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Heteractis malu (Family Stichodactylidae)

Delicate Sea Anemone



The Delicate Sea Anemone is widespread in the Indo-West Pacific region. It ranges from Hawaii, to PNG, northern and western Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia and to Japan. This is a large topical species that extends down the WA coast south to Perth. (WA, NT, QLD)


The Delicate Sea Anemone is a distinctive, wide bodied, squat, anemone, with hundreds of small, very light brown to whitish tentacles arranged in a number of rows around the oral disc. It grows to a width of 100 mm. It has its oral disk lying on top of the sediment surface in which the column is buried. The oral disk may be brown or tinged purple, with white radial markings. The oral disk and column may have a brown-violet tinge that is due to the photosynthesis capable embedded algae (see topics below). The column is usually pale cream or yellow in colour, with blotches of orange or deep yellow. The tentacles are short and only up to 40 mm long, and are sparsely scattered on the anemone's top. The tentacles evenly taper to a point and may be slightly thickened in the middle. The column is thin and has downward running rows of adhesive swellings called verrucae.

Ecology/Way of Life:

The Delicate Sea Anemone occurs at the low tide fringe and below to 18 metres depth in sand and shell rubble habitats, at the edge of seagrass beds. Normally only the tentacles of the anemone are seen lying on the substrate surface. If disturbed this anemone can slowly retract completely into the sediment. This anemone does not like water turbulence and is most common in shallow, quiet habitats. It is not a strong stinger and has been known to have an association with Clarke's Anemonefish, Amphiprion clarkia, and the False Clown Anemonefish, Amphiprion occelaris.

Preferred Image

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

This anemone is often recommended for beginning aquarists who wish to keep anemones for the first time. Because it is small and dull in colour, this may help it to be not as popular for an aquarium exhibit as more showy species. Because of its great distribution range, it probably isn't under threat from human activities.

Other Comments:

Heteractis malu, Haddon & Shackleton, 1893. Its original name was Discosoma malu and was first collected at the Island of Mer in the Torres Strait.

Heteractis comes from two Greek words; heteros meaning other, one or other, and actis comes from aktis or aktinos, meaning ray. Malu may come from the Greek word malakos, meaning soft.

Further Reading:

Davey, K. (1998) A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. p.33, New Holland Press, Sydney.

Underwood, A. J. & Chapman, M. G. (1995). Coastal Marine Ecology of Temperate Australia. p.131-2, University of NSW Press.


Text, map & photograph by Keith Davey.

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Images and Multi-media:  
Attached Image  
image/jpeg 23877 bytes Delicate Sea Anemone
Distribution Map  
image/gif 957 bytes Distribution of Delicate Sea Anemone

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