Protopalythoa

Protopalythoa from Blane Peruns TheSea
Photograph by Blane Perun

Protopalythoa – Large, Solitary and Poisonous Corals of an Extraordinary Appearance

Protopalythoa corals are among the most colorful, most attractive and most resilient corals. Being a genus that comprises numerous species including sea mats, giant palythoa, button polyps, zoanthids and many others, the members of the group are widespread and quite common in the warm water areas of the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The Preferred Habitat of Protopalythoa

These corals are found in many parts of the Indo-Pacific region. They prefer reef flats and shores covered in rocks in the intertidal zones, where lighting is moderate and currents are mild. Many colonies can be found on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Physical Features of Protopalythoa

These corals are among the most colorful of them all. They have soft bodies covered in smooth, leathery skin. Many of them are orange, green yellow or brown or are of other dark colors, with many species having brighter-colored elements on or at the end of their tentacles. Some of them have brightly colored tentacles that become fluorescent in blue light. Most members of the genus are quite large corals (the tentacles can reach 2 inches in diameter) that feature a disk-like appearance, with a mouth in the middle and tentacles of various colors extending from the center, in some cases creating a striped appearance. They are known to prefer solitary life, but occasionally they can form small colonies, too. All the corals in the colony are connected by a mat that anchors them to the sea floor.

Some of the species release neurotoxins as a means to protect themselves against predators. The chemical released is called palytoxin and it is so potent that it can be lethal for humans as well. Even so, there are fish species such as filefish, butterflyfish and angelfish and some larger crustaceans that are immune to the toxin and turn to these corals as a source of food and some slugs and snails such as the box snail also feed on the coral species belonging to the genus.

What Protopalythoas Eat

Like most other coral species, they also entertain a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae algae that live inside the coral polyps and provide them with the nutrients they need. However, this symbiosis is not their only source of food: these beautiful and often very aggressive corals are also known to supplement their diet by capturing microscopic organisms such as tiny shrimps or plankton from the water column.

The Reproduction of Protopalythoa

Along with most other species, these creatures also proliferate predominantly by spawning, but they are also known to be able to proliferate asexually, by means of budding. Some of the species belonging to the genus are hermaphrodites, having both male and female reproductive organs, while the members of other species are either male or female. During the spawning period, the sperm and the eggs are released into the water to combine and form larvae that start floating freely in the water to find a suitable area for settling. After anchoring itself to the substrate, the larva will start growing into a coral, occasionally forming a new Protopalythoa colony.