American Oceans

What Does Coral Eat?

If you’ve ever snorkeled or scuba dived near a coral reef, you’ve probably wondered what these fascinating creatures eat.

yellowish-brown elkhorn coral in caribbean sea

Corals are animals that form colonies and build calcium carbonate skeletons, which eventually become the beautiful reefs we see in shallow waters.

But how do they get the energy and nourishment to grow and thrive?

Most corals get their food from a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae called zooxanthellae. These algae live within the coral polyps and use sunlight to make sugar for energy through photosynthesis.

In return, the algae receive a safe home and access to the nutrients and carbon dioxide they need to survive.

Some coral species also capture and digest prey, such as zooplankton, using their stinging tentacles.


The Basics of Coral Feeding

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and are home to a wide range of marine organisms.

a tropical coral reef

Coral polyps, the tiny animals that build coral reefs, obtain their nourishment from a variety of sources.

What Do Coral Eat?

Coral polyps are carnivorous and feed on tiny floating animals called zooplankton. They also consume bacterioplankton and detritus, which are tiny particles of decaying organic matter. Some species of coral also feed on larger prey, such as small fish and invertebrates.

How Do Coral Feed?

Coral polyps have stinging tentacles that surround their single body opening, which acts as both a mouth and anus.

When prey comes in contact with these tentacles, they release stinging cells that immobilize the prey. The tentacles then retract, bringing the prey into the polyp’s mouth for digestion.

Corals can also feed on food particles with mesenterial filaments, extensions of the stomach wall.

In this process, the filaments extend out of the polyp’s mouth and capture food particles, which are then digested inside the polyp.

The Role of Zooxanthellae in Coral Feeding

Many species of coral have a symbiotic relationship with algae called zooxanthellae. These algae live within the coral polyps and use sunlight to make sugar for energy through photosynthesis.

staghorn types of coral reefs in pacific ocean

This energy is transferred to the polyp, providing much-needed nourishment. In turn, coral polyps provide the algae with carbon dioxide and a protective home.

Zooxanthellae also play a critical role in providing coral with essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

They also help coral build their calcium carbonate skeletons, which form the basis of coral reefs.

However, when coral reefs experience environmental stress, such as pollution or rising water temperatures, the zooxanthellae can be expelled from the coral polyps, causing the coral to turn white in a process called bleaching.

This can lead to the death of the coral and the collapse of the entire reef ecosystem.

In conclusion, coral feeding is a complex process that involves a variety of food sources and mechanisms.

Understanding the basics of coral feeding is crucial for protecting and preserving these vital marine ecosystems.


Coral Feeding Techniques

Coral polyps feed on a variety of food sources. They can passively feed on dissolved organic matter and nutrients, actively capture prey, filter feed, or use symbiotic relationships to obtain food.

Fish in Great Barrier Reef

Understanding these feeding techniques is crucial for maintaining a healthy coral reef ecosystem.

Passive Feeding

Passive feeding is the process by which coral polyps absorb dissolved organic matter and nutrients from the surrounding water.

This process is essential for coral survival, as it provides the polyps with the necessary nutrients to grow and reproduce.

Passive feeding is most common in shallow, nutrient-rich waters.

Active Feeding

Active feeding is the process by which coral polyps capture prey using their tentacles. Coral polyps extend their tentacles to capture small organisms, such as plankton and small fish, that pass by.

Once the prey is captured, the polyps pull it into their mouths and digest it.

Active feeding is most common in deeper waters where the availability of dissolved organic matter is limited.

Filter Feeding

Filter feeding is the process by which coral polyps capture small organisms, such as plankton and small fish, using specialized structures called cilia.

The cilia create a water current that draws in food particles, which are then trapped in mucus and transported to the polyp’s mouth.

Filter feeding is most common in nutrient-poor waters.

Carnivorous Feeding

Carnivorous feeding is the process by which coral polyps capture and consume larger prey, such as crustaceans and small fish.

This type of feeding requires the use of specialized structures, such as stinging cells and tentacles, to capture and immobilize prey. Carnivorous feeding is most common in nutrient-poor waters.

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