Coelopleurus exquisitus

Coelopleurus exquisitus is a sea urchin species located off of the coast of the island of New Caledonia within the Pacific Ocean. It’s an epifaunal deep water species living at depths of between 790 and 1,710 feet and was only identified as named in 2006.

The pattern and coloration of this species is distinctive and vibrant. Examined individuals of the species demonstrate that the test is up to 1.4 inches in diameter with long and curved spines. These primary spikes are curved and banded with red and light green colors. It has large purple inter-ambulacra regions with rippling lavender lines, while the remainder of the epithelium is an olive or light brown color. This makes it highly sought after by collectors which may threaten the species. However, too little is known about the species to confirm a population number. The purpose of the pigmentation, which is present in both skeleton and skin, is also known given the low light conditions of its habitat. One presented theory is that the species migrated from shallower waters and has maintained its coloration.

This species was first identified after appearing on the auction website eBay. Dr. Simon Coppard, a 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 didn’t recognize this particular specimen. Further investigation with the help of Heinke Schultz led him to the realization that it was previously unidentified.

It was given a name fitting to its unique and beautiful coloration, with details about Coelopleurus exquisitus first published in taxonomy journal Zootaxa on August 7th 2006. Immediately after this publication, the value of specimens for sale on eBay shot from $8 to $138.

Coppard expressed concern that sea urchins such as Coelopleurus exquisitus could become endangered by sellers who abuse the insufficient regulatory protocols that are currently in place.

Image Caption: Coelopleurus exquisitus–there are more now, but this was the first known example. Credit: D Traver Adolphus/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)