Coelopleurus L. Agassiz, 1840 is a genus of regular sea urchin in the family Arbaciidae Gray, 1855. Eleven Recent species, including several varieties/subspecies have been described (sensu Mortensen, 1935), all of which are found in the tropics at depths from 55 m to 2380 m (Mortensen, 1935). These sea urchins live on hard substrates feeding on encrusting organisms and have long protective spines to ward off predators. They also have large numbers of ophicephalous pedicellariae (small pincer-like appendages) to remove and disable fouling organisms that try to settle on the test (the urchin's "shell"). Species in this genus are typically brightly coloured, with large naked and highly patterned interambulacra. This has made them highly desirable to collectors.
In 2001 naked tests and disassociated primary spines of a brightly coloured species of Coelopleurus, reportedly collected from New Caledonia in the South Pacific, were offered for sale on the World Wide Web. These specimens were originally sold as C. interruptus and later sold as either C. maculatus or C. maillardi. By 2004 large numbers of specimens appeared for sale on eBay.com, all of which showed remarkable consistency in test and primary spine colouration. At this time, echinoderm specialist Simon Coppard was approached by collectors to identify the species. Coppard and his collaborator Heinke Schultz started out by examining the type material of all the known species in the genus. They quickly realized that they were dealing with a new undescribed species and their investigation revealed the presence of twenty-one unidentified specimens of a Coelopleurus collected from New Caledonia in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris. These were collected during scientific benthic surveys off of New Caledonia in the mid 1980s by ORSTOM (with depth and collection data) and were identical to those being sold on the Web. Coppard and Schultz named this species Coelopleurus exquisitus after the exquisite coloured markings on the test and spines and published the species description, based on the material from the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, in Zootaxa (Coppard and Shultz 2006). (Simon Coppard, in litt. June 2010)
Coelopleurus exquisitus (exquisite urchin) is a sea urchin species found off the coast of the island of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. It is an epifaunal deepwater species living at depths between 240 and 520 m (790 and 1,710 ft) and was only identified and named in 2006.
The colouration and pattern of Coelopleurus exquisitus is vibrant and distinctive. Examined individuals of the species show that the test is up to 35 mm (1.4 in) in diameter, with long, curved spines. These primary spikes are curved and banded with red and light green. It has large purple interambulacral regions with undulating lavender lines, while the remainder of the epithelium is coloured olive or light brown. This makes it highly sought-after by collectors, which may threaten the species. However, too little is known about the species to confirm their number. The purpose of the pigmentation, which is present in both the skin and skeleton, is also unknown, given the low light conditions of its habitat. One presented theory is that the species migrated from shallower waters and has maintained its colouring.
The species was first identified after appearing on auction website eBay. Dr. Simon Coppard, marine biologist and member of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, was directed to a listing on the site in 2004. Coppard was frequently asked to identify species, but did not recognise this particular specimen. Further investigation with the help of Heinke Schultz led him to realise it was a previously unidentified species.
The species was given a name fitting its unique and beautiful colouring, with details about Coelopleurus exquisitus first published in taxonomy journal Zootaxa on 7 August 2006. Immediately after this public introduction, the value of specimens for sale on eBay rocketed from $8 to $138.
Coppard expressed concern that sea urchins like C. exquisitus could become endangered by sellers who abuse the insufficient regulatory protocols currently in place: "The collection and sale of these urchins should be regulated and monitored; otherwise, we may decimate the populations before we know much more about it."
A similar event occurred in 2008 when a fossilised aphid encased in amber was purchased from eBay. Again, the species was found to never have been described; it was given the name Mindarus harringtoni after the buyer's name.
- Coelopleurus exquisitus Coppard & Schultz, 2006 World Register of Marine Species. Accessed 20 September 2011.
- Smith, Andrew. Coelopleurus (Keraiophorus) exquisitus. Natural History Museum. Accessed 20 September 2011.
- Coelopleurus exquisitus Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed 20 September 2011.
- A new species of Coelopleurus (Echinodermata: Echinoidea: Arbaciidae) from New Caledoni. Zootaxa, Magnolia Press. 7 August 2006. Accessed 20 September 2011.
- O'Brien, Helen. New urchin leaves eBayers all at sea. The Guardian. 17 August 2006. Accessed 20 September 2011.
- Vallance, Chris. An Exquisite New Species found on Ebay. BBC. 4 September 2006. Accessed 26 April 2014.
- eBay insect fossil is new species. BBC News. 20 August 2008. Accessed 20 September 2011.
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