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Balanophyllia elegans - Orange cup coral

Geographic range:
British Columbia to Baja California

Key features:
Cylindrical, cup shaped and vividly orange

Similar species:
Paracyathus stearnsii -- Brown cup coral

bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore
Giant green anemone image


Primary common name:
Orange Cup Coral
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
General grouping:
Corals and anemones

Geographic Range
Range description:
Balanophyllia elegans lives on the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Baja California.
Northern latitude extent:
  Southern latitude extent:
East longitude extent:
  West longitude extent:

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
0 meters OR -2 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
0 meters OR -0.2 feet
Intertidal height notes:
Balanophyllia elegans can be found from above low-tide line to 500 m deep. This is the only stony coral to occur between the high- and low-tide lines on the Pacific Coast.

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
500 meters OR 1665 feet
Subtidal depth notes:

bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore
Habitat notes:
Balanophyllia elegans can be found attached to rocks in depths from the low intertidal to at least 500 m. When found in the intertidal, shaded places on and under ledges and boulders along open coast and in bays are the preferred habitats for Balanophyllia elegans because they must be well sheltered from desiccation and direct sunlight. Subtidally, these corals are found on rocky reefs and outcrops.

Relative abundance:
Balanophyllia elegans is abundant, sometimes reaching densities of greater than 500 per square meter.

Species Description
General description:
Balanophyllia elegans belongs to the class Anthozoa and the order Scleractinia. Balanophyllia elegans is a solitary cold water coral and does not build reefs like many tropical corals. Its orange color is a fluorescent pigment and even at depths of 9 m or more, where red light is lacking, it shows the same bright hue.
Distinctive features:
Each solitary Balanophyllia elegans is cylindrical, cup shaped and vividly orange. The oral disk is surrounded by 36 long, tapered, translucent orange tentacles dotted with wart like nodules containing masses of stinging cells (nematocysts). The base of Balanophyllia elegans is a limestone, cup-shaped skeleton into which the polyp can retract.
An average diameter of Balanophyllia elegans is about 25 mm.

Natural History
General natural history:
Balanophyllia elegans is a true coral, one of only a few species that occurs in shallow, cold temperate rocky areas along the eastern Pacific. The sexes are separate, and females brood their larvae. Once competent (2 mm long), the orange larvae (which look like a minute flatworm) crawl out of the females gastrovascular cavity and crawl onto the adjacent rock to settle and metamorphose.
The leather star Dermasterias imbricata.
Balanophyllia elegans feeds on small animals and organic particles.

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Sessile suspension feeder
Feeding behavior notes:
March - August  
Sexes of Balanophyllia elegans are separate. Reproduction has been shown to be strictly sexual, which is rare for scleractinians. The eggs are fertilized and develop within the female's gastro-vascular cavity. The worm-like planula larvae, already orange, are released through the mouth of the parent during spring and summer. Larvae are not planktonic, but instead crawl along the substrate, thereby settling nearby and having an extremely limited dispersal. After cementing its limestone skeleton to a rock, the coral will not move for the rest of its life.
Fadlallah, Y. 1983. Population dynamics and life history of a solitary coral, Balanophyllia elegans, from central California. Oecologia 58: 200-207.

Gotshall, D. 2005. Guide to marine invertebrates : Alaska to Baja California. Sea Challengers, Monterey, CA. 117 p.

Hellberg, M.E., and M.S. Taylor. 2002. Genetic analysis of sexual reproduction in the dendrophyllid coral Balanophyllia elegans. Marine Biology 141: 629-637.

Meinkoth, N.A. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashore Creatures. A.A. Knopf, New York, NY. 813 p.

Ricketts, E. F., J. Calvin, and J.W. Hedgpeth. 1985. Between Pacific tides. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. 652 p.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Online Field Guide, 2008.
Accessed [04/27/06]
Accessed 01/30/2009 for Pelagic Cormorant
Accessed 8/19/09 for Bryozoan
Accessed 7/31/09 for Spiny brittle star
Accessed 3/31/09 for Sunflower star
Accessed 8/9/09 for red octopus
Accessed 8/19/09 for Decorator crab
Accessed 7/31/09 for warty sea cucumber

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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