How does coral eat?

Coral utilizes the organic byproducts of photosynthesis and/or captures prey.

Zooxanthellae within a polyp of Porites astreoides. Photo Credit: National Coral Reef Institute;

Tropical Coral Species

Tropical shallow coral reef species—those you might typically picture when you think of a coral reef—get as much as 90 percent of their energy from the organic byproducts of photosynthesis thanks to a symbiotic relationship with algae. [a] Most tropical shallow coral species also capture and consume live prey using their tentacles. This type of feeding usually occurs at night. [b]

Deep-sea Corals

Because they live at depths which make light penetration—and thus photosynthesis—impossible, deep-sea corals capture plankton and organic matter for much their energy needs.

To learn more, visit our Coral Feeding Habits and Deep-sea Corals pages.


  • NOAA Coral Reef Information System–Coral Reef Biology
  • Barnes, R.D. 1987. Invertebrate Zoology; Fifth Edition. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. pp. 92-96, 127-134, 149-162.