October 19, 2007
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even lowly corals do it — but infrequently, forgoing sex for as long as a year.
Then, at night, just after the full moon, under warm tropic breezes, the corals dissolve in an orgy of reproduction, sowing waters with trillions of eggs and sperm that swirl and dance and merge to form new life. The frenzy can leave pink flotsam.
Scientists discovered the mysterious rite of procreation in 1981 and ever since have puzzled over its details. The moon clearly rules the synchronized mass spawning, which happens during different months in different parts of the globe, but usually in the summer. But how do corals monitor the moon’s phases and know when to start mingling?