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A staghorn coral is a very ancient coral that is responsible for building the extensive reef system throughout many oceans of the world, particularly the Floridan and the Caribbean reefs. The staghorn coral species like the elkhorn corals grow in the shape of the antlers of a deer. These stony corals have highly branched tentacles with their sizes ranging from a few inches to multiple feet and with the base strongly anchored to the ocean floor for life. They are capable of multiplying in large numbers both sexually as well as by asexual methods of reproduction. The endangered staghorn coral colonies have been acting as critical habitat to numerous fish species for ages and their present decline is, in turn, diminishing the habitat of marine fish. Staghorn coral gardening has been carried out in places where staghorn coral reefs were present in abundance once like in the Caribbean and in Florida. Coral gardening is a new form of recovery technique adapted to increase the range of the coral reefs by planting coral that has been raised in a nursery. Fisheries are constantly being educated for stopping overexploitation of the coral species that hamper their growth.
A staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, is a type of coral.
The staghorn corals of the Scleractinia order and Acroporidae family belong to the class Anthozoa, the class for all invertebrates, stony corals, and soft corals.
The staghorn corals' population under the ocean is highly threatened and the species is critically endangered. Assessment reports have concluded that around 97% of the staghorn coral reefs have been destroyed with few chances of recovery throughout its range in Florida and the Caribbean. The staghorn corals are highly susceptible to different coral disease which causes wear and tear of the branches. Regular bleaching and erosion have also affected the branches of the coral reef negatively. However, recovery alternatives have been sought to produce new colonies of the threatened and endangered species of staghorn corals. The staghorn corals now fall under the protected species of marine environments.
The staghorn corals are distributed throughout the oceans of the world. The staghorn corals are found under the ocean at shallow depths generally along with elkhorn coral. Their range is divided into two broad divisions, the Atlantic group, and the Indo-Pacific group. The Atlantic range of the staghorn coral reef extends throughout the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Florida and extends into Central America through the southwest Gulf of Mexico. The staghorn reef-building extends to Palm Beach County of Florida in the north. The Indo-Pacific habitat stretches from the west coast of Central America extending further south to the east African coasts and the Red Sea. Traces of staghorn coral growth has also been noticed in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The ideal habitat for a staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) to grow is warm ocean water close to the surface. To form corals, polyps require warm water in tropical regions where sunlight is abundant. The polyps also require hard bottom surfaces and well-oxygenated clear water to aggregate. The staghorn corals inhabit a tropical reef, grooves, limestone ridges, and bank slope and reef. It occurs at places where wave exposure is less. The colonies of staghorn corals are found in a maximum depth of 197 ft (60 m) and are commonly observed between 3-82 ft (1-25 m). Apart from their natural places of occurrence, the threatened corals along with the elkhorn coral have been designated four critical habitat regions off the coast of Florida.
Although corals look like plants or rocks, they have actually aggregated animals formed by numerous microscopic animals called polyps that form large structures measuring several feet. They stay together in dense groups forming hard structures that appear as rocks projecting tentacles like branches. These groups of corals are called thickets and the thickets shelter a large number of fish and other sea animals.
The staghorn corals mature at an age between three and five years. The generation length of these corals is assumed to be 10 years. The actual lifespan of these corals has not been determined. They have lived under the water surface for hundreds of years by multiplying in large numbers constantly. The polyps that form the staghorn corals are believed to live for more than 100 years.
Reproduction in corals takes place by both sexual and asexual methods. However, the majority of their reproduction processes are performed by asexual means. The building blocks of the corals, the polyps multiply sexually by releasing millions of spermatozoa into the water. These gametes reach other polyps which are then fertilized into eggs. This method of broadcast spawning for producing and fertilizing the eggs in the water column takes place between August to September. The larvae float away as soon as the eggs hatch and settle on suitable surfaces. After settling on the ocean floor, the larvae cement themselves into a permanent spot for life and gradually transform into mature polyps by growing small tentacles. From there they expand the structure of the corals by means of asexual reproduction.
The species of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) have become extremely rare as compared to their previous distribution. The coral has been registered as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List. Although the population trend of these Acropora species is stable, they are found in very little amount in their range. They are facing severe threats of pollution and are highly susceptible to bleaching. All these factors together greatly hinder the growth of staghorn corals. At present, staghorn coral structures are protected on a national scale by a large number of well-known organizations like the NOAA Fisheries to restore these corals in the Caribbean and Florida.
The staghorn corals look like underwater plants but in reality, they are animals. The staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) generally occurs in large colonies. They have meshed branches like the elkhorn coral which looks like antlers. The thickness of a single branch ranges between 1-3 in (2.54-7.62 cm). They have stinging cells called nematocysts on their tentacles which help the corals to obtain food. The colonies of staghorn coral show a wide range of coloration. They get their colors from the algae residing within the coral tissues. The staghorn coral's colors vary from golden tan to dark gray or pale brown. Some staghorn corals show excellent vibrant colors like purple, pink, and blue. The tentacles end in white tips.
The corals are marine invertebrates. They look like plants so judging their cuteness does not stand to reason. However, they are one of the most beautiful creatures of the sea.
Communication in corals takes place in the form of chemical signaling. They give off scents to attract fish toward them.
The staghorn corals can grow up to a height of 4 ft (122 cm). They are smaller in size than the elkhorn corals.
The staghorn corals do not move. They settle in a single position for their entire life. However, a broken branch piece from mature corals called a bud travels with the flowing water and settles in a position from where another reef might rise.
The weight of corals has not been quantified. Their weight depends on the structure of the reefs.
The corals do not have any male or female species. They are all called staghorn corals.
The larval stage of a polyp is called a planula.
The staghorn corals feed by two methods, they either prey on aquatic animals or get their nutrition by absorbing the nutrients created by algae. The tentacles have particular cells which help them to eat. The staghorn coral has a symbiotic relationship with a particular single-celled species of algae known as the zooxanthellae. The algae produce nutrients for the corals by converting sunlight into energy and in turn, get to live safely within the tissues of the coral. Apart from that, the most common prey of a staghorn coral is zooplankton. Sometimes they have been observed to capture small fish too. The species of butterflyfish are sometimes found to eat staghorn corals.
The polyps that form a coral reef are not poisonous. However, the tentacles of a staghorn coral are barbed and venomous. The poison helps the coral to capture their prey in the ocean. They eat through their pores present on the tentacles once the food gets struck by the poison.
Live corals have been kept in aquariums. Otherwise old and dead corals are also available on the market and are kept as showpieces in many households. For keeping the coral alive, they must be kept in aquariums with salty water. Keeping pet corals in aquariums increases the beauty of the aquarium as they look very beautiful.
The staghorn species were formerly found in abundance throughout its Indo-Pacific and Atlantic range. However, 97% of their population has been lost. Global warming and climate change have greatly affected the underwater coral population. The main threats that hinder their multiplying rate are coral disease and bleaching caused by climate change and pollution ad well as the overfishing of many fisheries. Some locally infused threats like fishing and tourism are also diminishing their population. Measures are been taken by many welfare organizations for the recovery of their population but the highly sensitive staghorn corals take a longer time than normal to recover.
New colonies of staghorn corals are formed by the multiplication of broken branches and these broken branch pieces, after settling into the substrate, give rise to another colony and so on. This process of reef-building continues from a single polyp that grows into large structures of several feet. Physical disturbances such as winds and waves help in the distribution of the staghorn coral population.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these brain coral facts and fire coral facts for kids.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable staghorn coral coloring pages.
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