All species of soft coral have eight tentacles which provide defense, capture food and clean debris. Nematocysts, or stinging cells, in the tentacles release an often-fatal toxin to prey or threats.
  • Size

    3.9 inches (10 cm)
  • Diet

    Photosynthesizing water and CO2 into oxygen, carbohydrates and lipids
  • Range

    73.4 to 84.2 Fahrenheit (23-29 C)
  • Habitat

    No deeper than approximately 230 feet (70 m) for sunlight

Physical Characteristics

  • All species of soft coral have eight tentacles which provide defense, capture food and clean debris. They are part of the sub-class Octocorallia.
  • Nematocysts in tentacles release an often-fatal toxin into prey or threats.
  • Gorgonians have a protein-based skeleton composed of gorgonin or tightly clustered calcium carbonate spicules. Non-gorgonians have calcium carbonate spicules imbedded throughout their tissue
  • In some cases, polyps will specialize based on their physical position in the colony. For example, central polyps form a supporting structure.
  • Some soft corals do not have zooxanthellae in tissue. However, all species that we currently have represented at the Aquarium contain zooxanthellae.

Animal Fact

Corals are not adapted to the current, increased rate of ocean acidification and face long-term detrimental effects.

Diet / Feeding

  • Stomach has one opening – the mouth. It is surrounded by tentacles that capture food. Food enters mouth and leaves mouth once it has been digested.
  • Feeds predominantly at night.
  • Polyp receives nutrients by:
  • Filtering food from water with its tentacles, capturing food by using stinging nematocysts.
  • Mutualistic zooxanthellae (single-celled algae) receive water and carbon dioxide from the polyp, photosynthesizing the latter into oxygen, carbohydrates and lipids.

Range / Habitat

  • Tropical corals generally require temperatures ranging from 73.4ᵒ to 84.2ᵒ Fahrenheit (23-29ᵒ C).
  • No deeper than approximately 230 feet (70 m) for sunlight, which is required for photosynthesis to occur.
  • Clear water with little sedimentation to allow for feeding and sunlight penetration.
  • Appear in reefs, though are not usually involved in reef-building. (An exception: Heliopora is an octocoral and a reefbuilder that builds a massive skeleton.)

Conservation Status

  • Varies on a per-species basis, but coral reefs in general face threats from pollution, climate change and other factors.
  • While oceans are absorbing and bearing a large brunt and absorbing excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (as much as 30% of the total), the result is acidification at an accelerated rate.
  • Corals are not adapted to the current, increased rate of ocean acidification and face long-term detrimental effects.

Additional Information

  • There are also deep-water/cold-water corals:
  • There are stony and black/horny varieties in deep water ranging to 6561 feet (2000 m).
  • Waters as cold as 39ᵒ Fahrenheit (4ᵒ C).
  • No zooxanthellae.

Sources

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