Williams, Gary C. Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California.
Last reviewed:January 2020
- Distribution and habitat
- Feeding and nutrition
- Current research and developments
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
A group within the cnidarian subclass Octocorallia (class Anthozoa), comprising organisms known as gorgonians. Common names for members of the Gorgonacea (Figs. 1–5) include sea rods (Fig. 4a), sea fans (Fig. 4b), sea feathers (Fig. 4c), bamboo corals (Fig. 5b), and sea whips (Fig. 1c). The name is derived from the ancient Greek Gorgon, a multiheaded monster of Greek mythology, because of the many sinuous or snakelike branches of some species. In 1758, Carl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus) named the first two gorgonian genera—Gorgonia and Isis. Gorgonians are benthic marine animals, as are all other corals. A coral can be defined as a cnidarian animal that has some form of hard skeleton, either of calcium carbonate or a dark proteinaceous material (or some of both). Gorgonians are octocorals with an internal supporting structure (medulla or axis) that is differentiated from the outer portion of the colony. They are anchored to solid substrata by a spreading holdfast or in unconsolidated deposits by basal rootlike or rhizomelike growths. The internal supporting structure is in addition to free skeletal components known as sclerites (calcareous spicules). The gorgonians are a morphologically diverse group (Figs. 1–5), with an estimated 2000 valid species in 183 genera of 18 families. See also: Anthozoa; Cnidaria; Octocorallia (Alcyonaria)
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