Cnidarians are characterized by the presence of stinging cells containing nematocysts, a sophisticated injection system targeted mainly at prey-capture and defense. In the anthozoan subclass Octocorallia nematocytes have been considered to exist only in low numbers, to be small, and all of the ancestral atrichous-isorhiza type. This study, in contrast, revealed numerous nematocytes in the octocoral Heteroxenia fuscescens. The study demonstrates the applicability of cresyl-violet dye for differential staining and stimulating discharge of the nematocysts. In addition to the atrichous isorhiza-type of nematocysts, a novel type of macrobasic-mastigophore nematocysts was found, featuring a shaft, uniquely comprised of three loops and densely packed arrow-like spines. In contrast to the view that octocorals possess a single type of nematocyst, Heteroxenia fuscescens features two distinct types, indicating for the first time the diversification and complexity of nematocysts for Octocorallia.
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