Rubber coral

Palythoa caesia

ORDER Zoanthidea

FAMILY Sphenopidae

TAXONOMY

Palythoa caesia Dana, 1846, "Feejee Islands."

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Palythoa sea mat

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Mat-like colonies appear rubbery in texture; typically form ovoid blobs 2-4 in (5—10 cm) in diameter. Polyps are completely embedded in thick coenenchyme encrusted with sediment; short, simple tentacles with knobbed tips. Color ranges from dark brown to tan.

DISTRIBUTION Indo-Pacific.

HABITAT

Intertidal or subtidal zones on coral reefs and reef crests. In areas of high abundance, may form mats covering virtually all of the available substrate for tens to hundreds of square meters.

BEHAVIOR Nothing is known.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Contains symbiotic zooxanthellae in its tissues. In laboratory studies, P. caesia feeds on zooplankton, algae, and bacteria.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Broadcast spawner. Eggs and larvae lack zooxanthellae, so sym-bionts must be acquired after settlement.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN or CITES.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Palytoxins, which are found in the mucus and gonads of Pa-lythoa caesia, are among the most potent toxins known in nature and can be painful and dangerous to humans if absorbed through open wounds. Ancient Hawaiians coated their spear tips with these toxins. ♦

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