Zoanthus and Palythoa are common in coral reefs around the world. Their incredible array of colors and patterns make them popular to reef hobbyists.
As a practical matter, there is some degree of fogginess you will encounter in this industry whether something is called a Zoanthus or a Palythoa because there is a wide range of physical variation within the genus. In layman's terms, it is unclear where Zoanthids end and Palythoa begin.
Also there are genetic differences, but that is cutting edge research and not nearly as straight forward as it may seem. There is a LOT of genetic consistency so it is a chore to find small segments of DNA that are actually different enough to base a scientific classification on. Over 90% of the coral’s genome is identical. Genetic research is further complicated by the effect the environment has on the expression of the genetic code. The genes themselves don’t change but the how the organism reads the genetic code in response to the environment does so you could see two very different traits in corals originate from an identical genetic sequence.
Coral taxonomists whittled down the number of species from 300 to around 50. We chose to go with hobbyist naming conventions rather than scientific naming conventions. We group larger polyp individuals into Palythoa and smaller polyp specimens into Zoanthus.
Some Zoanthus and Palythoa contain powerful neurotoxins called palytoxin that can be harmful. For this reason, take special care handling these polyps for this reason.
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