The Colt Coral Cladiella sp. is a popular and easy care leather coral that is readily available for the reef aquarium. It has projections resembling fingers that are round to cone-shaped, and stubby. These thick finger-like projections branch upward from a very short, pale white stalk. They will fork and grow more projections, which grow out in all directions. They have polyps that are fully retractable, yet when extended are well tufted, giving it a very fluffy appearance. All total these characteristics give a “thicker” look to their colonies.
The Cladiella sp. are hardy and fast growing, making them an excellent starter coral. Most specimens are generally cream to gray-white in color, and can have contrasting greenish brown to brown polyps. A distinction of this genus, is that it is slimy to touch rather than having the dry, leathery feel most of the leather corals are known for. Yet they are not as sensitive to handling as many soft corals, and are easy to propagate.
The most common name used for soft corals in the Cladiella genus is Colt Coral, but they are also found under a number of other descriptive common names. Some of these are Finger Leather Coral, Stubby Finger Leather Coral, Blushing Coral, Finger-Tip Cladiella, and Seaman’s Hand Coral. Because it is similar in form to other leathers, many of the same common names are used interchangeably such as Leather Coral, Finger Leather, Soft Finger Leather Coral, and Knobby Leather Coral. When ordering this or any other leather coral, its best to make sure you use the scientific name.
The Colt Coral Cladiella sp. is very easy to care for as long as the water flow is not linear or slow. The water flow needs to be moderate to strong and must be a surge or turbulent flow. This is due to their production of copious amounts of mucus, which in turn can quickly collect bacteria, thus affecting the coral adversely.
These corals also need to be fed. If the Colt Coral is shrinking, it is starving. They do well with a mature tank that has a refugium or fully mature sand bed to produce small invert larvae to feed on. A Tang in the tank is also a suggestion, since they tend to loosen detritus and other edible particles for the coral as the fish feeds on rocks, foraging for algae.
To learn about other types of soft corals, see:
Soft Coral Facts
The Colt Coral is in the Cladiella genus. There are 40 species and many are referred to as Colt or Finger Leather Corals. While color is not a good indication as to whether they are a Cladiella or Alcyonium, typically Colt Corals are cream to grayish white with brown or greenish brown polyps. That, along with shorter lobed projections, encrusting with a very short stalk and a heavy and lumpy appearance can help identify the Colt Coral.
Species: Cladiella sp.
Distribution / Background
Leather Coral Information: The Cladiella genus, belong to the family Alcyoniidae, which are referred to as octocorals. There is no one person attributed to discovering the Cladiella genus, but there are many who discovered various species. For example, Cladiella australis was described by Macfadyen in 1936. There are over 61 species with some being C. australis, C. daphnae, C. humesi, C. hunisi, C. pachyclados, C. sphaerophora, C. tuberculosa, and C. variabilis. Some common names these corals are know for are Finger Leather Coral, Stubby Finger Leather Coral, Blushing Coral, Finger-Tip Cladiella, and Seaman’s Hand Coral.
This genus has been propagated in captivity. The Cladiella genus is one of several genera that have been studied and found to to have an extract that may fight certain oral cancer cells. That being said, these corals deserve our best care in captivity and respect in the wild.
Where Cladiella Corals Are Found: The Cladiella sp. are found in the Indo-Pacific.
Cladiella Coral Habitat: The Cladiella sp. are found in waters that are turbid. They inhabit back reefs to reef slopes, and reef flats and are found growing with other members of the Alcyoniidae family.
The Cladiella sp. is not listed on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.
What do Cladiella Corals look like: The Colt Coral Cladiella sp. form colonies with projections resembling fingers that are round to cone-shaped, and stubby. These thick finger-like projections branch upward from a very short, pale white stalk. They will fork and grow more projections, which grow out in all directions. Well tufted polyps extend out from the projections giving it a very fluffy appearance, yet these polyps are fully retractable. All total this gives a “thicker” look to their colonies.
Most specimens of Cladiella are generally cream to gray-white in color, and can have contrasting greenish brown to brown polyps. A distinction of this genus, is that it is slimy to touch rather than having the dry, leathery feel most of the leather corals are known for. These corals may grow to 16″ (41 cm) in height.
Difficulty of Care
Leather Coral Care: The Colt Coral Cladiella sp. is very easy to care for as long as the water flow is not linear or slow. The water flow needs to be moderate to strong and must be a surge or turbulent flow. Again, this is due to their production of copious amounts of mucus, which in turn can quickly collect bacteria, thus affecting the coral adversely.
These corals will develop heavy mucus coatings when stressed. If the mucus is not immediately blown from the coral, they can develop an accumulation of bacteria, leading to illness. The reason for this is because this coral is completely an autozooid type, which means all of their polyps are used for feeding, and none for movement of water. Thus the need for good water flow.
Foods / Feeding
Leather Coral Feeding: In the wild, Cladiella corals have developed several feeding strategies. They capture microscopic food particles from the water column and can absorb dissolved organic matter. They are also photosynthetic, having a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, where they also receive some of their nutrients.
In captivity, if it is shrinking, it is starving. Although, they are zooxanthellate as well (using light to stimulate zooxanthellae growth to provide a food source), they have many autozooid polyps (feeder polyps) and they do need phytoplankton (green water). They do well with a mature tank that has a refugium or fully mature sand bed to produce small invert larvae to feed on. A Tang in the tank is also a suggestion, since they tend to loosen detritus and other edible particles for the coral as the fish feeds on rocks, foraging for algae.
Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Alcyonium genus. Doing water changes of 20% a month or 10% biweekly is needed. Some have found success by doing a 5% water change once a week, keeping water quality high and reducing the need for most additives. Soft corals do need to have proper chemical levels for good growth as well as additions of iodine.
Iodine is used up quickly in captive environments, and does need to be added to the top off water or to the tank regularly. Make sure you have a test to make sure your levels are sufficient. Frequent water changes are preferred over adding extra supplements.
Suggested levels for Cladiella species are:
- Calcium: 400 – 450 ppm (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient. Anything over 400 tends to wear on pumps and other moving parts.)
- Alkalinity: 3.2 – 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 12 dKh – 10 is recommended)
- Phosphates: 0, zero.
- Magnesium: 1200 – 1350 ppm. (Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.)
- Strontium: 8 – 10. Strontium levels are suggested to keep the coral happy, and a kit for testing proper levels is suggested.
|Quick Reference Chart
A typical live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Colt Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. Taller tanks work best since their ultimate height is 16″ (41 cm).
Provide proper lighting and water movement. They need a good moderate turbulent water flow, but not a linear flow. They also like moderate to high lighting. The Cladiella genus is peaceful toward other soft corals but grows quickly, so be sure to provide plenty of room.
- Minimum Tank Size / Length:50 gallon (190 L) or larger
- Marine Lighting: Moderate to high
- Temperature: 72Â° – 81Â° F (22Â° – 27Â° C)
- Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 – 1.025
- Water Movement: Moderate and turbulent (never linear)
- Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium
Compatibility and Social Behaviors
The Cladiella sp. is peaceful toward other soft corals. This genus is basically nontoxic as far as chemical defense. They will get along with other soft corals in their family. They can be stung by mushrooms, yet will sting gorgonians. Colt Corals will grow quickly once established and need to be trimmed, so make sure they do not outgrow nearby corals.
Sex – Sexual differences
Unknown, although being closely related to the Alcyonium genus like the Finger Leather Coral Alcyonium sp., it is possible that like the Alcyonium genus, females may be smaller than the males.
Breeding and Reproduction
In the wild, the Cladiella genus may release gametes into the water annually. Like other soft corals, the Cladiella genus may also use several different forms of reproduction, such as fission, fragmenting and/or branch dropping.
In captivitiy there are several methods of propagation, including constriction and cutting (fragging a small piece or fragging a large piece):
Constriction is the suggested procedure for propagating the Colt Coral. The use of constriction is much more tolerated by this easily stressed coral than cutting. This is because the lacerations tend to get infected with these corals. They produce so much mucus when irritated, bacteria can quickly accumulate in the mucus at the wound site. Still, cutting is used for those coral farmers and other propagators that do not have the time for constriction. Attaching to rubble or a plug is the same as below.
Leather corals can be fragged for just a small piece or for a large frag, but with a few variations in procedure. Using either procedure, the coral will more than likely deflate, but with good water flow it will recover. Make sure your Colt Coral is healthy. Corals can emit a nasty and at times noxious odor, so be sure there is good ventilation. Clean up any mucous when finished to prevent any possible health problems. Wash your hands thoroughly if not using gloves.
- Small Frag:
To frag a small piece you may use a pair of very sharp scissors or a scalpel. Just simply cut a small forked frag away from the mother colony while still in the tank. (1-2″ frag size). Loosely rubber band the frag between branches and affix it to a small piece of rubble that has a natural indent or a plug.
Some have suggested using “liquid band aid” or super glue at the site to seal the would, or glue the incision sited to a rock or plug to cover it and prevent infection.
- Large Frag:
For larger fragging, the Finger Leather Coral should have all polyps retracted before proceeding. Remove the coral from the tank and quickly perform the fragmentation from a mother colony with a clean razor, scalpel, or knife. (Scissors can damage tissue from larger fragging cuts.) The frag can be glued, tied, sewn to a rock or plug, or just set on rubble where the current will not take them away, but will help them heal.
Provide a bath of clean temperature and salinity adjusted water (same as main tank) with a little iodine before returning to the tank. This bath will help clear out the mucous that the leather will produce from this procedure.
Return the Finger Leather Coral to the same spot it was in before fragging and discard bath water. Placement will depend on the size and shape of the frag. But at the very minimum place it close to where the mother colony is located, perhaps using the mother colony to block a water flow that is too quick for the frag.
The Cladiella genus can contract disease. Coral diseases are commonly caused by stress, shock (like pouring freshwater into the tank and it coming in contact with the leather), and incompatible tank mates including specific fish, or pests.
Some diseases and treatments include:
- Flatworms, Brown Jelly Infections, cyanobacteria
Treat with a freshwater dip of 1 to 3 minutes in chlorine free freshwater of the same temperature and pH as the main display.
- Cyanobacteria, Brown Jelly Infections
These can also be treated with Neomycin sulphite, Kanamycin and other broad-spectrum antibiotics. The pill can be pulverised into a fine powder, mixed with sea water to make a paste, and then applied to the wound or affected site of the coral with a simple artists brush.
- Necrosis, Black Band Disease
To prevent necrosis, and fight black band disease, according to one author the corals can be treated with Tetracycline at 10 mg per quart/liter.
- Lugol’s Solution (as a preventative/cure)
Use a Lugol’s dip at 5-10 drops of 5% Lugol’s solution per quart/liter of newly mixed sea water that has been mixing for 10-20 minutes. Start with a 10 minute dip and observe the reaction of the coral. A daily dip can be done until the coral is cured.
One procedure that can save a coral’s life if nothing else is working is amputation of the affected area. This must be done in a separate container consisting of some of the tank’s water. Cut slightly into healthy tissue surrounding the diseased flesh then reattach the coral to the substrate with the open wound cemented on part of the reef structure.
- “Liquid Band Aid”
For wounds that are on the side or top, some have used “liquid band aid” or super glue to seal the wound.
Soft Corals for Sale: The Colt Coral Cladiella sp. is very easy to find pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $30.00 USD, or more, depending on size and/or color.
- Animal-World References: Marine and Reef
- Anthony Calfo, Book of Coral Propagation, Volume 1 Edition 2: Reef Gardening for Aquarists, Reading Trees; 2nd edition, 2007
- Ronald L. Shimek, Guide to Marine Invertebrates: 500+ Essential-to-Know Aquarium Species, Microcosm, 2005
- Eric Borneman, Aquarium Corals: Selection, Husbandry, and Natural History , TFH Publications, 2001
- Bob Goemans, Colt Coral Cladiella australis, Animal Library, Saltwatercorner.com
Featured Image Credit: Aldo91, Shutterstock