Thursday, October 15, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Hostile

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Cnidaria


Order: Actiniaria

Family: Actiniidae

This is a starburst anemone (Anthopleura sola), which is common in intertidal areas along the west coast. Anemones, like jellies, have stinging cells which they use to capture food and defend themselves. If you've ever touched an anemone, you've felt the sting as a sticky sensation.

In addition to the normal tentacles used to capture food, some anemones have a second set of tentacles which they inflate in the presence of other anemones. These tentacles, called acrorhagi, have larger stinging cells... larger than those found in the feeding tentacles. They will use the acrorhagi to fight with the anemones encroaching on their area.

This is complicated be the fact that some anemones with acrorhage asexually reproduce by splitting down the center. The two new anemones will not fight with each other, but will fight with any anemone that is genetically different. The anemone pictured above is solitary, and will not have any cloned neighbors, as clones from this anemone generally move away quick.

If an anemone gets beat very badly and needs a hasty retreat, they can inflate the bottom part of their body with air, and float away.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Frosted

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Mollusca


Order: Nudibranchia

Family: Tethydidae

I guess all larval animals have a clear, frosted appearance, but I choose this particular larva because it's special to me. This is a veliger larva, a larval stage which is typical to the marine snails. In particular, this is a baby lion nudibranch, Melibe leonina. This larva hatched today, and I am trying to rear them to adulthood.

The fuzzy bits toward the bottom of the veliger is cilia, which helps it swim. The two round dots that look like eyes are actually statocysts, which help the larva figure out orientation (up and down). These guys have a thin shell in the veliger stage, which they lose when they metamorphose into juveniles.

Adult lion nudibranchs live in the kelp canopy, and eat small creatures that live on the kelp or float by. They use their big oral hood much in the same way a Venus fly trap catches flies. Because of the way they feed, they are one of the easiest sea slugs to keep in a public aquarium. They are also one of the few sea slugs to swim.

It will take a little over month before these little veligers metamorphose and settle into the adult form. It will be a welcome challenge to try and keep some of them alive for that long.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda


Order: Decopoda

Family: Hymenoceridae

This Crazy looking creature is a harlequin shrimp. These shrimps are found in the Indo and Eastern Pacific waters. They grow to about 2 inches and tend to live in pairs. They can be territorial to other pairs, and patrol their territory looking for their favorite food, starfish.

Because they are so colorful and easy to breed in captivity, they are something of a favorite in the marine pet trade. There are also tons of stories about how they feed, some of which may be due to the shrimp's personal style. The most common strategy is to flip the starfish over and keep it on its back. This may be accomplished by using their large, flattened claws.
Afterward, the shrimps may keep the starfish immobile by eating the tube feet first. There have even been some antidotes of the shrimp feeding the starfish to keep it alive longer.

Despite its popularity as a pet, there seems to be a lack of information about its natural behaviors. One source postulates that these shrimp may sequester toxins from its prey into its body, and this may be why they have such bright coloration [1], but no-one really knows for sure.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Things to watch...

I saw this over at Pharyngula, and thought it was the neatest thing. Many times science videos like these are either oversimplified and boring, or way over my head and boring. I was very entertained by this, and learned something new!

CreatureCast Episode 1 from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

New Creature casts are definitely somthing to watch for. Their blog is pretty spiffy too.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mark your calenders...

International Coastal Clean-up day is on September 19th.

It's almost time for the annual coastal clean-up day! Every year at this time, people from all over the world come together to clean up beaches.

Don't live near a beach? Find the nearest river, stream, or water way and help clean it up. Find a site near you. California does a great job in organizing sites all along the coast and in several inland river areas.

Can't find a clean-up site in your area? Make your own.

If you just want to to it by yourself, and not through an agency, that's fine too. The important thing is to give back to those beautiful areas that we all love to enjoy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Fine

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata


Order: Pleuronectiformes

For this week's theme, I chose this cool picture of a display at the California Academy of Science. This is a real flatfish, which has been prepared using a special staining process. The bones are stained red, while the cartilage is stained blue.

This is a common technique in science, and it can be used to study how bones develop, or how they work relative to each other. By leaving the specimen intact, one can see how the bones in the jaw move, without damaging any of the fine tissue and cartilage which holds it together.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Mollusca


Order: Pulmonata

Family: Arionidae

Here we have an amazing picture of a Banana slug (Ariolimax sp.), which I captured a photo of it as it roamed across the forest floor in Muir Woods. There are three species of Banana slug known, one of which, Ariolimax columbianus, is the second largest terrestrial slug in the world. It can reach up to 25 cm (10 in) long. All live in the foggy, forest belt on the pacific coast from Central California to Southern Alaska.

These guys posses a pneumostome, a hole which is visible in this picture as a dimple a bit down from the head. The pneumostome opens into a highly vascularized cavity which acts as a simple lung for these animals.

They are very prone to dehydration, so tend to inhabit areas that are moist, and produce lots of mucus. At the tail end of the slug, you can see some debris caught in the slug's mucus plug. This plug covers the caudal pit, where the mucus is produced. Their mucus not only keeps them moist, and helps them move, but also protects them as it has an anesthetic-like chemical making them unappetizing to other creatures.

Finally, Banana slugs also use their mucus as a mode of communication. During mating season, they will incorporate pheromones into their mucus, making it easier for another slug to find them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Parasitic

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda


Order: Isopoda

Family: Bopyridae

For my parasitic photo I could not resist putting up these. They are ghost shrimp, and the ghost shrimp on the top is a healthy female with eggs, while the pale one on the bottom is a female infected with Ione cornuta. The parasite is under the exoskeleton, but can be seen as a large lump on the side of the shrimp (right side).

This parasite goes through a rather complex life cycle, where if goes through a couple of different hosts before ending up in ghost shrimp. The first Ione to land on the shrimp's gills will become a female and the second one a male. They spend the rest of their lives in the shrimp's gill chamber, and grow with the shrimp.

While I seem to lack a photo of Ione outside of it's host, I do have a picture of a very closely related parasite Orthione, which looks and acts very much like Ione, save that it lives in mud shrimp instead of ghost shrimp.

(The little curled-up part towards the bottom left is the male, he is much smaller than the female and generally lives on her)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Arid

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Magnoliophyta


Order: Caryphyllales

Family: Cactaceae

This is a golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii). They can live for at least 75 years, and don't produce flowers until they reach 20 years of age. They can grow to 3 ft (1 m) high and 2 ft wide (0.6 m).

While they are used widely in cultivation, these plants are considered critically endangered in their native home range of Central America. There does not seem to be a lot of information on these plants... In the Huntington library and gardens (where this photo was taken), all of the golden barrels on display had been cultivated from seeds. I don't know if the secondary growths on this cactus are new plants, but I suspect that it is so.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Spiny

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinoptergii

Order: Scorpaeniformes

Family: Cyclopteridae

This is my all-time favorite fish, the Pacific spiny lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis). They are found in shallow waters and seldom go deeper than 500 ft (152 m). They are found in northern waters from Washington up to Alaska, and also off the coast of Japan. They are so small and cute. The largest they can get is 5 in (13 cm), while your average lumpsucker is 1 in (2.5 cm)

They are very poor swimmers, owing to their round body and small fins. They also lack a swim bladder, so when they stop swimming they sink. What is most distinctive about them is the large suction cup that they have. The suction cup is a pair of highly modified pelvic fins, that helps them stick onto rocks.

The females tend to have a greenish hue to the plates that cover their body, while the males have a red tint. They eat small crustaceans and worms.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Malacostraca

Order: Decapoda

Family: Pandalidae

This are newly settled spot prawns (Pandalus platyceros). They are only a month old in this picture and about 1/4 of an inch (4 mm) in size. The adult spot prawn get to be 10.5 in (27 cm) long and are considered to be the largest shrimp on the west coast of the US. Spot prawns start out their lives as male, then switch to females as they get older. They can live for about 6 years in California and up to 11 years in Alaska.

They are on the Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch best choice list as spot prawns are often caught in traps, rather than nets like normal-sized shrimp. Dragging nets along the bottom of the sea floor often causes damage to the habitat and produces a lot of by-catch, as many other animals are caught along with the shrimp. Using traps minimizes by-catch and damage to the surrounding habitat.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Soiled

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Myxini

Order: Myxiniformes

Family: Myxinidae

This is a close-up picture of a hagfish's slime. The hagfish can produce vasts amounts of slime, enough to fill a bucket that they happen to be captured in. This slime consists of fibrous protein threads, mucus, and seawater. You can see the threads in this picture, if you look carefully.

Recent research suggests that the bulk of the mucus is actually seawater that is trapped in the mucus-coated threads [1]. This makes a certain amount of sense, given that the mucus expands rapidly when in contact with water (much like a sponge). It may also explain how these hagfish can produce such vast quantities of slime...basically, they are just puffing up a little bit of slime with water.

What hagfish use this slime for is still under debate. Most seem to be leaning towards the idea that the slime can clog the gills of potential predators.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Airy

Kingdom: Plantae

Division: Magnolio

Class: Liliopsida

Order: Arales

Family: Araceae

This is the bud of a corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum. At the time that the photo was taken, the blossom was 5 ft and 7 in (5.6 m), and expected to reach over 6 ft (3 m). When open the corpse plant smells of rotting meat, to attract their fly and bee pollinators. The flower has a purplish color (like rotting meat) and heats up the air around it, so that the scent diffuses farther.

These plant produce only one flower or one leaf at a time. The flower itself is not a single large flower, but is made up of smaller male and female flowers. The leaf can reach 20 ft (6 m) tall and 16 ft (5 m) across. They are closely related to calla lilies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bug Fair

A couple of weeks ago was the annual bug fair at our local museum. This was a pretty big deal as vendors from all around came to sell their bugs and bug-related gear. At the fair you could find dead bugs for your collection, live bugs for rearing or pets, bug catching and displaying gear, as well as t-shirts, hats, and other related things.

There was also a bug chef on hand, and live bug handling demonstrations through out the two day period. My favorite talk was give by a gentleman who did origami for a living. He had some amazing pieces, which looked just like bugs!

He was a physicist by training, so tended to approach origami from a mathematical point of view. He created a program which could tell you how to fold the paper to get any shape you wanted. He also pointed out the scientific uses of origami, such as airbag storage, a new stent which unfolds in your vein or artery to keep it open, and how telescopes in space use origami to fold into different configurations... Way cool!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Catalina Above and Below

I went on a fantastic boat trip to Catalina this weekend. It was part of a special program with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and it was a great hands on experience. We first went to pick up a series of fish traps which had been set out the day before. The first trap was set 500 feet down, and was filled with hagfish.

This was one of the first times I got to handle one of these amazing fish. They produce copious amounts of slime, as you can see from the picture. The slime had a very fibrous feel to it, which surprised me but made a bit of sense as the slime has many protein fibers. The fish themselves are very smooth and soft.

The second set of traps was set in a shallower, rocky reef area. We caught a ton of lobsters and California moray eels. We were looking for two gravid lobsters for the aquarium's lobster rearing program. These lobsters have never been successfully reared in captivity, especially as the larvae spend one year in the water column before settling out into the ground. The aquarium were able to raise the larvae for six months last year, and are hoping to go longer this year.

We also caught a horn shark. His teeth were purplish, a sure sign that this horn shark was snacking on sea urchins. After returning the fish we got from the traps, we headed over to a kelp forest by the isthmus of Catalina. There the divers went down to capture some fish and invertebrates to bring up for us to see. They also videotaped their dive, so that we could see what they saw when they went down.

They brought up several fish, including Garibaldis, a Rock wrasse, and a Senorita wrasse. They also brought up this cute baby Sheephead. On the invert side, they got some sea star, urchins, and snails. After that, we docked at the isthmus for lunch and a quick hike.

We hiked across the island, and got a peak at one of the Bison the inhabit the island. They were brought to the island in the 1920's for a movie, and were left there. It was really neat to see this guy, which was so close to the foot path.

Our final event of the day was cumming for sharks. We put out some chopped up mackerel an other fishes and were visited by three blue sharks, a large female and male, and a smaller one who's sex I couldn't identify.

The large male was approximately 7-8 feet long, and the female was a similar size. We also had some mackerel on a string, to get the sharks to jump up to get them. It was a pretty cool. The boat trip there and back was pretty eventful too. We spotted a bunch of sea birds and some blue whales.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Travel

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Aves

Order: Anseriformes

Family: Anatidae

These Canadian geese represent travel in so many different ways. I took a picture of these geese on a recent trip to New Mexico. Of course the geese themselves are highly migratory; flying from northern Canada to the southern US.

There are 11 subspecies of Canadian goose found in the northern hemisphere, and their body size decreases with increasing latitude. This split in sizes may be due to the fact that Canadian geese practice assortative mating. In this case, the birds choose their mates based on size; they prefer to mate with a goose that is the same size as them.

In my childhood, seeing geese flying south was a regular feature of the fall season. It seems very odd to me to see these birds flying about in the winter, now that I live in the southern areas.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Photohunter: advertisement

This photo was taken at Kondalilla National Park, located near Brisbane in Australia. I think it sends a particularly powerful message about protecting the natural beauty of all parks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Urochordata

Class: Thaliacea

Order: Salpida

This is a pretty neat animal, which just barely qualifies as an invertebrate. This is a salp, although I am not exactly sure which one. Salps are some of our closest relatives, as they possess several of the same characteristics, including a notocord. They are in the same phylum as the tunicates, or sea squirts, but unlike the tunicates, salps spend their entire life in the plankton.

The thin white band you see running along the bottom of the salp is the gills, which they used to filter feed with. The pinkish-yellow lump on the bottom right hand side is where most of the organs are (intestines and such). On the left hand side are two small orange ovals. These are another creature (amphipods) that are living inside of this salp. They can capture food from the salp's filter feeding current.

Salps can be found as solitary individuals or found in long chains of individuals, and can reproduce sexually and asexually. Their life cycle is rather complex because of this. As solitary individuals, salps reproduce asexually to form a chain. This chain can reproduce sexually with other salp chains. The sexual and asexual forms of the same salp species can look slightly different.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bugs, bugs, and more bugs

Two weeks ago was the awesome bug fair at the Natural History Museum of LA, which is always a great event to attend. I was looking forward to it this year because we were planning on getting some companions for our gray death-feigning beetle, Stumpy. In preparation for this, we upgraded her tank to a 10 gallon terrarium and got her fresh plants.

She started laying eggs in the new enclosure, which I took as a sign of approval. However, I have suspected that the eggs that she has been laying may not be fertile, so we were really hoping to get a male for her. When Bug Fair rolled around we picked up 3 more beetles. We think we did get a male, as the smallest beetle likes to clamp on top of the identified females (ran up to stumpy first thing) and they always try run away.

One of the other beetles is most likely another female, as she exhibited egg-laying behaviour fairly soon after being placed in the tank. Hopefully, we'll have little ones in a few months, although I am worried about getting this larger tank up to the temperature that I suspect may be necessary for larval development (over 100 degrees F).

Here you see the ovipositor...

and lay those eggs, lady!

Life Photo Meme: Woven

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Lepidoptera

Family: Bombycidae

These are silkworm (Bombyx mori) cocoons. While I always knew that silk was made from silkworms, and that the cocoons were boiled and unraveled to make a single strand of silk, I did not know that the cocoon could be unraveled to 1 Km (~ 1,100 yards).

Silkworms eat the leaves of mulberry trees and are native to northern china. They are considered domesticated, and have been raised by humans for over 5,000 years. They are considered unable to survive in the wild at this point and depend on human intervention to complete their breeding. (Supposedly, because they have lost the ability to fly) The silkworm pupa is also considered a delicacy and is eaten after the cocoon itself has been boiled to soften the silk strands.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Metallic

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Coleoptera

This is a box of beetles, which are one of the most numerous insect groups on the face of the planet. This combined with the fact that insects are the most numerous animal, means that this planet really belongs to the beetles. While the bright colors are often used as a warning signal that the beetle tastes bad or is poisonous, it can also be an attractive signal to lady beetles.

Jewelery and other fashion accessories have been made from the beetles' shiny metallic overwings. On the science side, beetles are used to create carmine particles. These particles have helped researchers understand water flow and feeding rates for many aquatic organisms, and are also used as a food coloring (red) for many foods.

As a fun side note to this insect-filled week, if you are in the LA area check out the Bug Fair at the Natural History Museum of LA this weekend. It is one of the largest and most amazing insect fairs around!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an Invert

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hemiptera

Family: Belostomatidae

This crazy looking bug is a giant water bug, Abedus herberti. They are found in pools of freshwater in the mid-west to southwestern region of the US. This is a male water bug, as females lay eggs on the backs of the male carapace. Matings are cyclical, where a female will only be allowed to lay a few eggs on a male's back before having to mate with him again. This will ensure that the males aren't brooding eggs fertilized by another male. This is particularly effective as genetic markers show that the last male's sperm has precedence in fertilization over any stored sperm [1].

The males take care of the eggs until they hatch. This includes spending more time on land, to keep the eggs from getting fungus. I would be interested in knowing what traits females are selecting for when they choose their mates.