Here's a magnified view (under a microscope):
Yup, it's those small orange bumps. Each "bump" is only about 2 mm across. And yes, this is a colonial animal (i.e., the bumps are connected to each other).
I'll zoom in for a closer view:
Now you might have guessed that this isn't the entire story — the animals are withdrawn. But if you wait and watch patiently, you get to see what the rest of the animal looks like:
A little bit different than a bump on a rock, right?
The next picture shows a view from above (with the mouth in the center). The number of tentacles provides a clue to the type of animal that this is.
Eight tentacles helps you identify this as an octocoral, one of the soft corals found along our coast. Because they're small and inconspicuous, many people aren't aware that soft corals occur in this area.
Another fascinating thing is that they've hardly been studied at all. Very little is known about the biology and behavior of soft corals along the West Coast.
It's easy to be drawn to their beauty (see Eric's next photo), but it's also fun to wonder about various aspects of their lives. What and how do they eat? When do they reproduce? How do they interact with their "neighbors"? How do they protect themselves? How long do they live?
Viewed up-close, the texture of their tentacles somehow reminded me of burrowing sea cucumber tentacles and amphibian feet (tree frogs, geckos) at the same time. Increased surface area for capturing food?
I haven't mentioned it yet, but we believe this is Cryptophyton goddardi. ("Crypto" = "hidden" and "phyto" = "creature" and "goddardi" from Jeff Goddard who collected the specimen in 1992 used to describe this species.) To identify soft corals, it's important to look at their sclerites — hard spicules made of calcium carbonate embedded in their tissue. (Sclerites may be useful for structural support or in defense against predators.) Below are the knobby, microscopic sclerites that help identify this coral.
Here's one more view of this wonderful octocoral colony. Look for two polyps with their tentacles expanded, one polyp with its tentacles withdrawn (but still visible outside of its base), and several polyps in the background (no tentacles visible).
Although they're small, now you can imagine these corals with their eight pinnate tentacles living under wave-swept rocky ledges.