Thursday, February 5, 2015

14 Days of Genitals, Day 5: Orgies on the Coral Reefs

You know how you're not supposed to drink ocean water? Trust us... you really don't want to.

Not confetti, just semen

Coral reefs are enormous colonies of tiny animals that, once they reach adulthood, can no longer move. This makes meeting a potential mate somewhat difficult. To avoid being stuck with only their nearest neighbors as reproductive options, Corals have a couple of sexual work-arounds. The first is to reproduce asexually. You know mitosis? It's kind of like that, but on an organismal level.

The ultimate form of masturbation: budding

Asexual reproduction is great, but it does mean that there's no new genetic information in the mix. This can leave a population weak to disease as cloning yields the same general level of disease resistance. So corals like to reproduce sexually as well... which can be difficult cuz of that whole "we can't move" business.

coral releasing sperm
Milk in my cocoa puffs, milky milky cocoa puffs

There's comfort in numbers so coral spawning becomes a mass synchronized event, like the Olympics for immobile, sexually-active invertebrates. So in this giant sperm-release party the coral frees their eggs and sperm to the watery world and they mix together in an underwater nebula of love/pure laziness. The timing of this coral orgy is extremely important since they can't move (I don't know how many times we're gonna make this exceedingly obvious statement) and the colonies may be separated by wide distances. Most scientists agree that environmental cues likely trigger the spawning events. Amy and Meaghan agree that the whole thing sounds icky. 

Works Cited

Barnes, R. S. K., & Hughes, R. N. (2009). An introduction to marine ecology. John Wiley & Sons.

Sumich JL. 1996. An Introduction to the Biology of Marine Life, sixth edition. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown 255-269.

Veron, J. E. N., Devantier, L. M., Turak, E., Green, A. L., Kininmonth, S., Stafford-Smith, M., & Peterson, N. (2009). Delineating the coral triangle.Galaxea, Journal of Coral Reef Studies11(2), 91-100.


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