Coral Reef NOAA
 
April 19, 2014  

How does coral reproduce?



There are four main ways corals can reproduce: two asexual and two sexual methods.

symmetrical brain coral releases round cream-colored egg packets during a broadcast spawning event
Symmetrical brain coral releasing eggs during a spawning event in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: Emma Hickerson, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Asexual

Some corals reproduce by budding, where new polyps bud off from parent polyps to expand or begin new colonies [a] that are genetically identical to the parent polyp.[b]

Other corals reproduce by fragmentation where a broken portion of a colony grows to establish a new colony that is genetically identical to the parent colony.

Sexual

About three-quarters of all stony coral species are broadcast spawners and produce male and/or female gametes that are released into the water column in massive numbers, enabling them to distribute their offspring over a broad geographic area.[c]

Brooding species release only male gametes which, if encountered, are then taken in by female coral polyps containing egg cells. Fertilization occurs inside the female coral and the resulting planula—coral larvae—is released through the mouth of the female polyp when it is developed enough to settle onto hard substrate.[d]


Some species can utilize more than one of the methods above. For example, staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) reproduces by broadcast spawning in the summer months and by budding throughout the year.

To learn more, visit our Coral Reproduction page.

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