Soft coral is able to take on many shapes, In fact, it is known as a flower animal because of the shapes and colors it can assume.
Coral is the basic building block from which many tropical islands are made. But the coral itself begins life as a polyp a tiny mass of cells that are ejected from the parent body and swept along by ocean currents. Eventually it will reach a permanent sire where it can lay anchor. Stony coral will form a skeleton soon after the larva is attached to a firm base. It will secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard, stony skeleton.
Stony coral is the most common sort but there is another type of coral soft coral. Soft coral is able to take on many shapes, In fact, it is known as a flower animal because of the shapes and colors it can assume. Like stony coral, soft coral begins its life as a tiny larva secreted by its parent. Unlike its stony cousin, however, it does not secrete large amounts of calcium. This means that the soft coral is far more flexible and able to grow at a much faster rate. The polyp of the soft coral has small side branches which give it a featherlike appearance.
There are many examples of soft coral that imitate land plants. One such is the tree coral. This coral has a large, rubbery body that resembles a tree trunk and limbs. The tree coral is supported only by small, needle like calcite spicules and hydraulic pressure within the fleshy tissue of its body. The form is given to the shape of tree corals body by the taking in of seawater. Tree coral are normally under three feet tall and prefer to reside in lagoons and calm oceans. They are worth searching out as their inflated tree like bodies and their white, yellow, pink and gold branches.
Another delightful form of soft coral is the daisy coral. As its name suggests, this coral has a striking resemblance to the daisy flower. The different varieties of daisy coral are distinguished by the number of petals or tentacles that surround the polyp. The daisy coral is not as colorful as the tree coral but its long stems and shape make it well worth observing. A diver coming across a growth of daisy coral is given the impression that he is swimming through a field of daisies.
A third type of soft coral is the sea fan. Technically the fan coral is actually designated as horny coral. It has polyps embedded in a soft layer of tissue that surrounds an internal, wood like stalk. This stalk contains gorgonin, a protein that resembles keratin, which is used by humans for fingernail growth. The fan coral has a thick, strong trunk and branches that become flexible as they reach outward. This allows the branches to wave gently in the waters. It also brings in the small organisms upon which the coral feeds. The sea fan ranges in color from brown, gold and orange to purple and brilliant red. An incredible effect is produced when the delicate looking polyps come out to feed and completely cover the branches with their graceful, featherlike tentacles.
The blue fire coral is actually brown when it is living. It is not really soft, but rather has a calcerous skeleton. The amazing thing about the blue fire coral is that, when it dies, it leaves behind a blue skeleton, the result of the formation of iron salts. The blue fire coral lives in very shallow water. At low tide it frequently becomes exposed.
The purple sponge is only found in the Caribbean. It forms flat crusts, knobs and upright branches that spread out to feature a splendid purple display.
So next time you think of coral, dont just consider that which is functional or serves as a building block for tropical islands. Think too of the special beauty of the coral which imitates the flowers that delight us on land coral that is soft.