Are you ready to dive into some SPS (small polyp stony) corals, but are unsure where to start? If so, you have come to the right place, as montipora (monti) corals are arguably the second most SPS coral after acropora.
But, as you probably have heard, acropora corals are fairly challenging, which is where the colorful and mesmerizing montis come in!
Their popularity is no shock to hobbyists when they stumble upon them. Montipora corals come in three main types: plating, encrusting, and branching, in just about every color or texture you could dream of, which is why they so are popular for both the beginner reefer and coral experts.
What Are Montipora Corals?
Montipora corals are a genus of Scleractinian corals (meaning stony/hard corals), from the phylum Cnidaria. They are quite a diverse group of SPS coral, with over 80 known species to choose from, all with different colors and growth morphs!
Montipora Coral Summary
- Scientific/Latin Name: Montipora spp.
- Family: Acroporidae
- Common Names: Montipora, monti, vase corals, velvet corals
- Care Level: Medium
- Temperament: Non-aggressive
- Lighting: Moderate to high (PAR 150-200+)
- Water Flow: Moderate to high
- Placement: Middle to the top region
- Growth: Medium to fast
Are Montipora Corals Difficult To Keep?
With regard to SPS coral husbandry, montipora is one of the easiest you can add to your coral reef tank. However, that doesn’t mean they can be kept by every hobbyist…
Montipora corals require high lighting, high water flow, and stable water parameters to thrive. While that may not sound too challenging if you are a newbie reefer, your aquarium simply may not be ready to introduce slightly demanding corals like montis.
To successfully keep montipora corals, you need to have a stable reef tank that has been running for at least one year before attempting to keep any SPS corals. This is because your aquarium needs to settle, allow any algae outbreaks to be under control, and for you to understand how your mini-ocean ecosystem works.
However, if you have succeeded in keeping soft corals and LPS (large polyp stony) corals, then you are ready to dive into keeping SPS corals! Montipora is not only a perfect entryway into keeping SPS corals and a stepping stone to keeping advanced SPS corals like acropora, but they also come in many shapes and colors, which is why they are one of our favorite corals to put on display.
Easy Montipora Corals
Montipora digitata and montipora capricornis (monti caps) are two of the easiest montipora corals to care for. If it is your first time caring for montis, then these are a good start!
Origins & Habitat
Montipora corals are found at all depths in coral reefs, but mainly they are found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, therefore, it is likely your monti originated from Australia or Indonesia.
What Do Montipora Corals Look Like?
As montipora corals come in many different varieties and are sold under various ‘fancy’ names, they can often be difficult to identify. However, regardless of the name your local fish store (LFS) gives to their montis, each variety has general attributes you can look out for.
What Do Branching Montipora Corals Look Like?
Branching montipora corals like montipora digitata are the most popular. This iconic monti usually comes in orange or green, with fascinating and complex structures. Their branches, which look like antlers, are covered in very concentrated polyps, giving them a ‘fuzzy’ look.
As branching monti grow towards the light, they display white tips to indicate new growth. As they grow, they can often shade lower branches, which is why fragging is often necessary.
What Do Plating Montipora Corals Look Like?
Plating montipora are also popular among hobbyists, plus they are one of the easiest to identify. For example, if you have heard of montipora capricornis (AKA monti caps), then they were referring to a plating monti type.
Plating montis get their name from their horizontal circular growth which has a rough texture. Their polyps do not extend as far as branching montis, but they will stretch as far as they can to catch nutrients in the water and absorb as much lighting as possible.
Even though plating montipora will create the perfect 3D look for your aquarium reef, they do take up a lot of space, and their encrusting plates will shade anything that grows underneath. For this reason, it is best to place these types of corals as low as their lighting requirements allow.
What Do Encrusting Montipora Corals Look Like?
Lastly, are the encrusting montipora corals, which may not be your, or other reef hobbyist’s first choice, but they are still a good option for providing your aquarium with color and uniqueness. A good example of an encrusting monti is montipora verrucosa, also known as rice coral because of its distinct texture.
They are not as colorful as their montipora cousins; they are limited to orange, green, and purple, however, their rapid growth makes up for their lack of colors. Encrusting montipora corals quickly grow over a rock or any other surface they can find, so placement is key from the beginning!
Like most corals, montipora colonies are both male and female, therefore they can reproduce both sexually and asexually. In the wild, corals ‘mass spawn’ by releasing eggs and sperm at the same time, which results in a fertilized egg. The egg then matures into a free-swimming planula larva, which will then find a suitable place to settle and grow into another coral colony.
In your aquarium, this can happen if the lighting and water conditions are right, and for many hobbyists, achieving coral spawning in captivity is one of the biggest achievements in reef husbandry. However, your montipora is more likely to reproduce asexually via propagation.
Propagation in the wild happens when storms break off pieces of coral, but in aquariums, your water flow should never be strong enough to do this. So, to propagate your monti, you have to frag it, which we will go into later on in this article.
As mentioned, your montipora’s growth will depend on the type you have. Montis grow in three formations:
Whichever growth formation your montipora coral has, they all require stable water parameters, nutrients, water flow, and lighting to maintain healthy growth.
As your montipora grows, it will likely show white rings (encrusting/plating montis) or white tips (branching montis) to indicate new growth. When your monti turns white during growth, do not panic, this is normal, however, it is important to know the difference between a bleaching montipora and one that has healthy growth.
How Fast Do Montipora Corals Grow?
Montipora is one of the fastest-growing SPS corals, however, if you were to compare them to LPS or soft corals, they grow much slower.
Their growth rate varies between aquariums, and at the beginning, your monti may not grow at all. But, be patient, as in 6 months after acclimation and keeping their requirements stable, you can expect your monti to grow up to 5 times bigger!
Montipora Coral Care
As mentioned, montipora are one of the easiest SPS corals to care for, however, before you take on the SPS challenge, make sure you have successfully kept LPS and softies, your tank is mature, and your aquarium setup meets the montipora coral requirements. This starts off with maintaining stable tank parameters.
Tank Parameters For Montipora Corals
Before placing your montipora coral into your reef tank, make sure the following parameters are stable. Stability is the key to caring for corals!
- Temperature: 75 – 79 °F
- Alkalinity: 7 – 9 KH
- pH: 8 – 8.4
- Salinity: 1.024 – 1.026 (1.025 is ideal)
- Calcium: 420 – 440 ppm
- Magnesium: 1260 – 1350 ppm
- Nitrate: <10 ppm
- Phosphate: 0.01 ppm
The two parameters you need to focus on are nitrate and phosphate because spikes in these can cause algae issues and in worse cases, coral death. To ensure your water parameters are stable, you should frequently perform water changes and test the water.
Montipora Water Chemistry Explained!
Montipora corals need clean water and high levels of ions for them to grow and thrive. They are not as fussy as acropora, however, lack of ions and poor water quality can cause changes in your montipora’s coloration and polyp extention.
As your monti is a stony coral, it requires certain elements to build its calcium carbonate skeleton. These are calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium.
Alkalinity is important in buffering the aquarium water to maintain chemical stability. Maintaining levels of alkalinity helps keep the pH level stable, prevent tissue loss, and reduce the chances of your monti bleaching.
The bad news is, that alkalinity tends to be the water parameter most likely to fluctuate, therefore it needs a little more attention than calcium and magnesium. However, that is not to say you should totally disregard the others, as they are also important for your montipora’s health!
As your monti flourishes and grows, it requires calcium to form its calcium skeleton. In the ocean, calcium levels are around 425 ppm, therefore maintaining your calcium levels between 420 and 440 ppm is crucial for your monti to thrive.
Stay with me now, as this next part is important!
If you need to adjust the calcium and alkalinity levels inside your aquarium, it can be a little challenging because of the way the two parameters interact.
For example, if you were to add calcium supplements to the aquarium water, it will likely lower the alkalinity level, and vice versa. This is all down to how the two ions interact causing a see-saw effect to happen; when calcium and alkalinity interact they form calcium carbonate, which causes them to fall out of solution, lowering both levels.
If you are tackling this issue inside your aquarium, the culprit could be another parameter, magnesium! Magnesium has similar chemical characteristics to calcium because it can bind up carbonate ions, increasing the alkalinity level in the water. Always check your magnesium levels are not too low; it may be that you are getting off-results, despite tweaking the calcium and alkalinity levels.
To prevent any major fluctuations in your parameters, work slowly and monitor changes with a test kit. This is critical as you start filling your tank with SPS corals like montis. In the beginning, the number of water changes may keep up with how many montis you have, but as you add more corals, you may have to supplement your water and add calcium reactors.
Montipora Lighting & PAR Requirements
Like most corals, your monti is photosynthetic, which means it relies on your reef tank lighting for energy. Montipora corals also have a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae called zooxanthellae. These dinoflagellates live inside your coral’s tissues.
The zooxanthellae are important in keeping your monti healthy, and when the lighting doesn’t hit its sweet spot, you can run into issues such as your montipora turning brown from zooxanthellae overproduction, or coral bleaching when the zooxanthellae are expelled from your coral’s tissues, turning them ghostly white.
Montipora corals are one of the most light-demanding corals in the trade, so, to keep your monti and the zooxanthellae happy and healthy, your aquarium lighting should have a PAR range between 250 and 400. Having said that, you must not blast them with high-intensity lighting until they have acclimated to their new home.
To properly acclimate your monti to the lighting, it is best to start with a low PAR (125-150), and gradually raise it. Why? Well, light overexposure to your montipora can cause serious damage like bleaching, which you want to avoid!
Remember that PAR levels differ between coral species, and your montipora is no exception. Always check the lighting requirements for your particular monti.
Lighting Fixtures For Montipora Corals
As for which lighting fixture is best, there is no official right or wrong answer, as montipora corals are not fussy when it comes to lighting fixtures. Yet, if you are still wondering which lighting fixture is best for you, here is a quick summary to help you out!
LED lighting dominates the aquarium lighting scene, with the most modern aquarium setups using them because of their energy efficiency, low heat emissions, controllability, and cheap bulb replacements. However, old-school hobbyists still swear by T5 fluorescent lighting or metal halides.
T5s and metal halides are great performers for growing montipora corals for years now. But, they are not very energy efficient, they produce a fair amount of heat, are difficult to control, and their bulbs are expensive to replace. LED lighting beats both of them in all those categories.
If you are still with me and are still unsure which lighting you should get, then why not try a hybrid setup. For hobbyists wanting the best of both worlds, hybrid lighting that incorporates LED lights with either T5s or metal halides may be the way forward!
The main point is, as long as your lighting fixture of choice provides the correct PAR levels, it doesn’t matter which one you choose, your montipora will still grow well. However, for the best coloration in aquariums, a color spectrum of 14-20K is recommended.
Montipora Water Flow Requirements
Water flow requirements in aquariums usually mirror the coral’s origin in the wild, but montipora corals are found in deep water to clear shallow reefs as well as tidal lagoons with murky waters. This makes it tricky to establish which water flow is best for your monti. However, the vast majority of montis appreciate strong water flow with some randomness.
Despite their shallow and tidal locations, your monti will not tolerate being blasted at short range.
You want your powerhead to be strong enough to prevent uneaten food, algae, and other detritus from settling on top of your monti, but not too strong that it will damage your montipora coral’s tissues. This is common with plating montis that can parachute and lift off its place inside the aquarium when the water flow is too strong and direct, tearing it in the process.
Montipora corals do not put on a dramatic feeding frenzy like LPS corals, and target feeding can cause them to close up. Even though it is obvious that montis get the majority of their nutrition from lighting, their nutritional requirements in aquariums extend beyond that.
For example, if your montipora starts looking a little drab, your water chemistry, lighting, and water flow are on point, and there are no signs of irritation from pests or tank mates, then your monti may be craving some food.
Even though montipora corals may not be the most aggressive feeders in the ocean, they do appreciate three types of foods. These include amino acids, zooplankton, and having fish present (fish poop is very nutritious for corals!).
How To Feed Your Montipora
Now, it may seem logical to target feed your monti, as it lacks large fleshy polyps, however, your montipora will be more successful with broadcast feeding.
Despite target feeding being the ‘preferred’ choice for feeding corals because it reduces the amount of waste and allows precision, Montipora corals are sensitive. Therefore, your monti is likely to retract its polyps if you blast food in its direction. This is why broadcast feeding is recommended for these types of SPS corals.
Broadcast feeding allows your monti to munch whatever floats past.
One last note I have to mention is overfeeding… Although coral nutrition is important, it doesn’t mean you have to go overboard. Remember that most of your montis nutrition comes from your aquarium lighting, and feeding is an extra treat for them!
Montipora Placement In Aquariums
All types of montipora corals can be placed in the middle or top region of your aquarium because they require high lighting and water flow. Many hobbyists also like to mount their montis on the glass to create the ultimate mini-ocean look.
When placing your montipora coral in your aquarium, you need to consider there is enough water flow, particularly if you have a branching monti because they can easily cluster.
If your monti is not receiving enough water flow, then it may be worth investing in multiple pumps or ones that have random water flow, to prevent having to move corals around inside your aquarium. Frequently relocating corals causes extreme and unnecessary stress.
Montipora Temperament & Aggression
Another reason that montipora corals are so popular is their well-behaved temperament. Montis are almost completely harmless to other corals, so you shouldn’t have to worry about chemical warfare happening.
As they lack long sweeper tentacles, montis barely sting, however, you need to be cautious of other corals nearby that can take a nasty swipe!
SPS corals like your monti are pretty delicate, so if they come into contact with aggressive corals, they can easily start turning white as a stress response. The good news is, that most montis will recover from a coral injury if treated correctly.
The best way for you to avoid any coral conflict is to create distinct zones inside your reef, allowing plenty of space between corals that are known to have rapid growth, longer tentacles, and aggressive temperaments.
Suitable Tank Mates For Montis
I’m sure you would agree that a reef tank is not complete without some fish to add to your underwater display!
Montipora corals can be kept with all reef-safe fish, including angelfish, but, as your monti has small polyps, it is easy for fish to pick on them if they get the chance.
Our top picks for perfect tank mates include:
Even though the above are considered reef-safe, you should always keep an eye on your reef tank to check that your corals are not being disturbed. If your monti is distressed, consider removing, rehoming your fish, or setting up a new reef tank for them!
Common Montipora Pests & Diseases
Now, we need to cover the not-so-exciting parts of coral husbandry… pests, and diseases! However, do not fear as montipora are not often riddled with pests apart from the dreaded montipora-eating nudibranchs.
Nudibranchs are beautiful to spot while scuba diving, but if you see them in your aquarium, you need to act fast before they munch their entire way around your montis!
If you already have experience keeping zoanthids, then you are probably aware of these pesky critters, but montipora-eating nudibranchs are different, because instead of taking on the coloration of the coral, they are snow-white, and a real pain to deal with. Eradicating them is a challenge because they are highly resistant to dipping, therefore to remove them from your aquarium, you will need to use pretty heavy concentrations of commercially available dips. But the nightmare doesn’t end there…
These guys lay eggs, and often! Plus, even if the adult nudibranchs die from your treatment, the eggs are often unaffected. So, you will need to wait until they hatch to remove them.
When dipping your monti, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, so that you do not exceed the recommended dosage and time. Ignoring this can cause more harm than the nudibranchs themselves!
As montipora corals do not suffer from serious diseases in captivity like the Montipora White Syndrome outbreak in Hawaii, you should run into no problems. However, they can suffer from slow/rapid tissue necrosis (S/RTN) if their tissues become damaged; monti tissues can become damaged from pests or rapid water flow.
Where To Buy Montipora Corals?
Montipora corals are super easy to find in your LFS or online. Their prices vary between species, but the more vibrant colored montis usually go for a higher price.
How To Successfully Frag Montis
If you remember, earlier you learned that your montipora will most likely reproduce asexually in your aquarium, and for that to happen and to prevent shading of other corals, fragging is a necessary part of coral husbandry.
Fragging is not only important to prevent your montipora colony from overgrowing, but it is also profitable as you can sell on your coral frags! Fragging montipora corals is not difficult, and once you have mastered it one time, fragging SPS corals becomes second nature as the method is the same.
Most montipora corals can easily be broken off with your hand, however, if this proves to be difficult, or you do not want to touch your coral, then you can use a bone cutter.
Once you have cut off a piece of your monti, dip it in a coral dip like CoralRX or an iodine bath to help it recover. If you have decided to keep your newly fragged monti, find a suitable placement, where it can grow and receive enough lighting and water flow. Also, make sure you place your monti into the aquarium as soon as possible to minimize the time out of the water.
If you are taking the next step in your hobby, and are searching for some hardy SPS corals, then montipora makes a great choice, because they are not extremely challenging, and they come in a variety of colors and shapes!
So, as you can see. montis are pretty awesome corals! Now, you should know everything necessary for caring for montipora corals, and even some extra tips to share with other aquarium hobbyists.