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Acropora Eating Flatworms discovered in the wild

By Leonard Ho - Posted Aug 03, 2012 06:00 PM
Researchers have documented AEFW (Amakusaplana acroporae) in the wild for the first time. Until recently, the only known occurrence have been in aquariums. Scientists have now discovered them in the Great Barrier Reef.
Acropora Eating Flatworms discovered in the wild

AEFW (Amakusaplana acroporae). Photo credit: Kate A. Rawlinson

Researchers Kate A. Rawlinson and Jessica S. Stella collected ten colonies of Acropora valida at random from Lizard Island lagoon in the Great Barrier Reef.  Of the ten colonies, seven harbored one to five AEFW by conservative estimates.  The discovery paves the way forward to further studies of A. acroporae. This discovery may also provide insight on how AEFW entered the aquarium trade; AEFW grew in prominence in captive aquaria around the same time the hobby began to import GBR stony corals.  

The scientists also found two interesting morphological traits about Amakusaplana acroporae:

  1. The number of eyes on AEFW increases with their length.  3.2mm specimens had two eye clusters with five eyes per cluster.  10mm specimens had 2 eye clusters but with ten eyes per cluster.
  2. AEFW male reproductive systems develop faster than female reproductive systems.  Smaller specimens had fully formed male reproductive organs but immature female reproductive organs.


The full public-access paper is available at PLoS ONE. Kate Rawlinson is a contributor to the website Aquarium Coral Diseases and at the forefront of AEFW research.

Please email Kate Rawlinson ( for more information on the biology and life history of the AEFW and for a reprint of the paper "Taxonomy and life history of the Acropora-eating flatworm, Amakusaplana acroporae nov. sp. (Polycladida: Prosthiostomidae) Coral Reefs 30:693–705. Kate would be very interested to hear of AEFW problems you may have and is always looking for more specimens to analyse to help understand these coral predators.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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