Paraechinophyllia variabilis is not only a new species of chalice coral, but also a new genus which was recently described by Arrigoni et. al. The new Paraechinophyllia genus and the single species it contains is the very definition of a ‘cryptic species’ which is impossible to distinguish just by looking at it.
As the species name implies, P. variabilis has a highly variable growth form which ranges from really flat and spiny like an Oxypora, to having well defined and exert corallites like an Echinophyllia. Upon very close examination, only one single microscopic detail was able to distinguish this species based on the morphology, but really it took a deep dive into its genetics to discover that this species is divergent from its congeners.
The reason for its divergence is that it was discovered among specimens in the Red Sea and Madagascar, both in the Western Indian Ocean. together with new discoveries like Sinuorota the newly recognized Paraechinophyllia is part of a growing group of unique coral genera that are only found in this part of the world, and hint at a second concentration of coral biodiversity from the well studied Coral Triangle in the Indo-Pacific. [Cladistics]