Black coral (Cupressopathes abies)

Black coral, Cupressopathes abies, skeleton
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Black coral fact file

Black coral description

GenusCupressopathes (1)

This little-known group of corals belongs to the order Antipatharia, also known as the black corals after their black skeleton (2). There are thought to be five species of Cupressopathes, the most common of which are Cupressopathes abies and C. pumila (3). Some consist of just a single ‘stem’, whilst others are sparsely branched (4). The skeleton bears small, smooth spines and is covered with polyps, measuring just 0.6 to 0.8 millimetres across (3).


Black coral biology

Very little information is available on Cupressopathes corals. It is not known whether they possess the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, within their tissues (3), although many black corals do not. This means that many black corals, unlike numerous other corals, are not restricted to shallow, sunlit waters where the zooxanthellae can photosynthesise, and instead are able to inhabit deep and dark waters (5).


Black coral range

Cupressopathes corals are known from the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean (4).

See this species on Google Earth.


Black coral habitat


Black coral status

Cupressopathes abies is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).


Black coral threats

Information regarding the status of Cupressopathes corals is lacking, but like all black corals, it is likely to be impacted by over-harvesting for the jewellery trade. Black coral is highly valued in the jewellery trade because its dark skeleton can be polished to a lustrous sheen (6). Identification of black corals in the trade down to the level of genus is difficult, meaning that it is hard to determine the extent to which Cupressopathes species are affected by such exploitation (6). Black corals around the world are also known to be impacted by habitat degradation, and recently, a small trade in live specimens for aquariums has been reported (6).


Black coral conservation

Cupressopathes corals are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that trade in this species should be carefully regulated (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the trade in corals see:



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Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
Photosynthesis is a metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are produced and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
Typically sedentary soft-bodied component of Cnidaria (corals, sea pens etc), which comprise of a trunk that is fixed at the base; the mouth is placed at the opposite end of the trunk, and is surrounded by tentacles.
Describing a close relationship between two organisms. This term usually refers to a relationship that benefits both organisms.


  1. CITES (September, 2009)
  2. Barnes, R.D. (1987) Invertebrate Zoology. Fifth Edition. Saunders College Publishing, U.S.
  3. Hoeksema, B.W. and van Ofwegen, L.P. (2004) Indo-Malayan Reef Corals: A Generic Overview. World Biodiversity Database, CD-ROM Series ETI, Amsterdam. Available at:
  4. Opresko, D.M. (2001) Revision of the Antipatharia (Cnidaria: Anthozoa). Part I. Establishment of a new family, Myriopathidae. Zoologische Mededelingen, Leiden, 75: 147 - 174.
  5. King, D. (1997) Reef Fishes and Corals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. CITES. (2000) Periodic Review of Animal Taxa in the Appendices. Sixteenth Meeting of the Animals Committee, Shepherdstown, U.S. Available at:

Image credit

Black coral, Cupressopathes abies, skeleton  
Black coral, Cupressopathes abies, skeleton

© D. M. Opresko

Dennis M. Opresko


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