Animal of the Month
September 2022

Name: Fire Coral

Class: Cnidaria
Order: Hydrozoa
Suborder: Capitata
Family: Milleporidae

Genus: Millepora

Number of Species: 15

Branch-like structure, hard skeleton.

Weight: N/A
Size: 78.7-118.1 inches.
Color(s): Yellowish-green or brown.
Preferred Habitat: Tropical and subtropical seas.
Range: Reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas.
Lifespan: N/A

Status: Least Concern, others Endangered or Critically Endangered

Some people really don't like it when others invade their personal space. Some people may ask politely for you to stay back. Some may be rude and use harsh words. But fire coral will straight out zap you with venom! Common in coral reefs across the world including the Caribbean and Mediterranean, fire coral makes up a critical part of the oceanic ecosystem.

They don't look like animals, but fire corals are actually colonies of teeny creatures called polyps! Despite their name and calcium-encrusted bodies, fire corals aren't technically a type of coral; they are made of hydrozoans. True corals on the other hand are made of other creatures. They spend their days catching plankton and other small creatures with special little hairs that sting prey. They also have a special symbiotic relationship with algae. The fire coral gives algae protection and sunlight, and the algae uses photosynthesis to make food for both lifeforms. In a way, the algae is paying rent by making food!

When swimming in the ocean, you should take care to avoid touching fire corals. Their bodies are lined with special venomous cells called nematocysts. The venom they make won't kill you, but wow is it uncomfortable! On contact, many people report an intense burning sensation, reddened skin, hives, and fever. These unpleasant effects can last for days, or even weeks! Though their venomous bite is harsh, fire corals are fragile and can easily be broken, so for your safety and the coral's, keep a good distance!

Fire corals reproduce by releasing special jelly-like creatures called medusae. The medusae release eggs and sperm into the water, which makes more polyps. The baby polyps drift in the ocean until they find a safe place to anchor, like a rock bed. Once landed, they'll into pretty branch-like structures and start the process over. Fire corals are important for many species of fish and other creatures, as they provide shelter from predators.

Of the fifteen species of fire corals, many of them are classed as Least Concern. Some however are marked as Endangered, or even Critically Endangered. This is due to a variety of factors, including rising ocean temperatures and acidity due to global warming. Some styles of fishing can damage fire corals. Sometimes fisherman will smash fire corals to flush out hiding fish. Overfishing also removes reef fish that eat algae, which can cause some algae species to overgrow and smother fire corals. It's certainly not easy to be living on a reef these days.

Fortunately, many passionate people are fighting to protect fire corals and other creatures like them. Fire corals are listed in Appendix II of CITES, which limits the trade of these animals. The Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative has worked for over fifty years to protect coral reefs through education, research, and animal rehabilitation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also has an array of projects dedicated to understanding and protecting corals. This is just a few of the many operations that are underway to protect fire corals and their many neighbors!

To learn more about how to protect coral reefs, follow the links below!

Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative-A veteran organization working hard to preserve coral reefs!

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program-Check out what NOAA is doing for the corals!

Coral Reef Alliance-Their mission is simple: to save the world's coral reefs!

You can help protect coral reefs by…
1. Cutting your carbon footprint. Drive less, use less electricity, and use energy-efficient technology!
2. Protecting clean water. Rivers eventually run into the ocean. Cleaner water means healthier reefs!
3. Demand your representatives to take action. Politely write to them and tell them why coral reefs are important to you, and the world!


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