Photograph by Blane Perun

Palythoa

Palythoa are counted among the most well-known varieties of cnidarians. These are zoanthids from the Anthozoa class, and have the special property of being essentially poisonous. Excreting a toxin known as Palytoxin, the zoanthids are able to defend themselves against predators far more easily than other types of species. Despite being somewhat dangerous for any living creature that approaches them, these cnidarians are quite beautiful as well. Their flowery shapes extend harmoniously on the seabed, beautifully decorating it with stunning gardens of many colors and intricately developed patterns.

What Are the General Properties of Palythoa?

Most species of this genus are associated with a distinct set of qualities that sets them apart from most other corals. The relatively small, flower-shaped animals are cnidarians that, together with two other varieties of zoanthids – Zoanthus and Protopalythoa – make up the largest part of the order Zoantharia. These species can commonly be found both in the vicinity of islands and shallower waters surrounding coral reefs, and in the deep ocean, being able to withstand a wide range of marine habitat conditions. Their polyps are partially embedded into the tissue that covers the substrate where the coral colony grows, and most species feature a central disc and a set of tentacles that vary in shape, size and color, depending on the species.

Palytoxin – A Palythoa Weapon to be Reckoned with

One of the main characteristics of the genus is that these species are able to use a potent toxin known as Palytoxin, in order to immobilize virtually any type of animal. The toxin, known to be dangerous even for humans and other land mammals, is essentially a fatty alcohol, and researchers have shown that even the most minute quantities of it could prove to be fatal, should they be ingested.

Palythoas and Their Flowery Patterns

Although the “flowery” shapes of these unusual animals are due to the distinct placement and form of their discs and tentacles, that doesn’t diminish their beauty or the intricacy of their unique textures. A rare quality of these zoanthids has to do with their colors. In most cases, they are either cream or coffee color, and they can also be brown, white and yellow. However, in the case of some species – only a few very rare varieties – you will also be able to see fluorescent colors that actually glow in the deeper areas of the ocean, where sunlight is scarce or largely non-existent.

Palythoa and Protopalythoa – A Wide Range of Species

Various species from this genus have been observed in their natural habitats for more than 200 years. In fact, even some of the rare, fluorescent species have been discovered as early as the beginning of the 1800s, and currently there are more than 120 known species that inhabit the oceans of our world. Protopalythoa are lesser known, scientists having focused on researching them far less than on similar genera. According to some researchers, the two genera might be closer related than it was thought in the past and, while further study is necessary, Protopalythoa is believed by some to actually be a part of the Palythoa genus.

Blane Perun

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Whale in Ocean