From: Bradley Fessenden, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published September 5, 2013 12:21 PM

Two new Species of Octocorals Discovered in the Pacific Ocean

The vast expanse of the Earth's oceans makes finding a new species like finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, finding a needle in a haystack may be easier than finding a new species of octocoral in the Pacific Ocean. But Gary Williams with the California Academy of Sciences has recently found not only one but two new species, including a new genus of octocoral. In a recent paper published in the journal Zookeys, Williams provides a taxonomic assessment of two new colorful species of soft coral and a new genus to accommodate a bright red sea fan.

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To date, more than 3,000 species of octocoral have been described. Octocoral have a unique symmetrical design, with eight tentacles and eight divisions in the body cavity. Like many other groups of corals, octocoral have a complex lifecycle, which includes a plankton phase in which they move about until they begin their stationary polyp phase. During the polyp phase, they live in complex colonies. Their colonies can be found in the oceans of the world in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. The octocoral Williams describes reside in the cold waters of the west coast of North America.

The west coast of North America is thought to be well explored--with an abundance of manuals and field guides available--making the new species described by Williams all the more surprising.

"It is remarkable that in a region previously thought to be as familiar and well known as the west coast of North America - with its numerous large urban centers and major marine laboratories - revisionary systematics are not only still possible, but essential for our understanding of global biodiversity," Williams says.

Cryptophyton jedsmithiis the first species described in the paper. This pale orange soft coral was found under a boulder in the low rocky intertidal zone in San Diego, California.

Another new species (Gersemia lambi) was found in the shallow subtidal region from Alaska to central British Columbia, Canada at a depth of 9-20 meters. The color of the colony is pink to reddish with orange oral discs.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, MONGABAY.COM.

Octocoral image via Shutterstock.

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