Nanipora kamurai is a new species of Octocoral which may be small and nondescript, but it falls in a very special place on the soft coral tree of life. We are all taught that soft corals are by definition soft, and we know of two classic examples which break this rule, blue ridge coral and pipe organ coral.
Well as we wrote about yesterday, some reef-building Sinularia leather corals haven’t gotten the memo that they are supposed to be soft, and apparently another newer member of the soft corals didn’t either. You might think that the new Nanipora kamurai is named Nani-Pora for the very small polyps that it has, and also for the very small tubes that it develops around them. But in fact it is so-named for the Japanese word “nani” meaning “what” as the researchers who studied it didn’t know what kind of coral they were dealing with. .
On first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that this new skeleton-building Octocoral could be some kind of proto-pipe organ coral, but molecular and genetic analysis reveals that this species is actually most closely related to blue ridge coral. The new Nanipora is proposed to fall into the family Helioporidae, of which blue ridge Heliopora was the only living genus, and H. coerulea the only living species.
Strangely enough, more recently another fossil species of octocoral was included to Helioporacea, the odd Epiphaxum micropora, which shares the very small polyp opening in common with Nanipora. Other species of Epiphaxum have since been described from fossils, but back to the living Nanipora that you might actually have living and growing in your tank right now!
How is it possible that this newly described and just-discovered species of stony-soft coral could be in your reef tank you say? Well Nanipora is by definition very, very small polyped in nature and it is borderline cryptic in its growth habits. Over three years ago Julian Sprung tipped us off to a very unusual and tiny octocoral that he discovered growing on a rock at one his local wholesalers.
This was no random piece of rock that the Nanipora was growing on, it was found growing among and in between the stolons of green clove polyps, the likes of which are imported to the aquarium by the thousands every year and distributed all over the world. A couple years ago we traveled to the source of these specific green polyped Clavularia and we discovered the unusual octocoral growing among and on the undersides of green clove polyps at a rate of about one in 50 rocks.
Since that initial search at the source, we’ve had our eye out for the then undescribed Nanipora and have seen it growing among green clove polyps for sales at several LFS and wholesalers. In recent years we’ve seen many more small-polyped creeping octocoral come in with various other corals, and some tiny polyped Sympodium and blueish micro-“Anthelia” even offered for sale.
Most people wouldn’t even think twice about some tiny hitchiker Octocoral growing in their tank, but if it retracts into a calcified tube, it’s likely that this coral that has just come under the spotlight from coral scientist has been growing in your home aquarium all along. Take a closer look at what you’ve got growing among your corals and live rock, because that tiny little critter that you’ve noticed but never really paid attention to could turn out to be the next new coral discovery.