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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Report of a Syllid Polychaete Association with an Antipatharian Coral

Tiger CowrieSEM of syllid between two polyps
USNM 169159 6.2 mm long

A microscopic examination of the branches of the black coral Antipathes sp. from Okinawa, Japan yielded a new genus and species of syllid worm, Bollandia antipathicola Glasby, 1994 living among the polyps. Usually found in shallow water, this syllid was on black coral collected at 61 meters (183 feet). Because of its small size, electron microscopy (SEM and TEM) was critical in recognizing this as a new taxon. A commensal relationship between the coral and the worm is suspected because the hook-like setae of the syllid are typical of those of other commensal worms. Such an association would benefit the worm (possibly partaking of food caught by the polyps?) without damaging the black coral.

coralcoralFor more information and related references to the story of the Bollandia antipathicola polychaete and its association with black coral see the references below.

Many commensal animals are found living on corals. There is still much to learn about the life-cycle of the polychaete Bollandia antipathicola and its relationship to its black coral host. This relationship was found on preserved specimens and the polychaete's role inferred from adaptation of its body. Direct observations of living organisms at museum field stations and in labs would uphold the original definition of this commensal relationship or provide a different one.

Living colonies of black coral are covered with tissue which obscures the internal skeleton or framework of black horny material from which the black coral gets its common name. These are colonial animals which feed using small polyps. The black coral awaits further study by a marine researcher to be identified to species. Collections at the National Museum of Natural History act as a library of specimens studied in-house and borrowed by researchers world wide for continuing taxonomic, environmental, behavioral, ecological and biological studies.

Web sites:

Read more about black corals at the National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration (NOAA), Ocean Explorer website.

The Waikiki Aquarium has additional information about black corals in their Marine Life Profile (pdf), Black Coral, Family Antipathidae.

Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) was used as a tool in the identification of this new species of polychaete. See Iowa State University, Materials Science & Engineering Department for a definition of SEM, how it works and an image gallery. See Museum of Science, Boston for slide shows of the workings of an SEM scope

At Molecular Expressions, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, explore Virtual Scanning Electron Microscopy.

Search terms:

Enter the following search terms into your favorite web browser for more sites or books available: black coral, commensal organisms, ocean communities, and benthic marine invertebrates.

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