Dead Man’s Fingers

Not all corals are found in warm and tropical waters…

Author: Pat
26th February 2015

Corals are often associated with warm crystal clear waters of the tropics, but we do get corals in the UK. Dead man’s fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) are one of those. Dead Man’s Fingers do have the appearance to match their name as they form irregular, finger like masses. As a soft coral, they do not have the limestone skeleton structure of hard corals which most people will be familiar with.

Corals are made up of tiny creatures known as polyps and the finger-like masses of the dead man’s fingers will consist of a colony of polyps. These colonies can reach anywhere up to 20cm tall. When the coral is actively feeding the polyps will be extended so they will have a furry appearance, during periods of reproduction or inactivity the polyps will remain withdrawn. The polyps will be gathering food by taking plankton out of the water with a feeding type known as filter feeding. This feeding type is the same as the largest fish in the ocean: the whale shark.

Dead Man’s Fingers are common throughout the UK attached to any hard substrate including rocks, wrecks even occasionally found on the top of crabs. Around the UK they are usually orange or white in colour with both colours being found together.


  • North-east Atlantic, all around the UK and Ireland. Not found in the Mediterranean
  • Attached to most hard substrates preferring high current areas
  • Can be found down to a depth of 50 meters

Key identifying features

  • Blunt finger-like projections or masses
  • Furry appearance when feeding
  • Orange or white in colour

Conservation status

  • Not evaluated


Compiled by Ellie Richards, a marine biologist and enthusiastic UK diver. Check out Ellie’s page on Instagram

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