The author of this article, David Smith, has a small zoanthid business in Youngstown, Ohio. He is an expert on the care of zoanthids and did a special piece for us on how to frag zoanthids effectively.


Tips on Fragging Zoanthids

Here, I will highlight how I go about fragging zoanthids because that's what I specialize in. I will also highlight a few products that I like to use during this process.

To begin, I would like to start off by saying that the techniques I have noted below can also be applied to most other corals, not just zoanthids. However, it is best to research and consult with a professional or someone very experienced no matter what you will be fragging.

And because we are working with zoanthids, many of which have a very dangerous chemical inside of them called palytoxin, it is best not to frag them unless you are clear in your mind what you're going to do, how you're going to do it, and with all the appropriate safety and protective gear in place. By protective gear I mean wearing eye glasses, gloves, a face shield and/or dust mask.


Photo is courtesy of David Smith, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

With all that out of the way, a typical fragging session goes like this:

~Select a colony that needs to be fragged.

~Disturb the colony so that all polyps close up to allow you to examine and plan your cutting paths. You can do this by holding the coral and gently moving it throughout the tank, or dip it in iodine for a few seconds, or simply shut your tank lights off.

~Once the polyps have closed up, it's time to examine where you plan to make your cuts. Find the areas that you can easily get your cutters into without squishing the surrounding polyps. When I first started doing this I would lose polyps because I wasn’t careful, and I would squish surrounding polyps that I wasn’t even attempting to cut. Be mindful.

-Prior to making your first cut, grab a small container, put tank water into it, and also add medical grade Iodine that you can buy at a grocery store. See attached picture. Put enough into it so that the color is similar to dark iced tea. As you are making these cuts, drop the newly cut zoanthid into the iodine solution. I do this for the same reasons humans use it, to prevent infections. (Tip: They soak in this solution for a minimum of 10 minutes, but, know that other corals are not able to. Some are more sensitive than others and require a shorter dip time. Zoanthids can because they completely close up and they have thicker skin that won’t allow the iodine to penetrate into them except where the cut was.

~Once you have your water ready (see above), and you know exactly where you plan to make your cuts, you can go ahead and score the line with something like a razor blade. This will help the cut to break right where you want it to by scoring it. It doesn’t always work out this way, but it does help and sometimes it will be a clean cut, exactly where you wanted it to be. Be careful to only cut through the “matte” that the zoanthids form around the base of the polyp, instead of the polyp itself.

~Now place your frag into your water with iodine. After 10 minutes or so, pull the frags out of the iodine solution and place into another small cup filled with fresh tank water to rinse the iodine off of them.


Photo is courtesy of David Smith, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.
~Next, I use a frag rack with feet on it to hold the new frag plugs that the new frag will mount to. I place as many frag plugs on the rack as I have new frags, pat the plug dry if wet, and put a small dab of super glue onto it. I always start with a small amount and then add more if any is needed after i place the frag. By sure to use super glue that is also labelled as “Gel”, see attached photo. This is because normal super glue has a water-like consistency and won’t grab at the new frag. With gel, you can create a mound that you can push the frag down onto and by doing this, you know all surfaces on the bottom of the frag are touching the glue that forms a strong hold.

Super Glue Gel.

Photo is courtesy of David Smith, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.
~Prior to placing the new frag onto the glue, I take a piece of paper towel, fold in half, and place the new frags on top of it. I do this because I don’t want any standing water on the new frag when I go to place it. The frag can be moist but not soaked with water. I can’t stress how important this is. If the frag is wet, I promise you that down the road, it will work itself loose, whether it's right away or weeks down the road before it starts to encrust. And, I use paper towels because I feel they do a better job of soaking up the water and fast. You can actually see the water wicking into the towel when you place the frag onto it. All I do is place the frag onto the towel, i don’t roll it around or pat it dry. The towel does a great job of literally sucking the water off the frag. With a cotton towel, I don’t feel they do as good of a job.

~Once the frag has had most if the water removed from it, which only takes seconds if using a paper towel, I pick up the frag with tweezers and place on top of the glue and then gently push down either with a finger or a blunt object such as the back end of the tweezer.

~This next step is not needed but is an extra step that I like to do, with zoanthids, and especially larger frags like acros. What I do is use a glue-drying accelerator such as the Bulk Reef Supply INSTA-SET GLUE ACCELERATOR. This product instantly dries and cures the glue which allows you to put into your tank right away. It's also great for gluing down large frags like an Acro. Place the Acro into the glue, apply the accelerator, after 2 seconds walk away. Otherwise, if you have a frag that won’t stand upright by itself you have to sit there and hold it in-place until it dries. Now, this product comes in a spray bottle but I don’t apply it to the glue by spraying. Because if I did, I would get this chemical all over the coral as well. I have seen people get this chemical on their coral without experiencing any negative affects, but I don’t want to chance it. Also, you waste much of the product by spraying it. It has such a large spray pattern and only a small portion goes on the glue, the rest goes everywhere else. So what I do is use a small pipette like the one shown in the attached photo. A small single drop is all you need; it gets the job done, and you don’t waste any. A small bottle of this product will last for THOUSANDS of applications whereas if you spray, it may only last a few hundred. If that.

Small pipette.

Photo is courtesy of David Smith, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.
~After all of the frags have been glued down, I take the rack that all the frags are sitting on and dip it into another container that has fresh tank water in it before it goes back into the tank. I do this to remove any accelerator that’s still on it, and I also do it to remove the thin film on the glue that comes off once it touches water. If you’ve ever placed a fresh frag into your tank before you will see a thin white film come off that stays on the surface of your water. It’s from the glue, and I don’t want that in my tank, so I remove that film first in a different body of water and then place everything in my tank.

-Place new frags into your tank and do keep the flow on as normal. This helps remove any mucus that the corals have formed from being cut. Not so much from zoanthids but from a lot of other corals like Montipora and Chalice corals.

Further Comments:

I recommend that aquarists don’t frag just one polyp. I would rather see new people frag two, three, or more for the simple fact that if you frag more they are more likely to survive and heal, better and faster. If you frag only one, the chances of them not healing goes up. Also, with more experience you understand which species/types of zoas and palys can handle being fragged one at a time.

So, whether it’s live rock, a frag disc, or any other substrate, you must try to get some of that original substrate to be still attached to the polyp, and the reason is because the super glue can easily attach to to those substrates and hold it in place. If you don’t bring any of that substrate over, it’s like any other soft coral: the polyps will eventually work their way loose before they start to encrust. During a long fragging session you will always have polyps that come off with no substrate for one reason or another and instead of trying to glue them down using superglue, which won’t work, put them in a small container with chunky sand in it and place in a low flow area of your tank. Eventually they will encrust on that chunky sand. At that point you can now glue them down using superglue.

Zoanthid frag tank.
IMG_1805 (1).jpg

Photo is courtesy of David Smith, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

We've covered everything, and I hope that by sharing my experiences and tips with you that it will make your fragging experience much more enjoyable and successful. Fragging is a great way to share your coral with friends, make a few bucks by selling it or getting store credit at your LFS and is a great way to be a part of helping the reefs out with captive propagation.

We all know what kind of condition the reefs are in these days with all the bleaching that’s been happening. This hobby is also already under the microscope with governments, and the less we have to pull from the oceans the less we give them a reason to point the finger at us.

(Please be safe, and do not attempt to frag corals without researching and consulting with someone very experienced. Definitely do not attempt to frag corals without taking the proper safety precautions.)


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Author Profile: David Smith or @Pola0502ds on the forum.

David Smith has had aquariums all of his adult life and has been into saltwater for the past seven years. He lives in Youngstown, Ohio, where he has a small zoanthid business. He enjoys helping beginners to improve their zoanthid husbandry and fragging skills.