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
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
Leptogorgia virgulata occurs from New York and the Chesapeake Bay to
Florida and Brazil.
In the Indian River Lagoon, L. virgulata occurs on ledges, in inlets,
and intracoastal waterways.
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.
Common around the inlets of the IRL, and nearshore reefs.
Recorded temperatures for Leptogorgia
virgulata on nearshore reefs off Fort Pierce, FL ranged from 13 - 31 °C and
averaged 24.6 °C.
Salinity range for L. virgulata on nearshore reefs off Ft. Pierce, FL was
26 - 36.4 ppt.
Suspension feeding on plankton and other small animals that come within
range of the polyp's tentacles.
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).
Preferred substrata for Leptogorgia virgulata are rock and limestone
ledges. Depth range is 3 - 20 meters.
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).
No information is available at this time
Caine EA. 1983. Community interactions of Caprella penantis Leach (Crustacea: Amphipoda) on sea whips. J Crust Biol 3: 497-504.
Gerhart DJ. 1991. Emesis, learned aversion, and chemical defense in octocorals: a central role for prostaglandins?. Amer J Physio Reg Integ Compar Physio 260: R839-R843.
Gerhart DJ, Rittschof D, Mayo SW. 1988. Chemical ecology and the search for marine antifoulants. J Chem Ecol 14: 1905-1917.
Kingsley RJ, Watabe N. 1989. The dynamics of spicule calcification in whole colonies of the gorgonian Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck) (Coelenterata: Gorgonacea). J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 133: 57-65.
Mitchell ND, Dardeau MR, Schroeder WW. 1993. Colony morphology, age structure, and relative growth of two gorgonian corals, Leptogorgia hebes (Verrill) and Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck), from the northerm Gulf of Mexico. Coral Reefs 12: 65-70.
Rittschof D, Hooper IR, Branscomb ES, Costlow JD. 1985. Inhibition of barnacle settlement and behavior by natural products from whip corals, Leptogorgia virgulata (Lamarck, 1815). J Chem Ecol 11: 551-563.
Standing JD, Hooper IR, Costlow JD. 1984. Inhibition and induction of barnacle settlement by natural products present in octocorals. J Chem Ecol 10: 823-834.
Targett NM, Bishop SS, McConnell OJ, Yoder JA. 1983. Antifouling agents against the benthic marine diatom, Navicula salinicola Homarine from the gorgonians Leptogorgia virgulata and L. setacea and analogs. J Chem Ecol 9: 817-829.
Report by: J. Dineen,
Smithsonian Marine Station
with thanks to J. Reed, HBOI
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Page last updated: July 25, 2001