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Fragging polyps and mushrooms.

Zoanthidae encompasses a whole group of polyp corals. These include corals like Protopalythoa, Zoanthus, Palythoa, Acrozoanthus and Isaurus. The genus I am going to start with is Zoanthus or otherwise called button polyps as they are the best coral for a beginner to start with!

Button polyps are one of the most forgiving and hardy corals I have ever fragged. But before I start my discussion on them I urge you to please read the previous article written in SA – THE FISHKEEPER on polyps and remember the following! THEY DO HAVE A TOXIN, that when ingested or taken up into the blood stream via an open wound can be extremely uncomfortable and might even be lethal. Definitely not something I want to experience or want you to experience, so please clean all your tools and throw the paper towels away and the normal towels in the washing machine immediately. Before you start fragging a button polyp you must cover your mouth, hands and eyes.

The easiest way I found to frag button polyps is by working on the rock or substrate base as this never want to break where you want it to break and then you end up with a frag that is cut to pieces. After cutting the base rock you start cutting the button polyp colony along the lines created by the cut/ broken base rock. You can go as far as cutting them into single polyps but my experience with button polyps is that colonies of at least 10 polyps fare much better and you are able to confidently predict the future growth. With single polyps they sometimes seem to take a long time to recuperate and form new polyps.

The actual steps I use are to turn the polyp rock upside down and remove enough pieces from the base rock therefore making the base rock thin enough to handle easily. Thereafter I use a Dremel to cut into the base rock from the bottom forming squares while always ensuring that I do not cut right through and also that there are sufficient polyps on the other side to start a healthy colony. Now I turn the coral upright again. This is where the fun start! While looking at the polyp colony I use a wide flat screwdriver to beak the base rock along the lines I have been cutting with the Dremel. As the cracks appear on the surface I use a clean blade to cut / split the polyp colony along the same lines. I use this method to ensure that I limit the damage to clean cuts and do not tear thru the polyps.

Now you might need to attach this newly cut / broken frag to a new substrate. If you have got substrate attached to the polyps it is easy, use super glue and even coral putty do well as long as there are some substrate left to attach to. BUT there can always be a “mistake” where Polyps end up without any substrate, then you can use the net technique described for Sarcophyton’s to allow them to attach to new substrate. Alternatively you can even use a needle and thread to attach them. As long as they cannot move and the aquariums water quality is good. PLUS your iodine levels are within the 0.04 to 0.06 range and there are current and light, they will quickly grow onto the new substrate.

Protopalythoa and Palythoa are commonly called large button polyps. A little more care should be taken when you frag these polyps, as they are sometimes more susceptible to infection and therefore they are just short of bullet proof. But I found that if you just work hygienically they are as tough as smaller button polyps. With them I recommend you cut where there are natural gaps between the polyps even if there are too many left together. Rather be safe than sorry.

Some species of Palythoa like Palythoa caesia, Palythoa caribaeorum and Palythoa tuberculosa that form a thick solid base with polyps are called sea mat polyps. Sea mat polyps are a totally different story compared to the other polyps. Sea mat polyps tend to suffer from any damage to its base, where they tend to leach out their fluids before the colony could heal itself and wither away and die. Fragging sea mat polyps are not an easy or likely option and I have not successfully done this up to now

Isaurus polyps commonly known as snake polyps, warty sea mat, lumpy polyps or stick polyps. These corals are slow growers, much slower than the button types. Due to this slow growth fragging should only be done once the colony are well established and then not into to small colony’s.

Acrozoanthus called stick or tree polyps are the easiest. Because they are attached to thin stalks of dead gorgonians and other similar thin skeletons, they can easily be fragged by hand. This cannot lead to any problems nor do they need any further special attention except healthy feedings of good quality coral food in a medium current.

Placing of the polyps frags are not as important as other corals, but the following is good guidelines to follow. Always attempt to place them the same height or just below the level the parent colony was taken from. Ensure that the current is not too strong as to blow them around but strong enough to remove any debris from in-between and around the polyps. Remember polyps tend to grow towards the light and will naturally form more polyps higher up than lower, this will lead to a strong upward growth in the future and will affect other corals placed higher than themselves in the future.

Mushroom on the other side tend to distribute their colony downwards and should therefore be placed with this in mind. Mushrooms are the next step up from the near indestructible polyps and are also a good coral for beginners to frag. Mushrooms can be divided into 3 categories. Those that are easy those that are a bit more difficult and then those that sound easy but tend to give hobbyists nightmares.

  • The 1st category consist of Discosoma sp.
  • The 2nd category consist of Ricordia florida, Amplexidiscus sp and Rhodactis sp.
  • The 3rd category consist of Ricordia yuma,

In general if you are patient and are willing to wait a while mushrooms will naturally reproduce and spread throughout your aquarium, but for the impatient there are good news. The basic strategy to frag mushrooms that I have used with great success is by slicing them right through to the substrate and then leave them on the substrate. Then I wait for them to develop 2 separate mushrooms. After this I split the substrate to separate them and then attach a new piece of substrate to a suitable place. This procedure enables the frag to become a mother colony. In doing this I always have a healthy colony for next time I intend to frag them.

The 1st category of mushrooms is so tough that you can actually go over board when fragging them. They will grow from even a piece of the outside edge. I have successfully split a single mushroom of this category up into 8 separate pieces with a 100% success rate and even went so far as to remove the head of a mushroom and cutting this into smaller pieces. All of these methods worked for me but I know of customers that attempted it after seeing me doing it and fail. So do take baby steps when you start and rather get a feeling of what is happening before you go overboard.

A few tips I can give you is to always ensure your aquariums parameters is spot on and the mushrooms you intend to frag are healthy. Furthermore work with clean tools and ensure that you do not touch the frags with your bare hands.

Category 2 is a bit of a different story. With them I suggest that you always ensure that you have a piece of the mouth on every frag and I do not cut them into more than 4 pieces. With Ricordia florida I recommend that you wait till a new mouth appear and then you split the mushroom ensuring that each frag have a complete mouth on it after fragging. I found by waiting for a new mouth to appear on a Ricordia florida you will be sure that the mushroom is strong enough to withstand she stress of fragging.

Category 3 consist of Ricordia yuma is a massive point of contention with reefers and even experts. First of we need to understand that in South Africa a lot of them are direct imports and was in the ocean a few weeks/months ago. So before you even think of fragging Ricordia yuma understand that you need to acclimatise them for at least a 6 month period. This might sound far fetched but if you take into account that they come from deep water in nature (those in shallow water have been harvested years ago) and our systems mimic shallow water reefs, you would understand. So only after proper acclimatisation (a subject for the future) can you begin to think of fragging Ricordia yuma. In my personal opinion these mushrooms should not be fragged but rather enticed to “bud” naturally. If you want to frag them though, you need to ensure you start with a healthy specimen and you should preferably separate the specimen to its own aquarium weeks before you frag them. When I come to fragging a Ricordia Yuma there are only 2 methods that worked for me. 1st method I use is to cut them in place into two, right through the centre of the mouth, then I leave them and let nature take its course. Normally they split into 2 and I end up with 2 healthy Ricordia yuma’s, but I found sometimes they heal by growing back together again . The 2nd method that I use but do not prefer above the v1st method, is to physically split the Ricordia Yuma into 2 but also take it a step further and split the substrate as well. So I end up with 2 totally separated mushrooms. The reason I do not like this is that you leave the cutting edge totally exposed to infection.

This range of articles was not intended to teach you everything you need to know, regarding the fragging of corals. My recommendation is that you use this article range as basis and invest in a good book (OR TWO) on the subject and use this in conjunction with these articles to ensure you do not kill your prized coral by ignorance. This been said, if you understand these instructions and follow them you should have a good chance of succeeding.

Due to this article range I have been asked to give demonstrations to various reefers. If you want to attend one of these demonstrations feel free to send an email to for more information.


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