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Hundreds of species of reef-building corals spawn synchronously over a few nights each year, and moonlight regulates this spawning event. However, the molecular elements underpinning the detection of moonlight remain unknown. Here we report the presence of an ancient family of blue-light–sensing photoreceptors, cryptochromes, in the reef-building coral Acropora millepora. In addition to being cryptochrome genes from one of the earliest-diverging eumetazoan phyla, cry1 and cry2 were expressed preferentially in light. Consistent with potential roles in the synchronization of fundamentally important behaviors such as mass spawning, cry2 expression increased on full moon nights versus new moon nights. Our results demonstrate phylogenetically broad roles of these ancient circadian clock–related molecules in the animal kingdom.