Coral and Brittle Stars, Together Forever

Brittle star (red) entwines the branches of its lifelong coral partner (pink). Credit: L. Watling for NOAA/IE/URI

Brittle star (red) entwines the branches of its lifelong coral partner (pink). Credit: L. Watling for NOAA/IE/URI

I mean it, FOREVER!  No paper out yet but the abstract has sufficiently enticed me.  Mosher and Watling report that the species Phiocreas oedipus, an echinoderm that kills its father and marries it mother, is only found on the octocoral Metallagorgia melanotrichos. They find a positive correlation between size of the brittle star and the octocoral and suggest that juvenile brittles stars settles on the a young octocoral and “the two species then grow, mature, and senesce together”.  The octocoral mooches shelter and  a platform off the seafloor to suspsension feed on floating particles.  What does the coral get? Not damn thing.

Colony of Metallogorgia melanotrichos  on New England Seamount Chain. Image courtesy of the Mountains in the Sea Research Team; the IFE Crew; and NOAA.

Colony of Metallogorgia melanotrichos on New England Seamount Chain. Image courtesy of the Mountains in the Sea Research Team; the IFE Crew; and NOAA.

Dr. M (1628 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





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