Sunset cup coral

Leptopsammia pruvoti


Sunset cup coral (Leptopsammia pruvoti) © Keith Hiscock

The stunning yellow or orange sunset cup coral has a hard skeleton beneath almost 100 stinging tentacles.  It does not form reefs, but occurs in groups of up to several hundred on rocky surfaces from 10- 40m deep, often in shady places, such as under overhangs and in caves or gullies.

Individual sunset cup corals appear to be robust and cope well with some environmental changes. Despite this, they only occur in a very few places in Britain, and their populations are declining.  Numbers of sunset cup corals on Lundy island fell by almost a quarter in one recent four year period.  They no longer occur at all near Ilfracombe in north Devon.

One of the reasons for their lack of success in British waters is that they are hanging on at the northern extreme of their geographical range, and so only inhabit the most ideal locations.  The pockets of sunset cup corals that are found here may be a relic of a more extensive spread of the animals that was known to have occurred approximately 700 years ago.

Because the sunset cup corals struggle to survive in these northern conditions, their ability to reproduce may be affected.  Larvae is sometimes carried up from southern Europe, but these water masses only move into southwest England about every 25 years.

The skeletons of cup corals can be weakened by boring animals (such as horseshoe and fan worms and burrowing bivalve shells) and then dislodged by foraging wrasse or by divers’ fins.


European distribution

The sunset cup coral occurs in a small number of isolated locations, in south-west of England. It was first recorded in Britain in 1969, from Lundy Island.  In other parts of the northeast Atlantic, it has been recorded in the Channel Isles, Brittany and Portugal and occurs widely in the Mediterranean, especially in caves.


Conservation status/need

  • Sunset Cup Coral FactThis is a UK BAP Priority Species (BAP species are now Species of Principal Importance/Priority Species).
  • Species of principal importance for the purpose of conservation of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 in England.
  • Nationally rare marine species.


Further information

Biodiversity Action Reporting System

Encyclopedia of Marine Life of Britain and Ireland

Marine Life Information Network

JNCC - UK BAP Priority Species and Habitats