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Notes and sources for Coralpedia

v 2.0

Dangers of photographic identification, and ‘shoe-horning’ species

Several of the key sources are listed in ‘Notes’.

For sponges and soft corals especially, microscopic features are commonly needed for proper identification. Some of the more technical references used (listed below) emphasise this point. However, most of the species shown here are reasonably well identified from photographs as well. The same point about small skeletal structures used to be argued for corals too, whose septal and costal structures were held to be crucial but, following Veron and others, it is now known that photographs are in many cases reliable for most species.

This guide contains almost all hermatypic coral species of the Caribbean region. In the case of sponges and soft corals it contains a smaller proportion of the total number of different species, although those included account for the great majority of the biomass of these groups on reefs. Users are warned against ‘shoe-horning’ rare species which do not quite fit a description, into one of the species shown here.

Any user will realise fairly quickly that most of the species shown here can be extremely variable, especially in overall colony shape. This is why photographs of several forms are shown (where we had these available). But many general features of each species remain characteristic of each species, and the illustrations given attempt to show the ranges exhibited by each.

Taxonomic sources and comments

Numerous sources, original and secondary, were used for identifications. The following lists the major sources which were used most extensively. In addition, notes for various species also state key citations where this is particularly required.


Veron 2000. Corals of the World. Three Volumes. Australian Institute of Marine Science. This is a database (no illustrations or descriptions) of 1.5 million recorded species.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute,


The site: of the Zoological Museum, Amsterdam, contains a detailed listing of authorities and taxonomic changes of sponges, by Hooper and van Soest.
Hooper, J.N.A. & R.W.M. van Soest. 2002. Systema Porifera: A Guide to the Classification of Sponges. Kluwer Academic Press, New York, 2 vols, 1708 pp.

Humann, P. 1992. Reef Creature Identification. New World Publications, Florida.

Gammill, ER. Identification of Coral Reef Sponges. Providence Marine Publishing, Tampa, Florida.

Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology 'The World Porifera Database'. This is useful for its large list of synonyms.

‘Spongeguide’ by John N.A. Hooper ( and then click Guide to Sponge collection). This contains a huge amount of detail on levels above that of species especially – most useful for professional taxonomists.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, This is a database (no illustrations or descriptions) of 1.5 million recorded species.

Many sponges are quite variable in form, but most of them can be distinguished by an overall look in which color, texture and consistency are important. Sometimes there is a wide range of shapes that a species takes. In a given geographical area, given some time, patience, and constancy, one can learn to distinguish all different species, even if one cannot put a name on all of them. Many sponges are quite similar throughout their distributional range, but in several others there are geographically localized morphotypes, in which the shape, sometimes the color, are slightly to strongly different between areas. When one changes area, one starts to see different species that, upon closer inspection, turn out to be the same species one was seeing in previous areas. Here lies the reason why there are several names for the same species, as old authors regarded these geographical differences as enough to describe new species (worse when using museum material; even worse when spicule size varies geographically, owing to the silicon content of the water). A trick to solve this may be in taking all the known species of a genus in one’s original area (e.g., Agelas, Xestospongia, Aplysina, Ircinia, etc.), then trying to find them in the new area. Discarding the easy constant species, one is left with what may be the equivalent species of the original area. Then looking at spicules and other characteristics, one then may realize their identity.

The opposite has also been true, taxonomists have lumped together 2-3 species into one, based on scattered material, assuming the variability is normal for the species. But often one sees morphotypes living side by side, with consistent differences, but upon closer inspection of spiculation and other characteristics, it is easy to see differences. Several genera still need revision.

(Text of last two paragraphs by Sven Zea, December 2006)

Octocorals and some miscellaneous groups:

Sanchez, Juan Armando and Wirshing Herman H. 2005. A Field Key to the Identification of Tropical Western Atlantic Zooxanthellate Octocorals (Octocorallia: Cnidaria). Caribbean Journal of Science, Vol. 41, No. 3, 508-522.

Humann, P. 1993. Reef Coral Identification. New World Publications, Florida.

Cairns, S. 1977. Guide to the commoner shallow water gorgonians (sea whips, sea feathers and sea fans) of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean region. University of Miami Sea Grant Program, Field Guide Series 6.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute,

Family names are taken largely from “Appendix J. Marine and Terrestrial species and algae”, of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Species List, prepared by Benjamin Richards 1/27/04. Found on ‘’ and ‘…resources/specieslist.pdf’.

Additional Family names taken from ‘

A valuable source of information was also ‘Integrated Taxonomic Information System’ This is a database (no illustrations or descriptions) of 1.5 million recorded species.


Collin, R. Diaz M. C., Norenburg, J. Rocha R. M., SanchezJ. A., Schulze, A. Schwartz, M. and Valdes A.. 2005. Photographic Identification Guide to Some Common Marine Invertebrates of Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Caribbean Journal of Science, Vol. 41, No. 3, 638-707.

Numerous others cited in species descriptions.