Coral Polyps

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What is a coral polyp?

Corals

Polyps are tiny animals. Hard tree corals exist in a variety of colors. The sea anemone is a soft coral.

A polyp is an animal. Most polyps are tiny and live in clusters called ‘colonies.’ Polyps may have hard or soft skeletons. Of the 2,400 living species of corals worldwide, two-thirds of the known coral species have soft skeletons, while one-third of the species have hard skeletons. The type of polyp determines the size and shape of the colony. Some colonies look like “trees” while another colony may look like a brain!

Soft Tree Corals      Brain Coral
Soft Coral Polyps

Polyps have tentacles that extend at night in order to feed. Polyps also have a mouth, throat and stomach.

Most soft coral polyps only have eight legs (except sea anemones) whereas other polyps have twelve, eighteen or even twenty-four legs. Colonies of soft corals include: soft tree corals, sea pens, sea whips, sea fans, and sea anemones.

Sea Whip Coral     Sea Fan Coral

Hard Coral Polyps

Hard coral polyps have tentacles, a mouth, throat, and stomach, but unlike soft polyps, the hard polyps also have a base made of limestone.


When polyps with hard skeletons die, their tiny bones create a rock called ‘limestone.’ Coral reefs are made of limestone or the crushed bones of many, many millions of hard polyps! Reef-building corals include: Mushroom Coral, Staghorn Coral, Brain Coral, Bubble Coral, Chalice or Lettace Coral, and Tree or Tube Coral.

Some polyps live alone. The Mushroom Coral is a large, single polyp.

Mushroom Coral     Bubble Coral

Click on a question or link below to learn more about corals:

What is a coral polyp?

How do polyps eat?

How are corals named?

Why are corals important to sea horses?

Do coral polyps have eyes?

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