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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)
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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:

  • Long, slender, whip-like branches
  • Varies in color from yellow, tan or orange to deep purple
  • Branches are covered with coral polyps, which look like tiny, white dots against the coral’s skeleton
  • Can grow to 3 feet tall

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:

  • 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 3-20 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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