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WATCH: Underwater Microscope Films Tiny Corals Kiss, Fight, Dance on Seafloor

Jul 13, 2016 05:34 AM EDT
Coral polyps
A team of researchers has invented a powerful underwater microscope that gives a first close-up look at how corals kiss, fight and behave against algae and climate change in their natural environment.
(Photo : NOAA Photo Library/Wikimedia Commons)

The Benthic Underwater Microsope (BUM), a new diver-operated underwater microscope and computer interface, gives a first look at how organisms behave in their natural environment.

This device is capable of observing extremely small microorganisms even at 10 micrometers--two to five times powerful than previous underwater microscopes, Washington Post reports.

Along with other organisms, the BUM showed fascinating shots of tiny corals kissing, fighting and dancing on the seafloor.

Developed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Jaffe Laboratory for Underwater Imaging at the University of California San Diego, the researchers used BUM to observe how coral polyps in the Red Sea feed, compete with other corals and respond to algae colonization.

The study published in the journal Nature noted that coral polyps, unlike coral reefs, are soft-bodied animals that have tiny mouths and tentacles. Using the BUM, scientists were surprised to see the corals "kissing" each other.

Andrew Mullen, co-lead author of the study, said they are unsure why coral polyps are kissing, but guesses that it may be a way of exchanging nutrients.

Coral polyps from Leptastrea purpurea, Honolulu, HI
(Photo : Narrissa Spies/Wikimedia Commons) Coral polyps from Leptastrea purpurea, Honolulu, HI

But the corals' life is not only filled with smooches: The BUM discovered that they have fights, too.

The BUM showed that coral polyps could determine "friend from foe." When placed with another coral species in close proximity, the coral polyps send out filaments from their guts to attack the other species.

"We think they might use some kind of chemical sensing to be able to recognize that their neighbor is of the same species," Mullen said.

Observing the reefs in Maui, which have been greatly affected by coral bleaching due to climate change, scientists said the massive bleaching have resulted to the reef's vulnerability to algae colonization. The BUM showed that the harmful algae have a tendency to invade in between coral polyps.

Study co-lead author Tali Treibitz told Live Science that this new device could prove useful in observing and analyzing marine ecosystems to see how they work.

To see the strange but amazing video of the coral polyps, check out the video below:

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