Scientists have discovered a new species of coral off the southern California coast that flames like a pink and white Christmas tree as well as a new species of worm that lives off it.
Milton Love, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made the discoveries in 2002 while making fish surveys hundreds of feet below the Channel Islands. Samples of the coral were sent to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The lab determined the new species is a type of black coral — the color it turns when it dies.
Expert Dennis Opresko described the new coral Tuesday in the online journal Zootaxa along with its Greek name: Antipathes dendrochristos.
“Antipathes” refers to the ancient belief that amulets of black coral can prevent illness; “dendrochristos” is a reference to the Christmas tree.
There may actually be two new species, although DNA testing will be needed to confirm that, Opresko said Wednesday.
There are about 230 species of black coral around the world, from the tropics to Antarctica. Six or seven new ones may be formally named this year alone, Opresko said. Most are in deep water and some types are prized for jewelry.