Novel in situ observations of asexual reproduction in the carpet sea anemone, Stichodactyla mertensii (Stichodactylidae, Actiniaria)

by Morgan F. Bennett-Smith, Micaela S. Justo, Michael L. Berumen, Raquel Peixoto, Benjamin M. Titus
Scientific paper

Extra Information

ARPHA Preprints 3 (2022)


Merten’s carpet sea anemone, Stichodactyla mertensii Brandt, 1835, is the largest known sea anemone species in the world, regularly exceeding one meter in oral disc diameter. A tropical species from the Indo-Pacific, S. mertensii drapes prominently over coral reef substrates and is a common host to numerous species of clownfishes and other symbionts throughout its range, which extends from the Red Sea through the Central Pacific Ocean. Long thought to reproduce via sexual reproduction only, recent genetic evidence suggests it may rarely reproduce asexually as well, although this process had never been confirmed through direct observation and the mechanism was yet to be described. Here, we directly observed and documented in situ asexual fragmentation via budding, in real time, by a Red Sea S. mertensii in a turbid inshore reef environment. While asexual reproduction is not unusual in sea anemones as a group, it is typically expected to be uncommon for large-bodied species. Herein, we describe S. mertensii fragmentation, provide high resolution images of the event from the Saudi Arabian coastline at multiple time points, and confirm asexual reproduction for this species.