October: Blastopathes medusa

Author: Jeremy Horowitz

Species: Blastopathes medusa Horowitz 2020

This large (> 1 m tall) and strange yet elegant and mythology-inspiring black coral is the newest addition to the Order Antipathidae. This species is described from, and dominates sandy habitats situated adjacent to patchy shallow and mesophotic coral reefs in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. The species has distinct clusters of thick and upward curving branches, like the snakes on the mythical gorgon’s head. Conserved element data depicts a molecular affinity to the family Antipathidae, yet forms a distinct cluster separate from other members in the family. What is surprising is how long it took for this fantastic and highly distinctive beast to be discovered given that world-renowned coral reef ecologists have been exploring the reefs of Kimbe Bay for many years. Black corals are often ignored because they have few and variable features to allow easy identification, however they provide important three-dimensional structure that supports many fish and invertebrates from 1 m to > 7,000 m depth. It is our hope that exciting new discovery will encourage more interest in this fascinating and ecologically important group.

[Image: First view of the holotype specimen Blastopathes medusa in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea]
[Image: Blastopathes medusa: A–C, in-situ images of branch clusters; D, section of branch showing skeletal spines; E, section of branch showing polyps]

Literature cited

Horowitz, J.; Brugler, M. R.; Bridge, T. C.; Cowman, P. F. (2020). Morphological and molecular description of a new genus and species of black coral (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Hexacorallia: Antipatharia: Antipathidae: Blastopathes) from Papua New Guinea. Zootaxa 4821(3): 553-569

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