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Velvet Finger Montipora

Velvet Coral, Velvet Finger Coral, Velvet Branch Coral

Family: Acroporidae Velvet Finger Montipora, Montipora digitataMontipora digitataPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Greg Rothschild

   A long time favorite, the Velvet Finger Montipora is easy to keep and a great coral for beginners!

   The Velvet Finger Montipora Montipora digitata looks smooth and fuzzy on its surfaces. The polyps of Montipora corals are tiny and uniform, and on many species including the M. digitata they are fuzzy. 'Velvet' is a name given to a number of the large types of Montipora corals. Some other names they are is known by are Velvet Coral and Velvet Branch Coral.

   The M. digitata is an encrusting, yet mostly branch formation that can be brown, green, and even purple and peach in captive raised varieties.The Velvet Finger Montipora has a combination of growths; encrusting on surfaces, and then multiple upward growth, with thin branches that fork in multiple directions. The "surface" is smooth looking and the polyps are small and fuzzy. The little tiny polyps make this look like velvet, thus its common name..

   The Velvet Finger Montipora is not only attractive, it is easy to find and moderately easy to care for. One of the easiest of the small polyp stony (SPS) corals, it makes a great beginners stony coral. Even if you do not have enough light, it will turn brown or tan, but will not die. They actually exchange the type of zooxanthellae they need to adapt to the level of light. Once established, it will provide you with ample opportunities to frag.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Cnidaria
  • Class: Anthozoa
  • Order: Scleractinia
  • Family: Acroporidae
  • Genus: Montipora
  • Species: digitata
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Scientific name    Family: Acroporidae
   Species: Montipora digitata

Distribution / Background    Montipora Coral Information: The Velvet Finger Montipora Montipora digitata was described by Dana in 1846. Some common names they are known for are Velvet Coral, Velvet Finger Coral, and Velvet Branch Coral.

   Where Montipora Corals Are Found: The Montipora digitata are found in the western Indian Ocean and then eastward to Fiji, it is also found on the Great Barrier Reef.

   Montipora Coral Habitat: M. digitata are found in are mostly shallow mud flats, turbid lagoons and other shallow locations. Montipora, as a species, are found from deep water (greater than 10 meters / 33 feet) to the reef crest and from clear oceanic reefs to turbid (not clear because of stirred-up sediment, etc.) lagoons. Even though their range is large, Montipora are more likely to be found in quiet water at mid-depths.

Status    The Montipora digitata is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Description    What do Montipora Corals look like: The M. digitata have very porous and lightweight skeletons. They are a plating species of small polyp stony (SPS) corals. It has an encrusting, yet mostly branch formation that can be brown, green, and even purple and peach in captive raised varieties. It resembles the Porites cylindrica, but the branches are thinner, typical in captive animals.

   The Velvet Finger Montipora have a very fragile, light weight skeleton and care needs to be taken when cleaning your tank, since one bump will supply you with multiple frags. What is really cool is you can just put a "stick" or branch of one into a small hole of your live rock and the M. digitata will start encrusting, spread and start more "branches" once it feels comfortable.

Difficulty of Care    Montipora Coral Care: The M. digitata is easy to moderate to care for, accepting a wide range of lighting and water movement. Unlike Acropora, which are in the same family, Montipora corals do not stress as easily and are more resistant to bleaching and disease. Some credit this resistance to their deep-set polyps. They are easy to propagate as and are a perfect specimen for the captive reef environment, and are recommended for beginners.

Foods / Feeding    Montipora Coral Feeding: In the wild, Montipora corals have developed several feeding strategies. Through a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae, known as zooxanthellae, they receive the majority of their nutrients. They also capture planktonic organisms and microscopic food particles from the water column and can absorb dissolved organic matter.

   In captivity, they do well in well-feed reef tanks, accepting very fine particulate foods. Zooplankton and tiny plankton can be fed once a week. Copepods, Artemia, and nauplii are too large for them to ingest. Most online vendors recommend adding filter feeder food. New forms of prey are also being developed, such as invert larvae and new strains of rotifers.

Aquarium Care    Pristine tank conditions are needed to keep all Montipora spp. corals. Doing water changes of 10% every 2 weeks is needed, although it is suggested that doing 5% water changes once a week will bring about amazing results. Keep the nitrate levels low. Maintaining calcium and alkalinity levels are important.

   Suggested levels for Montipora species are:

  • Calcium:  400 to 450 ppm (closer to 450). If the Monti does not have enough calcium, it will not grow.
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 TO 4.5 MEQ/L (8 to 10 dKh - 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero. Phosphates are the worst of all and all corals hate them.
  • Magnesium:  1350-1500. Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.
  • Strontium:  10

Aquarium Parameters

   A well-feed live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Velvet Finger Montiporal, along with some fish for organic matter production. These corals are usually hardy and fast-growing, however a mature tank is recommended.

Quick Reference Chart
Lighting: Prefers Low Lighting Levels Prefers Medium Lighting Levels Prefers High Lighting Levels
Water Flow: Prefers Low Water Flow Levels Prefers Medium Water Flow Levels Prefers High Water Flow Levels
Temperament: Peaceful Temperament Semi-Aggressive Temperament Aggressive Temperament

   Like other Montipora, they adapt to lower lighting and water movement. For tanks with metal halides, position your Monti in the mid levels. With other lighting, position your Monti at the upper to mid levels depending on the watts used. Your Monti will show whether it is happy or not by the coloring. Make sure that no other corals or even algae can come in contact with your Montipora. Monti's are mild mannered and will end up loosing any chemical warfare.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 10 gallons (38 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Temperature: 74° - 83° F (23° - 28° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.025
  • Water Movement: Moderate to strong
  • Water Region: All, depending on the light

Compatibility and Social Behaviors   Montipora are not aggressive corals, nor do they posses strong defenses. Because of this, they must be placed away from any aggressive or defensive coral. Although not as touchy as Acroporas, the Montipora genus should still do best kept in a small polyp stony (SPS) tank. It will tolerate a mixed coral tank better than Acros, but plenty of room should be around your Montipora, even distancing it from another Montipora species. Oddly, colors can at times determine hierarchy in a tank. For instance, a brown Montipora digitata will usually loose to attacks by their colored up sisters and brothers.

   The Montipora genus are peaceful, but watch out for crabs. Many experienced aquarists do not believe in any crab should be kept in a closed system. Crabs are opportunistic predators, with the exception some of the symbiotic crabs like commensal crabs, and gall crabs.

Sex - Sexual differences    No sexual difference in appearance is known.

Breeding and Reproduction   The Montipora Sp. are male and female and can reproduce both sexually and asexually. In the wild they reproduce sexually by releasing eggs and sperm at the same time, resulting in a fertilized egg which then forms into a free-swimming planula larva. Eventually the planula larvae settles onto the substrate, becoming plankters. This then forms a tiny polyp which begins to excrete calcium carbonate and develops into a coral. Planula larvae are extremely vulnerable to predation, and very few survive. Montiporas reproduce asexually as well. In the wild Montiporas spread from breakage due to storms and fragmentation.

   Propagation is rather simple for Montipora corals. First you need to choose a healthy coral that is not showing any signs of distress. Then, simply cut a branch at least 2" long and glue the frag to a plug or rock. You can use the 2-part epoxy or underwater putties. A little tip, don't glue frags upright since they will grow faster on their sides.The slime that the coral will exude should not come in contact with any other corals and gloves are suggested. Give the frag ample water flow.

Potential Problems    The Montipora spp. are generally disease resistant, but can still get the same illnesses that any other small polyp stony (SPS) coral can get under poor conditions. An ailment on some Montipora's are tumor like growths, but these tumors are not harmful, just ugly. Caution is recommended if you plan to add Limpet snails to your tank as they have been known to eat Montipora corals (as well as Acropora). Magilopsis (a gastropod) and Prosthiostomum (a flatworm) are common Montipora pests.

   In general, if your M. digitata has any kind of tissue recession, just cut off the healthy part. Just make sure you cut into some of the healthy part also, to be sure there is no disease encroaching on the healthy tissue. Also, keep out the cyanobacteria and algae with good water movement, and your Monti will stay happy.

Availability    Montipora Corals for Sale: The Velvet Finger Montipora M. digitata is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $29.00 USD or more depending on size. Aquacultured specimens and frags are available.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney; Clarice Brough, CRS
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