Can Leather Corals Touch?

When adding corals to your aquarium, many hobbyists will suggest separating different corals, so they cannot touch each other, but what happens if you were to add two leather corals, and they were to touch? 

Corals can be aggressive, and often corals will sting one another to compete for space. However, some corals can live in harmony, and do not seem too bothered with having a neighbor. This is particularly true when two of the same species of corals are placed together. 

Figuring out which corals can grow right next to each other is important to keep your leather coral happy and healthy.

Can You Touch Leather Coral?

Generally, leather corals are not toxic to humans, unless you have any open cuts on your hands. Plus, you shouldn’t be touching your leather corals unless you have to.

If you touch your leather coral, always wash your hands thoroughly afterward with antibacterial soap. If you are prone to irritations, it is recommended you wear rubber gloves. 

You should also be aware of the effect touching your leather coral has on your coral. Even if you accidentally touch your leather coral, you can damage its protective layer. 

Not only will this expose your leather coral to pathogens and other diseases, but the damage can also trigger a stress response. If your leather coral is stressed or feels threatened, it will eject its zooxanthellae and/or it will release toxins into the aquarium water. 

Do Leather Corals Sting?

The ocean is a challenging environment for corals, and as leather corals do not have long sweeper tentacles like large polyp stony (LPS) corals, they have to find other ways to protect themselves. 

Leather corals can produce and release toxins; a process called allelopathy. The toxins they release are called terpenoids. Terpenoid toxins will stunt the growth of other corals in your aquarium, adversely affecting more sensitive corals like Acropora

These toxins can be fatal to neighboring corals, both via direct contact and without contact. Your leather coral will release toxins as an anti-predatory response in competition for space, during reproduction/shedding, and as a stress response.

What To Do When Leather Corals Release Toxins?

Running activated carbon, and performing regular water changes, can reduce the detrimental effects that leather coral toxins have in aquariums. 

Most hobbyists will agree that running carbon and replacing it every 2-3 weeks has solved most of their chemical warfare issues. Keep an eye on your parameters, and if needed, change the carbon and perform water changes more often. 

Can Leather Corals Touch Each Other?

Leather corals are usually fine to touch each other, but running some carbon just in case is a good idea, plus carbon is great for reducing tannins in the water and absorbing contaminants such as chloramine and chlorine. 

Most of the time leather corals can touch each other, however, larger leather corals can irritate other leathers if you have a small aquarium. If this is the case, your leather coral will soon let you know they’re unhappy! 

Your leather corals may fight chemically at first (this is why adding carbon is recommended!), but usually over a few days they will adjust and tolerate each other, happily growing together.

If after a while your leather corals have not settled and one of them has started to become damaged, separate them immediately to prevent coral loss. 

Why Do Leather Corals Close Up?

Corals will close their polyps from time to time, however, if your leather coral is refraining from opening back up for a long time, something inside your aquarium is disturbing it. 

The main issue is usually drastic changes in the water chemistry and conditions, as leather corals will not tolerate big changes in their environment. Tank stability is key, so check that the water flow, lighting, and water parameters are what they should be, adjusting slowly if needed. 

If everything looks stable, next take a look at their aquarium buddies. Do you have any fish or tank critters that could be crawling over your leather coral or taking nips? Imagine being poked all the time, soon you would feel pretty annoyed… If your leather coral is being disturbed by their tank mates, consider removing them to prevent any damage or in the worse case, coral death. 

This is why you should always select reef-safe fish. If you are a newbie reefer, or you are unsure which fish can live in harmony with your leather coral, speak to your local fish store (LFS).

In addition to disturbance from tank-mates, pests are also a nuisance. Before adding your leather coral into your aquarium, you should use a coral dip to prevent these hitchhiking pros from grabbing a ride. Unfortunately, tiny pests may still find a way into your aquarium, so grab a turkey baster and gently blow around the base of your leather coral to see if anything kicks loose. 

Where Should I Place My Leather Coral?

Placement is key to successfully keeping corals in aquariums. Because your leather coral is a hardy species, it can be placed almost anywhere inside your aquarium. Leather corals can usually adapt to reef tank conditions, however, they need time to properly acclimate when they first arrive, so they will later thrive in your aquarium. 

Most hobbyists have found that leathers prefer to be placed on an exposed rock or ledge in the middle third of the aquarium. This is the perfect location for them to receive a moderate and turbulent water flow, and lighting (PAR 50-150).

Something you must consider is the space around your leather coral. 

How Much Space Should You Leave Between Corals?

Leather corals can grow very large, very quickly. Some species, like the toadstool leather, are known to take up to 80% of the tank, so, if you have a nano or pico reef tank, that may be an issue.

A good rule of thumb is to leave around 6 inches between corals. This will ensure your leather coral’s growth is not affected by other coral species. 

Remember that corals are animals, not plants, so just like us, they have different personalities, and some of them need more personal space than others!


Leather corals can be a little temperamental in reef aquariums, especially when their neighbors give them a little nudge. However, leather corals can usually touch each other without any issues. 

If your leather corals touch, just monitor their behavior for aggression. If needed, move your leather coral and run activated carbon to reduce the number of toxins released in the aquarium water. 

  • Roy Lee

    I have an unhealthy obsession with reef keeping and maintaining successful tanks. If you haven't noticed from the website, I love everything related to saltwater tanks like coral, fish, and everything else in between.

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