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Gorgonophilus canadensis
Bubblegum coral with the parasite Gorgonophilus canadensis. The characteristic “chimney stacks” are clearly visible.
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Gorgonophilus canadensis

The parasite Gorgonophilus canadensis is a highly modified copepod that lives inside the bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea), a cold-water coral. It induces the coral to produce galls (deformities) like the ones created by the gall wasp on rose bushes, in which it lives.

The galls can contain females, males, egg sacs and larvae. On the top of the galls there are small structures that resemble horns or chimney stacks, which have a narrow channel. The function of the channels is unclear.

Gorgonophilus canadensis (females)

Gorgonophilus canadensis (females).

There are lots of unanswered questions about the ecology of the species, which appears to feed on the coral. Since the infected bubblegum coral colonies appear to be perfectly healthy without showing any sign of disease, it is probable that the parasite only feeds modestly on the coral.

The parasite was discovered in Canada in 2003, and was given the scientific name Gorgonophilus canadensis (= Canadian sea fan lover) (Buhl-Mortensen & Mortensen 2004). Both the species and genus were new to the scientific world, and so far no other species have been found within the same genus.

Facts about Gorgonophilus canadensis

Latin name: Gorgonophilus canadensis
Known distribution: The North Atlantic, in areas where bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) is found.
Biology: Lives in galls (deformities) formed by the bubblegum coral when it is infected. Males, females, larvae and egg sacs can be found in the same galls. The galls are small deformities on the coral, with a “chimney stack” leading out of the gall, the purpose of which is not yet known.
Size: females: 6 mm; males: 3 mm.
Diet: probably feeds on the coral in which it lives. The coral does not appear to suffer any harm, other than the deformities.
Dispersal: Probably the larvae leave through an opening in the gall and disperse with the currents.