Off the coast of North Devon, a new type of sea anemone was discovered. It was first found earlier in the year, but it wasn't until recently that the sea anemone was officially identified as a new anemone variety.

Spotted by volunteer marine recorder and retired teacher Robert Durrant in Hele Bay, the sea anemone is called Aiptasiogeton pellucidus var comatus. It stands at a meager 6mm and features a transparent body with tiny tubercules. Durrant had first posted a photo of the anemone on Facebook, asking experts for help identifying it.

Because no one had a clue as to what the anemone was, Durrant took a specimen home, put it inside his aquarium and fed it to observe how it would develop. After the anemone got used to its new surroundings and started thriving, he took a backlit photo of the specimen which allowed Durrant to capture its features more clearly.

With its transparent body and tiny tubercules, the anemone was identified by Wilfried Bay-Nouailhat, a French wildlife expert, to be of the Aiptasiogeton pellucidus variety, which was last seen almost 40 years ago in Dorset.

Further research and observation, however, clearly categorized the fairy anemone (the common name Durrant gave it for its elusiveness, delicateness and smallness) as being different from existing varieties identified and simply a member of the same species as the Dorset anemone.

The Aiptasiogeton pellucidus is an unobtrusive sea anemone easily mistaken for other varieties. Its key characteristics include tentacles that don't readily retract, the presence of an acontia that is not readily emitted and a smooth column that is not split into regions. Found in lower shores, the Aiptasiogeton pellucidus is mostly found among sponges or attached to rocks within crevices and holes.

More fairy anemones were found in Cornwall's Newlyn, since Durrant's discovery, albeit individually. In 2010, anemones of the Aiptasiogeton pellucidus variety were found in England's southern coasts, as well as the Mediterranean to Biscay.

"It's amazing that new animal discoveries can still be made right on our shores. The North Devon coast is particularly rich in marine habitats and species, which is why local people nominated the area from Bideford to Foreland Point as a Marine Conservation Zone," said Dan Smith of the Devon Wildlife Trust.

North Devon is one of three areas being considered as a Marine Conservation Zone. Public consultation on new zones is expected to start in January.

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