Leather Coral Care
When I started my first saltwater tank, I was overwhelmed trying to pick out my first corals. There are so many varieties to choose from, all with different needs and challenges. Then I found leather corals. Leather coral care is pretty easy which makes these popular beginner corals, especially since they come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. All you need is some good light, good water quality, and a decent amount of space, and you can easily grow some beautiful leather corals of your own.
Leather Coral Feeding
One of the reasons leather coral care is so easy is that they don’t often require intentional feeding. Leather corals are photosynthetic, meaning they are able to derive the nutrients they need from light. They do this by using marine algae called zooxanthellae which are often contained inside their bodies. Because of this, leather corals can often thrive off good lighting alone, and several enthusiasts won’t bother feeding their corals at all.
If, however, your coral seems to be struggling or isn’t getting enough light, you can spot feed it. Leather corals have polyps that are supported on stems with eight tentacles on each polyp. Leathers and all other soft corals are actually classified as Octocorals because of these eight-tentacled polyps.
Leather corals use these tentacles to grab microplankton and zooplankton out of the water for additional nutrients. If you think your leather coral needs to be fed, you can spot-feed it by using a syringe to deposit a mixture of this plankton right next to your coral’s polyps.
Leather Coral Lighting
Since leather corals get most of the nutrients they need from light, it’s important to provide them with a strong light source. However, one of the things that make leather coral care so easy is that they aren’t really picky about most of their living conditions, including light. Moderate to bright lighting is ideal for these corals, but they can usually still do well in low lighting.
If, however, you place them in low light or shadows, you will need to be more vigilant about spot feeding to make sure they’re still getting the nutrients they need. Another thing to keep in mind is that leather corals tend to have better coloration and grow faster in strong light, so they may not look as good or grow much in dim lighting or shadowed areas.
Leather Coral Water Flow
Good water flow is an important aspect of leather coral care. Too much current can cause these corals to retract their polyps and not grow and spread as they should. Too little current, though, can make it harder for them to shed, which they need to do to stay healthy.
Leather corals shed about once a month by developing a slimy film on their surface. When this happens, they usually retract their polyps, giving them a smooth appearance. Shedding allows them to get rid of algae and other irritants that may have begun to accumulate on their surface. This process usually takes a few days, during which time the coral may seem to be shrunken or unhealthy. This shouldn’t be a concern, though, since leather corals generally re-open even larger and healthier than before once their film is shed. Good water flow will help remove this film, so this process will go faster if your coral is placed in a moderate current.
Leather Coral Placement
Due to their low-maintenance requirements, leather corals can be placed just about anywhere in a tank. You will want to be sure they have good light and a moderate current around them for best health, coloration, and growth.
Corals, in general, can be aggressive when it comes to trying to claim space for themselves. Leather corals are some of the least aggressive coral species as they don’t have stingers or other ways of directly assaulting their neighbors. They do give off chemicals that can be toxic to other corals, but frequent water changes and the occasional use of activated carbon should manage this easily.
Since leather corals aren’t actively aggressive, they can be placed near each other or other corals. You still shouldn’t place them too close, though, as leather corals will need room to grow and spread out. Most of these corals can grow fairly large in good conditions and will need to be fragged to control their size or given a lot of room to grow without running into or overshadowing other corals.
Leather Coral Growth Rate
On the whole, leather corals tend to grow fairly quickly compared to other corals. However, the term “leather coral” includes several types of soft corals like finger leathers, toadstool leathers, and cabbage leathers. Each type of leather coral has a different look, structure, shape, and growth rate. Growth will also be influenced by things like water flow and lighting levels. Also, leather corals are less likely to grow if they have moved around a lot or are competing with other corals for survival and reef space.
Having said that, most leather corals will double in size every 3 – 6 months in good condition. When your corals get too big, you can easily frag them to reduce their size. Fragging simply means using a sterile knife or pair of scissors to cut off a piece of coral, then gluing or tying that piece onto a new plug or chunk of rock. Coral fragments can be sold, given away, or moved to another part of the tank. It generally takes about a month for a leather coral to heal from the shock of being fragged.
Leather coral care is pretty simple and straightforward which is one of the reasons these types of corals are so popular for beginners and long-time hobbyists alike. With some good lighting, strategic placement, occasional feeding, and good water flow, you can have leather corals in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors growing and flourishing in your tank in no time.