A team of researchers from California University devised an underwater microscope that allows them to get a detailed view of reefs and wild corals. One of the videos made with the new device shows pairs of polyps fighting or kissing.
Tali Treibitz and Andrew Mullen from the Oceanography Scripps Institution in California built a powerful underwater microscope dubbed Benthic, or BUM, in order to better understand the anatomy and relations of the coral polyps.
Upon investigating different parts of the reef, the scientists discovered that the coral polyps (which measure approximately one centimeter in height) have various ways of interacting with each other.
The study that was published in the journal Nature this Tuesday describes that the minuscule animals display a behavior similar to that of anemones. This translates into continuous movements, dancing, kissing, even fighting with one another.
The researchers suspect that when the organisms “kiss” they actually exchange nutrients by pressing their oral cavities together. The species feed on algae, microbes, and bacteria that land within their reach.
The team set the microscope in a Red Sea reef and recorded all of the movements of the polyps during the night. The next day they found that the small species tend to lean on each other a lot. This is a completely new perspective that was offered by the BUM.
“Normally when you study a coral reef it can be difficult to observe the corals as active animals because the individual polyps are so small, and they typically move slowly. With the underwater microscope, we can look at very small spatial scales and record activity over several hours.”
The microscope is equipped with a membrane that mimics the human eye. The membrane is surrounded by a fluid similar in consistency with the vitreous. When pressure is applied to it, the shape of the membrane controls the focus’ depth.
Because they didn’t want to disturb the routine of the small animals, the lens was placed at a distance of roughly 6 centimeters from the polyps.
The BUM is capable of capturing high-resolution videos from objects measuring 10 micrometers, a tenth of the average width of human hair. Previously used underwater microscopes were only fit to record at a resolution of 20 to 50 micrometers.
The underwater microscope built by the researchers from California University can function to a maximum depth of 100 feet. The team hopes that the device will also shed some light on the recent massive bleaching phenomenon that took place on the Australian coastline.
Image source: Flickr