Swiftia pusilla (Nutting, 1909),

Horvath, Elizabeth Anne, 2019, A review of gorgonian coral species (Cnidaria, Octocorallia, Alcyonacea) held in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History research collection: focus on species from Scleraxonia, Holaxonia, Calcaxonia - Part III: Suborder Holaxonia continued, and suborder Calcaxonia, ZooKeys 860, pp. 183-306: 222-225

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Swiftia pusilla (Nutting, 1909)


Swiftia pusilla (Nutting, 1909) 

Eumuricea pusilla  (Nutting, 1909): 718, 719; pl 88 (figs 3, 4). Kükenthal 1924: 152.

Swiftia pusilla  (Nutting, 1909): comb. nov. Breedy and Guzmán 2015: 22, 23.

Material examined.

No material in the SBMNH collection (see Appendix 3: List of material examined).


Colonies likely small; branching presumed irregular; with material available, not possible to confirm plane configuration; may present only a few branches or is unbranched. A main stem could give rise to roughly alternate branches, at irregular intervals. Main stem and branches may tend to curve upwards, almost running parallel to one another; stem and branches with nearly same diameter; branches can be slightly swollen. Polyps on all sides of branches, fairly dense, roughly arising off branch surface at right angles; occasionally slanting, bending upwards; may give appearance of biserial rows, but often not distinct, usually sitting on opposite sides of branch. Pol yps vertically placed, conical and prominent, perhaps slightly raised; distal-most end somewhat widened, showing eight-rayed figure in retraction. Anthocodiae appear to retract vertically into truncated tips, with polyps completely able to retract tentacles. Very few sclerites that could be extracted were generally sharp, acute needles (spindles). Present in coenenchyme (relatively thin) of polyps, coarse spindles; many unsymmetrical spindles bearing crenulated warts, jagged edges and processes. Marginal sclerites tending to converge as eight calycular processes, tips projecting more or less distinctly. In polyp body walls, spindles may be partially overlapping, transverse in orientation; not arranged in convergent double-rows. No presence of any fingerbiscuit rods could be detected. Colonies (when live?) colored in shades of brown; faded to gray or white with time (preservatives).

Type locality.

Holotype USA, California, San Diego County, San Diego, Point Loma, 176 meters.

Type specimen.

Holotype NMNH 25430 [wet/dry]; all material was examined (as well as could be done), several times.


Examination of preserved material at NMNH, both wet and dry, was not at all enlightening. Specimens very small; wet material in very bad shape, due to protracted storage in formalin (while now water washed and placed in 70% ETOH, the damage had already been done, long ago). The dry fragment was very small, thin and whitish, with zig-zag appearance. This correlated with photographs shown in Nutting’s (1909) work. No other institution, where collections were examined, had any material with this species designation. Nutting’s (1909) description of the colony, being more or less flabellate and in one plane, does not negate the possibility of his specimen being in the genus Swiftia  (appearance of polyps on branches is similar), but there is doubt as to whether this is a separate species; specimens in question may be badly preserved or bleached examples of something else. In general, appearance of fragments most closely resembled a species of Thesea  seen in southern California waters; coloring, however, does not match most Thesea  (fragments bleached?) and any species in the genus Thesea  should have the distinctly large, spheroidal sclerite form (not seen in this specimen, but minimal material available to work with, highly degraded). Or it may be a species belonging to genera that can display long, thread-like colonies, such as Leptogorgia  , Eugorgia  (new species described in this work, Part II) or even an aberrant, bleached Swiftia  . The notion that this colony form, described by Nutting, is not an accurately named species, or even a member of the genus Eumuricea  , has support in final comments made by Kükenthal (1924), translated here: "(i)n no case does this form belong to Eumuricea  , arguing against it in comparison is the overall construction (shape), the arrangement of the polyps in two lateral rows, their wide distance from one another, as well as the form of the coenenchymal sclerites." This means that Nutting’s material at NMNH does not belong in the genus Eumuricea  ; unfortunately, with the material in such poor condition, it may never be possible to clearly confirm what genus and species the specimens do belong to. As Breedy and Guzmán (2015) have elected to place it in the genus Swiftia  , Kükenthal’s comments are supported. Notably, no mention of this species is made in the WoRMS Database listing of accepted species in the genus Swiftia  .

SBMNH has several lots (provided by both OCSD and LACSD) in its possession that closely resemble the fragments held by NMNH. They are without color (white) or very, very pale yellow, and show the polyp pattern seen in Breedy and Guzmán (2015: fig 11). However, they also very closely resemble, in branch form (diameter, polyp placement), some sclerites (in the predominance of longish spindles, and the unsymmetrical sclerites with jagged edges), and the dull coloring, the specimens that many field investigators in southern California are calling a paler, less common species of Thesea  . The fragments shown in Nutting (1909: figs 3, 4), and those shown in Breedy and Guzmán (2015: fig. 11A), closely resemble what is seen with local, somewhat less abundant, specimens of a species of Thesea  . In sclerite examinations of these paler, less common, " Thesea  -like" specimens, they do not clearly match the sclerite forms that are seen in species of Swiftia  , and while they come closer in matching the sclerites seen in the commonly encountered Thesea  species, they do not exactly match those sclerites either. Based on that seen in numerous examinations of both locally collected specimens of both Swiftia  and Thesea  , encompassing a number of species, the suggestion would be that Nutting’s Eumuricea pusilla  might be a species of Thesea  rather than a Swiftia  . Nothing can be certain until more specimens that fit his original description can be located, collected and studied. With Eumuricea rigida  having been recently assigned to the genus Thesea  (Ofwegen, 2014), there is a likely possibility that S. (E.) pusilla  might need to likewise be assigned to the genus Thesea  .














Swiftia pusilla (Nutting, 1909)

Horvath, Elizabeth Anne 2019

Eumuricea pusilla

Verrill 1869