Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda,
Order: Nudibranchia (sea slugs)
Family Tethydidae

Genus/ species: Melibe leonina


GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Color a translucent gray, greenish-gray, or yellowish-gray, with opaque brown hepatic diverticula. Melibe leonina has 4-6 pairs of large, leaflike or paddlelike cerata in two rows down its dorsum and a large oral hood with two rows of filiform tentacles around its margin.

Length up to 102 mm long (4 in), 25 mm (1 in) wide, and 51 mm (2 in) across the expanded oral hood.

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: West coast of North America from Alaska to Baja California in eelgrass beds, kelp (especially Macrocystis) beds, harbors. When swimming it is usually upside-down, and undulates back and forth.

DIET:  M. leonina feeds on Copepods, amphipods, and ostracods, as well as small post-larval mollusks. They firmly attache itself to a kelp blade and then sweeps its raised hood downward or to the side. When food lands on the lower surface of the hood, the melibe sweeps together the two sides of the hood, and its fringing tentacles lock in the prey. The hood contracts to force the captured food into the M. leonine’s mouth.

REPRODUCTION and DEVELOPMENT:  M. leonine are hermaphrodites (they have both male and female sexual organs), and fertilization is internal. The animal can lay as many as 30,000 eggs, which are enclosed in a long, gelatinous ribbon.

REMARKS:  Noxious secretions of the melibe smell like watermelon, according to aquarists. They are gregarious animals and probably use it to keep together as well as for defense.  Most predators avoid the noxious secretions of nudibranchs; but the kelp crab is an exception. 

This species has been used for neurological research.



California Academy of Sciences, Steinhart Aquarium, Water is Life 2019

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Monterey Bay Aquarium…



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Subclass: Hexacorallia
Order: Actiniaria
Family: Actiniidae

Genus/species; Condylactis sp.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Disc size: 10–40 cm (4-16 in) Colors differ.


DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Found throughout the Caribbean and Western Atlantic; also Indo-Pacific. Found in lagoons or on inner reefs.

DIET IN THE WILD: Like many other cnidarians, these anemones host zooxanthellae. They also collect small invertebrates and fishes with their tentacles.

REPRODUCTION: Male and female release eggs and sperm into the water. After fertilization and development, larvae metamorphose and settle out as juvenile anemones. Can also reproduce asexually through splitting and budding.

REMARKS: Indo-Pacific Condylactis spp. and clownfish do not display symbiotic behavior in the wild. However, aquarists report that if introduced in an aquarium, the anemone may serve as a clownfish host. There are no clownfish species in the Caribbean

Annals of Internal Medicine: A healthy 28 year old man died of liver failure after being touched by a condylactis anemone.

Other actiniarian to be wary of are the Mimic Anemone (Phyllodiscus semoni) is known to have caused acute renal failure and severe dermatitis. The Hellsfire Anemone (Actinodendron plumosum), the Snake Anemone (Actinostephanus haeckeli), and the Armed Anemone (Dofleinia armata) are reported to cause extremely painful stings and persistent ulceration of the skin. And the Carpet Anemone (Stichodactyla haddoni) has been implicated in causing prolonged neurological damage and even anaphylactic shock in aquarists


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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Cephalopoda
Order: Sepiida
Family:i Sepiidae

Genus/species: Metasepia pfefferi

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GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: The normal base color of this species is dark brown. Individuals that are disturbed or attacked quickly change colour to a pattern of black, dark
brown, and white, with yellow patches around the mantle, arms, and eyes. The arm tips often display bright red coloration to ward off would-be predators. The mantle and head are covered with flap-like, fleshy protuberances (papillae),and a V-shaped fleshy ridge runs along the underside. Yellow fins flutter along the sides to propel the animal slowly though the water or along the substrate.

Max mantle length: 6–8 cm (2.5-3.14 in)

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: The Flamboyant Cuttlefish is found from Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, to Australia. Found in shallow, low-energy tropical marine waters (3 to 85 m) with mud, sand, or coral rubble

DIET IN THE WILD: M. pfefferi are active diurnal foragers on a variety of foods, especially fish and crustaceans, including “hard-hitting” mantis shrimp. Encircling the mouth are 8 purplish, blade-like arms with rows of suckers used to manipulate prey and 2 flattened, retractable tentacles which can be rapidly extended to catch prey.

LIFE SPAN. 18 and 24 months

CONSERVATION: IUCN: Data Deficient   <a href=”″ rel=”nofollow”></a>. 2012

REMARKS: One researcher recently claimed M. pfefferi to be the only cuttlefish known to be toxic, asserting that muscle tissue of this species possesses a toxin as deadly as that of its cephalopod relative, the blue-ringed octopus!

They also can produce ink as a defense.

Animals displaying this color pattern have been observed using their lower arms to walk or “amble” along the sea floor while rhythmically waving the wide protective membranes on their arms. It has been suggested that this behavior advertises a poisonous or distasteful nature.

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One of the most well known features of cuttles is the cuttle bone, which is often used by pet owners to provide calcium for caged birds. Cuttlefish use this multi chambered internal calcified ‘shell’ to change buoyancy by quickly filling or emptying the chambers with gas. Interestingly, while the cuttle bone of most cuttles is as long as the animal’s mantle, the diamond shaped cuttlebone of the Flamboyant is disproportionately small, thin, and only 2/3 to ¾ of the mantle length. The small size of the cuttlebone may make swimming difficult and may accounts for the Flamboyants preference to ‘walk’ along the bottom.

References: California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium, Hidden Reef  Richard Ross

Advanced Aquarist Volume IX › October 2010 › Aquarium Invertebrates: Metasepia pfefferi – the aptly named Flamboyant Cuttlefish.      Great overview

Animal Diversity Web

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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Annelida
Class: Polychaeta
Order: Canalipalpata
Suborder: Sabellida
Family: Sabellidae

The Sabellidae family (feather duster worms) are a family of sedentary marine polychaete tube worms where the head is mostly concealed by feathery branchiae. They build tubes out of parchment, sand, and bits of shell. Glomerula secretes a tube of calcium carbonate.

The appendages that give this worm its name are finely divided tentacles that act as plankton filters.  They also wave their tentacles to move the water around them, increasing the odds of catching food. Food is then moved from the tentacles into the worm’s mouth. The tentacles long grooves that get progressively smaller, limiting plankton size which is appropriate to eat when it arrives at its their mouth.  An alternate tube runs upward internally for waste is expelled.

Note: The rock above and to the right is covered by a sponge which differs from the 2 verticle sponges and their symbiotic coral.

Reference: Ryan Schaeffer. California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium, Hidden Reef 2018

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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera (sponges.)
Class: Demospongiae
Order: Poecilosclerida
Family: Raspailiidae

Genus/species: Trikentrion flabelliforme

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: White horizontal lines cover a striking red body. Its tree-like base is covered by a white web-like symbiont with a hexacoral from the genus Parazoanthus (order Zoanthidea).

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Arafura Sea, a shallow body of water sandwiched between Australia and New Guinea.

DIET IN THE WILD: T. flabelliforme is a filter feeder using its choanocytes or collar cells to filter particles and dissolved substances from seawater.

REMARKS: Parazoanthus is a suspension feeder as its polyps capture food particles from the water. The tissue of Parazoanthus is connected to the skin or pinacoderm of its host sponge, with tissue integration varying between different combinations of sponge and the coral.

Parasitism seems a likely option, where the symbiotic coral benefits at the expense of its host sponge. For example, the coral may impair the sponge’s ability to pump water through its system, which is vital to sponge nutrition, waste removal and gas exchange. Commensalism is also possible, where the coral benefiting while having a neutral effect on the sponge.

T. flabelliforme is difficult to grow in captivity but has been growing in the California Academy Steinhart Aquarium system for a year showing signs of good health.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Hidden Reef
Charles Delbeek curator, 2018

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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda (crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns, and shrimp)
Infraorder: Caridea
Family: Hymenoceridae

Genus/species: Hymenocera picta

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Pinkish white body color with splashes of purple-edged pink spots. Stalked eyes and antennae flattened and leaf-shaped.

Length up to 5 cm (2 inches)


DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Along the shores of East Africa, the Red Sea, to Indonesia, south to northern Australia and as far east as the Galapagos. Found on hard rocky or coral substrates, with lots of hiding places.


DIET IN THE WILD: It is a nocturnal feeder hunting in pairs for sea stars, using its claws to pry sea stars off coral reefs flipping them on their back. They then take them to their dwelling-place on the reef, where they consume their the tube feet of sea stars.

Harlequin Shrimps eating a Linka Seastar below

REMARKS: H. picta is known to feed on crown-of-thorns sea stars, so perhaps it should be considered a reef preservationists.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Hidden Reef

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Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Echinodermata
Class:  Asteroidea
Order:  Valvatida
Family:  Oreasteridae

Genus/species: Protoreaster nodosus

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: The backround body color is highly variable; may be beige, brown, orange, red or other hues, such as green or blue. Horn-shaped tall dark nodules are conical and arranged in a single row, radially on the dorsal (top) side. Most horned sea stars found are a roughly rigid five-pointed star-shape (occasionally 4 or 6) with tapering arms. A sea star’s skeleton is made up of many calcium carbonate plates (ossicles) that move like flexible joints. (In sea urchins and sand dollars, their skeletal plates are fused). The Seastar skeleton is covered with a spiny skin.

Diameter up to 30 cm (12 in).

Protoreaster nodosus15010829781_2ff5562e7a_o

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Red Sea, Indian and western Pacific oceans. Found in shallow sheltered sand and seagrass beds. Depth range 1 – 582 m (3.3 – 1900 feet).


DIET IN THE WILD: The mouth is located ventrally (bottom). The Chocolate Chip Seastar covers its food, then pushes out its stomach from inside its body of prey. Sea stars have a unique adaptation for consuming bi-valve mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, etc.). Stars insert a portion of their stomach into the small “gape” between the valves of a mollusk. Stomach enzymes are released and digest the fleshy part of the mollusk inside its own shell. The digested contents are moved back into the sea star leaving an empty bi-valve shell. P. nodosus prefers sponges, corals, clams and snails, other invertebrates; also opportunistic carrion feeders.

 Protoreaster nodosus3289508974_49c4d004de_b

REPRODUCTION: P. nodosus is a broadcast spawner. As in other sea stars, fertilization is external. Eggs and sperm are stored in the rays and released simultaneously. Larvae look nothing like the adults. The form that first hatches from the eggs is bilaterally symmetrical and planktonic. Larvae eventually settle and transform into tiny sea stars.

Lifespan up to 17 years

sea star15201906310_bc5840e0c0_o 

PREDATORS: Triggerfish, pufferfish, boxfish and parrotfish.


REMARKS: The Chocolate Chip Seastars are also called “knobbly sea star” and the “horned sea star.”
The chocolate chip sea star can regenerate lost limbs, as long as the central disk of the body is intact. Some species can regenerate an entire body from an arm or arm segment.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Mangrove Pop-Up, Main floor (level one) 2018

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Woods Hole

Bishop Museum

Georgia Aquarium

Reef Creature Identification, Humann and Deloach 2010, page 426

Encyclopedia of Life

Marine Biology


Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Alcyonacea (soft corals)
Family: Alcyoniidae

Genus: Sinularia notanda (Tree-like soft coral)

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Colors include purple, pink, gray, green, and yellow, but are usually brown to cream. They have stalks with tree-like branches, and from those form little branchlets. The branchlets have small autozooid (feeding) polyps which have the ability to retract fully.

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Tropical Indo West Pacific on coral reefs in fairly strong currents.

DIET IN THE WILD: Phytoplankton and very small zooplankton
(Harbors symbiotic zooxanthellae which adds nutrition to its tissues from the algae’s photosynthesis.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Color Cluster 2016 AQA17 Pam Montbach

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Aquarium Corals E H Borneman TFH Publications 2001 page 132


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Scleractinia (stony corals or hard corals)
Family: Dendrophylliidae

Genus/species: Turbinaria reniformis

(Brain coral Platygyra sp. on the right)

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: T. reniformis may form cup, vase, or spreading scroll-like plates, Color yellow, brown, or sometimes green. The corallites widely spaced apart from each other with the polyps like short tufts sprouting from the surface.

Diameter of plates up to 1 meter (3 ft)


DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Yellow Cup Cora are found throughout the Indo-Pacific from shallow turbid water to clear reef flats and deeper reef slopes ( 2 to 15 metres)

DIET IN THE WILD: Zooxanthellae provide nutrients and energy, and help remove metabolic wastes.

REPRODUCTION: T. reniformis unlike most corals which are hermaphroditic (have both male and female sex organs releasing gametes for external fertilization), Yellow Cup Coral have separate male and female sexes.

CONSERVATION: IUCN Red List Vulnerable (VU) T. reniformisis is susceptible to bleaching and disease due to a more restricted depth range,

REMARKS: When irritated, it can produce large amounts of clear mucus which can damage other corals; the mucus is presumed to contain nematocysts or a toxin.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Shrimpfish exhibit and Philippine Coral Reef Exhibit, 2017 Pam Montbach

Aquarium Corals E.H. Borneman 2001 ppg 318-321



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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Scleractinia (stony corals or hard corals)
Family: Faviidae

Genus: Platygyra sp.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Colonies can be massive, encrusting, dome-shaped or flattened. Corallites (the skeletal cup, formed by an individual stony coral polyp, in which the polyp sits) form meandering walls of brown, green, or gray surrounding contrasting valleys of cream, pink, gray, or even fluorescent green.  Easily confused with Goniastrea and Leptoria.


DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea and around Australia and Southeast Asia. Inhabits a variety of reef locations, including reef flats, back reefs, and deeper waters.

DIET: Primary nutrition received from the photosynthesis of symbiotic zooxanthellae. Supplemental diet from capture of microplankton by stinging tentacles.

REPRODUCTION: Sexually by spawning and asexually by budding (polyps divide to form new polyps)



California Academy of Steinhart Aquarium Sciences Color Hidden Reef Shrimpfish exhibit 2018

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Aquarium Corals E H Borneman 2001 ppg 298-99


Carpenter, K.E. (1998) An introduction to the oceanography Corals

IUCN Red List 2009

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