Actinia equina

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Geographic Range

Actinia equina is found primarily in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterannean Sea. One of the most abundant concentrations of the species can be found around the British Isles. Populations also exist stretching down along Africa's Atlantic coast. (Kruger and Griffiths, 1996; Nichols and A. L. Cooke, 1971)

Habitat

Actinia equina is a considerably versatile intertidal sea anemone. Attaching to rocks, stones or other hard substrates, it is usally found near shore but can live in subtidal areas up to 20 m. The beadlet anemone can survive completely submerged in water or completely out of the water, high up on shores. Sometimes it even has to survive covered in sand, due to wind. However, it is always retracted when it is out of the water, looking like a little red blob.

Since Actinia equina is an intertidal specimen, it is exposed to a wide range of temperatures, but its optimum temperature for growth is 18.7 -19.9 degrees Celsius. The beadlet anemone slso tolerates waters with variable salinity, such as estuaries. (Ager, 2001; Nichols and A. L. Cooke, 1971; Shick, 1991)

  • Range depth
    20 (high) m
    65.62 (high) ft

Physical Description

An anemone is a "solitary polyp." Actinia equina has a wide array of color variation, from green to red. The most common hue is rust-red. The beadlet anemone also varies greatly in body size, from 0.01 to 0.84 g dry weight. However, when anemones are in the water their body mass is primarily the amount of water absorbed in the tissue and in the gastrovascular cavity.

The anatomy is most easily divided into three parts: the tentacles, the body column (which houses the gastrovascular cavity, the pharynx, the gonads, and the retractor muscles), and the base (which includes the base foot that binds to a solid surface).

A classic characteristic of Actinia equina, and all anemones, is the beautiful tentacles with which the anemone traps and ingests its prey. Embedded at the end of the body column and in the tentacles are cnidoblasts, storage cells which house the nematocyst (stinging cell). In the beadlet anemone, the unbanded tentacles (up to 192) are arranged radially in six circles around the opening to the gastrovascular cavity. Bright blue spots, called acrorhagi, are below the tentacles on the outer margin of the column and look like warts. These distinguish A. equina and A. fragacea. (Ager, 2001; Banister and Campbell, 1985; Shick, 1991; Stachowitsch, 1992)

  • Range mass
    0.01 to .84 g
    0.00 to 0.03 oz
  • Average mass
    0.42 g
    0.01 oz

Development

Actinia equina are the only species of anemone to brood their young (viviparous reproduction). The anemone begins as a planktonic larval stage where it crawls out of its parent and is free in the ocean for a short period of time. After that, it enters the cavity of another sea anemone, male or female, and further develops. Once the juvenile anemone is ready to be "born", the "parent" anemone catapults the new individual through the water where it lands and subsequentially secures itself on solid, solitary substrate. (Banister and Campbell, 1985; Rostron and Rostron, 1978; Shick, 1991)

Reproduction

The sperm from males goes into the gastrovascular cavity, where the egg is fertilized and then develops. Actinia equina are the only species of anemone to brood their young (viviparous reproduction). Although Actinia equina can reproduce sexually, they can also reproduce asexually through parthenogenesis of vegetative growth (e.g. regeneration or basal laceration). (Banister and Campbell, 1985; Rostron and Rostron, 1978; Shick, 1991)

The anemone begins as a planktonic larval stage where it crawls out of its parent and is free in the ocean for a short period of time. After that, it enters the cavity of another sea anemone, male or female, and further develops. Once the juvenile anemone is ready to be "born", the "parent" anemone catapults the new individual through the water where it lands and subsequentially secures itself on solid, solitary substrate. (Banister and Campbell, 1985; Rostron and Rostron, 1978; Shick, 1991)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting

Behavior

Although larger sea anemones will emerge victorious in food contests and competitive survival more commonly than small anemones, the aggressive behavior of the tentacles has been shown to be under the control of some of the same neural components as higher life forms (i.e. the have afferent and efferent neural pathways and they use serotonin as a neurotransmitter). Another aspect of Actinia equina behavior is contraction. These sea anemones spend a good deal of time out of the water or even covered by sand, so they contract to conserve water. Actinia equina have three main defensive behaviors which include: inflation of the body column to reduce damaged areas, detachment off the substrate so they might escape predation, or release of the nematocytes containing toxins. (Banister and Campbell, 1985; Shick, 1991)

Communication and Perception

In Anthozoans, specialized sensory organs are absent and nerves are arranged in nerve nets. Most nerve cells allow impulses to travel in either direction. Hairlike projections on individual cells are mechanoreceptors and possible chemoreceptors. Some Anthozoans show a sensitivity to light. (Brusca and Brusca, 2003)

Food Habits

Actinia equina is known for eating almost anything it can catch. The most abundant food sources for this anemone are: bivalve mollusks, insects, and isopods. However larger organisms such as gastropods (snails and slugs), bryozoans, and chitons are what provide the largest food mass. When the anemone "senses" the presence of potential prey, it attacks the organism using its nematocysts. The stinging cell is uncoiled and can release toxins into prey. These toxins paralyze the organism, inhibiting its ability to escape. Actinia equina was shown to have the fastest digestion rate of all the species in the Actinia genus. (Kruger and Griffiths, 1996; Kruger and Griffiths, 1997)

  • Animal Foods
  • mollusks
  • other marine invertebrates

Predation

Despite its stinging cells, the grey sea slug, Aeolidia papillosa preys on A. equina. The sea slug somehow does not digest the most toxic stinging cells. (Banister and Campbell, 1985; Waller, et al., 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

Anthozoans often provide fish and crustaceans with habitat and food scraps. The fish and crustaceans provide protection from some predators and sediment fouling. (Barnes, 1987)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

A study conducted by Hutton and Smith (1996) found that amoebocytes contain antibacterial properties which seem to function differently than other antibiotic properties found in animals. They seem to be able to fight bacterial infections without the use of an enzyme called lysozyme. Lysozymes are found across a wide number of phyla and are what organisms commonly use to fight bacteria. The chemicals produced by the beadlet anemone could possibly be harnessed for use in medicine or conservation (protecting plants against foreign bacteria). (Hutton and Smith, 1996)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Actinia equina is one of the more aggressive sea anemones. It has powerful toxins (e.g. equistatin and equinatoxin) in its nematocysts that it uses for feeding and defense. If a human comes in contact with it, it can cause great discomfort and pain. (Nichols and A. L. Cooke, 1971)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Other Comments

Actinia equina is a member of the Actinarian order, wich has a total of 13 known species. Actinia equina is sometimes divided into subspecies based on morphology. Recent genetic studies suggest the different colored Actinia equina may actually be distinct species. (Banister and Campbell, 1985; Waller, et al., 1996)

Contributors

Renee Sherman Mulcrone (editor).

David Terrell (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.

Glossary

Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

asexual

reproduction that is not sexual; that is, reproduction that does not include recombining the genotypes of two parents

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

colonial

used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

drug

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

estuarine

an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

external fertilization

fertilization takes place outside the female's body

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.

molluscivore

eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

radial symmetry

a form of body symmetry in which the parts of an animal are arranged concentrically around a central oral/aboral axis and more than one imaginary plane through this axis results in halves that are mirror-images of each other. Examples are cnidarians (Phylum Cnidaria, jellyfish, anemones, and corals).

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

sessile

non-motile; permanently attached at the base.

Attached to substratum and moving little or not at all. Synapomorphy of the Anthozoa

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Ager, O. 2001. "*Actinia equina*, Beadlet anemone. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom" (On-line). Accessed 11/07/04 at http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/Actiniaequina.htm.

Banister, K., A. Campbell. 1985. The Encyclopedia of Aquatic Life. New York: Equinox.

Barnes, R. 1987. Invertebrate Zoology. Orlando, Florida: Dryden Press.

Brusca, R., G. Brusca. 2003. Invertebrates. Sunderland, Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates, Inc..

Hutton, D., V. Smith. 1996. Antibacterial Properties of Isolated Amoebocytes From the Sea Anemone *Actinia equina*. The Biological Bulletin, 191: 441-451.

Kruger, L., C. Griffiths. 1997. Digestion Rates of Prey Eaten by Intertidal Sea Anemones form the South-Western Cape, South Africa. South African Journal of Zoology, 32: 101-106.

Kruger, L., C. Griffiths. 1996. Sources of Nutrition is Intertidal Sea Anemones from the South-Western Cape, South Africa. South African Journal of Zoology, 31: 110-120.

Nichols, D., J. A. L. Cooke. 1971. The Oxford Book of Invertebrates. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rostron, M., J. Rostron. 1978. Fecundity and Reproductive Ecology of a Natural Population of *Actinia equina L*. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 33: 251-259.

Shick, J. 1991. A Functional Biology of Sea Anemones. New York: Chapman & Hall.

Stachowitsch, M. 1992. The Invertebrates: An Illustrated Glossary. New York: Wiley - Liss.

Waller, G., M. Burchett, M. Dando. 1996. Sea Life: A Complete Guide to the Marine Environment. Washington D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.