In spite of these ancient customs, the real nature of coral stayed mysterious
for a long time and several fierce debates opposed supporters of coral
being animal, vegetal or even mineral. It was not before the XVIIIth century,
with work done by a young doctor, Jean-André Peyssonnel in Marseilles
that the animal nature of coral was recognised. He wrote to the Director
of the Science Academy, the famous scientist René-Antoine Perchault
de Réaumur : " I noticed that what we believe to be the flower
of this so-called plant is in reality an insect like a small nettle ..
I was pleased to see the feet of this nettle move and, having warmed the
water where the coral was, all the insects opened up" " (McConnel,
1990 ; Weinberg, 1993).
However, Réaumur, influenced by current beliefs, did not believe
Peyssonnel's observations and criticised them. But the work of the Dutchman
Abraham Trembly on green hydra, which had just demonstrated the animal
nature of what was to be a near relative of coral, influenced Réaumur,
and in the preface of his "Memories to help the history of Insects"
(1742), in which he describes Trembley's for the first time, Réamur
honours his work; "the care taken by Mr. Peyssonnel with his observations
should have convinced me earlier that the flowers of the Count of MARSIGLI
were really animals".
Coral finally became an animal.