The Club Finger Coral Stylophora pistillata is referred to as one of the ‘tramp’ species of corals. It has a vast range, from the Red Sea and eastern Africa, to Madagascar and the Indo-Pacific. Through sexual reproduction, its larvae once fertilized, are released into the water and can attach to floating objects. They can adhere to floating pieces of pumice or wood, develop new colonies, and release more larvae into the water. Colonies have been transported thousands of miles, reproducing on the way, and so contributing to their extremely wide distribution.

   The Stylophora genus is one of the better known, and well studied groups of corals. The Club Finger Coral S. pistillata, also known as the Cat’s Paw Coral, forms attractive branching colonies. They are wide spread in nature, fast growing, and can adapt to many conditions. The branches are flat and thick, with round blunt tips. The polyps are small, yet visible and extend at night in the wild, but both day and night in a captive reef. The colors they come in are cream, pink, blue, and greens.

   The Club Finger Coral is one of the easier small polyp stony (SPS) corals to care for. It is a lot less demanding as far as lighting and water movement are concerned. They do best in bright lighting, which will bring out their natural colors, but can adapt to moderate lighting. In fact, they can survive under all types of light. Though quite hardy, they are still susceptible to recession, bleaching and other typical SPS coral diseases.

Scientific name

   Family: Pocilliporidae
   Species: Stylophora pistillata

Distribution / Background

   Stylophora Coral Information: The Stylophora genus was described by Schweigger in 1819. There are 24 or more nominal species. Of those, four are true species with only S. pistillata being located in Australia. Some common names these corals are know for are Brush Coral, Finger Coral, Cluster Coral, Club Finger Coral, and Stump Coral. These corals have been heavily propagated in captivity.

  The Club Finger Coral Stylophora pistillata was described by Esper in 1797. Common names they are known for are Cat’s Paw Coral, Smooth Cauliflower Coral, Hood Coral, Gypsy Coral, and Pistil Coral.

   Where Stylophora Corals Are Found: The Stylophora genus are found in the East Indian Ocean, around Australia in the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island, Solitary Islands. S. pistillata is found throughout this range, but is the only Stylophora sp. in Australian waters.

   Stylophora Coral Habitat:The Stylophora genus are found at depths from between 10 – 115 feet (3 – 35 m), but their habitat is usually shallow waters within reef areas that are exposed to strong water movement.


   The Stylophora pistillata is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.


   What do Stylophora Corals look like: The Stylophora genus have branching colonies that are flat and thick, with round blunt tips. The corallites are immersed in the skeletal structure and can retract with outside stimulus. The polyps are small, yet visible and extend at night in the wild, but 24/7 in a captive reef. Colonies can grow up to 19″ feet (45 m).

   Like other SPS corals, the shape of the Stylophora genus is greatly affected by water conditions and locations. In areas of high light and wave movement, the branches are thicker and closer together, whereas deeper dwellers with less water movement have thinner branches that are more spaced. They reproduce both sexually and asexually, commonly through fragmentation. They have 1″ (2.5 cm) sweeper tentacles, yet they are not as aggressive as other corals.

   Stylophora colors can be bright green, blue, purple, cream and pink. They can be uniformly colored or with the branches being a solid color, and the polyps a contrasting fluorescent. The tips can be a lighter color version of the branches, or contrasting. S. pistillata usually come in cream, pink, blue, and greens.

Difficulty of Care

   Stylophora Coral Care: The S. pistillata is easy to moderate to care for, yet still susceptible to typical SPS disease. Although they do best in bright lighting, they can adapt to moderate lighting. They can, in fact, survive under all types of lighting such as compact fluorescent, T-5, Metal Halides, VHO etc.

Foods / Feeding

   Stylophora Coral Feeding: In the wild, small polyp stony (SPS) 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, food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter.

   In captivity, the Stylophora genus does best in well-feed reef environment with plenty of dissolved solids. They can be fed zooplankton once a week. Smaller forms of prey are being developed such and invert larvae and new strains of rotifers, which would be a good food for them a well. Signs of lack of food would be no new growth, polyps extending and some tissue recession.

Aquarium Care

   Pristine tank conditions are typically needed to keep all SPS corals. Keep the nitrate levels low, maintaining calcium and alkalinity levels, and provide iron supplements. Typically you can do water changes of 20% a month, 10% biweekly or 5% weekly. It has been noted that 5% weekly water changes replenish many of the needed additives. With higher concentrations of coral with calcareous skeletons, there may be a need put in additional additives to maintain proper levels for good growth.

   The following water supplements are suggested for Stylophora species:

  • Calcium:  400 to 450 ppm. If a small poly stony (SPS) coral 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 Club Finger Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. A mature tank is recommended.

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

   Position them according to the level of lighting you have. Place them lower under intense metal halide lighting, and place them higher with compact fluorescents. Make sure that no other corals can come in contact with your Stylophora. Stylophora spp. are are semi-aggressive. They can extend sweeper polyps, but are less aggressive than other corals.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 50 gallons (190 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 areas of the aquarium, depending on lighting

Compatibility and Social Behaviors

   Stylophora are semi-aggressive, and their quick growth is a factor that needs to be taken into consideration. They have 1″ (2.5 cm) sweeper tentacles that may sting nearby corals. Keep away from quick growing corals like Xenia, since they can easily over power and over grow the Stylophora genus.

   Do not house Stylophora with small polyp stony (SPS) coral eating fish, like angelfish. They do have a relationship with damselfish in the wild, including the Black Bordered Damselfish Dascyllus marginatus. This is thought to be a mutualistic relationship in which the damsel gets protection within the branches of the coral, and the coral received nutrition from the fish’s waste.

Sex – Sexual differences

   Hermaphrodites, although some speculation is that smaller/younger colonies are males.

Breeding and Reproduction

   The small polyp stony (SPS) corals are male and female and can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Like other members of the Pocilliporidae family, they fertilize internally. The Stylophora genus will release fully developed glowing green larvae after sunset. Once they are released into the water, these high achievers attach themselves to floating objects. They can adhere to floating pieces of pumice or wood, develop new colonies, and release more larvae into the water. Colonies have been transported thousands of miles, reproducing on the way, and so contributing to their extremely wide distribution. Stylophoras can reproduce asexually as well, spreading from breakage due to storms and fragmentation. Asexual reproduction however, is not as successful as sexual reproduction.

   Propagation of the Stylophora genus is quite difficult, as far as the coral surviving the procedure. Although the care of this SPS is much easier and less demanding than others, it has a poor track record with fragging. It is possible that new propagation tricks may help with this coral, and that fragging propagated animals may be more successful.

   To frag the Stylophora genus, 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. With the Stylophora genus, you may want cut your frags much larger than other SPS for success. 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 Stylophora 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. In general, if your S. pistillata 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 Club Finger Coral will stay happy.


   Stylophora Corals for Sale: The Club Finger Coral or Cat’s Paw Coral S. pistillata is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $29.00 USD or more depending on size and/or color.


Featured Image Credit: Vojce, Shutterstock