Latin name: Caryophyllia smithii
Global Distribution: South-west Europe, the Mediterranean, and in Britain
UK Distribution: Shetland, north eastern England, the south west, Wales, Ireland and north western Scotland
Size: up to 2.5 in width reaching 1.5 centimetres tall
Habitat: Rocky areas, tidal pools, artificial structures. It is more abundant below the low tide line down to 200m but has been discovered at depths of 1000m.
The Devonshire Cup Coral is a lot wider spread than first believed. Normally found in ones or twos it can sometimes be found in groups of up to four. It has 80 beautiful translucent tentacles spread out in three layers of circles. The tentacles end in a white or brown knob. The cup-shaped calcified skeleton protects the small coral polyp. The sticky tentacles strap the suspended zooplankton and organic particles that float in the water and draws them into the polyps’ mouth. The mouth has a zigzag pattern around it which helps distinguish it from an anemone.
The Polyp spawns in early spring releasing Gametes through the mouth – Gametes are a reproductive cell which carries half the genetic information of an individual. They are fertilised in the sea when a male and female gamete fuse. After 2 days the free-swimming larvae are fully formed and start feeding. Around 9 weeks later they start attaching themselves to any firm surface and become corals. There are two sub-species of Devonshire cup coral identified by the depth of the habitat. The first is a shallow water species, called Caryophyllia smithii var. Smithii; and the second a deeper water species, known as Caryophyllia smithii var.clavus, found in depths from 50 to 1000 metres.
- This coral can be colonised by the barnacle Megatrema anglicum, which is immune to the coral’s sting. The M. anglicum is not deliberately parasitic, but its feeding appendages can get in the way of the coral’s tentacles, making it harder for it to gather food.
- The Devonshire cup coral can be a nuisance itself by settling on other organisms, such as the calcified tubes built by some marine worm.
- Most of the coral skeleton is made up of bundles of microscopic crystal needles.