From the Caribbean Sea to the Indian and Pacific Ocean, a great number of coral reef animals populate the reef atols and barrier reefs. Knowing more about them is of a great help in understanding their way of life and their contribution to the creation of this unique, amazing ecosystem. Let us review some of the creatures living in the coral reef waters:
• Crustaceans – Besides the well-known shrimps, crabs and lobsters, this group also includes lesser known varieties, like copepods, amphipodes and stomatopodes. Crustaceans have many common points with insects, the structure of the skeleton and the presence of numerous pairs of “feet” being the most important. Besides moving, the appendages also help these coral reef animals locate the source of food and find their direction. Read more interesting facts about coral reef animals at thesea.org.
• Mollusks – Having the bottom of the sea as dwelling place, these coral reef creatures belong to several categories. Cephalopodes, represented by octopuses and squids, are considered the most advanced on the evolution scale. Bivalves feature a more or less symmetric shell composed, as the name suggests, of two valves. Gastropods feed mainly on marine vegetation, snails being the most representative variety.
• Echinoderms – Protected by a hard skeleton, sea creatures in this category have a lot of unique features. The symmetry of their body and the skin covered with hard spines are two points all members of the echinodermae family share. Sea urchins and starfish, or sea stars, are representative for the category.
• Sponges – Among the most primitive coral reef animals, they come in an incredible variety. They take their food by filtering the water surrounding them and retaining the microscopic particles of algae, but also other nutrients. The dimensions of sponges vary from tiny to very large and, regardless of the variety, they come in 2 basic shapes: tube and vase. Encrusted sponges can also be seen frequently.
• Polychaetes – This generic name describes a group of worms with the body covered in bristles. Despite this defensive weapon, they are often preyed on by large coral reef fish varieties. The polychaete worms are of two types: moving and sedentary.
The main difference between them and the invertebrates is the presence of the backbone as part of the skeleton. Dugongs, sea turtles, manatees and sea snakes are the vertebrate animals populating coral reefs.
• Dugongs are giant, harmless sea creatures, sharing many characteristics with elephants. Like terrestrial mammals, these marine creatures have grass as a main source of food. Frequently met around coral reefs some centuries ago, dugongs are now close to extinction.
• Populating both the waters of the Indian Ocean and those of the Caribbean Sea, the green sea turtle, the hawksbill turtle and the flatback turtle feed mainly on seaweeds. While some of them are permanent residents of the coral reefs, other come here only as visitors.
• Last, but not least, sea snakes are also representative for the fauna sheltered by coral reefs. About 60 different species of these coral reef animals are known, most of them having the Indo-Pacific area as home.