The Ultimate Leather Coral Care Guide

Leather corals are one of the hardiest coral, making them an excellent choice for newbie reefers. They are readily available online or at your local fish stores (LFS) and are known to grow into some impressive displays. 

Leather corals are very popular with both beginner and advanced coral hobbyists, making them one of the best-selling corals in the hobby today. Their diverse shapes and colors mean that there is a leather coral for every reef enthusiast!

What Are Leather Corals?

Although leather corals are soft corals, they are classified as Cnidarians, which categorizes stinging celled animals. They are also part of the Octocorallia (or Octocorals) group, which means they usually have an eight-fold symmetry or eight-branched tentacles.

Just like most corals (mushroom corals as an exception), leather corals are colonial sessile animals, meaning they do not move. This means that your leather coral will stay anchored firmly to a rock or substrate, where it can encrust. 

Summary

  • Scientific/Latin Names: Lobophytum, Sinularia, Sarcophyton, and Cladiella
  • Common Names: Leather coral, toadstool coral, colt coral, finger coral
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Mostly peaceful (some are semi-aggressive)
  • Lighting: Low (PAR 50-150) – some leather corals like Toadstools can tolerate higher intensities
  • Water Flow: Moderate to high
  • Placement: Lower region
  • Growth: Relatively fast

Leather Corals That Are A MUST!

Most leather corals are great for beginners. They grow into beautiful and impressive soft corals, creating the perfect mini-ocean display. 

Reef Tank Advisor’s Top Picks!

  • Toadstool Leather
  • Finger Leather
  • Colt Leather Coral

Leather Coral Origin & Habitat

Leather corals are the largest group of Octocorals found throughout the world’s oceans. They are found everywhere except the Atlantic Ocean, which is only home to deep-water corals from the genus Alcyonium, like dead man’s finger corals. 

What Do Leather Corals Look Like?

Leather corals get their name from their famous appearance – a leather-like texture. Their leathery feel separates them from their soft coral cousins, which tend to be more sticky and slimy.

In addition to their leathery look, they also include some of the most vibrantly colored corals in the coral trade. Leather corals are usually yellow, orange, red, green, and purple, but they also come in some epic colorful hues. 

Following the soft coral trend, leather corals do not have a rigid calcium carbonate skeleton, like stony corals (LPS and SPS corals). Instead, leather corals have tiny calcareous components called sclerites

The leather coral’s sclerites are tiny skeletal components embedded inside the leather coral’s tissues, giving them support, and a grainy texture. 

Another interesting distinguishing feature is the polyps that decorate the leather coral’s base. There are two types of polyp formations. The first is known as autozooid polyps, polyps that have eight tentacles, and the second is called siphonozooid polyps. These tentacles have a reduced oral cavity and cilia.

Toadstool Leather Corals

If any of your hobbyist friends have leather corals, there is a high chance they have a toadstool leather coral, as they are the most popular choice. Toadstool leathers come in a variety of colors and styles, but they all have a single stalk with a smooth, plate-like top, hence their name!

On top of the toadstool’s smooth plate are many polyps, giving them a ‘fluffy’ appearance. During the night these polyps retract, and sometimes they will also retract their polyps during the day, this is nothing to worry about unless they remain retracted for multiple days. 

When toadstool leather corals close their polyps for a long time, it is an indication that they are not happy with their water flow, lighting, or their tank mates may be nipping at them.

Finger Leather Corals

Finger leather corals look almost identical to toadstool corals, and they also come in a variety of colors and styles. But, what makes them different from toadstools is their bumpy leathery plate with finger-like structures. 

Just like toadstool leather corals, finger leathers also retract their polyps at night, and occasionally during the day.

Colt Leather Corals

Colt corals are easier to distinguish from the other types of leather corals, as they are less vibrant. They are usually cream to gray-white, however, some have contrasting green and brown polyps. Colt leather corals are more stubby with round, cone-shaped branches, which grow from the coral’s stalk.

The colt leather coral’s texture is dry and ribbed, which differs from most leather corals that have a slimy appearance.

Leather Coral Growth 

Leather corals are some of the most dynamic coral species in aquariums, in the way that they can grow under a very wide range of conditions. While some leathers will grow very fast, some leather corals will grow more slowly.

You cannot expect your leather coral to grow to its maximum potential overnight. Just like any other animal, it takes time to grow, however, you should notice it growing a few days after it has fully acclimated to your aquarium. 

Leather corals such as toadstools and finger leather corals are the fastest-growing ones you can get your hands on at your LFS or online. These popular corals are known to grow up to 12 inches or more!

Leather Coral Reproduction

Leather corals will easily reproduce once they have been established in a well-maintained aquarium. While you can help them reproduce by fragging them, it is very fascinating to watch your leather coral reproduce on its own. 

Leather corals can reproduce both sexually and asexually, however, in your aquarium you will only likely see asexual reproduction take place. This is when your leather coral splits as mentioned above. Your leather coral will split off pieces of its cap, which will then fall to a rock or another substrate to eventually attach onto and grow into another leather coral colony.

If your leather coral is taking some time to reproduce, you can help this process by manually splitting your coral with a fragging kit. 

Leather Coral Shedding

Leather corals go through periods when their polyps do not extend because they are going through a process known as shedding. To a newbie reefer, this can be a scary time, as your leather coral may shrink as it starts to shed its outer skin. If this happens, do not be alarmed, this is a natural process.

When your leather coral sheds, it will look waxy, and it may get some faint white spots over the tissue as the skin starts to break and shed/peel off. 

Most leather corals will usually take around 7 days to fully shed their membrane, however, some leather corals like the devil’s hand can take weeks. This time allows your leather coral to clean its surface of dirt and debris and feel ‘reborn’. 

If your leather coral is taking a long time to shed, be patient. Unless your leather starts disintegrating, don’t worry too much about it, it will fully open again looking bigger, brighter, and healthier than before!

Leather Coral Placement 

Leather corals are not too fussy when it comes to placement, however, most hobbyists find that the bottom of the tank is a fantastic location for them to thrive. 

Ideally, placing your leather coral near rocks and far away from other coral varieties is best for your coral, so that they do not touch. 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. Apart from giving your leather coral plenty of space, they are not very demanding regarding their location in aquariums. 

But, one thing you must be aware of is their feeling towards being moved. Leather corals do not like to be handled and/or moved around often, therefore, have a long think about where you want your leather coral to go before finalizing their placement. 

Leather Coral Aggression & Toxicity

Leather corals do not have long stinging tentacles, but they can produce and release toxins; a process called allelopathy. The toxins they release are called terpenoids. Terpenoid toxins can stunt the growth of neighboring corals inside your aquarium, particularly more sensitive corals like Acropora corals. All leather corals have a level of toxicity, however, if you accidentally brush up against your coral, it should not cause you harm. 

Your leather coral will release toxins when they feel threatened by other corals, in competition for space, during the shedding process, and as a general stress response to changes in the aquarium conditions.

This is why running carbon, and performing regular water changes are highly recommended. Properly maintaining your aquarium can reduce the detrimental effects that leather coral toxins have in aquariums. When running carbon, remember to replace it every 2-3 weeks. This should solve any chemical warfare issues in your aquarium.

Leather Coral Care

Leather corals are hardy, making them easy to keep, they are easy to find, and they are simple to frag. Most leather corals will also grow very quickly and very large, making them very appealing to beginners and experienced coral collectors wanting to quickly fill their aquarium with beautiful corals. 

Tank Parameters To Maintain Healthy Leather Corals

You will be glad to hear that leather corals are not too demanding, however, you should still keep their environment relatively stable for them to thrive and grow. 

Ideal Water Conditions:

  • Temperature: 76-82℉
  • pH: 8.0-8.4
  • Salinity: 1.025
  • Calcium: 350-450 PPM
  • Magnesium: 1250-1350 PPM
  • Nitrates: <10 PPM
  • Phosphates: <0.10 PPM

Even though leather corals are hardy, you still need to maintain good water quality and perform frequent water changes. It is recommended you get yourself a protein skimmer if you haven’t got one already and invest in a dosing pump, trust me, they are worth it!

Leather Coral Lighting & PAR Levels

Low to moderate lighting with a PAR range of 50-150 is perfect for your leather coral to receive enough energy to drive photosynthesis and maintain their vibrant colors. Without the correct aquarium lighting, your coral may start to shrivel up, and decay. 

You should never leave your lighting fixture on 24/7. In the wild, corals are exposed to different lights during the night and day, so the same applies inside your aquarium. Leaving the lights on for 9-12 hours every day is enough time for your leather coral to produce food. 

When adding your leather coral into your aquarium for the first time, remember to slowly acclimate it to your aquarium lighting. Your aquarium lighting is likely stronger than at the LFS. 

The best way to acclimate your new coral is to turn down the lighting intensity to prevent moving your leather coral later – leather corals do not like to be shuffled around the aquarium. I highly recommend getting yourself a light dimmer, they truly are a game changer!

If you would prefer to manually dim your lighting, lower the lighting intensity by 20-30%, slowly increasing it by 10% every week until you reach your aquarium’s normal lighting levels.

Which Lighting Fixtures Are Best For Leather Corals?

Leather corals are not selective with their lighting fixture, however, they tend to do very well under various types of fluorescent lighting.

Your leather coral will grow well under T5’s, metal halides, or LED lighting when the proper PAR levels are provided. However, to really make your leather coral’s colors ‘pop’, a 14-20K color spectrum is highly recommended. Leather corals are also a big fan of blue and actinic spectrum lighting. This spectrum is the best choice for both coral growth and creating a fantastic coloration display.

Leather Coral Water Flow Requirements

Your leather coral likes good flow, so it is recommended to provide your coral with a moderate to high water flow. 

You want to ensure the water flow is strong enough to keep aquarium waste off your coral’s tissues, but not too strong that your leather is being windswept! If your water flow blasts your leather coral, it can tear your coral’s tissues, exposing it to bacterial infections, which can later lead to coral death. 

Sufficient water flow not only helps your leather coral grow to its greatest potential, but also keeps your leather coral happy and healthy. 

Feeding Leather Corals

Like most corals, leather corals live in symbiosis with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae provide your leather coral with the majority of their nutritional needs, along with dissolved organic matter in the water. However, your leather coral can capture food, and they will benefit from regular spot feedings. 

Foods such as brine shrimp and plankton are great meaty treats! Additional feeding will promote better growth and coloration for your leather coral. Your leather coral will also benefit from occasionally dipping their foods in vitamins to maintain optimum health.

How To Frag Your Leather Coral?

You can manually split your mushroom coral, in a process known as ‘fragging’. Fragging refers to the process of removing a small segment of tissue from your ‘mother colony’. 

Most keen ‘coral fraggers’ will take segments of at least three square centimeters, however, reefers with smaller aquariums or small mother coral colonies will often micro-frag. Micro-fragging involves removing a coral section no bigger than one square centimeter. 

Step 1: Planning your leather coral frag

Before grabbing your fragging tools, decide which part of your leather coral you wish to frag. It is recommended to frag a healthy part of coral that is near the base.

Step 2: Remove your leather coral 

It is always recommended to remove your leather coral from the aquarium when fragging it. If your leather coral has attached to a rock, remove the rock instead of peeling it off the rock to reduce further stress.

There are two reasons why removing your leather coral whilst fragging is recommended. The first is that leather corals can release toxins when disturbed, which can be harmful to other corals inside your aquarium, and the second, is that you can add coral treatment to the container you are using to frag your leather coral to help it heal faster. 

Step 3: Frag your leather coral

Fragging involves cutting a small section off of your leather coral. Ensure you have a very sharp blade like a scalpel or sharp knife, so you remove the piece of coral in one clean and gentle motion. 

Once you have cut the frag, remove it into a second container filled with aquarium water, and leave the mother colony in the container it is currently in. Add a coral treatment to both containers to help your leather corals heal from the cut areas.

After 10 minutes in the coral treatment, place the mother leather coral back in your aquarium and run some activated carbon to remove any toxins that it may release. 

Step 4: Attach your frag 

Personally, allowing your leather coral frag to naturally attach to the rock is best. This is because leather corals are not the best at being glued onto a substrate because of their constant slime/mucus production. Often they will slide off the rock after a few days of being glued, therefore it is better to attach your frag with a rubber band to save you the headache of repeating the process.

Grab a rubber band and gently hold the leather coral frag against a piece of rock or rubble you want it to attach to. Apply enough pressure to hold your frag in place, but not too hard that your leather coral breaks into two smaller pieces, as this will cause your leather coral to become detached. 

Gently wrap the rubber band around the rock and your new coral fragment. Do not worry if your leather coral is not sitting upright right now, as it will move, growing towards the aquarium lighting in no time.

Step 5: Return your leather coral frag to the aquarium

Now the exciting part! It is time to place your new leather coral frag inside your aquarium. 

After 10 minutes in the coral dip treatment, place your frag in the lower region of your aquarium with a low water flow. If you place a new frag in a strong water flow, it will have trouble attaching to the rock. 

After two to three weeks, your new frag should be firmly attached to the rock. During this time, check that the water chemistry and lighting needs are being met, and maintain tank stability through water changes and dosing if needed. 

And there you have it, you have successfully fragged your first leather coral!

Suitable Tank Mates For Leather Corals

I’m sure you would agree that an aquarium display looks more ocean-like with a variety of different corals, and maybe even some fish. 

Leather corals can be kept with nearly all fish and invertebrates that are considered reef-safe. As some leather corals have long tentacles, they can be mistaken as an anemone by clownfish. If you have clownfish, and they use your leather coral as a home, keep a close eye that they are not upsetting your coral. 

When your leather coral’s tank mates are disturbing them, your coral will close its polyps, and in worse cases, they may take some damage. If this happens, consider removing the culprit to prevent further stress on your leather coral. 

Leather Coral Pests & Common Problems

Pests such as flatworms, copepods/isopods, and nudibranchs/sea slugs can infect your leather coral. Should these pests get inside your aquarium, they will strip your leather coral’s tissues. 

To eliminate pests entering your aquarium, you should use a coral dip before acclimating them to their new home. Unfortunately, some critters still find their way into aquariums because they are expert hitchhikers. 

Try taking a turkey baster and blowing around the base of your leather coral to see if anything kicks loose. Any unwanted visitors also pose a threat to other life inside your aquarium, so if you find any, remove them asap. 

Aside from coral pests, you may experience the following common problems. 

If your leather coral becomes stressed, or it is dying, it can be a single issue or even multiple issues. To prevent a disaster from happening to your leather coral, keep these common issues in mind, and hopefully, you can diagnose and solve the issue.

Tissue Loss in Leather Corals

Tissue loss is usually from tissue necrosis. There are two types of tissue necrosis: slow tissue necrosis (STN) and rapid tissue necrosis (RTN). 

Tissue loss is caused by:

  • A sudden change in alkalinity: Consistently low alkalinity levels and/or a drastic change in the salinity level.
  • Significant temperature changes.
  • Bacterial infections from Philaster Lucinda and Philaster Guamense.

So, what’s the solution?

  • Ensure temperature, salinity, alkalinity, and pH are within range – continue to test the water until they are stable.
  • Remove the necrotic tissue to prevent it from spreading further. 

Leather Coral Turning Brown

Leather corals turn brown as a result of the overproduction of zooxanthellae. As the number of zooxanthellae increases, they block your coral’s natural pigments, causing them to turn brown. 

This is caused by:

  • Elevated nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates.
  • Frequent fluctuations in your aquariums tank parameters.
  • Low light levels. This is particularly common in newly added corals. 

So, what’s the solution?

  • Keep nitrates and phosphates within range. 
  • Add a biopellet or GFO reactor.
  • Regularly test the water parameters.
  • For newly added leather corals, monitor their health, and if your leather coral starts turning brown, slowly move them up in the tank or increase the lighting intensity.

Leather Coral Turning White

Leather corals can turn white from stress caused by many issues, which may then lead to coral bleaching. 

This is caused by:

  • Elevated temperatures which cause the coral to expel the zooxanthellae. 
  • Lighting that is too intense. 
  • Large fluctuations in tank parameters – in particular salinity, alkalinity, and pH.
  • Nitrate and phosphate levels that are too low or too high. 

So, what’s the solution?

  • Keeping the tank parameters within range.
  • Reducing the light intensity.

Leather Coral Not Opening

Leather corals can sometimes be temperamental, and often they will close their polyps. But, how long should you wait until you should be concerned? 

If your leather coral has not opened for several weeks, then it is likely something has happened inside your aquarium. 

This is caused by:

  • Unstable water parameters.
  • Poor water flow.
  • Too much water flow.
  • Parasites.
  • Fish nipping at your leather coral. 

So, what’s the solution?

  • Check all the water parameters and keep them constant and within range.
  • Check your leather coral is in an area with enough water flow.
  • Inspect and dip your coral before adding it to the aquarium.
  • Only add reef-safe fish and other marine life. 

Summary

Leather corals are beautiful soft corals that are easy to grow and care for in any well-maintained aquarium. With many varieties to choose from, including the popular toadstool leather coral, there is a leather coral for everyone!

  • 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.

    http://reeftankadvisor.com reeftankroy@gmail.com Lee Roy

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