Marine biologists have reported seeing injured juvenile starfish and have suggested that it may be been caused by predators.
“However, seeing it caused by coral came as a complete surprise,” said Ms Deaker.
“This shows that the coral use stinging cells as protection to strike back in an attempt to give itself a fighting chance against attacking coral predators.”
In the study, Ms Deaker and Professor Byrne, along with colleagues at the national Marine Science Centre, Coffs Harbour, monitored the condition, growth and survival of 37 juvenile crown of thorns in isolation away from potential predators and reared them on a diet of coral prey for over 3 months.
They found coral stings caused injuries that severely reduced the arm length of the starfish by up to 83 percent.