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Different Types of Coral - Names and Species

 
By Ana Diaz Maqueda, Biologist specialized in ethology. Updated: January 30, 2024
Different Types of Coral - Names and Species

The different types of coral represent one of the most diverse animal species in terms of morphology and behavior. One of the areas most associated with this animal is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This incredible ecosystem functions the way it does in a large part due to the diverse specie of coral. A large part of the ocean's fish requires coral reefs to feed, showing just how important they are. While some may confuse coral as a type of plant, they are invertebrate animals which can be of varying different types and characteristics.

At AnimalWised, we find out about the different types of coral. We look at their names and species, as well as providing the different characteristics which make them special. We do so by looking at some of the most important taxonomic groups, as well as individual species.

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What is coral?

Corals belong to the phylum Cnidaria. Although they may seem like very different animals, this is the same phylum which contains animals like jellyfish and sea anemones. All coral species are classified in the Anthozoa class, although there are some within the Hydrozoa class which are very similar. This is due to a genus of Hydrozoa known as Millepora which are known as fire corals. Despite this name, they are not true corals.

There are many types of marine corals with around 6,000 known species. We can find types of hard corals, which are those that have a calcareous exoskeleton. Others have a horny, but flexible skeleton. Others still do not form a skeleton itself, but have spicules immersed in the dermal tissue which protect them. Many corals live in symbiosis with zooxanthellae (symbiotic photosynthetic algae) that provide most of their food.

Some of these animals live in large colonies and others are solitary. They have tentacles around their mouths that allow them to catch food that floats in the water. They have a cavity with a tissue called gastrodermis which acts as a stomach. This can be septated (i.e. they are divided by a septum) or they have nematocysts (stinging cells, like those of jellyfish). They have a pharynx that communicates with the stomach.

Many species of corals form reefs. These present symbiosis with zooxanthellae and are known as hermatypic corals. Non-reef-forming corals are of the ahermatypic type. This is the classification that we will use to know the different types of corals. Corals can reproduce asexually through various mechanisms, but they also perform sexual reproduction in the case of some coral species.

Unfortunately, many of the different species of coral are threatened by issues such as climate change. Many coral species are now considered endangered Great Barrier Reef animals.

Hermatypic corals and examples

Hermatypic corals are the types of hard coral. They have a stony exoskeleton formed by calcium carbonate. This type of coral is dangerously threatened by what is called ‘coral bleaching’. The color of these corals comes from their symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae.

These microalgae are the main source of energy for coral. They, are being threatened by rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change , excessive sunlight and certain diseases. When the zooxanthellae die, the corals bleach and die, for this reason hundreds of coral reefs have disappeared.

Some examples of hard corals are:

Genus Acropora:

  • Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis)
  • Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata)
  • Fused staghorn coral (Acropora prolifera)

Genus Agaricia or flat corals:

  • Scroll coral (Agaricia undata)
  • Fragile saucer coral (Agaricia fragilis)
  • Thin leaf lettuce coral (Agaricia tenuifolia)

Brain coral (various genera):

  • Knobby brain coral (Diploria Clivosa)
  • Boulder brain coral (Colpophyllia natans)
  • Grooved brain coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis)

Fire corals (various genera)

Although they are not true corals, we have include fire corals on our list of the different types of coral as they bear close similarities:

  • Sea ginger (Millepora alcicornis)
  • Rose lace coral (Stylaster roseus)
  • Box fire coral (Millepora squarrosa)

You can see photos of some of these emblematic species below.

Different Types of Coral - Names and Species - Hermatypic corals and examples

Ahermatypic corals and examples

The main characteristic of ahermatypic corals is that they do not have a calcareous skeleton and they do not grow on reefs. This means they are a non-reef-building species. Despite this, they can establish a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae. Although they do not form coral reefs, they can be colonial by living in groups.

Also known as gorgonians, corals from the order Alcyonacea have a soft skeleton. It is formed by a protein substance that they secrete themselves which are very important in this group. In addition, within its fleshy tissue are spicules which act as support and protection.

Some species of gorgonians are:

  • Sea whip (ellisella elongata)
  • Bamboo coral (Acanella sp.)
  • Iridigorgia sp.

In the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean we can find another type of soft coral from the Octocorallia subclass. It is known as the dead man's fingers coral (Alcyonium palmatum). It is a small soft coral that sits on rocks. Other soft corals, such as those of the genus Capnella, have a tree-like conformation, branching off from a main stem.

We also have photos of soft corals shown below.

Different Types of Coral - Names and Species - Ahermatypic corals and examples

If you want to read similar articles to Different Types of Coral - Names and Species, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

Bibliography
  • Brown, B.E. (1997). Coral bleaching: causes and consequences. Coral reefs, 16(1), S129-S138.

  • James, T., & Hector Reyes, B. (2001). Taxonomy and distribution of hermatypic corals (Scleractinia) from the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico. Journal of Tropical Biology, 49(3-4), 803-848.

  • Reyes-Bonilla, H., González-Romero, S., Cruz-Piñón, G., & Calderón-Aguilera, LE (2007). Stony corals. Bahía de los Ángeles: natural resources and community. Baseline, 291-318.

  • Reyes Bonilla, H., & Cruz Piñón, G. (2000). Biogeography of ahermatypic corals (Scleractinia) from the Pacific of Mexico. Marine Sciences, 26(3).

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