Why do anemones grow in patches of colour?

BBC Wildlife contributer Matt Doggett explains colourful anemone growth.

Elegant Anemone (Sagartia elegans),  nice white anemone with many tentacles and brownish background, St Abbs, Scotland, UK

Elegant anemone © Fotosearch/ Getty


Distinct patches of colour in jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis) or elegant anemones (Sagartia elegans) is evidence of asexual reproduction.

Anemones can do this by either budding off smaller animals or simply splitting into two separate ones.

Whichever method is used, the new anemone is a clone of the former, retaining all the characteristics of its parent, including colour.

As the anemones continue to split they take up more and more space on the seabed until they meet more of their own kind.

In some species a battle line is drawn where clones meet, with both sides stinging one another until one finally retreats or dies.

A narrow no-man’s land is then established between the two colonies.


Thus, where anemones dominate the habitat, a colourful patchwork can develop over the rock face.