Sea pansy

Renilla reniformis

ORDER Pennatulacea

FAMILY Renillidae

TAXONOMY

Pennatula reniformis Pallas, 1766, "Mare Americum."

OTHER COMMON NAMES English: Atlantic coral.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Colonial; a large primary polyp up to 3 in (7.5 cm) long and wide has a heart-shaped frond arising from a fleshy stalk. Smaller polyps are embedded in the upper surface of the frond: typical octocoral feeding polyps and tiny nonfeeding polyps lacking tentacles. Primary polyp appears purple because of colored sclerites in its tissue. The smaller embedded polyps are transparent.

DISTRIBUTION

Western Atlantic from North Carolina, United States, south to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

HABITAT

Stalk anchored in sand with frond lying flat on the surface, from low intertidal to shallow subtidal zones.

BEHAVIOR

Produces bioluminescent bright green waves of light that run across the surface of the colony when disturbed at night. Small tentacle-less polyps act as water pumps, allowing colony to quickly deflate to half its normal size or expand.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Polyps secrete a sticky net of mucus that can trap small zooplankton.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY Nothing is known.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not listed by IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Bioluminescence is created by a protein called "Green Fluorescent Protein" (GFP). The GFP gene has been isolated and is sold commercially for use in molecular biological studies of gene expression in mammals. Scientists have isolated from the sea pansy unique diterpene lipids known as renillafoulins that prevent fouling organisms (e.g., barnacles) from settling on boats and other manufactured marine structures without killing them. ♦

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