12 Gorgeous Animals of the Coral Reef

Diverse and beautiful

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Coral reefs host the widest variety of living creatures in the ocean, providing fish with food, homes and protection. Shallow tropical seas boast animals of every size and color. Here are 10 beautiful animals that make their homes in this intricate ecological system.

Bartlett's anthias

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Many fish find solace in the coral reef. The bartlett's anthias travels in groups, finding shelter in the branches of coral. All of these fish start out as female, and some turn into males — but only the most colorful male leads the pack.


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Butterflyfish have a unique courtship ritual, swimming in circles up close to the surface of the ocean to release eggs and sperm into the water. When the eggs hatch, the young find shelter in the reefs.


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Also known as anemonefish, these colorful fish live in sea anemones in a symbiotic relationship. The stinging anemones protect them, while their waste is food for the anemone.


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With its flare of long, venemous fins, the lionfish is an impressive (and beautiful!) predator. Although native to the Indo-Pacific, the lionfish has flourished since its introduction to the East Coast of the United States, making it an invasive species.

Yellow tang

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In shallow tropical seas, the yellow tang benefits from sunlight. Though dull at night, as soon as the sunlight seeps through, the yellow tang brightens in color.

Harlequin shrimp

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Harlequin shrimp might look tiny, but they are fierce predators of starfish. Working in pairs, they can even take down the intimidating crown-of-thorns starfish.


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Also known as the Mandarin dragonet, this multicolored fish is so named because of its resemblance to a traditional Imperial Chinese robe. They tend to feed near the bottom of reefs, so they can be quite elusive.

Banded pipefish

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Banded pipefish switch roles when it comes to parenting: the male gives birth after transferring the females eggs into his pouch. Their long, thin bodies allow them to hide within the reeds and reefs.

Moon jellyfish

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Moon jellyfish, though translucent, look majestic as they capture the light around them. They are a valuable part of the food chain in coral seas, eating shrimp, fish eggs and larvae and in turn becoming food for leatherback and other sea turtles. Unfortunately, marine animals often mistake plastic bags for moon jellies.

Harlequin tuskfish

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Bright and colorful on the outside, the harlequin tusk has sharp, blue teeth that enable it to easily eat crustaceans, yet it leaves the coral alone.

Moorish idol

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The Moorish idol is so named from the Moors of Africa, who were said to believe that the fish brought happiness. They mate for life. (And yes, this fish was the inspiration for Gill in "Finding Nemo.")

Palette surgeonfish

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Speaking of "Finding Nemo," another gorgeous fish from the coral reef is the palette surgeonfish, better known as "Dory" — who will be getting her very own movie! These fish, also known as blue tang, rely on the coral reef to feel safe when they are alarmed.