Many people are surprised to learn that the beautiful coral structures that make up a tropical reef contain millions of microscopic animals. Corals are not only living organisms, some species actually employ rather unique strategies to reproduce.
The reproduction method of elkhorn coral has been of particular interest to scientists over the last few decades, as they race to save this critically endangered species. Elkhorn is a species of coral that develops thick, antler-like branches, iconic to the look of many Caribbean coral reefs. They grow relatively quickly (for coral), with branches increasing in length by up to 4 inches every year.
Elkhorn coral can reproduce sexually and asexually. Each colony of corals includes both male and female structures, all of which are simultaneously hermaphroditic. Sexual reproduction for these colonies only occurs once a year, in late summer during a full moon.
Seahorses flip the script when it comes to mating and pregnancy. For these animals, it is the male’s responsibility to fertilize and carry the young after successfully capturing the attention of a female.
To ensure that their potential mate is properly bonded to them before engaging in breeding, male and female seahorses will come together repeatedly for "dances." During these brief interludes, both parties can properly assess the other’s reproductive status.
If they’re both satisfied, the female will transfer her eggs, which can range in number from a couple hundred to well over a thousand, to the male’s brood pouch. The male will then fertilize the eggs with sperm and carry the eggs to term, which takes approximately three weeks.
During this time, the female stays close by. After the male gives birth to their live, independent offspring, the female will often immediately transfer more eggs to the male and the process begins again.
Miss part one of this series? Read it here.