Coral: An Explanation Without Using the Word Polyp

It’s hard to describe what coral is without using the word  polyp , and it’s right about the time I start using the word  polyp  that I see people’s eyes glaze over.  Polyp . What is this, 10th grade Biology? I’m getting sleepy. Wait. (snap fingers) Come back. I won’t use the word  polyp .

An individual coral is a very tiny animal just a few millimeters in diameter. You said millimeters. Sorry, 1 millimeter is equal to 0.0393700787 inches. That’s math. Stop, I’m getting sleepy, again. Ok. He’s really small. Picture a very small sea anenome. A what? A sea anenome is that wavy tentacle thingy that Nemo lives in.

As our little coral friend grows, he creates a skeleton cup around himself by secreting limestone. Secreting? He builds himself a house, without a roof and he lives inside it for protection. The name “hard coral” comes from the protective “house” that our friend creates for himself, not from the texture of the his body which is soft.

So our little friend stays in his cup “house” and when he gets hungry he sticks his wavy tentacles outside of the “house” and catches particles such as plankton or maybe really small fish. He does this using the stinging cells he has on his tentacles. Because our friend is more of a homebody and isn’t much on travelling, he likes to build his “house” where there is a steady current passing by so the food will be brought to him.

Coral animals like our friend live side by side in colonies. When you look at a hard coral formation, you are looking at a colony of corals or lots of nearly identical limestone “houses.” Side by side, these “houses” form textures and patterns. The pattern’s characteristics are determined by the coral’s species. Some types of coral colonies look only slightly different from each other, while other types, like star coral and brain coral, are unmistakably different.

The colony shape is also influenced by its environment (sunlight, temperature and water movement.) Generally, branching coral, which is coral loosley resembling trees, is found in calmer waters while smooth, covering coral is found in more turbulent waters.

The term coral is usually used in a general sense. So, when someone makes a comment about coral, they are usually referring to an entire colony and not a single animal. Although, it also applies if we were just looking at our little friend and none of his neighbors.

So that’s what coral is. Thank you for staying awake. Thank you for not saying  polyp . You are welcome.  Polyp .