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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

A Copepod inhabiting a Gall of a Coral

CoralSeriatopora hystrix Dana, 1846, coral colony 12 X 17 cm width, 9 cm height, USNM 3907

copepodOne hundred and forty-two years after the hard coral Seriatopora hystrix was described, the copepod Isomolgus desmotes was found living in galls of this coral. Galls are abnormal growths of the coral's tissues, and are caused by the presence of this parasitic copepod. Discovery of this association was made Dr. Masahiro Dojiri who was then a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Copepods, very small crustaceans, are related to lobsters, shrimps and barnacles; Isomolgus desmotes is smaller than a grain of rice. The commensal relationship between the coral and the copepod begins when a swimming larva of the copepod settles on the coral, and the coral begins to secrete its skeleton around the copepod. The resulting gall offers protection for the copepod, which now becomes sedentary. Isomolgus desmotes remains imprisoned in galls for the rest of its life, but its tiny larvae can escape through holes in the coral gall to find another coral and renew its circle of life.

Find out more information related to this gall-inhabiting copepod, Isomolgus desmotes, and copepods in general from the references below. Dr. Dojiri, while describing this new genus and species of copepod, included a review of all crustaceans (not only copepods but all relatives of shrimp and crabs) which form galls on anthozoans (hard corals and their relatives) in his publication describing Isomolgus desmotes.

Dojiri, M., 1988. Isomolgus desmotes, new genus, new species (Lichomolgidae), a gallicolous poecilostome copepod from the scleractinian coral Seriatopora hystrix Dana in Indonesia, with a review of gall-inhabiting crustaceans of anthozoans. Journal of Crustacean Biology 8(1):99-109.

coralWeb sites:
Isomolgus desmotes, USNM collections
World of Copepoda

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