Understanding the Chiselling Technique

In our opinion, “chiselling” is a technique in itself, since it can be used extensively to remove polyps from either a plug or rock with very little or no damage to the polyps themselves. It is an excellent technique when propagating, Zoanthids, Yellow Polyps, Star Polyps, or any encrusting or colonial soft coral.

Midnight Meadows Zoanthid Rock

In this example, we will take some polyps from our mother colony of Midnight Meadows Zoanthids. With their fluorescent pink mouths surrounded by a definite aquamarine oral disk, Midnight Meadows are absolutely striking under actinic lighting.

Polyps are removed from the parent colony by using a sharp carpenter’s chisel (about 1/4″ wide); although the chisel isn’t used to cut any tissue, we heat the tip with a small torch to sterilize the end. Gently chisel the live rock underneath the polyps to be removed. This is accomplished by working the chisel back and forth in a side to side motion.

To avoid a serious injury, be careful not to have your other hand (the one holding the colony) directly in-line with the chisel if it slips. The plug or live rock will begin to break away under the polyps. Work slowly and gently so that you will not damage the polyps themselves.

Once the desired area has been worked free, use a pair of “wet” tweezers to hold the piece and a surgical scalpel to cut the coenenchyme. This is the tissue that each polyp grows from; you may have to slice the coenenchyme in several spots to completely free the polyps from the parent or donor colony.

Caution: When handling any coral, disposable vinyl gloves should be used, especially when handling any Zoanthids, Palythoa, and Protopalythoa. These animals contain very toxic chemicals that are dangerous to humans and other tank inhabitants. Of these is the deadly Palytoxin, of which there is no known antidote. Palytoxin can affect the heart, muscles, and nerves. It can also cause paralysis and even death. When handling any of these species, be sure not to have open sores or wounds, and do not put your hands close to your eyes, mouth, or nose. Always wear disposable medical quality vinyl gloves. Carelessness with this species could result in a stay at the hospitable, seriously affect your life, or even kill you.
Here are the freed polyps. Notice the live rock is still attached under the coenenchyme.

Next we will graft the piece onto a ProPlug. Put a healthy drop (or couple of drops) of Loctite Super Glue Gel on a ProPlug, don’t use excessive glue gel, however, but just enough to glue down the piece. This glue gel has excellent adhesion to damp porous surfaces and we have rarely seen adhesion failures.

Using “wet” forceps, pick up the polyp piece and set it on the glue gel. Ideally, you used just enough glue gel to mount the piece, without excessive glue oozing up and around onto the polyps.

With either a pick or probe (we usually use Scraper #7) push the polyps down into the glue gel and hold for a few seconds. This is what we call a “mounted frag”. Mounted frags can be traded with other hobbyists, however, we strongly recommend that you place the mounted frag back in the same aquarium as the parent; to give it the opportunity to grow out and establish itself. You will have a higher success rate if you do this, to allow the polyps to recover from the stress of the procedure. Sometimes, the additional stress of adapting to a different tank may cause the polyps to die. These fellows just underwent “surgery”, so give them the time they need to recover. Remember, in this hobby, speed kills. Patience wins.

Our newly mounted Midnight Meadows Zoanthids, under regular lighting (above). This mounted frag will be left to “grow out” and establish itself into a small little colony. Notice the plugs in the background look no different than natural live rock.

If you followed this whole procedure with one of your own coral colonies, you would have successfully used three techniques, chiselling, slicing and grafting.