Coral reefs are the largest living structures on the planet and are home to 25 percent of all marine species.
Answer six quick questions to find out which coral you’re most like.
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Agile, efficient, diverse, delicate
Staghorn coral is named after its resemblance to antlers. Scientists have estimated nearly 400 species of staghorn coral which come in a variety of shapes and colors. Like most coral, staghorn has a symbiotic relationship to zooxanthellae algae providing it with a protected living space and compounds needed for photosynthesis in exchange for nutrients. They are the fastest growing corals, growing up to 4 inches per year and often outcompeting other coral types for resources. Speedy as staghorn corals are, their light skeletons are quite fragile and can be easily damaged by storms and human activity.
Bold, enchanting, fiery, aggressive
Fire corals not your typical coral. In fact, they are much more closely related to jellyfish and other hydrozoa/hydra than true corals. Fire corals are named after the fiery stings inflicted on most organisms that rub against it, protecting it against many large predators while also providing protection to smaller organisms that are immune to their stings, as well as to the zooxanthellae algae that live symbiotically within the coral. Fire corals will also grow towards nearby competitor corals in order to overtake them and protect their access to space and resources.
Reliable, intelligent, patient, communicative
Brain corals certainly look cerebral and their individual polyps are indeed more closely connected than those of most other corals, allowing them to communicate quickly and easily within the colony. Many researchers think this close polyp connection, described as a “meandroid tissue integration,” suggests brain corals are a more advanced coral species. They grow slowly but this patience is well worth it—brain corals can live up to 900 years and their stability is often the basis of the coral reefs we see today.
Flexible, quirky, attentive, enthusiastic
Bubble coral are named after the grape-sized bubbles that expand during the day and contract at night. This exercise helps expose the symbiotic algae living within them to the light conditions needed to produce the nutrients the bubble coral need to survive. When the bubbles are contracted, this coral extends tentacles to capture food which it ingests in its single, large mouth. They also have longer “sweeper tentacles” that sting nearby coral competition to defend its space and resources.
Colorful, flamboyant, reactive, independent
Tube coral are characterized by their long stalks that resemble organ pipes. Unlike most coral, tube coral does not depend on a symbiotic relationship with algae to survive and can survive in dark areas such as caves, so long as there is a strong enough current to bring it food. Tube coral colonies have polyps with eight feather-like tentacles each that extend in the hunt for plankton and other microscopic particles to feed on. The tentacles withdraw into their protective skeleton when the coral is not feeding, or at the first sign of disturbance. Tube coral skeletons have permanent color, which is often used for ornaments or jewelry.
But all the bounty our oceans give us can only be sustained if we take action on the intense challenges nature is facing right now.