Dead man's fingers

Dead man's fingers

Dead man's fingers ©Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

Dead man's fingers

Dead man's fingers ©Alex Mustard/2020VISION

Dead man's fingers

Scientific name: Alcyonium digitatum
These gruesome sounding creatures are actually a type of coral! They get their name as they branch out into lobes as they grow - making them look like fingers on a hand.

Species information


Height: up to 20cm

Conservation status


When to see

January to December


Dead man's fingers are a type of soft coral, either orange or white in colour. Each is actually a colony of individual small animals that share a gelatinous skeleton. They grow on hard surfaces beneath the sea down to about 50m and can cover large swathes of rocky outcrops and gullies. The colonies grow upwards, reaching about 5cm before they start to branch into multiple lobes. This makes them look like fingers on a hand - giving them their ominous name! The individual animals - or polyps - extend their bodies and tentacles out to feed on passing plankton. This can give the fingers a furry appearance. Throughout Autumn dead man's fingers retract their polyps and look a bit shrunken and sorry for themselves! They're actually preparing themselves for spawning and don't feed at all during this period. As the polyps are retracted, marine life starts to settle on top of the Dead Man's Fingers, often making them look reddish-brown. Don't confuse them with Red Fingers though - an entirely different species that have white feeding tentacles and slimmer dark red fingers.

How to identify

A soft coral, branched and looks like fingers on a hand. White or orange in colour and appears fluffy when the individual polyps are extended to feed.


Found on all UK coasts.

Did you know?

Dead man's fingers live longer than you might think! We know they live at least 20 years - Scientists have tracked individual colonies for 28!

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, scientists, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas', where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or checking out our Action Pages.