The identification of most soft-bodied hexacorals requires morphological and histological examinations of preserved specimens and experience for correct interpretation of the observed features. Poorly preserved or damaged material resulting from improper sampling complicates identification. In many cases the characteristics of the preserved specimens alone do not lead to satisfying results. Living specimens, however, exhibit numerous characteristics which would often allow identification, even in the field. However, most of these characteristics get lost during preservation. Modern techniques and advances in sampling methods allow the acquisition and preservation of a lot of information on the living animal and its habitat.
Using Chilean sea anemone species, it is demonstrated how the work with specimens in situ and in vivo can help with identification and reveal important morphological–taxonomical, biological, and ecological information. Whenever possible, this information should be part of species descriptions and should be used to create detailed, reliable, tabular identification keys for the laboratory and field. The examples illustrate the urgent need for modern, comparable re-descriptions. In most parts the protocol also applies to other soft-bodied hexacorals.