For the first time, a predatory coral has been captured by the camera while eating a jellyfish almost equal to its size. The event occurred in March 2009 during a dive among the Red Sea reefs located near Eilat in Israel, and the photos has now been published in the journal Coral Reefs.

Israeli researchers Omri Bronstein from Tel Aviv University and Gal Dishon from Bar-Ilan University were conducting a survey on reefs when they spotted a mushroom coral sucking in a moon jellyfish.

During the survey we were amazed to notice some mushroom corals actively feeding on the moon jellyfish,” says Ada Alamaru, a member of the research team who is doing her PhD in marine biology supervised by Prof Yossi Loya at Tel Aviv University. “We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it.”

Corals are predatory animals but most of them feed on tiny plankton, and corals living close to the surface can also obtain energy by forming symbiotic relationships with photosynthesising algae. While it may be possible for plankton eating corals to ingest miniscule embryonic jellyfish, this is the first time anyone has photographed a coral feasting on adult jelly.

This is definitely unusual. As far as I know no other coral are reported to feed on jellyfish. However, some sea anemones, which are close relatives of corals, are documented feeding on other jelly species,” Alamaru explains.

The coral in question was a mushroom coral belonging to the species Fungia scruposa while the unfortunate jellyfish was an Aurelia aurita – a type of moon jellyfish. Exactly how the coral managed to capture the jellyfish remains a mystery. The area was subjected to a seasonal bloom of jellyfish brought on by nutrient rich ocean currents.