CORAL HOST PREFERENCES OF CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS, SPIROBRANCHUS GIGANTEUS, IN CALABASH CAYE, BELIZE
Spirobranchus giganteus, also known as Christmas Tree Worms, are polychaete worms that inhabit reefs in warm waters of the Caribbean. The species S. giganteus occurs in a variety of colors, including red, violet, orange, brown, and yellow. The worms live on multiple species of coral, where they build calcareous tubes used for protection and predator avoidance from lobsters, fish, sea urchins, and sea stars. The purpose of this study was to identify the relationship between S. giganteus and different species of coral hosts. S. giganteus larvae settle in reef areas with a variety of host species. We predicted that S. giganteus would prefer coral host species similar in color to themselves, which would be an adaptation for camouflage. We conducted the study off the coast of Calabash Caye, Belize during May 2016. Our group established five randomly selected 9m2 quadrats in which we recorded the abundance and color of S. giganteus, and the color and species of host corals. The majority of S. giganteus observed were orange. Orange and brown worms primarily occurred on orange crenellated fire coral (Millepora alcicornis) and yellow maze coral (Meandrina meandrites). Most red worms occurred on boulder coral (Colpophyllia natans), which is yellow, and most violet worms occurred on fire coral, which is orange. Our hypothesis that S. giganteus would select coral hosts the same color as themselves for camouflage from predators was not supported. Most S. giganteus were located on fire coral hosts, which release toxins from cnidocytes for defense. We suggest that S. giganteus gain protection from predators by living on fire coral, which is detrimental to most species of S. giganteus predators.
University of North Georgia Department of Biology
Wagner*, Madeleine S.; Yeakley*, Katelyn P.; and Dalman, Nancy E.
"CORAL HOST PREFERENCES OF CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS, SPIROBRANCHUS GIGANTEUS, IN CALABASH CAYE, BELIZE,"
Georgia Journal of Science, Vol. 76, No. 1, Article 102.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.gaacademy.org/gjs/vol76/iss1/102