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Montipora is a genus of very small-polyped corals with deeply embedded corallites, which contains 70-80 species found throughout the Red Sea and tropical Indo-Pacific. While this is indeed a wide distribution area with a very large number of species, perhaps surpassed only by Acropora sp. and Porites sp., even more interesting is the diversity of reef areas in which Montipora is found. Members of the same species are often found both in shallow water and at great depths, in excess of 100 feet. They are found in areas of low water movement and in areas of high turbidity. They are equally common in high nutrient lagoons and in low nutrient reef slopes. This diversity would likely suggest that Montipora is quite tolerant of differing water conditions and should therefore prove hardy in our own closed systems. In fact, this is what has been observed.

I once wrote that "Montipora, to the inexperienced, may not be considered the most 'flashy' of corals. Although it appears in many colors, including brown, purple, and green, the shades are quite subdued. Any coloration may disappear in the aquarium, depending on the type of lighting used. I have yet to see a shocking color morph of Montipora offered for sale that would be appealing to someone who is not mesmerized by subtleties of the different species." In recent years, thankfully, the proliferation and popularity of Montipora have resulted in the availability of the many striking species that are found in the wild. Some of the most beautiful and common variants seen here are those with polyps that contrast in color with the rest of the colony.

Unfortunately, Montipora are exceedingly difficult, in most cases, to tell apart, especially in small living colonies. Many species may, at first glance, strongly resemble members of the genus Porites. Colors and shapes are also often similar between these two genera. However, Montipora generally have smaller corallites which do not appear "jewel-like" as in Porites. The skeletal teeth project inward in Montipora and outward in Porites, accounting for the difference in appearance. The polyps are unusual in that they seem very "busy," often opening and closing alone or in groups over the course of a day. Although many species comprise the genus, Montipora are found in an unsettling array of colonial formations. To one unfamiliar with Scleractinian skeletal anatomy, the presentation of so many shapes is bewildering. Montipora form branching (digitate), encrusting, plate-like (laminar), massive, convoluted (foliaceous), and even pillar-like (columnar) formations. They can be found in almost all of the common colonial formations that exist in the wild. To further complicate the array, Montipora display to an even greater degree a characteristic common to many corals. That is, they change their colonial form depending on water conditions, lighting and depth. In shallow waters, Montipora may be branching. Left to grow in deeper waters, however, the same coral may begin to adopt a laminar or massive shape. Heavy wave action causes branched species to become more compact. Differing light may result in coloration changes. Multiple growth patterns are common in the same colony, with vertical projections eventually arising from an encrusting or laminar base over time.

Aquarium care is somewhat complex. Most species available for sale will require high light intensities for maximum growth and success. Some evidence suggests that the higher intensity metal halides (with the concomitant production of small amounts of UV-A light) may be required to maintain coloration, or enhance coloration of otherwise drab colonies. I have, however, kept (and currently keep) several species of Montipora in a ten-gallon tank lit by an undercounter 15" fluorescent lamp purchased from Wal-Mart. This indicates the wide phototolerance of many Montipora species.

It should be assumed that, barring information to the contrary, Montipora should be gradually acclimated to strong lighting since they can bleach easily, the notable exception being the very shallow-water and temperature tolerant Montipora digitata. Because Montipora are very non-aggressive corals, it is highly improbable that any specimen will sting or endanger nearby corals or invertebrates. However, it is very easily stung or encroached upon by other corals, so care must be taken in this regard. Montipora do compete successfully, however, in the rapid growth rates that, in tanks at least, can exceed the growth rates of Acropora. Common parasites or predators of Montipora include the aeolid Montipora nudibranch, the gastropod Magilopsis, and the flatworm Prosthiostomum. The nudibranch, in particular, is now widespread largely from the procedure of fragment trading, so quarantine of all Montipora is highly recommended.

Text by Eric Borneman.
Photos by Reef Central members.
A special thanks goes out to Dave Bayne (Nanook)
for his assistance on this project.

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008