Chances are high that you’ve admired the amazement of the world’s colorful coral reefs at some point in your life, whether you’re a serious scuba diver or just an ocean lover.
How much do you know about coral, really?
Coral is one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet, according to research. It turns out that it looks really cool as well. In reality, coral is a diverse group of animals with thousands of species that all contribute to the greater ocean ecosystem in their own way.
This article is for anyone who wants to learn more about coral. Next, we’ll show you 22 types of coral that are absolutely stunning. You can also be a better protector of our planet’s oceans by impressing your friends with your knowledge.
The 22 Out-of-this-World Types Of Coral
We couldn’t possibly discuss every single kind of coral on the planet, since there are approximately 6,000 different kinds. We’ve prepared this list of the top 22 coolest types of coral on Earth to assist you learn more about these wonderful creatures. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata)
The elkhorn coral, which is one of the most widely distributed corals in the Caribbean Sea, is first on our list. It can grow to be up to 12 feet (3.7 m) long and 6 feet (1.8 m) high, making it a wonder to see if you get close enough to any elkhorn coral reefs.
Elkhorn coral thrives in shallow waters, where it forms thickets of large groups. Other kinds of marine creatures, such as the Caribbean Reef Octopus, often find it to be an important habitat due to its huge size.
Yet, owing to a variety of factors, including white band disease, the species is currently endangered across its range.
The tissues of the elkhorn coral are killed by white band disease. The white band disease has killed around 97% of the world’s elkhorn coral population, thanks to climate change, pollution, and unsustainable fishing pressure. Thankfully, there are a number of organizations that strive to preserve elkhorn coral reefs from degradation.
2. Open Brain Coral (Trachyphyllia geoffroyi)
The open brain coral is a kind of coral with an odd-shaped figure-eight form and numerous beautiful colors that is particularly popular as a home fish tank species. Open brain corals, on the other hand, may change colors as they grow older, and they’re particularly popular among home reef keepers because of this.
While these corals prefer sandy and muddy seafloors, they are native to a broad range of different areas in the Indo-Pacific seas. They prefer water that is less than 130 feet (40 meters) deep, and they are most often found from New Caledonia to the Red Sea.
One of the reasons why open brain corals are listed as near threatened on a global scale is because they are susceptible to bleaching in the wild. The coral, however, faces the most serious danger in the future from overharvesting for the aquarium business.
3. Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinuosa)
The bubble coral is a well-known coral that reef aquarists appreciate because of its beautiful bubble-like pattern. Depending on the coral’s feeding schedule, it has bubble-shaped tentacles that can expand and contract.
From the Red Sea to the Line Islands, they are native to the Indo-Pacific oceans.
These corals exist in a commensal relationship with certain dinoflagellates (single-cell eukaryotes), which is interesting. The majority of the nourishment required by the bubble coral comes from photosynthesis performed by these tiny dinoflagellates.
Despite this, the widely distributed bubble coral is classified as “near threatened,” like most corals. Climate change is the greatest existential threat.
4. Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis)
Staghorn coral, like elkhorn coral, is a significant species in the Caribbean. The staghorn coral, which looks more like the horns of an adult male deer, has a tubular shape rather than an elkhorn coral’s columnar shape.
Large thickets of staghorn corals may be important fish habitats. They grow branches that are between a few inches and a few feet (1.2 meters) thick, but each colony can be up to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall. In the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas and Florida, they can be found in shallow water.
Alas, over the last few decades, white band disease has devastated staghorn coral in the same way as elkhorn coral. Although staghorn coral is less affected by human activity, such as intensive breeding programs, its numbers continue to decline.
5. Leaf Coral (Pavona decussata)
The leaf coral is a hardy colonial stony coral found in the Indo-Pacific’s shallow waters. It is aptly named and typically develops into a leaf-like 3 to 10 millimeter thick form.
Although leaf corals are found throughout the Indo-Pacific, their population is poorly understood. Most leaf corals prefer to dwell on sloping surfaces and are restricted to a depth of no more than 50 feet (15 meters).
The leaf coral, however, is considered to be vulnerable to widespread bleaching by the IUCN, and it is therefore listed as such.
6. Vase Coral (Montipora capricornis)
Monti is a highly popular type of coral among home aquarists. It is also known as vase coral, which comes from its Latin name.
It’s native to the Indo-Pacific, mostly the Red Sea, and it’s common. It favors to dwell in warmer water in the higher half of the reef.
Since it thrives in captivity, vase coral is a common sight in aquariums. Vase coral, like all other corals, has a symbiotic partnership with zooxanthellae, single-celled dinoflagellates that do photosynthesis. In reality, it has various polyps.
As a result, most vase coral can live on the zooxanthellae’s photosynthesis alone when it gets enough sunlight.
7. Venus Sea Fan Coral (Gorgonia flabellum)
The Venus sea fan, one of the most well-known varieties of soft coral, grows vertically upwards from the ocean floor in enormous fan-like formations.
It does not create a hard calcium carbonate shell like other corals do. The Venus sea fan coral, on the other hand, can grow to a height of around 6.6 feet (2 meters) with relative ease and hold itself upright in the current.
The Caribbean is home to the Venus sea fan coral, however it is far more prevalent in the Bahamas. Their tentacles feature a variety of coral polyps that can filter feed for plankton swimming in the stream. Nonetheless, the photosynthesized nutrients for the Venus sea fan are provided by its symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellates.
8. Sun Corals (Tubastraea)
The genus of sun corals, which may be found across the Caribbean, is not one but a collection of different cup corals. They prefer deep waters, particularly around shipwrecks, and are known to dwell in waters as far north as the Florida Keys.
Sun corals are one of the simplest corals to keep in captivity because they do not depend on photosynthetic microorganisms for nutrition.
They have been known to devour mysis shrimp, which is rather large. They, however, have to be fed during the nighttime because their polyps only open at night. Who would have thought?
9. Lettuce Coral (Agaricia agaricites)
Lettuce coral is a kind of coral with a distinct lettuce-like look that may be found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean.
In the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, as well as off the coast of Brazil, lettuce coral may be found in a variety of atolls. It prefers depths of 245 feet (75 meters) or more in seagrass meadows, lagoons, and other deep waters.
The lettuce coral is one of the few coral species in the world that is listed as a species of least concern, since it is the dominant species of coral in much of its range. Yet, bleaching is a threat, particularly during El Niño episodes that boost sea temperatures in the area.
10. Organ Pipe Coral (Tubipora musica)
Soft coral known as organ pipe coral can be found in the central and western Pacific Oceans.
Organ pipe coral has a hard calcium carbonate skeleton, despite being classified as a soft coral. The polyps are long and resemble organ pipes, which is why it’s known for them.
The calcium carbonate skeleton of organ pipe coral is commonly left behind when it dies. Scuba divers who come across this skeleton are especially drawn to it because it is bright red.
The organ pipe coral, on the other hand, is a difficult species to maintain in an aquarium. However, it’s guaranteed to be an fantastic experience if you encounter it while diving.
11. Grooved Brain Coral (Diploria labrynthiformis)
The grooved brain coral resembles a human brain in a very apt name. It usually has a grey coloration and has a set of deep grooves that give it a brain-like appearance.
The diameter of a groove brain coral may stretch to 6 feet (1.8 meters). They usually develop in clusters of many individuals, though they may seem to be just one huge groove brain coral. As a result, a small colony is often what you see as a single specimen.
Thankfully, the grooved brain coral appears to be relatively hardy, despite its vulnerability to bleaching and illness. Additionally, the grooved brain coral is listed as a species of lowest concern by the IUCN, and it is still widespread across its range.
12. Boulder Star Coral (Monstastrea annularis/Orbicella annularis)
This coral species is found in the western Atlantic, especially around the Caribbean, and is most commonly known as the boulder star coral. It can be found throughout the region down to a depth of about 260 ft (80 m) and is one of the most common reef-building corals within its range.
Boulden boulder star coral develops dozens of tiny polyp-shaped structures. They’re often discovered in groups that resemble mounds of green or yellowish rocks, which may be useful when diving for identification.
Despite this, owing to the impacts of climate change, the boulder star coral is now designated as endangered.
13. Great Star Coral (Montastraea cavernosa)
The great star coral, like the boulder star coral, is a species that produces huge, rock-shaped colonies. It’s a kind of rocky coral that gets most of its nourishment from zooxanthellae, which live inside it in a symbiotic relationship.
The domes of most large star corals are green, red, or brown in hue and can reach a diameter of several meters. Nevertheless, this species has two morphs: diurnal and nocturnal. As a result, polyps that expand and feed throughout the day and night exist in the diurnal morphs, which are brown. The nocturnal morphs are generally colorful, and they only expand at night to feed.
These corals are most frequent in Trinidad and Tobago, but may be found throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Along the western coast of Africa, it’s also occasionally seen.
14. Clubbed Finger Coral (Porites porites)
The clubbed finger coral is found in the Caribbean and certain areas of western Africa, and is one of the lesser species of coral on our list.
The clubbed finger coral has tiny lobes that resemble thick fingers, as you may infer from its name. These lobes are generally white or blueish-grey in hue and are seldom more than about 1 inch (2.5 cm) broad.
The life expectancy of certain clubbed finger corals is rather impressive. While more study is being conducted to understand more about this species, an individual might survive for many centuries.
In addition, unlike most corals, the clubbed finger coral is not currently endangered. While some populations, particularly in the US Virgin Islands, have suffered from bleaching and disease in recent years, it has a fairly widespread distribution.
15. Smooth Cauliflower Coral (Stylophora pistillata)
Thought that corals spend their lives in one place? Think again!
Because of its tendency to attach itself to floating objects, like shipwreck debris, the smooth cauliflower coral enjoys to travel around a lot. The smooth cauliflower coral then goes along for the ride as these objects drift around in the ocean. Nobody would have predicted it, right?
The globetrotting tendencies of the smooth cauliflower coral aren’t the only thing people know about it. It develops colorfully rounded branches and forms a cauliflower-like form. You may discover them at a variety of depths in the sea and they are typically seen in the Indo-Pacific.
16. Massive Starlet Coral (Siderastrea siderea)
Massive starlet corals develop into massive dome-shaped structures made up of many little individual corals. These corals have a pitted surface that gives them the appearance of a large golf ball.
They’re most often spotted near Bermuda, the Bahamas, and other Caribbean islands in the western hemisphere.
At depths of up to around 230 feet (70 meters), these corals may be found. They prefer to grow in well-lit shallow waters or in the depths of the ocean, since they don’t like living in high-silt environments like tide pools.
17. Honeycomb Coral (Diploastrea heliopora)
The honeycomb coral is a common kind of coral that may be found around the Indo-Pacific and forms lovely honeycomb-style communities. It may be found at depths of up to 100 feet (30 meters) near the Red Sea, particularly.
These corals prefer to grow enormous colonies, which may be up to 16 feet (5 meters) broad. They may assume dome shapes on occasion, but they normally transform into enormous sphere-like boulders.
Unfortunately, the IUCN has classified honeycomb corals as being “near threatened.” Pollution and climate change are the two main concerns for the honeycomb coral, but visitors trampling on coral reefs is a significant problem as well.
18. Finger Coral (Montipora digitata)
The finger coral is a completely independent species, despite having a similar common name to the clubbed finger coral. It’s a kind of stony coral that’s most prevalent in eastern Africa, particularly around Mozambique.
Little bush-like structures with enormous, finger-like branches characterize this coral. The finger coral, on the other hand, does not seem to be affected by the bleaching that affects so many of its neighbors. The finger coral appears to be resistant to bleaching damage, despite the fact that climate change is a problem.
19. Common Mushroom Coral (Fungia fungites)
The common mushroom coral, sometimes known as stony corals, is a little creature that lives on the coral reefs of Hawaii.
Little oval forms of the common mushroom coral, which look a lot like wild mushrooms, grow on it. They prefer to live on reefs that are mostly calm and have minimal activity. Unlike many of the other corals in Hawaii, they don’t form colonies.
Additionally, throughout the early part of its life, the typical mushroom coral will only connect to a reef. When it gets bigger, it will be able to survive on its own on the seafloor once it breaks free from the reef.
20. Precious Coral (Corallium)
Precious coral refers to the species within the genus Corallium, and it is a common source of coral material for jewelry and other manufactured goods.
Precious corals are found on Earth in about 31 different species, the majority of which prefer rocky seafloors. They can also be found in the Mediterranean, which is unusual. They are, however, also found around Japan and Taiwan, as well as in Sardinia and the Strait of Gibraltar.
The fact that these corals die leaving a hard calcium carbonate skeleton behind makes them unusual. Since they are frequently red in hue, jewelry makers like them as a raw material.
21. Carnation Coral (Dendronephthya)
All of the species in the genus Dendronephthya have quirky tree-like structures, which makes them a popular choice for home aquarists. They are sometimes known as carnation corals.
Because there are dozens of species in the genus, carnation corals come in a variety of shapes and colors. The Indo-Pacific’s tropical seas, particularly the Red Sea, are home to the majority of them.
Carnation corals are popular among hobbyists, however they are difficult to look after. Unlike most other corals, the carnation coral needs a constant source of food to survive, unlike most other corals.
22. Colorful Sea Whip (Leptogorgia virgulata)
The colorful sea whip, which lives on the Atlantic Ocean’s western coast, is a kind of colonial soft coral that’s worth mentioning. In reality, it may be found from the Chesapeake Bay to Brazil.
While the majority of colorful sea whips are no more than about 24 inches (60 cm) tall, these corals have long, branch-like arms that may grow into large formations.
Several other species, including the Atlantic wing oyster and a few distinct shrimp, depend on the colorful sea whip as a key habitat. Yet, shrimp trawling nets often damage it, destroying huge sections of the population.
How Corals Are Classified
Scientists have had a difficult time categorizing and classifying all of the various coral species in the world, with over 6,000 species.
The phylum Cnidaria and the class Anthozoa are the kingdoms Animalia (yes, corals are animals!) and Cnidaria, respectively. Nonetheless, things get quite crazy outside the class Anthozoa.
There are three subclasses in the Anthozoa class. The following items are included in this category:
- The order Scleractinia, which is all of the stony corals, belongs to the Hexacorallia subclass.
- The order Alcyonacea, which includes soft corals, belongs to the Subclass Octocorallia.
- The Ceriantharia subclass isn’t a kind of coral, despite the fact that it’s called that. The sea anemones, which do not have a skeleton-type structure and are related to coral, belong to this subclass. Corals have an exoskeleton on each polyp, whereas anemones are filled with fluid.
We won’t discuss sea anemones since they aren’t technically corals. Yet, in order to help you better comprehend these fascinating creatures, we’ll provide you a brief overview of the world of coral taxonomy in this section.
1. Subclass Hexacorallia (Stony Corals)
The subclass Hexacorallia is the first of our coral subclasses to discuss. Because of the calcite exoskeleton that many of them have, this subclass is also known as the stony corals.
The shape of stony corals and soft corals, on the other hand, is where the difference lies.
Body segments with less than six axes of symmetry are found in stony corals. Although this seems like a arbitrary difference, taxonomists have decided that it is so, and we must all follow suit. Soft corals, on the other hand, generally feature simple, unbranched bodies with more than eight tentacles. As a result, they’re usually easy to tell apart from stony corals.
There are 35 families within the Hexacorallia subclass. Yet, there are millions of species, and not all of them have been identified as species by scientists. There are several stony corals that remain poorly understood.
Because of their diversity, stony corals are likewise difficult to classify. This subclass’s largest families include:
2. Subclass Octocorallia (Soft Corals)
There are over 3,000 species of soft corals in the subclass Octocorallia. The gorgonians, sea pens, and blue coral are all species that have at least an 8-fold symmetry and belong to this group of corals.
As previously stated, unlike stony corals, soft corals do not have a well-developed exoskeleton. The tentacles are generally longer, unbranched, and distinctive though.
The taxonomy of the soft corals below the subclass level, like with all things coral-related, is complicated. Soft corals come in six orders, with over 40 families, but certain species remain unknown, as do stony corals. The following are some of the most important families:
What Is Coral Bleaching?
You’ve no doubt heard people talk about coral bleaching if you’re interested in corals. So, you may wonder what coral bleaching is.
Coral bleaching is a term that refers to a process in which coral gets stressed. Coral, like humans, gets stressed when its environment changes dramatically, but it doesn’t get stressed out by its math homework like we do.
A coral, for example, gets a bit apprehensive when its environment starts to get significantly hotter or colder than it usually is. Eventually, the coral will expel the bacteria that live on its surface in a process known as bleaching if these high temperatures continue for too long.
This might not seem like a big deal, but these microorganisms provide most coral species with vital nutrients through photosynthesis. So, when the coral expels these microorganisms, it has less access to sustenance that it needs to survive.
Because they lack food and algae living in their tissues, the bleaching process usually turns coral white. It does significantly raise the risk of death for coral while it is bleaching on its own.
The coral is at a much greater risk of mortality if the circumstances that caused the bleaching (e.g., warm water, high pollution, or unusually low tides) continue. As a consequence, large-scale bleaching episodes may entirely destroy sections of a coral reef.
Coral Fun Facts
Do you think of yourself as a true coral expert? There are a few coral facts you should be aware of:
1|Coral is the Medicine Cabinet of the Ocean
Most medicine is actually derived from natural compounds, despite popular belief that it is manufactured in a lab somewhere.
In reality, several coral species provide the basis for many medications.
How is it done? So, certain coral species produce unique chemicals that no other creature has. Corals have had to develop their own chemical defense systems to protect themselves from predators throughout the millennia.
As a result, we humans can often use these chemicals to create medication for a wide range of diseases. So, if you ever do have to take medication when you’re feeling ill, you likely have coral to thank.
2|25% of the World’s Marine Life Depends on Coral
While coral reefs aren’t home to the majority of marine species, they do house roughly a fourth of all marine life throughout some portion of its life cycle. Coral reefs, in fact, are the ideal environment for tiny creatures to develop before they are ready to go beyond the safety of the blue.
3|The Great Barrier Reef is Visible From Space
Astronauts can see the Great Barrier Reef from space, yes that’s right.
They can’t see the little corals on the reef, but satellites have captured some outstanding pictures of the Great Barrier Reef’s outline. The Envisat satellite, which utilized a spatial resolution of 980 ft (300 m) to produce the pictures we have today, took some of the greatest photos of the reef in 2004. If you ask us, that’s pretty cool!
To some of your most frequently asked questions about coral, here are our responses:
What Exactly Is Coral?
Corals, like plants, are sessile animals that root themselves in one spot. As a result, corals do not walk or swim across the seafloor, unlike other marine creatures like octopuses. Instead, they bind themselves to the seafloor in a permanent manner.
Why Is Coral So Important?
Because it plays such a crucial part in the diversity of the world’s oceans, coral is so important. Coral reefs, in particular, are some of the most species-rich places on the planet, with some reefs like the Great Barrier Reef boasting tens of thousands of species.
Coral reefs may also limit the impact of tsunamis and help shorelines withstand surges in water. Moreover, in many coastal areas, they are truly stunning locations that play a vital role in the tourism industry.
What Happens If We Lose Coral Reefs?
The ocean ecosystem includes coral reefs. We might see a range of severe impacts if they were to vanish entirely, including the demise of tourism in particular regions, damage to the worldwide fishing industry, and rising seas along coastal regions.
Can Corals Feel Pain?
We can’t say for sure that a coral can’t feel pain because we humans will never know what it’s like to be a coral. Corals, on the other hand, have a nerve net and no brain (hence the name). As a result, it seems unlikely that they can experience pain in the same way that we do.
Where Can You Find Coral Reefs?
Tropical seas are home to the majority of coral reefs. The Caribbean, Oceania, and Eastern Africa are all rich in coral reefs. Non-reef coral species, however, may be found throughout the globe, notably in the Mediterranean.