owthat your tank is established and your corals aregrowing nicely, it is probably time to start thinkingabout fragging – cutting a fragment of coral from theparent colony to grow into another parent colony.Growing out frags is a great way to generate corals to trade withother reefers, as well as lessen the pressure of coral collectionon wild reefs. If you haven’t fragged a coral before, it can be alittle intimidating. But, once you get used to the idea of cuttingup the corals in your tank, you’ll see that it can be very easy.While each species of coral must be handled in speciﬁc waysduring fragging, I hope to give you a general overview of twomethods which can be applied to a wide range of soft bodied,branching corals including; Nepthea (green tree coral), Sinularia(ﬁnger leather), Lobophytum (devils hand leather), Cladiella (coltcoral) and Xenia. The ﬁrst thing you need to get used to is the idea of cutting upthe coral you have spent so much time and effort trying to grow.Just watching a coral pull in its polyps and shrink from beingdisturbed is difﬁcult enough, but cutting up soft corals can seemextra disturbing because slicing into their soft ﬂesh makes usthink about cutting up our own bodies. Never fear! Hopefully,your corals have been growing so well that, like plants in a ﬂowergarden, they actually need pruning because they are growinginto each other. Prepare yourself to do something that needs tobe done. Once you are over your initial squeamishness, you willsee that fragging corals can be fun and rewarding, and that thecorals you care so much about recover very quickly.Before starting, it’s important to note that when disturbed orfragged, many of these soft corals will produce mucus as adefense mechanism. This slimy mucus can be toxic to otheranimals, so it’s best to take precautions to minimize the amountthat gets into your show tank. The obvious solution is to removethe parent colony from the show tank before any cutting takesplace. I like to place my parent colony in a bucket or bowl of tank water in my kitchen sink, and have another bucket or bowlof tank water standing by for the frags. After cutting, the coralsgo back into their containers where the mucus they producecan safely be contained. You can even continue to do ‘waterchanges’ with tank water in these containers, rinsing awaythe mucus. Generally after 15-30 minutes, the corals will stopproducing mucus and you can safely return the corals to theshow tank. To protect yourself from the corals’ mucus, you canwear latex gloves and safety glasses, and use tools dedicated tocoral fragging. Thoroughly wash all surfaces that have come intocontact with corals or coral mucus.It is not always possible or practical to remove the parent colonyfrom the show tank. The coral may be too large to safely move, orit may be encrusted onto some rockwork that is not removable.In these situations, there are a few common sense precautionsyou can take if you do need to cut the coral in situ. First, minimizethe number of cuts in the tank. Either cut a small frag or cut onelarge piece and immediately remove the cut piece to a containerof tank water. Less cutting equals less mucus. Second, do yourfragging on a day when you are going to do a water change, andchange the water as soon as possible after you are done cutting. Third, run some carbon in the tank, either in a mesh bag in thesump, or better yet, in a hang on back ﬁlter or canister ﬁlter. Thecarbon will help adsorb the toxins the stressed coral puts out.Soft corals are actually pretty easy to cut because they are...well...soft. Sharp scissors are an obvious tool for the job, but in theprocess of cutting, they can crush tissue resulting in the creationof more mucus and extended healing times. A razor blade orexacto knife makes a great cutting tool, though in slippery handsthey can be more dangerous than scissors. Regardless of whatyou choose to cut the coral with, one swift cut rather than aseries of halting cuts will result in less stress on the animal.
The same colony of pulsing Sinularia after being removed fromthe show tank and placed into a bowl of tank water. Notice theretracted polyps and branches. The branch in the upper right of the picture will be cut.
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A colony of pulsing Sinularia “Bookﬁsh Red” before fragging.
Cutting It Up
– Fragging BranchingSoft Corals
Article & ImagesBy Richard Ross