Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coral Eats Jellyfish?

Scientists found a coral (Fungia scruposa) calmly chowing down on a moon jellyfish during a survey of Red Sea reefs near Eliat, Israel. This may seem like just another predator gets prey incident; but, this is the first time such an event has ever been documented or even observed.

It's dinner time: A mushroom coral polyp sucks in the jellyfish. The white bar shows a distance of 2cm. Photo courtesy: MailOnline

These pictures were taken on a dive by Omri Bronstein from Tel Aviv University and Gal Dishon from Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan.

“During the survey we were amazed to notice some mushroom corals actively feeding on the moon jellyfish,” said Ada Alamaru, a member of the research team. 'We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw it.'

The coral, which is approximately 10” in diameter, is not attached to the sea floor or anywhere else; but, still has a very range of motion. It’s a bit of a mystery right now as to how the coral manages to capture the jellyfish.

“This is the first documentation of a coral feeding on a jellyfish almost equal to its size,” Ms Alamaru told the BBC. “In fact we saw a few corals feeding and not only one.”

The large-mouth mushroom coral are solitary organisms and do not combine with other coral to form a reef. Their diet usually consists of plankton which are microscopic organisms only a fraction of an inch in size. The jellyfish the coral were observed eating are approximately 5” in diameter making them half the size of the coral.

At a time when climate changes are causing blooms of jellyfish, eating them gives the coral valuable extra protein and an advantage over other types of coral.

“The ability to utilize a variety of food sources and to take advantage of such a bloom event gives the mushroom corals an advantage compared with other small polyped corals that are not able to feed on such large prey items,” Ms Alamaru told the BBC.

The findings were published in Coral Reefs, the journal of the International Society for Reef Studies.

Jellyfish blooms, top, in the Red Sea and, bottom, the jellyfish disappearing inside the coral. Photo courtesy: MailOnline.

Via MailOnline

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