Clavularia hamra Gohar, 1948 is a common octocoral on the reefs of the Gulf of Eilat (northern Red Sea). Reproductive biology of C. hamra was studied for two years. Direct observations of spawning were conducted in situ and in aquaria. Cleavage of eggs and further embryo metamorphosis into mature planulae were examined by scanning electron microscopy and histological sections.
Clavularia hamra is dioecious. Young oocytes appear annually in September, gradually grow in size and attain maturity within 11 months. The main spawning event of the population is highly synchronized, occurring on a single night each year between the last quarter and the new moon in mid summer.
The released orange eggs are held together by mucus and remain attached amongst the polyps on the outside of the female colonies. Twelve hours after spawning, the young embryos have blastomeres of equal size with numerous microvilli on their external surface. Due to unequal cleavage, bizarre embryos are also formed. By 48 h a blastopore is visible, indicating that a gastrula is developing. Eight days after spawning mature planulae are observed.
The external mode of embryo development on the surface of the parent colony reduces dispersal of the planulae. However, this reproductive feature enhances formation of locally dense populations of C. hamra, with distinct habitat preferences.