Corals are animals.

Coral seen in Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Corals seen in Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Did You Know?

There are over 800 known species of reef-building coral worldwide and hundreds of species of soft corals and deep-sea corals. The number of known species of corals continues to grow as advances in science and technology allow us to make new discoveries. The more we know about corals, shallow and deep, the better we can protect these ecologically and economically important organisms.

Because corals are attached, taking root to the seafloor, people often think they are plants. Because many corals have hardened surfaces, they are sometimes mistaken as being rocks. However, unlike plants, corals do not make their own food using photosynthesis. And, unlike rocks, corals are very much alive. Corals are, in fact, animals.

What we often call “a coral” is actually made up of hundreds or thousands of individual invertebrate animals called polyps. The polyp uses calcium carbonate (limestone) from seawater to build a hard, cup-shaped skeleton. This skeleton protects the soft, delicate body of the polyp.

Each polyp has a stomach that opens at one end, which is surrounded by tentacles. The tentacles capture food by stinging it, similar to a jellyfish. Some corals use algae to get food; the coral gets food from the algae and the algae use the coral. This is called a “symbiotic” relationship.

 

For More Information:

Deep-sea Corals: Education Theme Page

Mesophotic Corals: Education Theme Page

Corals: Creatures and Features

 

 

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