Answer to the Friday Whatsit for October 15, 2010
Congratulations to my Aunt Linda and neighbor Gina for correctly guessing coral. And then both incorrectly guessing starfish. I guess great minds really do think alike! This is a bit of coral magnified approximately 2x normal size with the macro microscope.
This coral is dead, I bought it in a shop somewhere long ago, and it has been sitting in a display cabinet in the bathroom. Why is it the seascape stuff always ends up in the bathroom?
Anyway, if this coral were alive in seawater and we were able to take a picture of it, we would see that what we are looking at is not really a chunk of rock, it is actually thousands of tiny little animals, called polyps, that live inside limestone exoskeletons stuck together with a very tough organic glue. Coral are related to sea anemones and jellyfish, and like those animals, coral use their tentacles to capture their tiny prey. The color of the coral comes from zooxanthellae, tiny one-celled algae, that live in a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the polyps.
Coral reefs provide homes for a dazzling array of sea life. Reefs are among the most important, and most endangered, habitats in the ocean. Although 2/3 of our planet is covered with water, we still don’t understand much about the ocean as an ecosystem. Learning about and preserving coral reefs, such as the incredible Great Barrier Reef, leads to protection for the rest of the ocean ecosystem. Not bad for a tiny little sea creature living in a chunk of rock.