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Conservation Status:  Vulnerable

Climate Change:  Vulnerable

AquaticBubblegum Coral

Paragorgia arborea CnideriansCorals

Aquarium of the Pacific - Online Learning Center - Species Print Sheet

Bubblegum Coral
the "tree-like" structure of this gorgonian fan | Courtesy of NOAA
Bubblegum Coral
the "tree-like" structure of this gorgonian fan | Courtesy of NOAA

Species Overview

Living at depths of 200-1300 m (650-4200 ft), this sea fan can grow to a height of 6 meters (20 feet).

Paragorgia arborea is a cold-water branching gorgonian fan. The common name for this soft coral, bubblegum coral, comes from the bundles of polyps at the end of the branches that resemble a wad of bubble gum. Unlike most other corals that attach to rocks or similar structures, these corals attach to the sea floor, growing upward and branching outward like a tree. They form one of the largest branching gorgonian coral colonies.

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Species In-Depth | Print full entry

At the Aquarium

Bubblegum coral is displayed graphically in the Bentos Exhibit in the Wonders of the Deep Gallery..

Geographic Distribution

North Pacific and north Atlantic regions of the World Ocean.

Habitat

Bubblegum corals are generally a deep-water species, inhabiting depths from 200-1300 m (650-4200 ft). Like tropical corals, they also may become a habitat for other marine organisms.

Physical Characteristics

This genus of bubblegum corals consist of individual tiny polyps that have eight tentacles and form colonies. The colony is supported by an internal central skeleton consisting of tightly grouped calcareous spicules (needle-like skeletal parts). The flat and branching growth pattern creates the resemblance of the colony to a fan. Colonies of this sea fan species can be red, orange, or white in color.

Size

To 6 m (20 ft) in height

Diet and Feeding

These corals do not harbor symbiotic zooxanthellae, instead they are suspension or filter feeders. The eight tentacles on each polyp capture prey, primarily plankton, drifting by. They require strong currents to supply enough food to sustain them.

Reproduction

Like most soft corals, the bubblegum coral reproduce by ejecting sperm and eggs into the water column where fertilization takes place.

Behavior

While other corals generally lock onto some hard object, sea fans like the bubblegum coral anchor themselves into the mud or sand. Most sea fans are nocturnal and only extend their polyps during the night.

Adaptation

Numerous animal species are known to use red tree corals as both food and habitat. Economically important rockfish, shrimp and crabs hide among the branches, seeking protection. Crinoids, basket stars, anemones and sponges attach themselves to dead branches so they can better collect food from nutritious currents. Other animals, such as sea stars and snails, feed directly on the corals themselves.

Longevity

Just as the age of a tree is estimated from rings in the trunk, rings in the stalks of bubblegum corals are used to estimate age. These corals may live hundreds of years.

Conservation

Bubblegum coral is very susceptible to damage caused by bottom trawling for seafood. Though no specific protective action for just bubblegum coral is in place, there has been regulation of bottom trawling for some marine life in various geographic areas of the world.

Amazing Facts

In order to assure that they are able to catch as much prey as possible, the bubblegum coral is able to grow in response to water movement.

Additional Images

Bubblegum Coral
a closeup of the 'bubblegum" polps. \. Observe the blue scale worms on the fan. | Courtesy of NOAA