CORAL Mystery Species Answers

13 Dec, 2019

Mystery Species: Can you identify this marine animal sometimes encountered in the aquarium trade? Image: Denise Nielsen Tackett from Reef Life.

Toxopneustes pileolus (Lamarck, 1816)
Distribution: Indo-Pacific, East and South Africa to Australia, Indonesia, Philippines
Maximum Size: 20 cm (8 inches)

Toxopneustes pileolus, Flower Urchin. Image: Denise Nielsen Tackett.

It may be lovely to behold, but this Indo-Pacific sea urchin can inflict paralyzing stings and it has been implicated in the deaths of divers who touched the blossom-like pedicillaria. These defensive appendages can grasp the soft tissue of a victim and release two or more toxins that can cause excruciating pain, shock, coma, and even death.

In 1935, Japanese marine biologist Tsutomu Fujiwara unwittingly picked up Flower Urchin brought to the surface in a fisherman’s net and later reported: “Instantly, I felt a severe pain … and I felt as if the toxin were beginning to move rapidly to the blood vessel from the stung area towards my heart. After a while, I experienced a faint giddiness, difficulty of respiration, paralysis of the lips, tongue and eyelids, relaxation of muscles in the limbs, was hardly able to speak or control my facial expression, and felt almost as if I were going to die. About 15 minutes afterwards, I felt that pains gradually diminish and after about an hour they disappeared completely. But the facial paralysis like that caused by cocainization continued for about six hours.”
—Tsutomu Fujiwara (1935). “On the poisonous pedicellaria of Toxopneustes pileolus (Lamarck)”. Annotationes Zoologicae Japonenses15 (1): 62–68.

• Read more about this and other fascinating echinoderms in the March/April 2020 issue of CORAL, with Dr. Ronald Shimek’s essential profile of the urchins, sea stars, brittle stars, crinoids, and sea cucumbers—some iconic members of the coral reef community but not all ideal or even safe for the curious aquarist.
• Fujiwara (1935) Quotation:


Blue Cespitularia soft coral cultured by ORA in Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Featured in CORAL, January/February 2020

ORA’s Blue Cespitularia is a glittering, iridescent example of an exceptional octocoral cultivar made more accessible through intensive aquaculture efforts.

According to ORA: Blue Cespitularia is sometimes referred to as Blue Xenia. The variety ORA grows is a unique color form that has a turquoise body with elegant peachy – orange polyps. The color intensity of this soft coral varies greatly and is dependent of lighting conditions. In some settings the ORA Blue Cespitularia develops to have a sparkling metallic quality similar to very fine glitter.

Placement: All Levels
Lighting: Low – High
Flow: Moderate – Strong

Read more in CORAL’s big OCTOCORALS Issue, on sale January 1, 2020. Subscribe and never miss an issue—published in simultaneous print and digital editions.

Blue Cespitularia (Cespitularia sp.)

Aeolid nudibranch (Phyllodesmium rudmani), which perfectly mimics a small colony of Xenia Soft Coral. Also known as a solar-powered sea slug. Found throughout Indonesia and Philippines. Photo taken off Anilao, Philippines, within the Coral Triangle. Image: © Gary Bell /

From the January’February 2020 Issue of CORAL Magazine: An amazing example of marine mimicry, this remarkable sea slug has evolved to appear as a perfect match for Xenia sp. soft coral. This species grows to about 4.5 cm (1.8 inches), and aquarists may find it hitchhiking into their reefscapes on imported colonies of Xenia. Sea slugs have a paired set of antenna-like sense organs called rhinophores, which can be spotted in this image upon careful inspection.

Phyllodesmium rudmani is reported to have photosynthetic symbiotic Symbiodinium zooxanthellae in its tissues.

Read a good account in the always informative Sea Slug Forum, which says: “This solar-powered aeolid is a remarkable mimic of the Xenia colonies on which it feeds, often nestling in cavities it has burrowed out in the base of the colony.”

Sea Slug Forum

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Leptastrea sp. Stony Coral, “Reef Raft Polkaroo” from Jason Fox Signature Corals. Possibly a color morph of Leptastrea purpurea.

Leptastrea is a genus of encrusting reefbuilding stony corals from the Indo-Pacific. Previously assigned to the family Faviidae, it has been moved to uncertain status, Scleractinia incertae sedis, based on DNA testing.

CORAL Volume 16, Number 2, March/April 2019.

Writing in CORAL Magazine, Advanced Aquatics, March/April 2019, researcher Samuel Nietzer says:

“Leptastrea purpurea has an extensive distribution and can be found from the reefs of the western Indian Ocean to the Indo-Pacific Coral Triangle to the Hawaiian Islands. 

“The most astonishing and unique feature of L. purpurea is not, however, its apparent adaptability but its reproductive strategy: so-called brooding, in which parent colonies harbor their growing progeny before releasing them. The extraordinary thing about the reproduction in this species isn’t, however, the strategy, but the daily release of larvae. This circumstance makes L. purpurea a particularly suitable species for performing experiments with planula larvae.”

Image by May Fox.  Courtesy Jason Fox Signature Corals

Buy this issue of CORAL, on sale February 2/26/19.


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About the author

Reef To Rainforest
Reef To Rainforest

Reef to Rainforest Media, LLC is the publisher of award-winning magazines and books in the fields of aquarium keeping, aquatics, and marine science. It is the English-language publisher of CORAL Magazine and is based in Shelburne, Vermont, USA.

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