Four Floridian zoanthids analyzed in our study. Clockwise from Top Left: 1) Undescribed Zoanthus aff. pulchellus 2) Undescribed Palythoa aff. variabilis 3) Zoanthus solanderi 4) Undescribed Terrazoanthus sp.
Recently, we spearheaded a study of the Zoanthids found in our local nearshore waters that has been published in the Journal of Marine Biology titled “Species Diversity of Shallow Water Zoanthids (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Hexacorallia) in Florida” with Dr. James Reimer and Yuka Irei of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. This is the first comprehensive study of its kind, analyzing DNA to determine the taxonomic authenticity of our local zoanthid species. We discovered that there are as many as four species of zoanthids in South Florida that have been overlooked by scientists until now.
Despite their ubiquitousness in shallow tropical waters, zoanthids have been largely neglected by marine biologists who have otherwise been more focused on understanding reef-building stony corals, leaving the taxonomy of tropical zoanthids vague and out of date. This, combined with the natural morphologic variability of these animals, makes physical identification difficult for the casual observer. The advent of DNA analysis has allowed for an accurate picture to emerge, and it is clear that there is much more diversity than had previously been recorded.