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Species Name:       Leptogorgia virgulata
Common Name:                           (Sea Whip)

 

I.  TAXONOMY

Kingdom Phylum/Division: Class: Order: Family: Genus:
Animalia Cnidaria Anthozoa Gorgonacea Gorgoniidae Leptogorgia

   
 
Colony of Leptogorgia virgulata.  Photo courtesy of: J. Reed, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

 

 

 

 


Species Name:
 

Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck, 1815)
Common Name:
Sea Whip;  Colorful Sea Whip

Species Description:
Gorgonians, or soft corals, belong to the suborder Holaxonia.  These colonial cnidarians are so named because they lack the permanent, rigid skeleton of  hard corals. As octocorallians, they possess 8 tentacles and 8 complete mesentaries.  Only a single siphonoglyph is present.   Branches in gorgonians are arranged around a central axis.   Leptogorgia virgulata colonies are moderately branching into whip-like stalks.  Polyps occur in multiple rows along 2 sides of each branch.  Branch color is variable and may range from shades of purple, red, orange or yellow.  Polyps are white.


Potentially Misidentified Species:
Leptogorgia setacea


II.  HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION 

Regional Occurrence:
Leptogorgia virgulata occurs from New York and the Chesapeake Bay to Florida and Brazil. 

IRL Distribution:
In the Indian River Lagoon, L. virgulata occurs on ledges, in inlets, and intracoastal waterways.


III. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY

Age, Size, Lifespan:
Shallow inshore and offshore populations of Leptogorgia virgulata showed annual periodicity of concentric rings in the axial skeleton. However, no differences were observed in growth increments of colonies from either site (Mitchell 1993). Although spicule formation occurs throughout the colony, it is most rapid at the branch tip (Kingsley & Watabe 1989).

Typical adult size of Leptogorgia virgulata is 15 - 20 cm.

Abundance:
Common around the inlets of the IRL, and nearshore reefs.

Locomotion:
Sessile.


IV.  PHYSICAL TOLERANCES

Temperature:
Recorded temperatures for Leptogorgia virgulata on nearshore reefs off Fort Pierce, FL ranged from 13 - 31 C and averaged 24.6 C. 

Salinity:
Salinity range for L. virgulata on nearshore reefs off Ft. Pierce, FL was 26 - 36.4 ppt.

V.  COMMUNITY ECOLOGY

Trophic Mode:
Suspension feeding on plankton and other small animals that come within range of the polyp's tentacles.

Competitors:
Leptogorgia virgulata exhibits both inhibitors and inducers of barnacle settlement (Standing et al 1984). Barnacle settlement inhibitors of L. virgulata are also effective against bryozoan larval settlement (Rittschof et al 1988). Antifouling agents against a benthic marine diatom are also exhibited by L. virgulata (Targett et al 1983). Laboratory experiments indicate that the combination of calcium carbonate spicules and secondary metabolites are effective against fish predation (Gerhart et al 1988).  In addition, emitic properties of secondary metabolites from L. virgulata have induced learned aversions in several species of fish (Gerhart 1991). 

Habitat:
Preferred substrata for Leptogorgia virgulata are rock and limestone ledges. Depth range is 3 - 20 meters.

Associated Species:
Associated species of Leptogorgia virgulata, occurring in a Thalassia testudinum meadow were dominated by a caprellid amphipod Caprella penantis, particularly when the seagrass dies off during the winter. When Caprella densities decreased on Leptogorgia, postlarval and decapod crustaceans increased (Caine 1983). 


VI. SPECIAL STATUS

Special Status:
Habitat Structure

Economic Importance:
None.

 

Report by:  J. Dineen, Smithsonian Marine Station
with thanks to J. Reed, HBOI
Submit additional information, photos or comments to:
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Page last updated: July 25,  2001