Muricea purpurea Verrill, 1864

Breedy, Odalisca & Guzman, Hector M., 2016, A revision of the genus Muricea Lamouroux, 1821 (Anthozoa, Octocorallia) in the eastern Pacific. Part II, ZooKeys 581, pp. 1-69: 47-50

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Muricea purpurea Verrill, 1864


Taxon classification Animalia Alcyonacea Plexauridae

Muricea purpurea Verrill, 1864   Figures 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38

Muricea hebes   (pars.) Verrill, 1864: 36.

Muricea purpurea   Verrill 1868b: 412; Verrill 1869: 441-444; Kükenthal 1919: 752; Kükenthal 1924: 146; Hickson 1928: 366-367; Riess 1929: 394-395; Stiasny 1943: 66-68; Harden 1979: 157-158.

Muricea purpurea var. nigra   Hickson, 1928: 367 syn. n.

Muricea rubra   Aurivillius, 1931: 108-109 syn. n.


Lectotype. YPM 1795A, dry, Pearl Islands, Panamá, F.H. Bradley, 1866-1867, no more data. Paralectotypes. PANAMÁ: MCZ 7018 (707, fragment); YPM 808; YPM 1560A-G; YPM 1795B; ZMUC ANT-194 ( YPM 1560), dry, Pearl Islands, F.H. Bradley, 1866-1867, no more data. YPM 1637 (fragment), alcohol preserved; Pearl Islands, F.H. Bradley, 1866-1867, no more. MÉXICO: MCZ 55, ethanol preserved; Acapulco, A. Agassiz, 1859-1860, no more data. MCZ 4066 (188); MCZ 4067 (188); YPM 391, dry, Acapulco, A. Agassiz, 1859-1860, no more data.

Other type material.

Panamá: BM 1946.1.14.44, dry, off Taboguilla Island, 9 m, T. Mortensen, 27 November 1915. USNM 34062, dry, Gulf of Panamá, Panamá, no more data. ZMUC ANT-142 ( Hickson’s holotype of Muricea purpurea var. nigra   , ethanol preserved, Taboga Island, Panamá, 9 m, T. Mortensen, 25 November 1915. NICARAGUA: SMNH 1693 ( Aurivillius’s holotype of Muricea rubra   ); USNM 44190 (fragment of SMNH 1693), dry, off Realejo, Leg. Palme, no more data.


The lectotype is a 22 cm long and 21 cm wide colony with branching in one plane and mostly dichotomous (Fig. 33A). The colony is composed of four stems that arise from a spreading holdfast about 5 mm in diameter and devoid of coenenchyme at the base. The four stems, 6-11 mm in diameter, are slightly flattened, and 12-45 mm long. They bifurcate producing secondary branches, that subdivide again at distances of 12-75 mm apart, 2-3 branches do not subdivide, reaching up to 12 cm long, but most of them do, some of them up to 5 times. The branches are stout, 12-14 mm in diameter and are little tapered toward the tips, 9-11 mm in diameter. The branches are wider and flattened at the branching points, 12-14 mm in diameter. They are mostly crooked, split at close angles 45°-60° at the upper branches, and at wider angles close to the base; these branches curve and some of them bend upwards (Fig. 33A). The unbranched terminal ends are 50-80 mm long. Axes are brownish and with darker hues at the thicker branches. The calyces are all around the branches, close together and slightly imbricate (Fig. 33B). They are small, up to 1.8 mm long, sub-conical, with a granulose appearance. The calyces extend upwards with the tips pointed and often incurved; they are smaller and truncated at the lower parts of the branches. The coenenchyme is thick, sclerites are dark red and reddish orange (Fig. 33 C–D), and those from the axial sheath are pink. The calycular and the outer coenenchymal sclerites are leaf-like spindles, 0.3-0.70 mm long and 0.10-0.30 mm wide, with spiny lateral process and a warty surface (Fig. 34A). Spinous club-like spindles are abundant especially toward the calyces and slightly project beyond the calyx border. They are stout and rough, 0.15-0.20 mm long and 0.07-0.08 mm wide, with a warty base, and a thorny head (Fig. 34C). Unilateral spinous spindles are smaller, 0.23-0.62 mm long and 0.13-0.30 mm wide, with one side warty and the other spinulose (Fig. 34B). The axial sheath is composed of irregular spindles up to 0.24-0.40 mm long and 0.10-0.14 mm wide with acute or bifurcated ends and tuberculate radiates 0.13-0.21 mm long and 0.09-0.14 mm wide (Fig. 34D). Anthocodial sclerites are reddish orange, composed of warty rods, 0.09-0.30 mm long and 0.03-0.055 mm wide, (Fig. 34E).

Colour of the colony is reddish purple.

Habitat and variability.

Verrill’s type collection is composed of specimens from Panamá and Acapulco, México. The description of Muricea purpurea   was mostly based on the Panamá specimens ( Verrill 1869), YPM 1795 was the figured specimen ( Verrill 1869 plate VII, 6). However we found that there are two different morphologies among the specimens. The ones from Mexico are finger-like colonies, composed of one or more single branches, with a more intense red colour (reddish purple) and with larger calyces (Fig. 35A) than the specimens from Panamá. The largest sclerites in the Mexican specimens reach up to 1.0 mm long (Fig. 36A), larger than 0.625 mm as stated by Verrill for Muricea purpurea   . The larger sclerite sizes were not found in the typical series from Panamá, where the maximum size was 0.70 mm. The sizes and types of the rest of sclerites are mostly consistent with the typical specimens (Fig. 36 B–C). The sclerites of the specimens from México in the YPM type series are morphologically consistent among them, but in the Panamá specimens we found both sclerite morphologies (e.g., YPM 7018 from Panamá matches the sclerites of the Mexican morphotype). There is a series of intermediate types of sclerites among the examined specimens and the lectotypes (Figs 35 B–C; 37B, D). In some specimens there is a dominance of spindles with terminal spiny processes, others with lateral spiny processes. In some cases the spines of the leaf-like spindles are shorter than in others, e.g., paralectotype MCZ 4066 (Fig. 35 A–C) and MCZ 4067. The sclerite colours are mostly as in the lectotype, but some variation toward darker hues was observed. The colour of the colonies is from reddish purple to dark purple (Figs 35A; 37A, C; 38 A–B). The extremes can be observed in the former Muricea rubra   and Muricea purpurea var. nigra   (syns. n. in this paper). The lighter colours are in the former and the darker hues in the latter (Fig. 37A, C). We have found all these morphologies in our recent collections from Costa Rica, Panamá, Ecuador, Nicaragua and México. Perhaps population biology research of these communities could reveal affinities among the morphotypes that could justify further species separation.

The colonies are found on rocky substrates, mostly vertically placed or upside down in caves. They also occur in crevices at rocky bottoms and grow straight up. The colonies can extend along the substrate by spreading holdfast up to 30 cm long producing separate branches forming large colonies. When alive, polyps look, or greenish yellow (Fig. 38A), or whitish on a dark purple colony (Fig. 38B). When polyps retract colonies look darker, more blackish (Fig. 38A).


It is a widespread species distributed from México to Perú. The species has been reported for Acapulco, México; Corinto, Nicaragua; Ecuador ( Kükenthal 1924), from Santa Clara Island to Esmeraldas ( Rivera and Martínez 2011) and Panamá. We have observed it at several sites along the Pacific coast from México to Perú. The depth range is from 3 to 25 m, but mostly it occurs at 8 to 15 m.

Type locality, Pearl Islands, Panamá.


The species was first mentioned by Verrill (1864) together with other species that he separated and properly described later (1869). Muricea purpurea   was described with specimens from Panamá and México, Verrill did not designate a holotype. The specimen YPM 1795A is herein designated as the lectotype of this species in order to clearly establish its taxonomic status.

There are two other related species Muricea rubra   and Muricea purpurea var. nigra   . Hickson (1928) proposed a variety of Muricea purpurea   (var. nigra   ) based on the colour (very dark purple) and the ramification (bushier). However, according to Hickson the sclerites of this species were that close to Muricea purpurea   that he could not consider them as separate species. We conclude that Hickson´s ZMUC ANT- 142 specimen is in the variation range of Muricea purpurea   , for this reason it is considered herein as a synonym. Muricea rubra   was described by Aurivillius (1931) with a specimen from Nicaragua. The author stated that he never had the opportunity to revise any material previously established and that he could not identify the species from the existing descriptions at that time ( Aurivillius 1931, pag.104). We analysed Aurivillius’ holotype ( SMNH 1693) and, as in the case of Muricea purpurea var. nigra   , we did not find Muricea rubra   out of the variation range of Muricea purpurea   . Herein it is also considered as a synonym of Muricea purpurea   .

Other material revised.

COSTA RICA. UCR 479a, dry, Herradura Beach, 10 m, J Cortés, 2 September 1983; UCR 510, 632a, dry, Sámara Beach, Guanacaste, 12 m, H. Guzman, 18 March 1984; UCR 800, dry, Olocuita Islet, Manuel Antonio National Park, Puntarenas, 8 m, J Cortés, 2 July 1995; UCR 1620, ethanol preserved, Carrillo Beach, Guanacaste, 10 m, J Cortés, 2006; UCR 1693, ethanol preserved, Salinas Bay, Guanacaste, O Breedy, 7 December 2006. ECUADOR: IIN 20, dry, Tambip, Salinas, 12-14 m, F. Rivera, P. Martínez, 20 July 2010; IIN 43, 48, dry, Gigima, Salinas, 12-14 m, F. Rivera, P. Martínez, 22 July 2010; IIN 99, 117, 119, 120, dry, Los Ahorcados, Machalilla National Park, 10-12 m, F. Rivera, P. Martínez, 25 July 2010; IIN 129, dry, Salango Island, Machalilla National Park, 12-25 m, F. Rivera, P. Martínez, 25 July 2010. PANAMÁ: STRI 360, dry, Otoque Island, Chiriquí Gulf, 5-10 m, H. Guzman, 9 May 2002; STRI 361, dry, Otoque Island, 5-10 m, H. Guzman, 9 May 2002; STRI 378, dry, Taboguilla Island Chiriquí Gulf, 5-10 m, H. Guzman, 9 May 2002; STRI 716, H Station, 45 m, H. Guzman, 6 August 2003; STRI 766, 767, San Telmo Island, 3-8 m, H. Guzman, 7 August 2003; STRI 784, San Telmo Island, 3 m, H. Guzman, 10 October 2003; STRI 809, 813, Del Rey SE Island, 4 m, 6 April 2004 ; STRI 823, Puerco Island, 3 m, H. Guzman, 6 April 2004; STRI 827, Elefante Island, 4 m, H. Guzman, 7 April 2004 ; STRI 847, Sur Pacheca, 2 m, H. Guzman, 20 April 2004 ; STRI 854, Pearl Island, 3 m, H. Guzman, 21 April 2004 ; STRI 855, Pearl Island, 4 m, H. Guzman, 21 April 2004 ; STRI 860, 861, Pearl Island, 2-4 m, H. Guzman, 23 April 2004 ; STRI 894, San Telmo Island, 3-8 m, H. Guzman, 18 August 2004 ; STRI 905, Pedro Gonzales Island, 10 m, H. Guzman, 23 September 2004; STRI 931, 932, 933, Pedro Gonzales Island, 10 m, H. Guzman, 23 September 2004.