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Zoantharia coral raised at west Japan aquarium recognized as new species

The Zoantharia coral cohabiting with a hermit crab is seen at Toba Aquarium. (Photo courtesy of the aquarium)

TOBA, Mie -- Zoantharia coral raised at an aquarium in this western Japan city for two years has proven to be a new species, aquarium officials said.

The animal has been given the academic name "Epizoanthus xenomorphoideus," since it is shaped like Xenomorph, an extraterrestrial living organism that appears in the science-fiction film "Alien."

The creature was discovered at a depth of 300 meters in the Kumano Sea off the Mie Prefecture town of Kihoku in January 2014. A research group comprising mainly students at the University of Ryukyus' graduate school analyzed the specimen and confirmed it is a new species.

Zoantharia coral consists of bodies connected at their roots and form a 5- to 10-centimeter-tall colony. It cohabits with Sympagurus dofleini, a kind of hermit crab. Zoantharia attaches itself to a shell carried by a hermit crab and grows while gradually dissolving the shell until it disappears and the hermit crab lives in a hollow cavity created by the Zoantharia.

The new Zoantharia coral specimen is now kept at the Tsukuba Research Departments of the National Museum of Nature and Science in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Tsukuba, eastern Japan.

Takeya Moritaki, 50, a curator at Toba Aquarium, said, "Zoantharia coral is extremely rare and it's difficult to find even a single one over a period of 1-2 years. Its ecological features regarding cohabiting (with the hermit crabs) remain unknown."

(Japanese original by Kazushige Hayashi, Toba Resident Bureau)

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