Short-quill Sea Pen

Virgularia gustaviana

Sea Pens are related to the other octocorals or soft corals, although this is not immediately obvious from its apparent body plan. Individuals of this species are often found in large numbers, in shallow pools on sandy mudflats. The body resembles an old fashion ink pen made from a feather, a quill, from which it derives its popular name. They are even more bizarre because this body is actually formed by many identical individuals (clones) that live in a single colony, and yet this colony can appear and retreat in the sand very rapidly, emerging at night to feed and retracting into the sand during the day or if disturbed. The narrow stalk at the base is covered by a pale brown muscle that is strong enough to pull the body underground so rapidly that they are very difficult to touch. The feathery upper part, called the rachis, is more than half the length of the whole individual, but the body is stiff due to a relatively long internal quill. The striped colour of the rachis is due to bands of alternating cream and mauve-brown polyps, with variation from cream, yellow, rose, red, violet to purple colours.

Found throughout northern Australia, and the Indo-Pacific from South Africa to Japan.

Short-quill Sea Pen (Virgularia gustaviana)
Short-quill Sea Pen (Virgularia gustaviana), WildGuide to Moreton Bay

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