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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Dead Man's Fingers Alcyonium digitatum

This soft coral’s strange name, dead man's fingers, comes from its appearance when thrown ashore by storms. It is shaped like a thick lump with stubby fingers, which can, with a little imagination, resemble a corpse’s hand. When alive, dead man's finger grows attached to rocks in shallow water and often covers large areas, especially where strong currents bring plenty of planktonic food. With the polyps extended, the colonies have a soft, furry look. Most dead man’s fingers colonies are white but some are orange with white polyps. Over the fall and winter, the colony retracts its polyps and becomes dormant. In the spring, the dead man's fingers' outer skin is shed, along with any algae and other organisms that have settled on it.

Dead Man’s Fingers habitat mapzoom image
Dead Man's Fingerszoom image
Dead Man's Fingerszoom image
  • Class Anthozoa
  • Height Up to 8 in (20 cm)
  • Depth 0–165 ft (0–50 m)
  • Habitat Rocks and wrecks
  • Distribution Temperate and cold waters of northeastern Atlantic