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The Resurrection Coral, AKA Zombie Coral

By Leonard Ho - Posted Dec 09, 2013 10:00 AM
Kathryn Furby of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography is studying a mysterious coral that appears capable of coming back from the dead. There's a chance this a coral (or its relative) has resurrected in some of our reef tanks.
The Resurrection Coral, AKA Zombie Coral

The "zombie coral" Porites superfusa

Marine biologist Kate Furby is on Palmyra Atoll (near Hawaii) investigating recovery mechanisms for damaged and bleached corals.  Of particular interest is Porites superfusa, a SPS with seemingly supernatural resiliency.  Her research team has observed this coral remarkably spring back to life, emerging through the algae and sponges covering its tissue-less skeleton many months after "death."  She hopes that Porites superfusa and corals like it can teach us how corals might cope with catastrophies.

Here is an entertaining interview with Kate Furby by PHD Comics and shared by the National Science Foundation:

Zombies in our reef tanks?


I've observed this phenomenon over the years, and I suspect many reefkeepers have seen mysterious corals appear out of their live rock too.  Perhaps more interestingly, it's always been one of two genera of SPS in my experience: Porites and Leptastrea.  After months of apparent lifelessness (algae has overgrown the once-white skeletons), new polyps will emerge and reestablish a colony.

Perhaps the secret to these corals' amazing resiliency is their skeletal structure consisting of corallites with elaborate columella providing cryptic coral cells a safe place to "hide" (like a coral apocalypse bunker) until conditions for life are favorable again.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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