Exquisite Urchin, Coelopleurus exquisitus

The exquisite urchin (Coelopleurus exquisitus) is a species of sea urchin that can be found in the Pacific Ocean, only off the coast of New Caledonia. It prefers to reside in deep waters, at depths between 790 and 1,710 feet. It was first discovered in 2004, after marine biologist Dr. Simon Coppard was given information that a sea urchin was being sold on eBay. As a member of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, Coppard was often asked to identify specimens, but the species he was directed to could not be identified.

With assistance from Heinke Schultz, Coppard was able to distinguish that the specimen was a distinct and unknown species. It was named after its beautiful and unique coloring, and formally classified within the taxonomy journal Zootaxa in 2006. Because of its new classification, specimens being sold on eBay for only 8 U.S. dollars were being sold for 138 U.S. dollars. After seeing this, Coppard was concerned that the number of individuals taken from the water and the manner in which they were taken could endanger the species, so following the protocols set in place for harvesting sea urchins is important when capturing this species.

The exquisite urchin has a test, or outer shell, that can reach an average diameter of 1.4 inches. It has many long, curve shaped spines protruding from the shell, which are striped with red and green bands. The shell is uniquely colored, with five whitish-tan to brown bands and five purple bands alternating across it. The purple bands hold lavender lines, which form a zigzag pattern. The purpose of its distinct coloring is not yet known, and it is thought to be a strange occurrence due to the depth of water the species resides at. However, it is possible that the species moved from shallow waters and retained its coloring. It is also thought that the exquisite urchin’s coloring could threaten it in the future, due to high numbers of collectors. However, this cannot be confirmed due to a lack of information regarding the habits and the population number of the species.

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)