The Caribbean Sea and adjacent waters, including Bermuda, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico
Class Anthozoa (corals, anemones, and relatives), Order Actiniaria (sea anemones)
The giant Caribbean sea anemone is a large anemone that lives on coral reefs throughout the Caribbean Sea. It is a predatory species and has the ability to move (by crawling very slowly), in order to reduce competition with nearby individuals or to increase the likelihood of successful reproduction.
This anemone is predatory and feeds on fishes, crustaceans, or other invertebrates that stray too close to its tentacles. The tentacles are covered with stinging cells that paralyze their prey. Once a small fish or other prey is captured, the anemone quickly wraps it in as many tentacles as possible. It then efficiently passes the prey to its mouth, at the center of its disc.
Though there are no anemonefishes native to the Caribbean, the giant Caribbean sea anemone is known to house some species of symbiotic animals. Juvenile cardinalfishes, some cleaner shrimps, and some crabs are all known to utilize giant Caribbean sea anemones as habitat. This relationship provides the anemone with a means to remove parasites and protection from some species that may try to feed on its tentacles and provides the symbiotic animal with protection from predators that are sensitive to the anemone’s sting.
Giant Caribbean sea snemones can either be hermaphroditic (having the ability to produce both eggs and sperm) or they can be only one of the two sexes. This species reproduces by broadcast spawning, where several individuals release their eggs and sperm into the water column at the same time. This behavior increases the likelihood that the eggs will be fertilized and decreases the threat of predation by egg predators on the reef surface. After a short period living in the water column, baby giant Caribbean sea anemones seek out a suitable spot on the reef, settle, and attach semi-permanently to a hard surface. As mentioned above, unlike corals and most other anemones, adult giant Caribbean sea anemones can move short distances if needed. When threatened, giant Caribbean sea anemones pull their tentacles into their mouths and close their bodies into a tight ball, making it difficult for potential predators to prey on them.
The conservation status of this species is not currently known, but they almost certainly face the same threats as any coral reef organism. Destructive fishing practices, pollution, disease, and climate change threaten these valuable ecosystems and the species that live on them.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.