Coral Reefs

, 30:693 | Cite as

Taxonomy and life history of the Acropora-eating flatworm Amakusaplana acroporae nov. sp. (Polycladida: Prosthiostomidae)

  • K. A. Rawlinson
  • J. A. Gillis
  • R. E. BillingsJr.
  • E. H. Borneman


Efforts to culture and conserve acroporid corals in aquaria have led to the discovery of a corallivorous polyclad flatworm (known as AEFW – Acropora-eating flatworm), which, if not removed, can eat entire colonies. Live observations of the AEFW, whole mounts, serial histological sections and comparison of 28S rDNA sequences with other polyclads reveal that this is a new species belonging to the family Prosthiostomidae Lang, 1884 and previously monospecific genus Amakusaplana (Kato 1938). Amakusaplana acroporae is distinguished from Amakusaplana ohshimai by a different arrangement and number of eyes, a large seminal vesicle and dorsoventrally compressed shell gland pouch. Typical of the genus, A. acroporae, lacks a ventral sucker and has a small notch at the midline of the anterior margin. Nematocysts and a Symbiodinium sp. of dinoflagellate from the coral are abundantly distributed in the gut and parenchyma. Individual adults lay multiple egg batches on the coral skeleton, each egg batch has 20–26 egg capsules, and each capsule contains between 3–7 embryos. Embryonic development takes approximately 21 days, during which time characteristics of a pelagic life stage (lobes and ciliary tufts) develop but are lost before hatching. The hatchling is capable of swimming but settles to the benthos quickly, and no zooxanthellae were observed in the animal at this stage. We suggest that intracapsular metamorphosis limits the dispersal potential of hatchlings and promotes recruitment of offspring into the natal habitat. The evolutionary and ecological significance of retaining lobes and ciliary tufts in the embryo are discussed. Camouflage, high fecundity and possible dispersal dimorphisms probably explain how Amakusaplana acroporae can cause Acropora sp. mortality in aquaria where natural predators may be absent.


Coral predator Acropora-eating flatworm Polyclad Amakusaplana acroporae Intracapsular larva 28S rDNA phylogeny 



We thank Greg Rouse, Fernando Nosratpour, Bruce Wilfong, Alan Flojo and Randy Donowitz for providing additional AEFW specimens. We thank Bernhard Egger and Peter Ladurner for providing samples of Prosthiostomum siphunculus and Macrostomum lignano, respectively. We thank John Chuk for help with collection and identification of Australian polyclad species, Nicolette Craig of Practical Fish Keeping magazine and Mary Hagerdorn for helpful discussion. This work was funded by a Smithsonian Marine Science Network fellowship to KAR and a Smithsonian Link Foundation Fellowship to JAG. Smithsonian Marine Station contribution number 842.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. A. Rawlinson
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. A. Gillis
    • 3
  • R. E. BillingsJr.
    • 4
  • E. H. Borneman
    • 5
  1. 1.Smithsonian Marine StationFort PierceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Genetics, Evolution and EnvironmentUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Physiology, Development and NeuroscienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  4. 4.BristowUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiologyUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA

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