What is coral?

Coral - the hard, dry corals seen in stores and museums are made up of the combined skeletons of tiny creatures which once lived together as a colony in the sea. The coral animal, or polyp, measures only about a fifteenth of an inch in diameter. It is a primitive type of plant like creature closely related to the sea anemone. But, unlike the sea anemone, the polyp has a stony skeleton and, once it has made its home, cannot move. Each polyp is like a tiny tube, closed at one end and with a mouth, fringed with tentacles, at the other. The tentacles have a sting and capture minute sea creatures for food. Most polyps multiply by budding. A small bud grows from the animal's body and finally becomes as big as the parent with a mouth and tentacles of its own. Gradually the corals build up into colonies of many millions. Coral animals inhabit shallow water in warm seas. In tropical waters colonies form reefs round islands which can be dangerous to ships. Eventually new islands are formed by the accumulated skeletons of billions of dead polyps. But the romantic coral islands are reefs of the South Seas do not supply the precious materials used for beads and brooches. These are made from the red and pink coral found in the Mediterranean off the coasts of Africa and Italy.

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