Bizarre and Beautiful Coral Reef Animals
From parrotfish that cover themselves in a blanket of their own mucus to tiny pygmy sea horses, there are some bizarre sea creatures that live in coral reefs. In this slideshow you can explore some of the oddest and most amazing ones there are to see. Take a look at corals that can burn, and learn what fish mark a healthy reef.
Reef Fish, French Frigate Shoals
Colorful fishes throng a reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
This lionfish, with fins and venomous spines extended, is an aggressive predator.
Parrotfish in Mucus Cocoon
A parrotfish creates a mucus cocoon to protect it from parasites while sleeping.
Clownfish in their Host Anemone
Two bright orange anemonefish poke their heads between anemone tentacles.
Flickr user Jenny Huang (JennyHuang)/EOL
The feathery strands at the back of this nudibranch’s body are its gills.
Green Sea Turtle in the Canary Islands, Spain
Equipment Used to Capture the Shot: Nikon D200; 10-17mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 lens; 1/250 sec at ƒ/19; Seacam Seaflash strobes.
Pedro Carrillo/Nature’s Best Photography
Crown of Thorns Starfish
A crown-of-thorns starfish eats live coral tissue on a reef in the Marianas Islands.
David Burdick/NOAA Photo Library
Hawaii’s Maro Coral Reef
A bluefin trevally swims in Hawaii’s Maro Coral Reef, part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
©James D. Watt/Ocean Stock
Eye to Eye With a Pygmy Seahorse
The tiny pygmy seahorse blends into its habitat.
The mandarinfish lives in western Pacific tropical coral reef ecosystems and lacks the scales that are typically seen on bony fish.
Coral Head Near Pearl and Hermes Atoll
A rainbow of tropical fish hovers over a coral head near the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, part of the Papahānaumokuākea World Heritage Site.
Surgeonfish: Indicators of a Healthy Reef
Convict surgeonfish are the roaming sheep of the reef but, instead of noshing on grass, they feed on algae.
Yellow-mouth Moray Eel in the Red Sea (Eilat, Israel)
“This moray eel was resting among some hard coral and was mesmerized by my dive lights, making it a very cooperative subject. The moray eel rhythmically opens and closes its mouth to move water through its gills and facilitate respiration, giving it the appearance of being aggressive and making for a dramatic portrait.” -- Nature's Best photographer, Steven Kovacs
Steven Kovacs, Moore Haven, Florida, USA, www.underwaterbliss.com
A School of Hawaiian Squirrelfish
Hawaiian squirrelfish (Sargocentron xantherythrum) are almost entirely nocturnal, so they need big eyes to absorb as much moonlight and starlight as they can in the dark.
James Watt, USFWS Pacific
Australia's 1.2 Million Mile Marine Reserve
One-third of Australia's territorial waters is protected as a marine preserve, includes an underwater canyon as large as the U.S. Grand Canyon, seagrass meadows, and the biodiverse reefs of the Coral Sea, including the one shown here.
Tony Brown, Flickr
Can You Spot the Seahorse?
It's a pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), found in Indonesia's biodiverse Coral Triangle and one of the smallest seahorse species in the world! They can change colors like a chameleon to blend into their environment. This helps to protect them from predators and ambush their prey.
Sam Taylor / Guylian Seahorses of the World 2005, courtesy of Project Seahorse
Fireworm Takes on Fire Coral
Fireworm taking on Fire Coral. It can also break off in human skin, also causing a burning sensation.
Allen G. Collins/NOAA
Butterflyfish and Wrasse
A wrought iron butterflyfish, Chaetodon daedalma, being cleaned by a small wrasse in the waters of Japan's Ogasawara Islands.
© Brian Skerry, www.brianskerry.com
Toothy Goby in Coral
The toothy goby or common ghost goby (Pleurosicya mossambica) has a commensal relationship with soft corals and sponges in the Indo-Pacific ocean.
Mark Rosenstein, Flickr
Caribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean reef sharks swim over a coral reef in the Bahamas.
© Brian Skerry, www.brianskerry.com
White Xenia Crab from Indonesia
“Lembeh Strait is a fantastic place to find species that have evolved to resemble other animals or plants to survive. Because of the lens I was using, I had to get really close to this crab. As I moved in, it retreated into the xenia coral polyps. When I backed up, it came back out. The skittish crab, in addition to having the wrong lens for the task, made this a challenging shot.” -- Nature's Best Photographer, Marli Wakeling
Marli Wakeling/Nature's Best Photography