Colt Coral: In-depth Care Guide For Beginners

This article is dedicated to colt coral (also known as cauliflower colt coral). I share tips & tricks which will help you to organize your aquarium to keep colt coral. From water parameters and lighting aspects to resolving the biggest problems related to colt coral.

Basic Information

Scientific name: Cladiella SPCommon name: Cauliflower Colt СoralType of Coral: Soft Coral
Average size:up to 16 inches Optimal Spacing: 3 to 5 inchesСomplexity: Easy

Make sure to read on if you want to know exact water parameters, compatibility info, fragging tips, tips about resolving the most annoying colt coral-related issues, and more.

Natural Habitat and Appearance

Colt coral is widely known by many names: some hobbyists use soft finger leather coral, others prefer cauliflower coral. Blushing coral and Finger-Tip Cladiella are also popular names.

Colt coral inhabit the coastal parts of the Indo-Pacific. The most popular places are Jakarta and Bali. Numerous colonies up to 16 inches in size are capable of colonizing a wide portion of the coastal zone. Although colt corals are capable of creating large-scale colonies, they prefer to live in small groups or medium-sized colonies.

Despite the variety of forms and colors that distinguish this species from the others, most representatives have a whitish-gray color and polyps, which usually vary from pale brown to greenish-brown in color. Externally polyps look like a basket of fingers, resembling something round or cone-shaped (as for most leather corals) However, unlike other representatives, the touch of colt corals is not so slippery and slimy. Dry and ribbed structure not resembling leather is more peculiar for this species.

Placement in a Reef Tank

Colt coral is a very adaptive species. Making it a perfect choice for beginners. You can literally place this coral all over the tank. As long as you stick to the specific water parameters, proper lighting, and other preferable conditions, your colt coral will feel great. 

It’s totally up to you where to place colt coral. Whether you want to keep it in the very center, or maybe you have that one dedicated, sweet spot at the bottom. There is only one thing to keep in mind when dealing with colt coral: don’t place any corals closer than 3 inches to each other. This is the all-time-tested truth confirmed by many aquarium-keepers. Provide at least 3 inches of free space when settling a coral. I prefer 5 inches spacing, you know, can’t be too careful…

Water Quality

Water quality for corals is as important as air quality is important for you! Imagine living in a rural area. What will be the quality and length of your life if the air is full of toxins, dirt, and chemicals? 

Now imagine living somewhere in the north. And then one morning you wake up in the desert. How would you feel? Unaccustomed, to say the least… The same is true for corals, they are deeply stressed if you disrupt their regimen. The major part of this regimen is water quality. Including Calcium, Alkalinity, pH, temperature, water flow. A combination of these parameters determines whether corals feel great in a tank or suffering to death, bleaching, etc.

Calcium

Colt coral feels great with calcium around 400ppm to 450 ppm. Some aquarists stick to 370ppm. It’s recommended to start with the lowest ppm (370 ppm) and then gradually increase it (up to 450 ppm). Normally you may want to add as little as 5 ppm every other day, or 10 ppm twice a week. Make sure to make a sufficient pause to eliminate possible stress. 3 days should be enough if you add 10 ppm.

Alkalinity 

Stick with 420 to 460 ppm for colt corals. The principle is pretty much the same. Start with the lowest of 420ppm and follow up until you reach the number suitable for your tank. The best indicator is of course your coral! Look at the reaction of animals within your aquarium. Depending on specific conditions alkalinity levels may vary a little bit. Those are the size of your tank, the number of animals the tank holds, etc

Useful info: more than 75% of aquarists use 8 to 9 meq\L Alkalinity (the equivalent of 400-450 ppm) Here is a conversion calculator

pH (power of hydrogen)

Remember I highlighted the importance of water quality? Well, more than half of the quality depends on the pH factor. You want to keep the pH level in the 8.1 to 8.4 range for colt corals. The critical (still ok but not preferable) range is 8 to 8.5

Broken pH balance is quite a headache. What if your pH is broken?

To raise pH — add baking soda. To lower it, consider adding vinegar or lemon juice, or “pH down” products. Anyway, patience is the key that holds true. Whether your tank suffers from extremely high pH or lacks some pH, make changes gradually. Rocketing pH from 7.5 to 8.5 may kill your animals (cause tons of undesirable stress at best, resulting in bleached or shrunk tissues, inflammatory, etc)

Useful tip: For natural pH recovery schedule 25% water change once a month. Also consider 10% to 15% partial water changes once a week, or every other week. Here is how I plan water changes.

1st week. 10% water change2nd week. 25% water change
3rd week. 10% water change4th week. Pause

The next month I start the same pattern. 4th week gives my corals time to rest from constant cleansings. You can add 1 more 10% water change if you feed corals, or your water becomes dirty for whatever reason. Otherwise, it’s recommended to give your animals some time to adapt.

Temperature and Flow

As colt coral inhabits the coastal part of the warm Indo-Pacific ocean, it requires the same temperature in a tank. Stick the same 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Although any value from 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit should fit colt coral, it’s better to keep eyes skinned. Never underestimate the importance of temperature. 

Medium water flow is what you want for colt coral. Keep water turbidity about average if you want your coral to thrive. 

Useful tip: If you have other species that require high or low turbidity, set the average overall water flow and change the placement of specific corals. For example, species that like low turbidity may be hidden near the rocks, or behind other corals. Forming a living barrier, you will naturally protect some corals from the excessive water flow. 

Lighting

Medium lighting is perfect for colt corals. The desired range is from 130 to 200 PAR. Colt corals live in the coastal area. Which means the sun’s constant presence. Thus, PAR about the average or higher is the most suitable lighting for colt corals. 

For the lighting spectrum, it’s recommended to use 410-460nm. Any source of lighting is great as long as you don’t overdo it. Aggressive and directed exposure may cause coral stress or even death. This phenomenon is known as necrosis. The safest option in my opinion is T5 (as it’s hard to overdo the light even if you want to). 

Expose corals 2\3 of the day and let them rest for 8 hours. By “Rest” I mean complete darkness. If you have a moon outside the window it’s not a great problem. Although it’s better to provide 100% darkness. As it’s natural conditions in the wild (moon rarely reaches as far as 130 feet).

Colt Coral Threats (Based on the Frequency of Complaints)

Bleaching & Opening

The most frequent problem related to colt coral is coral bleaching and not opening. To avoid both problems, you should provide the coral with stressless conditions. Make weekly partial water changes, use supplies such as calcium, magnesium, etc. Pay extra attention to the appearance of your corals. Color or size change are true signs of an impending crisis

Most of the time, bleaching and opening problems occur due to inappropriate water flow, temperature, and quality. Fix that and your corals will be OK.

Infections

Infections are the least common problem, but they can cause a lot of inconveniences. Most often the infection comes to the aquarium from outside. For example, when you bought a new coral and immediately put it in the tank.

To avoid infections, use disinfectant solutions before settling in the aquarium. If you have already noticed an infection inside the tank, fence off the infected coral and remove it from the water. Remove the infection mechanically (cut it off or peel it off) and then immerse it in iodine solution for a short time. A few minutes is usually sufficient. 

If you are not sure about infection, you can freshwater dip the coral. A short 1 to 2 minutes dip should be enough to prevent flatworms and Brown Jelly infections, etc.

Here is a detailed article to save your tank. Make sure to read it if you want to protect your corals from pests and infections.

Compatibility with Other Species

Colt corals are passive. This means that this species won’t declare war on any neighbor. The best thing about the compatibility of colt corals is that they are not hostile to some other species. You can literally place any coral (except aggressive ones) as close as 3 inches to colt coral. Kenya, leather finger, xenia, green star corals are great companions for colt corals.

First, you may want to check whether or not the coral is aggressive. If not, place it anywhere in the range of at least 3 inches without any problems. If the intended coral is hostile in nature, settle it as far as 8 to 10 inches to prevent possible attacks & toxin release.

As for fish and other animals, colt corals are friendly species. Any reef-safe fish will pair well with colt coral. For example green mandarin, clownfish, cardinalfish, etc.

Other fish may cause some problems (some people claim no problems at all, others report great headaches). If you have dwarf angels, puffer, foxface, it can cause some confusion within your tank.

Fragging Colt Coral

Fragging Colt coral is fairly easy. Although, you should not forget about protection. Use latex gloves to protect from chemicals such as glue, and slime produced by coral. Also, don’t forget about eyewear protection. As mucus released by coral may cause irritation or even complete vision loss.

As any soft coral is a really gentle substance, you need sharp and clean tools to cut it properly. I prefer Dremel or disc. But any other tools are also great (such as saw or bone cutters). I use Dremel because it gives a very clean cut which makes it easy enough to spread the glue over the cross-section. The more evenly you distribute the glue, the easier the attachment process will be in the aquarium.

Once you’ve cut the colt coral, use Iodine disinfectant to protect your coral from pests, infections. Disinfection also makes it easier for coral tissues to heal. Dip the coral inside the solution in a separate tank or use a turkey baster to spread Iodine all over the cut tissues. I don’t recommend using Iodine over healthy tissues as it may cause an aggressive reaction & additional stress. 

After you’ve made a cut and your coral is recovered, it’s high time to use glue. Dry your coral with a towel and spread the glue (or two-part epoxy). The superglue usually takes as long as a couple of minutes to set. From then on, you only need to observe occasionally. Pay attention if the frag has shifted. If you made a good cut and applied glue, everything should be fine. The whole process takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Useful tip: always use sharp and clean tools. Dirty & rusty tools can cause coral death.

Feeding Colt Coral

Colt coral is filter-feeding coral. Meaning that there is no need for targeted feeding. The main source of energy for colt coral is a special alga called zooxanthellae. This alga lives inside the coral, generating energy from the sun’s light. Coral receives about 90% of energy from this algae. The best thing you can do to ensure optimal growth rate is to provide proper water quality, lighting, and supplements. 

However, some hobbyists claim that targeted feeding has improved the growth rate, health, and overall appearance of the colt coral. 

You can feed colt coral with meaty food such as brine shrimps, krill, copepods, etc. Fish food also works well. Yet, you should remember that additional food wastes cause more contamination within the tank.

Thus, additional feeding entails the necessity of cleaning the aquarium and monitoring the condition of living organisms. You will have to change the filters more often, change the water, and maintain the balance in the aquarium. The frequency of cleaning procedures depends on the size of the aquarium, the number of inhabitants, and of course, the amount of food consumed. The more food, the more often and more aggressively will have to change the filters. The results expected from feeding are not always worth the effort. Therefore, think twice before feeding your coral.

Here are some tips related to targeted feeding:

  • Get a separate container filled with tank water and dissolve the food. This way it will take less time for coral to consume delicacy
  • Turn off the water circulation (as it may spread the wastes all over the tank)
  • Apply the nutrient mixture to the polyps with a transfer pipette. You can also drop the food on the top of a coral

As you see, colt coral is not of those tricky-to-deal types of corals. They are reasonably easy to keep. Making colt coral is the perfect choice for beginners. If you are not sure which coral to start from, make sure to read some other articles about easy-to-keep species. I recommend the Duncan Coral care guide for beginners.

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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