types of coral

24 Types of Coral: Description, Distribution, and Fun Facts

Corals are among the most beautiful and oldest marine animals. Their color range from yellow to bright red. They can live up to millions of years. Chazy Reef, for instance, is the oldest known coral reef. Its fossils are 480 million years old. The Great Barrier Reef, which is relatively young, is currently 500,000 years old.

In this article, you will learn about the various types of coral. You'll discover their unique forms and structures and their diverse colors.

Related Read: To learn more about corals, check out our list of Coral Facts and learn more about reasons to protect our coral reels in our article on why coral reefs are dying.

24 Types of Coral

1. Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis)

staghorn coral
Photo by Nhobgood on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Did you know that Staghorn Coral is one of the fastest-growing corals in the world? This incredible coral species can grow up to 20 centimeters (8 inches) annually.

Staghorn Coral thrives in the Caribbean and tropical waters with its antler-like branches. They are one of the reef-building corals and prefer shallow waters.

Unfortunately, this coral is critically endangered due to coral bleaching, rising ocean temperatures, disease, climate change, ocean acidification, and human activities.

2. Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata)

elkhorn coral
Photo by James St. John on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Did you know that Elkhorn Coral, also known as Acropora palmata, is one of the fastest-growing corals in the world? It can grow up to 5 centimeters (2 inches) annually, making it a true sprinter in the coral kingdom!

Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata) is a striking species in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. Its antler-like branches reach up to two meters long. Furthermore, it prefers shallow waters, with intense wave action and plentiful sunlight. Their colonies form our coral reefs, serving as a nursery ground and habitat for many marine animals.

3. Grooved Brain Coral (Faviidae)

grooved brain coral
Photo by John Cahil Rom on Pexels

Fun Fact: Did you know that brain coral gets its name from its unique appearance? The ridges and grooves on its surface resemble the folds of a human brain!

Nicknamed for the human brain, Brain Corals (from the Faviidae family) belong to the hard corals group responsible for constructing reefs. They thrive in the Caribbean Sea to

Australia's Great Barrier Reef, in depths between 1 to 20 meters. Open Brain Corals thrive not on reefs but on lagoons. They are also resilient and can live for as long as 900 years.

4. Star Coral (Montastraea annularis)

star coral
Photo by Louiswray on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Star Corals are known for their distinctive star-shaped appearance, with ridges radiating out from the center.

Its color can vary from brown to yellow-brown, depending on the number of tiny algae called zooxanthellae in its tissues. Star Coral forms massive boulder-like structures and sometimes extending into extensive plates. As they create dome-shaped colonies, they house various marine creatures. Though it grows slowly at 0.3-0.4 inches annually, these colonies can endure for centuries.

5. Finger Coral (Porites nigrescens)

finger coral
Photo by James St. John on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Finger Coral (Porites) is a fascinating, diverse group of hard corals known for its finger-like branches.

The Finger Coral stands tall like an underwater forest with slender, pointed formations resembling tree branches. It comes in warm light brown to dark grey colors and thrives in the sunny Indo-Pacific waters.

This coral has a beneficial partnership with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. Their tentacles are equipped with stinging cells called nematocysts. They used these stinging cells to capture their prey.

6. Pillar Coral (Dendrogyra cylinders)

pillar coral
Photo by James St. John on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Pillar Coral is a unique and visually striking species of stony coral known for its distinct cylindrical or pillar-shaped colonies. Scientists classify it as a hard coral belonging to the family Meandrinidae.

The structure of Pillar Coral can reach up to two meters high and thrive in the warm waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean, specifically the Caribbean Sea and the Bahamas. Their hard skeleton allows the coral to maintain its distinctive pillar shape and contributes to forming fringing reefs.

Pillar Coral is a slow-growing species, and it can take many years for the colonies to reach their full size and shape. Furthermore, they are broadcast spawners.

7. Lettuce Coral (Agaricia acaricides)

Fun Fact: The lettuce coral earns its name due to its distinct appearance, which resembles the texture of lettuce leaves with its ruffled and wavy surface.

Lettuce coral forms a calcium carbonate skeleton2, characteristic of all hard corals. They are found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Its colonies mirror the ruffled leaves of lettuce, with a palette that dances between pale yellow and brownish hues.

Preferring the shallows, Lettuce Coral settles in zones where strong currents prevail, typically at depths of 3 to 20 meters.

8. Mushroom Coral (Fungia)

mushroom coral
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Mushroom coral is named after its mushroom-like appearance. It lacks a rigid skeleton, making it flexible and adaptable to its surroundings.

This solitary coral species (which means that they form colonies), reminiscent of a mushroom or a disc, flourish in the tropical shallows of the Indo-Pacific region. Unlike most hard corals, mushroom coral lacks a rigid calcium carbonate skeleton4. Instead, it has a fleshy and pliable structure.

Furthermore, they can roll to a new location by inflating their tissues with water, like a tiny balloon. This slow but steady movement is their secret survival strategy, allowing them to vacate unfavorable conditions or resource-scarce areas.

9. Table Coral (Acropora latistella)

table coral
Photo by Ratha Grimes on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Table Coral is a hard coral with a flat, table-like shape. It forms extensive coral colonies in warm tropical waters, providing a habitat for marine life.

Their tabletop-like formations are strategic to get maximum sunlight. The flat surface comprises numerous branches radiating outward from the central stalk3. They are pale to dark brown, often punctuated with striking blue or purple tips.

Table Coral is known for its relatively fast growth rate compared to other coral species. Some types of Acropora can grow several centimeters per year, contributing significantly to the building and shaping of coral reef ecosystems.

10. Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinuosa)

bubble coral
Photo by RevolverOcelot on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Bubble Coral is also called Grape Coral and Pearl Coral. They are named after their bubbly and grape-like appearance.

Bubble Coral is commonly found in warm tropical waters, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. It prefers sheltered reef environments and can attach to rocks or other substrates.

What makes Bubble Coral even more fascinating is its relatively large polyp size compared to other coral species. Although they appear squishy and soft, they are stony corals. Just like most coral species, they form reefs.

11. Fire Coral (Millepora)

fire coral
Photo by Rob on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Did you know that fire coral is not a true coral despite its name? It belongs to a different group of organisms called hydrozoans. These fascinating creatures are often mistaken for coral due to their similar appearance and habitat.

They live in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and flourish in hues from sunny yellow-green to earthy brown. Despite its name, Fire Corals are not genuine corals but rather a hydrozoan, a close relative of jellyfish and sea anemones. Though beautiful to look at, caution is crucial when encountering fire coral. These hydrozoans can sting.

12. Soft Coral (Alcyonacea)

Fun Fact: Soft corals with rigid and stony skeletons have a flexible and fleshy structure, unlike hard corals.

Soft corals are a captivating and diverse group of marine organisms that belong to the class Anthozoa, specifically the subclass Octocorallia. They come in various vibrant hues, ranging from stunning red, orange, and pink shades to more subtle yellow, green, and brown tones. Some species even exhibit bioluminescence, emitting a captivating glow in the ocean's dark depths.

13. Black Coral (Antipatharia)

Fun Fact: Did you know that black coral is not black? Despite its name, black coral can come in various colors, including white, yellow, red, and even purple. The term "black coral" refers to the dark, ebony-like skeleton that forms the core of the coral, while the living tissue covering it can display vibrant hues.

Black Corals are deep-sea corals, flourishing in depths exceeding 30 meters where light seldom treads. They can thrive in warm and cold waters. They are even one of the oldest marine animals, with some species living for over 4,000 years! Standing tall, they can reach a staggering six meters, their branches weaving intricate patterns like trees or whips.

14. Blue Coral (Heliopora coerulea)

Fun Fact: Blue Coral (Heliopora coerulea) is a striking coral known for its vibrant blue coloration. It is the only extant member of its family, Helioporidae. It is considered a "living fossil" as it has existed for millions of years with little change in its basic structure.

Blue Coral is famous for its stunning blue skeleton, thanks to the pigment biliverdin. The living tissue of the coral allows this mesmerizing blue glow to shine through. As the sole species in the Heliopora genus and a member of the Helioporidae family, this coral plays a vital role in the coral reef ecosystem by rebuilding, shaping the sea floor, and supporting diverse ocean life.

The beauty of Blue Coral illuminates the waters of the Indo-Pacific region, thriving in clear waters from Japan and the Philippines to the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea1. It prefers shallow waters but can also be found at depths of up to 40 meters.

The colonies of Blue Coral come in various shapes, some resembling flat plates and others appearing as short, round columns. Their rugged nature makes them remarkably resilient, despite growing slowly at just 1 cm per year.

15. Organ Pipe Coral (Tubipora musica)

organ pipe coral
Photo by Chaloklum Diving on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Did you know the Organ Pipe Coral is not a true coral? Despite its name, this fascinating creature is a soft coral type belonging to the family Tubiporidae. Its distinctive red color and tube-like structures give it the appearance of a musical instrument, hence its scientific name, "Tubipora musica."

These species are found in the Indo-Pacific region and thrive in shallow lagoons and reef flats with enough sunlight and gentle water movement.

The Organ Pipe Coral leads a fascinating life, partly due to its symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. These algae reside within the coral's tissues, converting sunlight into essential nutrients through photosynthesis, sustaining the coral. In return, the coral provides the algae with a safe habitat and necessary compounds for photosynthesis.

16. Ivory Bush Coral (Oculina varicosa)

Fun Fact: Ivory Bush Coral belongs to the family Oculinidae and is known for its ivory or white-colored appearance, which sets it apart from other corals.

The Ivory Bush Coral is found in the tranquil depths of the Atlantic Ocean. It graces the submarine terrains along the Western Atlantic, from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike its reef-building relatives, this coral prefers to live alone. Its branches are robust and resemble a winter-bare tree.

Besides its captivating appearance, the Ivory Bush Coral is a skilled hunter in the deep sea. Devoid of sunlight, it relies on its tentacle-laden arms to capture passing plankton. Unlike most corals, the Ivory Bush Coral doesn't require a partner. Each polyp is hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. When it's time to procreate, they release eggs and sperm into the water, performing synchronized spawning.

17. Lace Coral (Stylasteridae)

lace coral
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Lace Coral is a captivating and delicate species of coral known for its intricate and lace-like appearance. It belongs to the family Pocilloporidae and is scientifically classified as a stony, hard coral type.

Although adorned with its delicate and lacy appearance, Lace Coral has a sturdy calcareous skeleton. The Ivory Bush Coral inhabits the submarine terrains along the Western Atlantic, from North Carolina's shores to the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike its reef-building counterparts, this coral prefers to thrive in solitary environments instead of vibrant and crowded communities.

They are capable of both sexual and asexual reproduction. As they scatter eggs and sperm into the water, they allow new coral polyps to proliferate.

18. Tube Coral (Tubastraea)

Fun Fact: As the name suggests, tube corals have a distinct tubular or cylindrical structure, which sets them apart from other coral types. Their polyps are housed inside these protective tubes made of calcium carbonate.

Tube Corals belong to the family Dendrophylliidae and are hard corals, forming calcium carbonate skeletons like other stony corals. However, unlike many other hard corals that contribute to the construction of coral reefs, tube corals do not actively build reefs. Instead, they form small colonies or solitary structures, often attaching to rigid substrates like rocks or dead corals.

The vibrant color of tube corals add to the beauty and diversity of coral reef environments. They can exhibit a range of hues, such as shades of orange, red, yellow, brown, and white, creating a mesmerizing underwater spectacle.

19. Flower Coral (Eusmilia fastigiata)

Fun Fact: Flower Coral has a unique star-shaped polyp arrangement that resembles a flower. They are also called Pineapple Coral as they resemble the shape of a pineapple, with branches extending upward like the spiky leaves of the fruit.

Flower Coral, known to scientists as Eusmilia fastigiate, calls the western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico its home. Fond of shallow and sunlit waters, you'll typically find this large polyp stony coral hanging from 3 to 30 meters below the surface. You might spot some at 60 meters.

What sets them apart? The elongated, tube-like structures, or corallites, can grow up to a whopping 10 cm in height, giving these corals a fuzzy, out-of-focus appearance. They come in various shades, including stunning pink, orange, red, yellow, and green hues.

As hard corals, flower corals have a calcareous skeleton made of calcium carbonate, providing them with a rigid structure. This skeleton supports and protects the delicate polyps and the overall colony.

Like many other hard corals, flower corals form a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. These algae live within the coral's tissues and engage in photosynthesis, producing nutrients that benefit the coral.

20. Sun Coral (Tubastraea faulkneri)

sun coral
Photo by Hectonichus on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Did you know the Sun Coral is not a true coral? It belongs to a group of "non-reef building corals." It attaches itself to rocks or other hard surfaces, resembling a beautiful flower garden underwater.

Sun corals, scientifically known as Tubastraea spp., are a mesmerizing and vibrant addition to tropical waters. Their vivid colors, ranging from stunning oranges to fiery reds and yellows, make them stand out underwater. But what truly sets them apart is their unconventional feeding behavior.

Unlike most corals that rely on photosynthesis, sun corals have a clever hunting strategy. Under cover of darkness, their polyps transform into skilled hunters, extending numerous tiny tentacles to form a net-like structure.

However, like many other marine species, sun corals face threats from human activities. Habitat destruction and the impacts of climate change pose significant challenges to their survival. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these captivating marine organisms and preserve the delicate balance of coral reefs.

21. Large Polyp Stony Corals (LPS Corals)

Fun Fact: Large Polyp Stony Corals (LPS Corals) are hard corals with bigger polyps than others. They come in various shapes and colors and have a calcium carbonate skeleton. LPS Corals form beautiful structures in coral reefs and host colorful algae within their tissues.

LPS Corals are a diverse group of hard corals with the common feature of having larger polyps than other corals, such as Small Polyp Stony Corals (SPS Corals) and Soft Corals. Polyps are the individual organisms that make up a coral colony. LPS Corals have a distinctive and noticeable size, often ranging from a few millimeters to a few centimeters in diameter.

One of the defining features of LPS Corals is their robust and calcareous exoskeleton, made of calcium carbonate. This skeleton provides support and structure to the coral colony, helping it to grow and form various shapes.

Some species can create large boulder-like structures, while others may have intricate and branching shapes resembling trees or even the hammer-like appearance of "Hammer Corals."

22. Carnation Coral (Dendronephthya sp.)

Fun Fact: Carnation coral, scientifically known as Dendronephthya, is a delicate and beautiful soft coral found in warm tropical waters. Its feathery plumes, resembling flowers, come in vibrant colors such as red, pink, orange, and purple.

A unique aspect of carnation corals is their striking coloration. They come in a mesmerizing array of hues, including shades of pink, orange, red, yellow, purple, and white. Additionally, carnation corals have a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae.

Despite their beauty and significance in marine ecosystems, carnation corals are sensitive and delicate creatures. They can be vulnerable to changes in water quality and environmental conditions, making them susceptible to stressors like temperature fluctuations, pollution, and physical disturbances.

23. Boulder Star Coral (Orbicella annularis)

boulder star coral
Photo by James St. John on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Fact: Boulder Star Coral is a hard coral species in the family Faviidae. As the name suggests, this coral species forms massive colonies with a boulder-like appearance, creating essential structures in coral reef ecosystems.

Boulder Star Corals are a remarkable species of hard coral found in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and parts of the western Atlantic Ocean. As one of the primary reef-building corals, they also play a crucial role in forming and maintaining coral reefs.

Boulder Star Corals are characterized by their massive, boulder-like appearance, with large rounded colonies that can grow several meters in diameter. Their colonies feature numerous polyps that extend their tentacles to capture plankton and other small food particles from the water.

One of the most striking features of Boulder Star Corals is their coloration, ranging from vibrant shades of brown, green, and yellow to more subdued tones. The water quality, light intensity, and the presence of zooxanthellae influence this color diversity.

These corals are remarkably resilient, able to recover from various disturbances, including storms and coral bleaching events. When faced with environmental stressors, they can undergo physiological adjustments or expel excess zooxanthellae to increase their chances of survival.

24. Venus Sea Fan Coral (Gorgonia flabellum)

venus sea fan coral
Photo by James St. John on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

Fun Facts: Did you know that the Venus Sea Fan Coral is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty (Venus), reflecting its graceful appearance? Its colonies comprise a complex network of interconnected branches resembling a delicate fan.

Venus Sea Fan Coral is an enchanting and intricate soft coral species found in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and parts of the western Atlantic Ocean. As a member of the Gorgoniidae family, these sea fans are known for their stunning fan-shaped colonies. The Venus Sea Fan exhibits a diverse range of colors, from vibrant shades of pink, purple, orange, and red to softer hues of yellow and white.

As a soft coral species, Gorgonia flabellum lacks stony corals' hard, calcareous skeleton. Instead, it has a flexible and fleshy structure supported by a gorgonin protein. This physical makeup allows it to sway gracefully with water currents, enhancing its visual appeal and making it a captivating sight in underwater ecosystems.

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1

Zann, L. P., & Bolton, L. (1985). The distribution, abundance and ecology of the blue coral Heliopora coerulea (Pallas) in the Pacific. Coral Reefs, 4(2), 125–134.

2

García-Hernández, J. E., Van Moorsel, G., & Hoeksema, B. W. (2016). Lettuce corals overgrowing tube sponges at St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean. Marine Biodiversity, 47(1), 55–56.

3

Stimson, J. (1985). The effect of shading by the table coral Acropora hyacinthus on understory corals. Ecology, 66(1), 40–53.

4

Hoeksema, B., Van der Meij, S., & Fransen, C. (2012). The mushroom coral as a habitat. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 92(4), 647-663.

Chinny Verana is a degree-qualified marine biologist and researcher passionate about nature and conservation. Her expertise allows her to deeply understand the intricate relationships between marine life and their habitats.

Her unwavering love for the environment fuels her mission to create valuable content for TRVST, ensuring that readers are enlightened about the importance of biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation efforts.

Fact Checked By:
Mike Gomez, BA.

Photo by Oleksandr Sushko on Unsplash
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