Elaborate coral formations often provide a background for undersea art scenes, but many kids don’t know that most corals are groups of thousands of tiny animals living together. In this project, your child will build a model of just one of the animals that composes a coral reef, called a coral polyp.
What You Need:
- Banana, not too mushy
- Jam or jelly, not too lumpy
- Red licorice strings, 1/8 inch thick
- 8 Round oyster type crackers
What You Do:
- Help your child cut a two inch piece from the banana. The best slices for this project come from the center, less curvy part of the banana.
- Stand the banana slice upright on the plate.
- Ask your child to use the straw to hollow out the center of the banana. Make sure he leaves a good sized rim around the hole. This sac like opening is where the coral’s food comes in, and waste comes out.
- Ask your child to spread the jam around outside of the banana slice.
- Have your child place the oyster crackers on top of the jam, all around the outside of the banana. The crackers represent the hard shell the coral polyp makes to protect itself. These shells build up over thousands of years and make up the world’s coral reefs, some of which, like the Great Barrier Reef, can be seen from outer space.
- Unwind the licorice, and cut seven or eight one inch pieces. These will represent the coral polyp’s tentacles.
- Have your child press the toothpick sideways around the hole at the top of the banana, making seven or eight “cradles” for the licorice pieces.
- Help your child place the licorice pieces around the opening. In a real coral polyp, the tentacles contain stinging cells called nematocysts that help the coral gather food and protect itself.
- Admire your creation, and eat it up!
One important component of a coral polyp that is not shown in this model is the plant cells that live in its body. The plant cells are protected by the coral, and the coral gets additional food made by plants. Because the plant cells need lots of light to photosynthesize, corals only grow in bright, clear water. You and your child might also like to research where coral reefs grow in the world, and how they can be protected.
Go deeper and check out the differences between plant and animal cells.