The genus Montipora includes some of the most beautiful small-polyped stony corals available to reef aquarists. Not only are they found in a multitude of beautiful colors, they also exhibit some truly exquisite growth forms, including whirling. While some species are easy to distinguish from one another, others can only be separated by advanced coral taxonomists. One of the most sought-after of the “montie” corals is the monti cap Montipora capricornis (i.e., the plate montipora).
Difficulty: The monti cap is considered fairly easy to keep. It is a hermatypic coral that has symbiotic algae that live in its tissue that provide it with much of the nutrition it needs to survive. If not kept under appropriate lighting, the algae will die, and the coral will suffer. The monti cap also ingests nano-plankton and absorb some nutrients from the surrounding water column. For this reason, it is a good idea to feed the monti cap some of the readily available coral foods now on the market.
Physical description: The colonies of Montipora capricornis are flat and platelike, and they grow in tiers or whorls. The color tends to be a uniform purple, blue, purple-brown, orange-brown and flat brown. This genus tends to be very lightweight — many plating and whirling species are quite delicate.
Range: Montipora capricornis occurs from the Red Sea and east Africa, east to Fiji. The monti cap is most often found in protected lagoons or sheltered coastal reefs.
Compatibility: Montipora capricornis is not an aggressive coral. It is more likely to be damaged by surrounding large-polyped stony corals that possess sweeper tentacles or by soft corals that exude terpenes to impede the growth of competing neighbors. That said, the monti cap is fast-growing and has been known to shade corals that were growing at lower levels of the aquarium. It is likely to be fed upon by butterflyfish, triggerfish, filefish and pufferfish.
Aquarium conditions: The light level should be of a moderate to high intensity (the monti cap has also been kept under less intense lighting if the coral is placed nearer to the water’s surface). The color of this species may become dull if light intensity is too low. The growth rate will also be correlated with light intensity (the more intense, typically the faster the monti cap grows). Metal halides, T-5s, VHO and compact fluorescent bulbs are all suitable light sources for the monti cap. Provide medium to high waterflow to carry away fouling material. The monti cap is a fast-growing coral that needs room to expand. Water parameters for the monti cap are: calcium 400 to 450 ppm, alkalinity 3.2 to 4.8 meq/L, magnesium levels of 1200 to 1350 ppm and a specific gravity of 1.024 to 1.026. Keep it at a water temperature of 76 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (it tends to grow quicker at the higher end of this range).
Care considerations: One of the greatest concerns of the Montiporakeeper is the accidental introduction of an aeolid sea slug. It will consume the flesh of the coral until the coral is dead. Usually the first indication of the problem is a section (or sections) of exposed white skeleton. The aeolid sea slugs are most active at night and may go unnoticed unless you look for them. You can give the coral colony a freshwater dip for 45 seconds (raise the pH and temperature of the bath water so it mirrors that of the display aquarium), which will knock off the aeolid sea slugs. However, it does not kill the aeolid sea slug eggs. You will have to continue to repeat this treatment until you are sure the pests are eradicated. There are some hobbyists that claim they have successfully wiped out aeolid sea slugs by adding certain wrasses (e.g., golden wrasse, Halichoeres chrysus; pencil wrasse, Hologymnosus spp.; banana wrasse, Thalassoma spp.). There are many wrasses that are polyphagous, meaning that they eat a variety of different invertebrates, including sea slugs. The easiest way to deal with the aeolid sea slug is to make sure you don’t add it to your aquarium to begin with.
Breeding: The monti cap is easy to propagate as long as the “mother” colony is in good health. Simply break off a piece of the coral (a section about 2 inches long) and attach it to a reef plug or a piece of live rock. As is the case with many of the small-polyped stony corals, aquacultured colonies do better than wild-caught individuals.