THE RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY 2011
FEEDING BIOLOGY AND SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIPS OF THE
CORALLIMORPHARIAN PARACORYNACTIS HOPLITES
Arthur R. Bos
German Development Service – D.E.D., 11th Floor P.D.C.P. Bank Center Building, V.A. Rufi no corner L.P. Leviste Streets,
Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati, The Philippines
Department of Marine Zoology, Netherlands Center for Biodiversity Naturalis, P.O. Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
Biology Department, American University in Cairo, P.O. Box 74, New Cairo 11835, Egypt
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Corresponding author)
Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, P.O. Box, Texel, The Netherlands
Girley S. Gumanao
Research Offi ce, Davao del Norte State College, New Visayas, 8105 Panabo, The Philippines
ABSTRACT. – Polyps of the corallimorpharian Paracorynactis hoplites were studied in coral reefs of the
Davao Gulf, the Philippines, between October 2007 and January 2009. Polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites
preyed mainly on echinoderms. Predation on seven species of echinoderms was observed in the fi eld (four
asteroids, two echinoids and one holothurian); an additional ten species were accepted during feeding trials
(four asteroids, four echinoids and two holothurians). The echinoids Diadema setosum, Diadema savignyi
and Echinotrix calamaris, and the ophiuriod Ophiomastix sp. were not adversely affected by the polyps. The
opisthobranch Phyllidiella pustulosa (Mollusca) was accepted during feeding trials, whereas the gastropod
Cypraea tigris was not adversely affected. In a feeding experiment, polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites
(maximum diameter 170 mm) completely ingested crown-of-thorns sea stars (Acanthaster planci) of up to
340 mm diameter. The polyps had a mean daily biomass uptake of 24.5 g d-1 when having a single-species
asteroid diet. Fishes of several species of families Apogonidae, Gobiidae, Labridae, Pomacentridae, and
Pseudochromidae as well as the shrimps (Periclimenes holthuisi, Periclimenes lacerate, Stenopus hispidus
and Thor amboinensis) lived near or among the tentacles of the polyps.
KEY WORDS. – Acanthaster planci, Asteroidea, commensalism, crown-of-thorns, Echinodermata, Echinoidea,
THE RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY 2011 59(2): 245–250
Date of Publication: 31 Aug.2011
© National University of Singapore
Polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites (Corallimorpharia) were
fi rst recorded from the Torres Strait near Papua New Guinea
(Haddon & Shackleton, 1893) and had long been considered
to belong to the genus of Pseudocorynactis. Recently, the
polyps were taxonomically described and added to the
new genus Paracorynactis (Ocaña et al., 2010). Polyps of
Paracorynactis hoplites occur in some reefs of Indonesia (den
Hartog, 1997), Malaysia (Gosliner et al., 1996), the Marshall
Islands (Colin & Arneson, 1995), and the Philippines (Bos
et al., 2008a). Little is known about the biology and ecology
of this species.
Polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites are found at depths
between 1–28 m, but the majority lives in water of less than
10 m (Ocaña et al., 2010). Independent of depth, the animals
prefer to settle under coral ledges and in reef crevices (Bos
et al., 2008a). The diameter of a single polyp can be as small
as 2 mm in preserved specimens (Ocaña et al., 2010) and
reach an impressive 210 mm in live specimens (Bos et al.,
2008a). Den Hartog et al. (1993) inferred from the size of
the nematocysts in the acrospheres that the polyps of this
corallimorpharian may be highly effi cient predators. Bos et
al. (2008a) reported that polyps prey on the relatively large
asteroids Acanthaster planci and Protoreaster nodosus,
and described how a polyp can quickly extend itself when
attacking an asteroid and how the prey is pulled toward the
polyp’s mouth and fully ingested. In this paper, we provide
new information about the feeding biology, behaviour, and
symbiotic relationships of Paracorynactis hoplites.
Bos et al.: Feeding biology of Paracorynactis hoplites
MATERIAL AND METHODS
Polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites were studied on Samal and
Talikud islands, Davao Gulf, the Philippines, during 29 dives
to a depth of 37 m between Oct.2007 and Jan.2009. Location
and depth of each individual polyp (N = 72) were recorded,
and the diameter of each was measured to nearest cm. Prey
items and symbionts were recorded and photographed. Froese
& Pauly (2008) and Lieske & Myers (2002) were used to
identify symbiotic reef fi shes. Clark & Rowe (1971) and
Colin & Arneson (1995) were used to identify echinoderms,
mollusks, and shrimps. For the identifi cation of symbiotic
shrimps, we additionally used Bruce (1992).
Feeding behaviour was studied in 11 polyps observed by
skin-diving on a patch reef extending to 4 m depth at the
western coast of Samal Island (7º0.80'N, 125º43.24'E). The
column diameter and length of all polyps were measured
before and while they were feeding. To study food preference,
polyps were offered common asteroids and echinoids. To
study the effect of prey size, from Nov.2007 to Mar.2008,
specimens of the asteroid Acanthaster planci were offered
to the corallimorpharians. The asteroids were collected at a
nearby reef because none were found in the patch reef where
Paracorynactis hoplites was present. Animals of a variety of
sizes were offered: the diameter of each was measured before
releasing it near a polyp. If it moved away from the polyp,
Table 1. Species of Echinodermata and Mollusca naturally preyed upon (Prey) and fed to polyps (Fed) of the corallimorpharian Paracorynactis
hoplites in the Davao Gulf between Oct.2007 and Jan.2009.
Phylum/Class Species Author Prey Fed
(Müller & Troschel, 1840)
Müller & Troschel, 1842
(Bory de St. Vincent, 1827)
(Chamisso & Eysenhardt, 1821)
the asteroid was picked up and put back near until it moved
toward the polyp. If a sea star was able to free itself from a
polyp’s tentacles, it was offered to a larger polyp.
To estimate biomass uptake, three polyps were enclosed
in individual cages of chicken wire (mesh size 10 × 10
mm2) with a surface area of about 0.2 m2. Each polyp was
fed asteroids of a single species diet (Acanthaster planci,
Linckia laevigata, or Protoreaster nodosus) during 7 wk and
had access to no other food. One free-roaming asteroid was
available in each cage allowing polyps to feed at any time.
Before being offered to a polyp, each asteroid was briefl y
removed from the water, blotted, measured, and weighed (1
g accuracy). The diameter of A. planci and the length of all
fi ve rays of L. laevigata and P. nodosus were measured. For
comparison, mean ray length (radius R) was multiplied by
two to calculate the diameter for the latter two asteroids.
Prey species. – Polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites were
observed to prey largely on members of Echinodermata: four
species of Asteroidea and one species of Holothuroidea (Table
1). They were inferred to prey on two species of Echinoidea
from tests and spines found under or beside the polyps (Fig.
1). A feeding trial with the echinoid Echinometra mathaei
THE RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY 2011
confi rmed it to be an appropriate prey. In further feeding
trials, polyps of P. hoplites ingested other echinoderms
common in the vicinity, which increased the prey inventory
of members of the Echinodermata to a total of 17 species
(Table 1). However, three echinoids, Diadema setosum,
Diadema savignyi, and Echinotrix calamaris were not preyed
upon. Spines of these urchins could touch the tentacles of a
polyp without adverse effects (Fig. 2). Similarly, the arms
of a brittle star from the genus Ophiomastix could touch
the tentacles unaffected. One species of Opisthobranchia,
Phyllidiella pustulosa, was accepted as prey when offered
to the polyps, whereas the gastropod Cypraea tigris was not
affected (Table 1).
Polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites naturally prey on the
crown-of-thorns sea star, Acanthaster planci (Table 1). A
polyp can ingest a sea star larger in diameter than itself: the
larger the polyp, the larger the sea star it ingested (Fig. 3).
The largest sea star we observed to be ingested was 340 mm
in diameter (Fig. 3). Maximum diameters of Linckia laevigata
and Protoreaster nodosus ingested were 244 and 172 mm,
respectively. In the feeding experiments, the daily biomass
uptake was 29.5, 19.0, and 25.0 g d-1 for the prey species
Fig. 1. Extended polyp of Paracorynactis hoplites pulling a partly
whitened asteroid (Linckia laevigata) toward its mouth. Note test of
echinoid Echinometra mathaei beside base of polyp (A. R. Bos).
Fig. 2. Echinoid Diadema savignyi not adversely affected by polyp
of Paracorynactis hoplites (A. R. Bos).
Fig. 3. Diameter of fully digested crown-of-thorns sea stars
(Acanthaster planci) as a function of polyp diameter of
Acanthaster planci, Linckia laevigata, and Protoreaster
nodosus, respectively. The mean daily biomass uptake of a
polyp was 24.5 g d-1.
Prey capture. – Polyps actively moved their tentacles to detect
potential prey. When acrospheres touched the surface of prey
items, they immediately stuck to the prey and remained fi rmly
attached. Subsequently the polyps expanded to bring as-yet
unattached acrospheres closer to the prey items. Some polyps
extended toward prey even before contact was made. After
extension and attachment of most acrospheres to prey items,
polyps slowly retracted, pulling the prey toward themselves.
Simultaneously, the polyp mouth opened and enveloped
the nearest parts of the prey item. Acrospheres continued
to attach, further entangling the prey. However, some prey
items escaped the pull of the tentacles, especially if they were
large or relatively fast moving, or if few acrospheres had
adhered to them. In cases where the prey had been moving
across a sandy bottom near the polyp, this appeared to be
an advantage to the polyp, because prey had relatively poor
traction on sandy substrate. About 50% of the polyps had
settled near sandy substrate.
Small and fl exible prey items were completely enveloped by
the mouth, then swallowed, which generally stretched the
polyp. After feeding, the polyp’s tentacles hung downward,
and when a potential prey item was touched to the tentacles,
the acrospheres had little adhesiveness. Asteroids that escaped
the pull of the tentacles after short contact with the polyps
were partly whitened on those parts that had been in the
mouth of the polyp (Fig. 1). Large prey species, especially
those with stiff skeletons (e.g. Protoreaster nodosus), that
were not able to escape the pull of the tentacles were only
partially eaten and were usually released with a single arm
missing. After digestion of the soft tissues, indigestible
parts were regurgitated through the mouth and fell onto the
sediment near the polyp (Fig. 1). Although spines of the
asteroid Acanthaster planci were also regurgitated, nothing
was found from Linckia laevigata.
Mean length of non-feeding polyps was 40 mm (N = 17), but
when feeding (N = 55) polyps extended up to 5 times normal
Bos et al.: Feeding biology of Paracorynactis hoplites
length (Fig. 1). One non-feeding polyp with a diameter of
90 mm and a length of about 45 mm stretched to 240 mm in
length when catching and enveloping a specimen of Linckia
laevigata (radius = 103 mm). The period from prey detection
to full ingestion usually lasted >1 h, but if conditions were
favorable to the polyp (i.e. small prey or poor traction on
sandy substrate), prey could be ingested in <1 min.
Symbiotic species. – Some fishes took refuge among
the tentacles or hovered over the mouth of polyps of
Paracorynactis hoplites. Specimens of the cardinal
fi shes Apogon multilineatus, Apogon nigrofasciatus, and
Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus, and the gobies Eviota
pellucida and Trimma nasa swam among the tentacles of
the polyps, and appeared to contact them, apparently without
being adversely affected. Specimens of the dusky dottyback
Pseudochromis fuscus commonly swam about the column of
the polyp hiding underneath the crown of tentacles possibly
avoiding direct contact to the acrospheres. Less often, we
observed juveniles of the wrasse Halichoeres purpurescens
and the damselfi shes Plectroglyphidodon lacrymatus and
Fig. 5. Symbiotic shrimp Thor amboinensis among tentacles of
a polyp of Paracorynactis hoplites. Mouth of polyp is visible at
lower right (A. R. Bos).
Fig. 4. Entirely closed polyp of Paracorynactis hoplites where
tentacles are not visible (A. R. Bos).
Pomacentrus grammorhynchus near the tentacles without
actually touching the acrospheres, also apparently without
negative effects. The goby Trimma striata visited the column
of entirely closed polyps only (Fig. 4), when the risk of being
touched by tentacles was nil.
Specimens of the cleaner shrimps Periclimenes holthuisi
and Periclimenes lacertae lived among the tentacles, at an
abundance of one specimen per polyp. The shrimps Thor
amboinensis also lived among the tentacles (Fig. 5) with up
to fi ve individuals per polyp. Furthermore, two specimens of
the larger cleaner shrimp Stenopus hispidus were observed
to share a small crevice with a polyp of Paracorynactis
hoplites. S. hispidus antennae touching polyp tentacles did
not adhere to each other and did not appear to adversely
affect either party.
We regularly found injured polyps and sometimes just
some tissue of the mesenterial filaments. One polyp of
Paracorynactis hoplites survived repeated attacks by an
unknown predator during two months of observation, and
one polyp was eaten by two A. planci specimens.
Asteroids and echinoids appear to be major prey items of
Paracorynactis hoplites, because acrospheres easily attach
to these animals. Echinoids preyed upon were mainly
species with relatively short spines; this anatomy may
allow acrospheres to attach to soft tissue and explains why
the echinoids Diadema setosum, Diadema savignyi, and
Echinotrix calamaris, which have relatively long spines
(Coppard & Campbell, 2004), were unaffected. Excluding
the long-spined sea urchins, all echinoderms have surfaces
or relatively soft bodies to which acrospheres easily attach.
The acceptance of a nudibranch as prey (Table 1) may
suggest that all slow-moving, soft-tissue animals are potential
prey for polyps of P. hoplites. Only those with long spines
and smooth surfaces (e.g. shells) seem to be safe from
acrosphere attacks. However, only one species of shelled
mollusk was examined here, so further studies are needed
on reactions to a wider variety of potential prey items to
determine the diet specifi city of these corallimorpharians.
Many coral reef cnidarians are known to consume almost
any animal material that falls upon their oral disks, including
zooplankton (e.g. Fabricius & Metzner, 2004). The ability
of this corallimorpharian to consume large echinoderms is
interesting, especially consumption of the major cnidarian
predator Acanthaster planci, and may be a special trait of
Bos et al. (2008a) observed polyps of Paracorynactis
hoplites to prey upon specimens of Acanthaster planci with
maximum diameter of 250 mm. We found asteroids as large
as 340 mm consumed by polyps up to 170 mm diameter. The
polyps of P. hoplites did not feed differently and were not
adversely affected by consuming Acanthaster planci, which
is considered toxic to humans (Shiomi et al., 1985; Moran,
1990; Sato et al., 2008) and may also be toxic to some marine
THE RAFFLES BULLETIN OF ZOOLOGY 2011
predators. Also, the echinoid Toxopneustes pileolus, known
to be toxic to fi shes (Frey, 1951), was eaten by the polyps
without being adversely affected.
Parts of prey items that had been in the mouths of polyps for
a short while, were whitened and showed signs of digestion,
possibly because their relatively stiff skeletons escaped the
pull of the tentacles, but they lost soft tissue from their
body. In areas where polyps of P. hoplites were abundant,
a relatively high proportion of specimens of the sea star
Protoreaster nodosus had shortened or missing rays (Bos et
al., 2008b). Thus polyps of P. hoplites may, together with
other predators, be responsible for high numbers of irregular
sea stars in the Davao Gulf (Bos et al., 2008c; Bos et al.,
2011). Moreover, polyps of P. hoplites were not observed
at the remote Tubbataha reefs in the Philippines and their
apparent absence or low density may have contributed to
a recent outbreak of Acanthaster planci in this UNESCO
world heritage site (Bos, 2010).
Although polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites appeared to
mainly prey on echinoderms, they may additionally be able
to prey on planktonic organisms. Other corallimorpharians
(Chadwick, 1991) and actinian sea anemones (Fautin et
al., 1995) prey on zooplankton, and the corallimorpharian
Amplexidiscus fenestrafer feeds on a wide range of food
items including zooplankton (Hamner & Dunn, 1980).
However, because polyps of P. hoplites were usually not
willing to take up more food after capturing prey (reduced
adhesiveness of acrospheres), the biomass uptake estimates
reported here may be fairly accurate, in that polyps were
satiated and did not otherwise feed. Feeding on zooplankton
may be of importance only when larger prey are not trapped
by these polyps.
Several fi sh species of different genera hovered near or
lived within the polyps of Paracorynactis hoplites without
adversely being affected. Anemones are known to host fi shes
and provide them with shelter and other benefi ts (Fautin &
Allen, 1997). Typical anemone fi shes are those of the genera
Amphiprion and Premnas (Fautin & Allen, 1997), but these
did not inhabit the polyps of P. hoplites. Also Hamner &
Dunn (1980) observed the relatively large corallimorpharian
Amplexidiscus fenestrafer not to be inhabited by these genera
and under laboratory conditions fi sh were even captured and
eaten. This may explain why none of the common anemone
fi shes were observed to inhabit polyps of P. hoplites.
Randall & Fautin (2002) observed other fi sh species than
anemone fi shes to associate with anemones, representing
some of the families that we observed to live about the
corallimorpharian polyps. These fi shes may be very cautious
in avoiding contact with the polyps or may have adjusted
to life with nematocysts by developing a mucus layer to
protect themselves against nematocyst attacks (Fautin,
1991). Anecdotal evidence suggested that the polyps of
Paracorynactis hoplites prey on fi sh, but such observations
were only done in aquaria. We fed a polyp with a dead
specimen of the scorpion fi sh Pterois volitans, which was
immediately ingested (personal observation). This confi rms
that P. hoplites accepts fi sh as prey.
The shrimps that live on the polyps of Paracorynactis
hoplites are cleaners of fish and other marine animals
(Becker & Grutter, 2004) and commonly live on anemones
(Guo et al., 1996). Some symbiotic shrimps collect trapped
planktonic organisms on anemone tentacles and remove
mucus secretions on their hosts’ columns (Fautin et al.,
1995). Some shrimps are highly selective in terms of their
association with hosts, but the shrimp Thor amboinensis is
considered a generalist symbiont with sea anemones (Guo
et al., 1996). Although the symbiotic shrimp Periclimenes
holthuisi is generally considered selective (Becker & Grutter,
2004), Khan et al. (2003) suggested that it does not exhibit
high host specifi city. The observation of P. holthuisi in polyps
of P. hoplites provides further evidence of lack of selectivity.
The circumtropical cleaner shrimp Stenopus hispidus does
not usually live symbiotically with anemones (Chockley &
Mary, 2003), but was observed to share a crevice with a
polyp of P. hoplites without being affected.
This study was performed and partially fi nanced through
cooperation between the German Development Service
(DED) and the Davao del Norte State College. We greatly
acknowledge C. Fransen, J. Randall, and R. Winterbottom
for support with shrimp and goby identifi cations. Furthermore
we acknowledge D. Fautin for comments on an earlier
version of the manuscript. We thank the local government
units of Samal Island and the Department of Environment
and Natural Resources of Region XI, Philippines for their
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