Black coral

Antipathella fiordensis

ORDER Antipatharia

FAMILY Myriopathidae

TAXONOMY

Antipathes fiordensis Grange, 1990, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

None known.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Densely branched tree-like colonies grow to over 16 ft (5 m) tall. Tiny polyps, arranged in rows, are white with six tentacles surrounding a mouth that is raised on an oral cone. Proteina-ceous black skeleton is covered with spines.

DISTRIBUTION

Endemic to southwestern New Zealand. HABITAT

Attached to the walls of fjords from 13 to over 325 ft (4 to over 100 m) in depth (but most abundant between 32-114 ft [10-35 m]). This habitat range is unusually shallow for black coral, which are typically found in deeper waters.

BEHAVIOR

Produces sweeper tentacles, which are up to eight times longer, and more densely covered with nematocysts, than normal tentacles. Sweeper tentacles are used in aggressive interactions with other cnidarians in competition for space.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Diet consists of zooplankton, primarily copepods, which are captured by direct contact with the tentacles.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Gonochoristic; broadcast spawns annually during the summer to produce free-swimming planula larvae.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Endemic to the fjords of Fiordland in southwestern New Zealand. Population size has been estimated at more than seven million colonies. Black coral is a protected species in New Zealand, and all black corals are listed on CITES Appendix II.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The skeleton of black coral is used to make jewelry; however, no known fishery exists for A. fiordensis as of 2003. ♦

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