When many people think of corals, they often imagine a subtidal reef in calm, tropical seas. But at least seven species of soft corals can be found in the surf-pounded rocky intertidal zone along the California coast. They're small and inconspicuous, and not much is known about their biology.
Several species of octocorals have been documented on Bodega Head. As you can surmise, the polyps have eight tentacles. The tentacles are pinnate — feather-like, or with similar parts aligned on opposite sides of a common axis.
Some of you might remember the post on 12 January about sponges. When Eric looked more closely at this cluster, he spotted a few soft coral polyps next to the sponges!
At first we thought this might have been Clavularia, but Jeff Goddard (who has more experience with this special group of invertebrates) thinks it's Cryptophyton goddardi, so we'll go with that. I've been searching for a soft coral on Bodega Head for years, so I was particularly excited to finally see them!
Here are two expanded polyps, as well as a cluster and a single contracted polyp. When open, they measure ~3-4 mm from tip to tip. Look for the mouth inside the circle of tentacles.
P.S. We'll talk about stony corals and hydrocorals in future posts!