Red soft tree coral

Dendronephthya hemprichi

ORDER

Alcyonacea

FAMILY

Nephtheidae

TAXONOMY

Spongodes hemprichi Klunzinger, 1877, Red Sea. OTHER COMMON NAMES

German: Hemprichs Schleierbaumchen; Italian: Alcionario rosa.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Highly-branched, fleshy, arborescent (treelike) colony lacking an axial skeleton; large embedded sclerites are visible in branches and are conspicuous in polyps, producing a spiky appearance; polyps are not retractile and are mainly clustered in bundles at the end of branches; translucent, colors vary from red to pink, orange, or violet.

DISTRIBUTION

Red Sea.

HABITAT

Found only in strong currents, often on vertical surfaces. Dominant organism on artificial reefs and oil platforms in the Red Sea.

BEHAVIOR

Nothing is known.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Suspension feeder almost exclusively on phytoplankton, a mode of nutrition considered rare among corals. Very small numbers of zooplankton also have been found in the gut. Lacks zooxan-thellae.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Gonochoristic, broadcast spawner releases gametes year round. Eggs may remain attached to the mouth by a thread of mucus for several minutes after spawning; when released, the eggs sink to the bottom. Larvae can metamorphose as soon as 27 hours or as long as 65 days after fertilization, and can live as long as 100 days. Dendronephthya hemprichi has a unique method of asexual reproduction: clusters of 4-12 polyps grow from the surface of the colony and autotomize (self-amputate) within two days; the detached polyp fragments have root-like processes that allow for rapid attachment to substrates. There may be hundreds of these fragments in a single colony, allowing for rapid clonal reproduction.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not listed by IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Dendronephthya corals are very popular attractions for divers and underwater photographers. ♦

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