growth, the consumption of major and minor elements is exponential.
In extremely packed SPS tanks, it is common for the hobbyist to have to incorporate several methods of calcium and alkalinity addition because the growth of their coral outpaced the ability of any single supplementation method to keep up. I cannot stress enough the importance of long term stability so if you are successfully growing a lot of SPS make sure to pay even closer attention because future success may be a very different methodology than what git you to this point. Having said all that, let's cover each one of these parameters in-depth starting with lighting.
Montipora is photosynthetic and is one of the most light-demanding corals in the hobby. Like many corals, Montipora has a special symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellates called zooxanthellae that live inside its tissue. The dinoflagellates carry out the actual photosynthesis. The coral animal derives nutrients off of the byproducts of the dinoflagellates' photosynthetic process. Zooxanthellae is usually brown in color, and the coral tightly regulates the population living in its flesh depending on its nutritional needs. Hobbyist looking to find that "just right" color play with both lighting intensity and spectrum over their tank. As a starting point, we recommend initially providing light intensity around 125-150 PAR and slowly increase that over time. In the Tidal Gardens systems Montipora have fared best when giving light intensity around 200-300 PAR however there are plenty of successful systems with lighting intensities even higher than that. Having said that, I don't recommend blasting newly added Montipora with tons of light. More damage is caused by overexposure to light intensity than not providing enough light, so take a couple of weeks to allow the corals to adjust to lighting conditions in your tank.
As for lighting technology, LED fixtures dominate the product landscape. Most new aquariums these days use LED lights for their energy efficiency, low heat emissions, lack of bulb replacement cost, and controllability. Having said that, there is no consensus within the reef aquarium community as to what lighting technology is best for growth and coloration of Montipora. There are some old school reef keepers that swear by metal halide lights and T5 fluorescent bulbs. Each type of light has its positives and negatives. T5 and metal halide, for example, are amazing performers with a proven track record of successfully growing coral for decades. The downside to them is that they are not particularly energy-efficient, kick out a lot of heat, require potentially expensive bulb replacements, and have limited controllability. LED lights, on the other hand, improve on T5 and metal halide lights in all those above categories but have drawbacks of its own. When LEDs first entered the market, there were questions of their ability to grow corals and achieving comparable coloration compared to metal halide and fluorescent. Many early adopters ended up switching back to their original lights system because they got sub-optimal results with LED. At the time the lights spectrum of LEDs were not very robust and to this day still, struggle for niche applications such as photography. LEDs are the worst lights ever made for photography. Perhaps more important than spectrum is that many of the fixtures struggled to diffuse the light emitting from the LEDs themselves adequately. Early modules of LED fixtures produced a highly directional spotlight pattern. What would happen is the tops of the colony would receive light and grow, but a harsh shadow would be cast on the portions of the colony that did not get spotlighted. The harsh shadow was basically ZERO light, and that dark part of the colony would struggle and eventually die off.
Today, LED technology has come a long way in terms of both lighting spectrum and diffusion, making it a very attractive choice, given its other advantages. The lighting spectrum was solved to some degree by the introduction of different colored LEDs. Diffusion was handled by a change in the optics around each LED as well as optional diffuser plates to scatter the light further before it hits the water.
If you are the type of aquarist that likes the best of all worlds, hybrid lighting systems exist that combine LED and either T5 or metal halide. There might even be some systems out there that combine all three technologies.
Let's move on to water flow.
Montipora appreciates strong flow, preferably with some randomness to it. There is such a thing as too much flow though. If you have a powerhead blowing right at the coral from short-range, it may kill off some of the tissue at that point of contact. Another problem you might run into with very strong flow is if you have a plating colony of Montipora. The shape of the colony can act like a parachute and lift off of the rocks if it gets hit by too much flow.
Another thing to pay attention to with regards to flow is maintaining consistency of that flow as time goes on. There are two things over time that dramatically affect the performance of the water flow system.
The first is the growth of the colony itself. Successfully growing Montipora comes with the downside of the coral cutting down the flow significantly. As colonies get larger and larger, it is important as a hobbyist to pay close attention to changing flow demands and consider adding more flow or pruning the colony to allow more space for water to flow through.
Secondly, other organisms such as algae, sponges, and other sessile invertebrates love to grow in and around the aquariums pumps and plumbing. For this reason, I recommend taking apart pumps and powerheads regularly for servicing. It does not take very much growth or blockages to limit water flow output greatly.
Even if you are not able to provide super strong flow in your tank, one thing you will want to pay attention to is detritus settling on either encrusting or plating colonies of Montipora. The shape of these corals as they grow to create low areas that act as detritus traps. If there is not enough flow to blow these areas clean, the detritus that accumulates will kill off that portion of the colony. If that is the problem you are running into in your aquarium, either add more flow or manually clean off that accumulation with a turkey baster.
Moving on from water flow, let's talk about Chemistry.
Montipora requires both clean water and consistently high-levels of major ions to maintain their growth rate. They are not quite as temperamental as Acropora; however, suboptimal water chemistry can lead to undesirable changes in color or cause the polyps of the coral to retract for extended periods of time. There are three major chemical parameters that are needed by Montipora to build its stony skeleton. These parameters are Calcium, Alkalinity, and Magnesium.
Starting first with Calcium. Calcium is one of the major ions in saltwater in the ocean. Its levels hover around 425 parts per million (ppm). As a coral grows, Calcium is taken in and forms its calcium carbonate skeleton.
Alkalinity, on the other hand, is not a particular ion per se, but you can think of it as the buffering capacity of the water. What the heck is buffering capacity? Buffering capacity in layman's terms is chemical stability. How resistant is this chemical mix to change? Technically it is the amount of acid required to lower pH of saltwater to the point bicarbonate turns into carbonic acid. If you have more Alkalinity, it can soak up more acid while keeping things steady. Less Alkalinity and you have less buffering capacity making the tank more susceptible to chemical changes. In practice, Alkalinity tends to be the parameter that fluctuates the most of the three and is the one that needs the most babysitting. In the wild, the Alkalinity of the water is around 8-9 dkh through some aquarists like the overload this parameter a little and keep their tanks around 10 or 11 dkh.
There is some belief that having elevated Calcium and Alkalinity in the water contributes to faster stony coral growth, but that topic perhaps deserves its own discussion. One quick note about adjusting Calcium and Alkalinity is that it can be a little tricky because of how they interact. The addition of a calcium supplement often comes with a corresponding fall in Alkalinity levels. This see-saw effect between Calcium and Alkalinity stems from how the two ions interact with one another. The two ions combine to form Calcium carbonate and fall out of solution. If you are experiencing this in your systems, the possible culprit may be the third chemical parameter.
Magnesium, it may seem counterintuitive that the solution to Calcium and Alkalinity imbalances is to elevate Magnesium, but the three ions interact regularly. Magnesium is very similar chemically to Calcium. It can bind up carbonate ions thus increasing the overall bioavailability of Alkalinity compounds in the water. If you are tweaking Calcium and Alkalinity and getting strange results, you may want to make sure it is not your Magnesium level that is low. In the ocean, Magnesium sits at about 1350 ppm. Having said all that, I would again stress that stability is the ultimate goal. When you are looking to raise any of these chemical parameters, it is best to work very slowly and let the changes happen over the course of months not days. By achieving success in growing fast-growing corals like Montipora makes stability a little more difficult to achieve. Successful SPS filled tanks experience rapid growth, and larger colonies soak up Calcium, Alkalinity, Magnesium, and trace elements at a much faster rate. At first, just regular water changes may be sufficient to keep up with the chemistry demands of the corals, but as the biomass increases, you may have to work in supplementation such as kalkwasser, Calcium reactor, or two-part dosing or even a combination of the three.
Next topic... Feeding
Montipora and SPS corals, in general, do not seem like the type of coral that would require feeding. They do not put on dramatic feeding displays like some large polyp stony (LPS) corals, and even under close macro photography, they don't seem to appreciate targeted feeding. In fact, target feeding often elicits the opposite response, where the coral closes upon contact and wants nothing to do with it. It is clear that Montipora gets the majority of their nutrition from lighting, but their requirements extend beyond that. Sometimes a Montipora colony will look rather drab in appearance, and it is hard to pinpoint why. The water chemistry is good. It's getting plenty of light. There are no visible pests or other harassment, and flow is great at that point in the tank. In this situation, the coral may be hungry. But wait... didn't we just say feeding was a no go? Despite not being the most aggressive feeders in the world, there are three great sources of foods that work well for broadcast feeding. These three are amino acids, small zooplankton, and simply having fish present.
Starting with amino acids, they are simple organic compounds that play a major role in building proteins as well as other biological functions at the cellular level. Corals regularly take in available amino acids from the water column, so it is fairly easy to provide them with adequate quantities by simply providing a broadcasted daily dose from any number of commercially available reef supplement manufactures. Small zooplankton includes organisms such as rotifers and cyclops plankton. They come frozen and are basically a small granular oily paste that creates an orange cloud when introduced into the tank. The presence of rotifers in the water is immediately apparent to the corals because many of them will open up and initiate their feeding behavior. It is less obvious in Montipora, but I've noticed a greater polyp extension when we've added a mix of frozen rotifers and powdered plankton foods. The last point on nutrition, having fish in and around Montipora colonies, has a positive effect. Perhaps their presence as a nitrogen source is close proximity is a good thing as small quantities of both nitrogen and phosphorus are needed by coral and is not something they get through photosynthesis. One last note about feeding that I'll add is that although coral nutrition is important, don't go crazy with it and overfeed the aquarium.
Most of the nutrition a Montipora needs will come from the lighting, and they will be absorbing other nutrients from the water. If you are going to experiment with some of the broadcast foods mentioned above, start really slow with it and don't expect explosive changes overnight in terms of the corals' growth or color. The only thing that will be an overnight change is giant algae bloom from overfeeding.
As for propagation and future aquaculture, Montipora is a very interesting candidate. They are one of the easiest corals to break apart and reattach to a new substrate. What makes them interesting, however, is that they are one of the corals that people are experimenting within the way of grafting. Montipora is able to be grafted like plants where the pigmentation transfers between two dissimilar looking individuals. What you end up with is this ice cream swirl of color in its body. This sort of thing is what I would like to try myself down the line, and I will be curious to see what the reef keeping community comes up with as well.
OK, now its time to cover some of the ugly parts of keeping Montipora... pests.
I would go as far as saying that there is a Montipora pest that is one of the worst in the whole hobby that being Montipora eating nudibranchs.
There are plenty of nudibranchs that can plague a home aquarium such as zoanthid eating nudibranchs that take on the coloration of the zoas they much on. The Montipora eating variety through are snow white and absolutely terrible to deal with. The main challenge in eliminating them is that they are highly resistant to dipping. They require a pretty heavy concentration of whatever commercially available dip you like to use, but on top of that even if the nudibranchs die, the eggs are often completely unaffected. Also, there is no guarantee that these nudibranchs are always on the coral you are dipping. Plenty of times they are just in the tank roaming around and escape any efforts to dip a particular coral they are eating. There are not a lot of really horrible pests in this hobby. Most of them are actually pretty easy to take care of despite the horror stories one might hear. These guys, however, are the real deal. I've gone as far as completely swearing off any new Montipora from the ocean because they almost always come in with them.
Still, even after years of not having any in my system occasionally out of nowhere, they can pop up. At that point, all you can do is keep dipping and hopefully knock them down without killing the coral you are dipping. If you guys have any tips and tricks on dealing with Moti eating nudibranchs, share your experiences in the comments below!