Brilliant New Soft Coral Species Discovered, Psammogorgia hookeri

February 17, 2014 by  
Filed under All Posts, Animal News, Aquariums, Corals Mini-Reef

Gorgonians, Sea Fans and Sea WhipsPhoto Courtesy Yuri Hooker Peru Underwater

A beautiful bright red coral species, described as Psammogorgia hookeri, has been found in the Peruvian region of the Eastern Pacific!

It was the brilliant reddish color of this soft coral that first caught the attention of Yuri Hooker in 2002, and he collect the first specimens at that time. Hooker came across it again in 2008 while he was researching marine sponges, and at that time he was able to collect new specimens.

Dr Yuri Hooker is a biologist and naturalist at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University in Lima, Peru. In an article published by El Comercio, A new species of coral inhabiting the waters of Paracas, he says that with the 2008 specimens he began to “start the scientific process of identification and description”. It was then validated as a new soft coral species in 2014 by Odalisca Breedy, a research specialist in Octocoral Taxonomy at the University of Costa Rica (CIMAR), and her associate Hector M. Guzman, a marine biologist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).

Scientific description

This new coral species has been named Psammogorgia hookeri in honor of Dr Yuri Hooker. Breedy and Guzman describe this honor in their report, A new species of alcyonacean octocoral from the Peruvian zoogeographic region, published by Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2014, as bestowed “in recognition of his (Hooker) indefatigable and valuable contribution to the knowledge of the marine invertebrates and natural history of Peru.”

Breedy and Guzman, both experts in soft coral taxonomy and ecology, identified this new species based on colony characteristics and examinations using both light and scanning-electron microscopy. This species is described as a member of the Alcyonacea order of soft corals in the Holaxonia suborder of gorgonians. It belongs to the Plexauridae family, which are soft corals that form branching colonies and are often known as sea rods or sea fans. Within this family it is placed in the genus Psammogorgia, which now contains 14 described species, with Psammogorgia hookeri being the newest member.

Distribution

The discovery of this new soft coral has created quite a stir. The rich coral red coloring makes it an undeniable beauty, but it seems to have a very limited occurrence. It has only been found from Isla San Gallan, in the Paracas National Reserve. This reserve is located in Ica, Peru and contains the Paracas Peninsula, coastal areas, and extends inland into the tropical desert areas.

This vibrant coral is thought to possibly be endemic to the Paracas National Reserve. During his research, Hooker says he has traveled almost all of the Peruvian coasts, from Tumbes to Tacna, but has only found these soft corals in the Paracas region.

The waters of this region are cool in contrast to the more congenial waters of other eastern Pacific tropical regions, where temperatures can exceed 82.4° F (28° C). Breedy and Guzman say, “the diversity of Peruvian shallowwater octocorals may be low, but species and ecosystems have adapted to dramatic coastal oceanographic changes.” They suggest that both “seasonal and inter-annual upwellings” and El Nino impact the region, changing the surface temperatures of the water. That in turn creates a “turbid green-to-brown ecosystem”, and thus effects the bio-productivity.

Gorgonians, Sea Fans and Sea WhipsPhoto Courtesy Yuri Hooker

Description and habitat

Breedy and Guzman describe Psammogorgia hookeri colonies as small, bushy, and branching. They are about 3″(8 cm) wide with branches that reach about 7 3/4″ (12 cm) in length. They are a bright coral red color with translucent polyps.

The scientists described the coral’s colony habitation as clusters on rocky ledges and cliffs, and then spreading along the substrate. They say that areas they inhabit are generally “surrounded by other organisms such as sponges, worms, sea urchins and brachiopods among other sessile creatures.” However this coral is not a shallow water species. It has not been found at depths of less than 65′ (20 m).

Availability

Interestingly, this soft coral has been seen attached to mussel shells in local fish markets! However its availability for the reef aquarium is pretty slim right now, as finding Psammogorgia hookeri specimens in fish stores or online is difficult, if not impossible.

Learn more about the types of soft corals categorized as Gorgonians at Types of Gorgonians, Sea Fans and Sea Whips on Animal-World, which also includes coral guides for different species with pictures, background information, and the aquarium care needed for keeping them in a mini reef.

Clarice Brough is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.