Myriapora truncata, the False Coral is a magnificent Bryozoan, getting its common name from its resemblance to Red Coral (Corallium rubrum). It is native to the Mediterranean Sea.
Although Myriapora truncata resembles the Red Coral in colour and size, it is however much more fragile and loses its colour if removed from the sea. Colonies are anchored to rocky substrates, often characterized by coralline, in dimly-lit areas ranging from 2m to 100m deep.
Each colony, up to 10cm wide, has dichotomous branches, which are short and stubby, porous and with an intense red-orange colouring. Each branch is a cylindrical section, which appears to be truncated at the ends. The minute pores and corresponding tentacles represent the individuals that make up the colony. Unlike the true coral polyps, which are white, the polyploids of this species have the same colour as the ramifications.
Studies of the diameter of the branches and the size of the polyploids, varying according to the environmental conditions, have led to consider Myriapora truncata as an indicator of the environmental changes happening from the Cenozoic to the modern era in the Mediterranean Sea.
Like all Entoprocts, the growth of a colony occurs asexually (not involving the fusion of gametes), through pullulation. Everything starts with a single individual, a product of a sexual reproduction. This single animal (primary zooid), defined as ancestral, derives from the development of a larva. From the pullulation of the primary zooids, offsprings are born, which in turn pollulate, thus enlarging the colony. Finally, there is yet another sexual reproduction of the predominantly hermaphrodite animals, from which a new larva is formed.
When entoprocts were discovered in the nineteenth century, they and bryozoans (ectoprocts) were regarded as classes within the phylum Bryozoa, because both groups were sessile animals that filter-fed by means of a “crown” of tentacles that bore cilia. However, from 1869 onwards, increasing awareness of differences, including the position of the entoproct anus inside the feeding structure and the difference in the early pattern of division of cells in their embryos, caused scientists to regard the two groups as separate phyla. Bryozoa then became just an alternative name for ectoprocts, in which the anus is outside the feeding organ. However, studies by one team in 2007 and 2008 argue for sinking Entoprocta into Bryozoa as a class, and resurrecting Ectoprocta as a name for the currently identified bryozoans.
Both photos of this colony of False Coral were taken at a depth of 5m at Reqqa Point on Gozo’s north coast. In the main photo we can also see three Parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense) and a Fireworm (Hermodice carunculata), whereas in the inserted frame we can spot a Thuridilla hopei.
Photos taken by Brian Azzopardi