Order Corallimorpharia Jewel Anemones Or Corallimorphs

Usually grouped with sea anemones, this relatively small order of around 40 named species is sometimes regarded as 'skeleton-free corals', although the close relationship with Scleractinia is questioned by a recent genetic study. They occur as clones of polyps connected by stolons (Fig. 19.8G-J). The polyps have a broad, thin oral disc and short, featureless column. The mouth protrudes from the centre of the oral disc. There are a variable number of short tentacles, usually occurring throughout the oral disc, but sometimes in rows and sometimes there are specialised tentacles (bearing nematocyst batteries in rounded tips). The nematocyst composition (cnidom) is less complex than in Actiniaria, but some corallimorph nematocysts are very large. Corallimorphs are often very brightly coloured and a single species may occur in many colour morphs. There are probably around 20 species on the GBR, although further study may discover more.

Corallimorphs may be non-zooxanthellate (family Corallimorphidae) or zooxanthellate (Discosomatidae and Ricordaeidae). Many are formidable predators. The large discosomatid Amplexidiscus fenestrafer has been observed to feed by enveloping small fish in its oral disc. Other discosomatids may be able to form monocultures by defending territory using nematocysts stored in the tips of the marginal tentacles. They are mostly subtidal and many avoid bright light. They are generally very tolerant of environmental conditions and are popular as aquarium subjects for this reason as well as their attractive appearance. Histological sectioning of these disc-shaped animals is very difficult, and external features are regarded as very important for identification.

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