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Corals are marine invertebrates in the class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria.They typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps.

Each polyp is a sac-like animal typically only a few millimeters in diameter and a few centimeters in length.

A set of tentacles surround a central mouth opening. Over many generations, the colony thus creates a large skeleton characteristic of the species.

Individual heads grow by asexual reproduction of polyps.

Corals also breed sexually by spawning: polyps of the same species release gametes simultaneously over a period of one to several nights around a full moon.

Although some corals can catch small fish and plankton using stinging cells on their tentacles, most corals obtain the majority of their energy and nutrients from photosynthetic unicellular dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium that live within their tissues. Such corals require sunlight and grow in clear, shallow water, typically at depths less than 60 metres (200 ft).

Corals are major contributors to the physical structure of the coral reefs that develop in tropical and subtropical waters, such as the enormous Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia.Other corals do not rely on zooxanthellae and can live in much deeper water, with the cold-water genus Lophelia surviving as deep as 3,300 metres (10,800 ft).Aristotle's pupil Theophrastus described the red coral, korallion in his book on stones, implying it was a mineral; but he described it as a deep-sea plant in his Enquiries on Plants, where he also mentions large stony plants that reveal bright flowers when under water in the Gulf of Heroes.Petrus Gyllius copied Pliny, introducing the term zoophyta for this third group in his 1535 book On the French and Latin Names of the Fishes of the Marseilles Region; it is popularly but wrongly supposed that Aristotle created the term.Nevertheless, people believed corals to be plants until the eighteenth century, when William Herschel used a microscope to establish that coral had the characteristic thin cell membranes of an animal.The phylogeny of Anthozoans is not clearly understood and a number of different models have been proposed.Within the Hexacorallia, the sea anemones, coral anemones and stony corals may constitute a monophyletic grouping united by their six-fold symmetry and cnidocyte trait.The Octocorallia appears to be monophyletic, and primitive members of this group may have been stolonate.The Hexacorallia include the stony corals, the sea anemones and the zoanthids.These groups have polyps that generally have 6-fold symmetry.The Octocorallia include blue coral, soft corals, sea pens, and gorgonians (sea fans and sea whips).

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