Leather corals are a group of soft corals that belong to the family Alcyoniidae. They are named for their tough, leathery skin that covers their fleshy body. These corals are highly popular among reef aquarium hobbyists because they are easy to care for, come in a variety of shapes and colors, and can grow into large colonies that add movement and texture to the tank.
|Origin||Leather corals are found throughout the world’s oceans, except the Atlantic Ocean|
|Scientific names||Leather corals belong to the family Alcyoniidae, and include genera such as Lobophytum, Sinularia, Sarcophyton, and Cladiella|
|Common names||Leather coral, toadstool coral, colt coral, finger coral, cabbage coral, devil’s hand coral|
|Lighting||Low (PAR 50-150) – some leather corals like toadstools can tolerate higher intensities|
|Water flow||Moderate to high|
|Salinity||1.023-1.025 specific gravity|
|Ease of care||Easy|
Different Species of Leather Corals
There are hundreds of different species of leather corals in the family Alcyoniidae, and many of them are not well-studied or classified. However, some of the more common and popular species that are available in the aquarium trade are:
- Common toadstool coral (Sarcophyton glaucum): This is one of the most common and easy beginner leather corals for reef aquariums. It has a smooth, tan-colored cap with small bumps on the surface. Long brown polyps extend at night or when feeding.
- Yellow toadstool coral (Sarcophyton elegans): This is a similar species to the common toadstool coral, but it has a bright yellow cap with small bumps on the surface. They can grow up to 12 inches (or more) in diameter and has long, yellow polyps that extend at night or when feeding.
- Green sinularia (Sinularia flexibilis): Commonly known as a finger leather, this is one of the most common and easy leather corals for beginners. They are easily recognizable by their long, thin, bright green branches. It can grow up to 12 inches (or more) in height and has short, green polyps that extend during the day or when feeding.
- Devil’s hand leathers: Leather corals with a thick, cushiony body with lobes or fingers extending from the top. The lobes or fingers can be short or long and may have different shapes or colors. The polyps are usually extended during the day and retracted at night. Some examples of devil’s hand leathers are the devil’s hand coral (Lobophytum pauciflorum), the cabbage leather coral (Lobophytum crassum), and the loco lobo leather coral (Lobophytum sp.).
How to Care for Leather Corals
Leather corals are generally easy to care for, as they can adapt to a wide range of tank conditions and are tolerant of parameter swings. However, they still need some basic requirements to thrive and grow in a reef aquarium. Here are some of the main aspects of leather coral care:
- Space: Leather corals can grow into large colonies that can crowd out other corals or shade them from light. Therefore, they need adequate space in the tank to spread out and avoid contact with other corals. Leather corals can also release toxins into the water that can harm other corals, especially stony corals. Leather corals use this form of chemical warfare to defend their territory. To prevent this, it is a good idea to use activated carbon in the filter and perform regular water changes to remove any toxins from the water. It is also advisable to keep leather corals away from sensitive or delicate corals, such as Acropora or Euphyllia.
- Lighting: Leather corals, called zooxanthellae, need moderate to high lighting to support their photosynthetic symbionts. These are microscopic algae that live inside the coral tissue and provide them with nutrients and oxygen in exchange for carbon dioxide and waste products. The lighting spectrum and intensity can affect the color and growth of leather corals, as different wavelengths of light can stimulate different pigments in the coral tissue. Generally, leather corals prefer a full spectrum of light, including blue, white, and red wavelengths. However, some leather corals may prefer more blue or more white light depending on their natural habitat and coloration. For example, green sinularia may look more vibrant under blue light, while yellow toadstool may look more bright under white light. The best way to find out what lighting works best for your leather coral is to experiment with different settings and observe how your coral responds.
- Water flow: Leather corals need moderate to high water flow to keep them healthy and clean. Water flow helps bring oxygen and nutrients to the coral polyps and removes any waste products and debris from the coral surface. Water flow also helps prevent algae growth and bacterial infections on the coral tissue and stimulates the extension of the polyps. However, too much flow can damage or tear the coral tissue, especially if it is too strong or too direct. Therefore, finding a balance between enough flow and not too much flow for your leather coral is important. A good way to test this is to observe how your coral reacts to the flow in your tank. If your coral is fully expanded and swaying gently with the current, then it is happy with the flow. If your coral is retracted or torn, then it is unhappy with the flow.
- Nutrition: Leather corals are mainly photosynthetic, meaning they get most of their nutrition from their zooxanthellae symbionts. However, they can also benefit from supplemental feeding of various foods that mimic their natural diet in the wild. Leather corals are filter feeders, meaning they catch small particles of food from the water column using their tentacles and mouth. Some of the foods that leather corals can eat include phytoplankton, zooplankton, brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, cyclops, rotifers, and other fine foods designed for filter feeders. Feeding your leather coral once or twice a week can help boost its growth and coloration and provide some variety to its diet. However, overfeeding can cause problems such as algae growth, nutrient spikes, and poor water quality. Therefore, feeding your leather coral sparingly is important, and removing any excess food from the water after feeding.
How to Propagate Leather Corals
One of the best parts of keeping leather corals is that they are easy to propagate, meaning you can create new corals from your existing ones. This is a great way to expand your coral collection, share your corals with other hobbyists, or even sell your corals for some extra cash.
There are two main methods of propagating leather corals: natural and artificial. Natural propagation occurs when the coral reproduces on its own, either by fragmentation or branch dropping. Artificial propagation occurs when you cut or frag the coral manually.
Some leather corals can propagate naturally by dropping branches or fragments of their tissue. This is a form of asexual reproduction that allows the coral to spread and colonize new areas. The dropped branches or fragments can attach to a new substrate and grow into a new coral.
Some of the leather corals that can propagate naturally by dropping branches or fragments are:
- Green sinularia: This finger leather coral can drop small pieces of its branches that can grow into new corals.
- Cabbage leather coral: This devil’s hand leather coral can drop large lobes or fingers that can grow into new corals.
- Loco lobo leather coral: This devil’s hand leather coral can drop star-shaped polyps that can grow into new corals.
To encourage natural propagation, you need to provide your leather coral with good water flow, lighting, and nutrition. You also need to have enough space in your tank for the new corals to grow and avoid contact with other corals. You can also use frag plugs, tiles, or rocks to catch the dropped branches or fragments and move them to a new location.
Artificial propagation is when you cut or frag your leather coral manually. This is a more controlled and precise way of propagating your coral, as you can choose which part of the coral to cut and how big or small you want the frags to be. You can also use this method to prune your coral if it grows too large or out of shape.
Some of the leather corals that can be propagated artificially by cutting or fragging are:
- Toadstool leather coral: This leather coral can be cut along its cap or stalk using a sharp scalpel or scissors. You can cut small pieces or large chunks depending on how big you want your frags to be.
- Finger leather coral: This leather coral can be cut along its branches using a sharp scalpel or scissors. You can cut single branches or multiple branches, depending on how big you want your frags to be.
- Devil’s hand leather coral: This leather coral can be cut along its lobes or fingers using a sharp scalpel or scissors. You can cut single lobes or fingers or multiple lobes or fingers, depending on how big you want your frags to be.
To propagate your leather coral artificially, you need to follow these steps:
- Prepare your tools and materials: You will need a sharp scalpel or scissors, a cutting board, some frag plugs, tiles, or rocks, some glue or epoxy, some rubber bands or fishing line, some gloves, and some paper towels.
- Prepare your tank: You will need to turn off your pumps and skimmers to reduce the water flow and prevent any debris from spreading in your tank. You will also need to prepare a separate container with some tank water for rinsing your frags.
- Cut your coral: You will need to carefully remove your coral from the tank and place it on the cutting board. You will then need to cut your coral along its cap, stalk, branches, lobes, or fingers using the scalpel or scissors. You should make clean and straight cuts and avoid tearing or crushing the tissue. You should also try to include some polyps on each frag if possible.
- Rinse your frags: You will need to rinse your frags in the container with tank water to remove any debris and mucus from the cuts. You should also dab them dry with some paper towels.
- Attach your frags: You will need to attach your frags to the frag plugs, tiles, or rocks using some glue or epoxy. You should apply a thin layer of glue or epoxy on the cut surface of the frag and press it firmly onto the plug, tile, or rock. You should also secure it with some rubber bands or fishing line if needed.
- Return your frags: You will need to return your frags to the tank and place them in a low-light and low-flow area for healing. You should also return your original coral to its original location in the tank.
- Monitor your frags: You will need to monitor your frags for signs of healing and growth. It generally takes about a month for a leather coral to heal from the shock of being fragged. You should look for signs of new tissue growth, polyp extension, and coloration. You should also watch out for signs of infection, algae growth, or predation. You can use activated carbon in the filter and perform regular water changes to improve the water quality and remove any toxins from the leather corals. You can also use coral dips or medications to treat any infections or pests on your frags.
Leather corals are great coral species for reef aquarium hobbyists of all levels. They are easy to care for, come in a variety of shapes and colors, and can grow into large colonies that add movement and texture to the tank. They are also easy to propagate, meaning you can create new corals from your existing ones.
However, leather corals also have some challenges and drawbacks that you need to be aware of. They need adequate space, lighting, water flow, and nutrition to thrive and grow. They can also release toxins into the water that harm other corals, especially stony corals. They can also shed their skin periodically, which can cause a temporary decline in their appearance and health.
Leather corals are beautiful and hardy corals that can enhance any reef aquarium!
More Coral Guides
If you’re interested in learning about similar coral species, check out:
What are leather corals?
Leather corals are a group of soft corals that have a leathery texture and appearance. They belong to the family Alcyoniidae, and include genera such as Lobophytum, Sinularia, Sarcophyton, and Cladiella. They are colonial sessile animals that have eight tentacles and eight mesentaries on their polyps.
How do you care for leather corals?
Leather corals are easy to care for and can tolerate a range of water conditions.
They prefer low to moderate lighting (PAR 50-150), moderate to high water flow, and stable water parameters. They need salinity of 1.023-1.025 specific gravity, alkalinity of 8-12 dKH, calcium of 400-450 ppm, magnesium of 1250-1350 ppm, nitrates of <10 ppm, and phosphates of <0.03 ppm. They can be fed with foods that filter feeders eat, such as phytoplankton, zooplankton, or coral foods.
What are some common types of leather corals?
Toadstool corals, Finger coral, Colt coral, Cabbage coral, and Devil’s hand corals are all common types of leather corals.