Sixteen coral sites in the coastal waters of Hong Kong were examined for the corallivorous muricid gastropods Drupella rugosa and Cronia margariticola. These were recorded from all sites where there was significant hard coral cover and observed feeding upon species of Platygyra, Leptastrea, Stylocoeniella, Porites, Favites, Cyphastrea, Goniastrea, Favia, Acropora, Montipora, Pavona, Lithophyllon, Hydnophora, Echinophyllia and Plesiastrea. One large aggregation (~2000 individuals) of, mainly, D. rugosa was observed but much smaller groups (<20 individuals) were more typical. Five sites were chosen for more detailed study and surveyed during winter and summer. Despite being characterized by different coral communities, inter-site densities of D. rugosa were not significantly different and, usually, ~2 individuals · m2 were recorded. Seasonal differences were, however, significant with numbers greater during the summer, possibly related to reproduction. Feeding activity followed a similar pattern and was also largely confined to summer.
Prey selection by Drupella rugosa was complex in the field and changed according to the relative abundance of each coral taxon. Acropora was strongly selected for at all sites where it was present and Montipora, Platygyra and Pavona were usually fed upon in greater proportions than their abundances. Leptastrea, Cyphastrea, Favites, Favia and Goniastrea were fed upon but in proportions lower than suggested by their abundances. Goniopora was never fed upon despite being relatively common. The seasonality of feeding, low density, rarity of large feeding aggregations, prey selection and aspects of the feeding behaviour, that is, generally only consuming the coral's coenenchyme (the polyps surviving), suggest that while D. rugosa is widespread in Hong Kong, and contrary to other views, it poses little, if any, threat to local coral communities. Thus, reported feeding clusters of D. rugosa are probably not ‘plague’ outbreaks but examples of seasonally fostered ‘aggregations’ of feeding (and probably reproducing) individuals. Indeed, no ‘plague-like’ outbreak of any species of Drupella has been reported upon in the literature since 1999.