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Whip Coral

Leptogorgia virgulata

Whip coral varies in color from yellow, tan or orange to deep purple. (North Carolina State Parks)
Whip coral varies in color from yellow, tan or orange to deep purple. (North Carolina State Parks)

Whip coral is an invertebrate with long, whip-like branches covered in tiny polyps. It lives on rocks, reefs and other hard surfaces throughout the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Appearance:

Whip coral can grow to three feet tall. Its long, slender, whip-like branches are covered with coral polyps, which look like tiny, white dots against the coral's skeleton. It varies in color from yellow, tan or orange to deep purple.

Habitat:

Grows on rocks, reefs, pilings, bulkheads and other hard surfaces from the low-tide line to deep waters. Provides important habitat for fish such as black sea bass.

Range:

Found in the salty waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Feeding:

A suspension feeder, each polyp has eight feathery, saw-toothed tentacles that periodically emerge to sweep plankton and other tiny particles into the coral’s body.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Unlike other corals, whip coral reproduces sexually by external fertilization. After hatching, free-swimming larvae float in the water for three to 20 days. Larvae eventually settle to the bottom and search for a hard surface to attach themselves to. After attaching, larvae morph into a form that more closely resembles adults.

Other Facts:

  • Also known as the sea whip
  • Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first described whip coral in 1815 and gave the coral its scientific name
  • Related to hydroids and anemones

Sources and Additional Information:


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