Telesto Soft Coral
Telesto soft coral occur as branched colonies, where each polyp is an individual animal and bears eight feeding tentacles. The stem of the colony is supported by a skeleton of calcareous sclerites partially fused into a network of tubes and is cream or white in colouration, though will always appear bright orange due to the presence of Hemimycale species, an encrusting orange sponge that grows over its surface. These two species appear to beneficially co-exist in a symbiotic relationship, whereby the sponge provides shelter from predators and rough sea conditions whilst the stinging cells within the coral protect the sponge from predators. In ideal conditions in relation to water movement, the corals tentacles emerge to feed, sieving the zooplankton from the water column which are then transported via microscopic hair-like cilia to the central mouth of the polyp. In periods of still water, common in the mornings of summer months, the coral polyps remain withdrawn in the stem. Several creatures utilise the telesto coral for camouflage, including the telesto nudibranch, which has evolved to resemble the coral polyps, and decorator crabs which reattach the soft coral to their carapace.
Telesto coral can be found on jetty pylons and is common on shallow rocky reefs in waters from 2 to 20 metres depth, from southern WA to the Gulf of Vincent, SA and on the east coast from NSW to Qld. Despite the common occurrence of the telesto soft coral, this southern Australian species is still an undescribed species.
Occurrence at the Busselton Jetty:
Telesto coral is one of the most dominant invertebrate species at the seaward end of the Busselton Jetty, producing long stunning branches adorned with snowflake-like, feathery polyps. They are one of the final encrusting invertebrates to colonise the piles and take several years to become fully established.
Image by: O. Rynvis