Velvet Stone Coral

Velvet Coral, Velvet Finger Coral, Velvet Branch Coral

Family: AcroporidaePicture of a Velvet Stone Coral, Montipora spongodesMontipora spongodesPhoto courtesy: John Rice

   The plates and branches of the Velvet Stone Coral make it a great haven of refuge for smaller fish!

   The surfaces of the Velvet Stone Coral Montipora spongodes appears smooth and fuzzy, like velvet. Some other names it is known by are Velvet Coral, Velvet Finger Coral, and Velvet Branch Coral. But this species isn't the only one known by these names. The polyps of Montipora corals are tiny and uniform, and on many species they are fuzzy. 'Velvet' is a name given to a number of the large types of Montipora corals.

   M. spongodes are encrusting corals with plate-like bases. They forms colonies having upward plate growth with ridges that then develop into columns. The "surface" is smooth looking and the polyps are small and fuzzy. The Velvet Stone Coral will become a favorite refuge for smaller fish once a colony has grown plates and branches.

   Although similar in appearance, it can't be confused with the Jewel Corals in the Goniopora genus, because it has no structures that look like eyes on the skeleton. The Velvet Stone Coral is uniformly smooth and yes, 'velvety'. They come in all kinds of colors and shapes. Their natural coloration is in pink, deep gray, dark brown, green or pale cream, usually with contrasting polyps. Propagated specimens can be found with bright greens and contrasting polyps.

  The Velvet Stone Coral is not only attractive, it is easy to find and moderately easy to care for. Though not a beginner's coral, this is one of the most laid back members of the Acroporidae family.


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

Distribution / Background    Montipora Coral Information: The Velvet Stone Coral Montipora spongodes was described by Bernard in 1897. Some common names they are known for are Velvet Coral, Velvet Finger Coral, and Velvet Branch Coral.

   Where Montipora Corals Are Found: The Montipora spongodes are found from the western part of the Indian Ocean to Japan and toward Australia. The reefs around Australia where they can be found are the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island, and Port Denison.

   Montipora Coral Habitat: M. spongodes prefer habitats on the reef such as rocky foreshores, and also high latitude areas though not very common there. 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 spongodes is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Description    What do Montipora Corals look like: The M. spongodes have very porous and lightweight skeletons. They are a plating species of small polyp stony (SPS) corals. These are an encrusting corals with bases that are plate-like. The coral as a whole forms colonies with upward plate growth, with ridges that then develop into columns. The "surface" is smooth looking with spaced corallites that house the polyps. The polyps are tiny, uniform, and have a fuzzy or 'velvet' appearance. The Velvet Stone Coral usually comes in pink, deep gray, dark brown, green or pale cream, usually with contrasting polyps.

Difficulty of Care    Montipora Coral Care: The M. spongodes 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.This is considered more difficult than many corals, although not as difficult as the branching varieties of montipora. But for this reason, it is not 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 Stone Coral, 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. They don't prefer to be directly under strong Metal Halides, as they will lighten up considerably. On the other hand, if you have compact fluorescents, positioning them higher in the aquarium will make them quite happy. 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. spongodes 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 Stone Coral M. spongodes is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $49.00 USD or more depending on size. Aquacultured specimens and frags are available, and the more vibrant colored corals command higher prices.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney; Clarice Brough, CRS

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