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Colonial associations: what they are, types and examples

Within ecosystems, living beings establish a whole set of relationships or associations to grow, feed and reproduce. These associations can occur both between organisms of the same species, called intraspecific relationships, and between organisms of different species, known as interspecific interactions or relationships, and all of them can be both beneficial and harmful. Some examples are predation, competition, territoriality and family relationships, among others.

From AgroCorrn we propose this article where we focus on a specific example, the colonies or colonial associations. If you are interested in discovering this type of relationship, keep reading and learn what colonial associations are, their types and examples with photos .

  1. What are colonial associations
  2. Types of colonial associations
  3. Examples of colonial associations
  4. Advantages of colonial relations

What are colonial associations

Colonial associations are a type of intraspecific relationship and refer to those collaborative groupings formed by individuals derived from sexual reproduction originating from a common parent and who persist physically united among themselves .

This type of association is characteristic of places where there is a favorable abiotic factor for them, either due to light or temperature conditions. In fact, the formation of colonies is an adaptive response and very varied shapes can be created (encrusting, monticular, branched or globose, among others), as well as presenting a multitude of colors and sizes.

Here you can learn more about what are intraspecific relationships and examples .

Types of colonial associations

There are two types of colonial associations , according to the morphological and functional characteristics of the participating organisms:

  • Homomorphic colonial associations: occurs when the organisms participating in the association are equal. In this type of association, each component performs the proper functions of life.
  • Heteromorphic colonial associations: occurs when the organizations that make up the association are different and a division of labor is established: food, defense, cleaning, fixation and reproduction, among others.

Examples of colonial associations

In nature there are numerous cases of colonial relations. Here are several examples of colonies :


Typically, bacteria form colonies made up of single-celled organisms from the division of a stem cell, giving rise to numerous identical clones among them. In this link you will see the different types of bacteria .

Portuguese carabel

Although it may surprise you, the so-called Portuguese man-of- war ( Physalia physalis ) is an example of a colony and, hence, its nickname “false jellyfish” , since in reality it is not a jellyfish but a colonial organism. In it, each of the hydroids is specialized in carrying out a specific function, while some of them are in charge of defense, others capture the prey and others are in charge of feeding or reproducing the colony. They are, therefore, heteromorphic colonial organisms .

Also, as they do not have brains, enter this selection of 14 animals without brains , discover the others!


Corals are neither plants nor rocks but colonial animals , that is, they are part of the animal kingdom and live in colonies. They are called zooids or polyps . The coral colonies are formed by hundreds of thousands of individuals and can reach tañamos extraordinary, resulting in large areas of tropical or subtropical extension. Up to 25% of marine species depend on these animals. Along with sea sponges, they are known as the oldest marine organisms discovered to this day; their age is reflected by the age of the colony as a whole and not by that of each individual in particular. Examples of colonial coral associations are red coral or madrepores.

Alga Volvox

Within the aquatic environment, there are various colonial organisms. Volvox algae is one of the most curious and fascinating microscopic life forms out there. Normally, it forms colonies of about 2,000 cells, which form a gelatinous sphere composed of glycoproteins and occasionally linked together by cytoplasmic filaments. Each of these cells is specialized dedicating itself to either reproduction or locomotion, but not carrying out both functions at the same time. This, therefore, is an example of heteromorphic colony forming. There are several other species of colonial green algae .


They are benthic and sessile marine animals. At first glance, it has a sac-like appearance with two openings, with an apical oral siphon and a dorsal cloacal siphon. Their cells are welded together to form a common colonial mass (called compound sea squirts). Some examples of compound sea squirts are Botrylloides leachii , which forms colonies in a circular or elongated shape, and Botryllus schlosseri , which forms colonies in a starry shape.


They are colonial planktonic organisms . These groups are formed by a large number of individuals called zooids, which are grouped together giving rise to a gelatinous tube in the shape of a cylinder. Some of these associations can measure from a few centimeters to several meters in length. Interestingly, these organisms have the ability to emit bioluminescence thanks to the fact that they present symbiotic bacteria that live inside the cells of your body.

Advantages of colonial relations

Colonial associations generally result in mutual benefit for all components that make up this intraspecific relationship. These are the main advantages of the colonies :

  • One of the most common advantages is the power to improve defense skills against possible predator attacks and, also, to confuse the predator.
  • It improves the efficiency of hunting and predation, in general, and the ability to locate food resources.
  • It also represents an advantage for the reproduction and the care and protection of the young. It is, therefore, an advantage to ensure the survival of the participating organisms.
  • The division of labor within the colony is an advantage over the efficiency of the whole.

If you want to read more articles similar to Colonial Associations: what they are, types and examples , we recommend that you enter our Biology category .

Maria Anderson

Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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