Carlgren’s hesitation allayed: redescription and systematics of Heteranthus verruculatus Klunzinger, 1877 (Cnidaria, Actiniaria), with a redefinition of Heteranthidae Carlgren, 1900
Species boundaries delineating tropical sea anemones (Cnidaria, Actiniaria) of the zooxanthellate genus, Heteranthus Klunzinger, 1877, are unclear. There are currently two valid Heteranthus species: type species Heteranthus verruculatus Klunzinger, 1877, first reported from Koseir, Egypt, and H. insignis Carlgren, 1943, from Poulo Condore, Vietnam. In describing the latter from a single, poorly preserved specimen, zoologist Oskar Carlgren expressed apprehension with traits he had used to establish this species. Carlgren’s doubts persisted later in writing when he found a similar-looking sea anemone from the Great Barrier Reef. Crucial details to positively identify either species have since remained limited. Here, we re-diagnosed Heteranthus and re-described its type species based on observations from specimens we have obtained from Singapore and Pulau Ambon (Indonesia), and museum material collected elsewhere across the Indo-West Pacific region (n > 180). Supported by molecular phylogenetic evidence, the family Heteranthidae Carlgren, 1900 was reinstated and re-diagnosed. Heteranthus verruculatus is encountered in the lower intertidal region amongst seagrass, in rocky crevices, or coral rubble. It occurs as solitary individuals or in clonal clusters, well-camouflaged against the substratum. Individuals were observed to frequently propagate by longitudinal fission, resulting in a varied appearance. Type material of H. verruculatus and H. insignis were re-examined and as we found no differences between them, the two were synonymised. We inferred that Carlgren probably misinterpreted cnidae and histological data in defining H. insignis as a distinct species. This revision clarifies the taxonomy and geographic range of H. verruculatus, an Indo-West Pacific species that is found from the Red Sea to subtropical Australia and Hawaii.