Thursday, January 29, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Lacy

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Ectoprocta (Bryozoa)

Class: Gymnolaemata

Order: Cheilostomata

Family: Reteporidae

When I saw that this week's theme was lacy, I immediately thought of a lacy bryozoan (Phidolopora sp.). And you have to admit it does look pretty lacy. But most people would be hard pressed to identify what it actually is. Bryozoans are colonial animals like corals; but unlike most corals they have to capture their food rather than relaying on photosynthetic symbionts to make it for them.

They are not related to corals, as they lack the stinging cells that all coral posses. They are not closely related to anything existent, but are thought to be distantly related to brachiopods (those clam-like creatures that you can often by fossils of) and phoronids (looks like a worm with tentacles). Now that I write this, I realize those two groups are not horribly well-known either.

If you look closely at a bryozoan colony, you see little boxes. Inside each box (or zooid) is the living animal which is basically a set of tentacles (called a lophophore) connected to a stomach, and a muscle for extending the tentacles. They feed by using little hairs (cilia) on the tentacles to filter water for food particles. Below you can see a close up of the zooids with lophophores out and feeding...

There are only ~5,000 species of bryozoans world-wide, and are found in many different habitats in the ocean , from docks to deep ocean. The lacy bryozoan is found on the pacific coast and generally tends to be subtidal. It has been hypothesized that the holes that make it look like lace, help direct the water flow over each zooid.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Photohunter: Chipped

I think this qualifies as 'chipped'. This big cat toy looks like it has been thoroughly enjoyed by its owner. This toy was probably put in the enclosure as part of an enrichment program. Enrichment is when you try to provide opportunities for an animal to act naturally. It could be as simple as providing a nutritional treat, hiding food around the enclosure, giving toys, or re-arranging the 'furniture' (logs, ropes, sheets, etc.) in the enclosure to create new places to hide or climb. Enrichment is just that, something to enrich the animal's well-being.

And you can see that this is one content kitty...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Shiny

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Cetacea

Family: Monodontidea

I finally got to see a Beluga whale! However, they were so white and shiny it was hard to take a picture of them...

Here are some interesting facts about the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucus). They can get to 4.5 meters (~15 ft) in length and weight about 1500 Kg (3300 lbs). The whales are born toothless after a 14 month gestation period. They nurse for one to two years. After getting their teeth, they eat darn near about anything (octopus, worms, and fish to name a few).

They are a very vocal species; so much so, that they are often called the "sea canary". They are also the only whale with free cervical vertebrae (rather than fused), which means that they are the only whale which can turn its head or nod. They are most closely related to the Narwhal.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Abalone FYI...

This may have slipped under people's radar, so I thought I'd put up a quick post. In February, the black abalone will be put on the endangered species list. It joins the white abalone and 2 species of coral as the only invertebrates on the list.

In some ways this is a major win, as now the abalone will get the protection it desperately needs. In other ways, it is always a major loss when a species gets to the point were it needs to be on the list. The white abalone, (the other mollusk on the list) is basically considered reproductively extinct. They are very hard to rear in captivity, so no real progress has been made in raising and re-introducing them to the wild. I don't know if black abalone are similar to whites, or if they are more like reds, which are much easier to rear. So much easier to rear that they are often farmed.

One can only hope that there will be some way to restore the black abalone to the tidepools.

Review: Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium is located near the heart of downtown Seattle. It looks, from the outside, to be a cute refurbished warehouse. The inside is rather interesting... the bulk of the aquarium is taken up by two large touch tanks, containing seastars, anemones, urchins, and things like that. Along the back there were some free standing tanks, showing some of the more unusual sea starts, like the basket star. The stars of the main room was definitely the octopus tank and the jelly fish tank. The octopus tank consisted of two large cylinder tanks connected in the center by an "octopus crossing".

The jelly fish tank was a ring that extended below the floor, so that it looked like an arch (from floor level). People could stand in the arch and watch the jellies flow by. They also had a display from the artist Ray Troll on the wall surrounding the main room.

Tucked into the very back of the main room, was a display of the oddities of the sea. There they had Pinecone fish, a dragon fish, a pipe fish, and some other odd looking fish. Coming off of that display was a pacific coral reef display, which had several tanks of coral reef fish.

The fun stuff, in my opinion, was in an annex off the main building. There was more of a focus on the fishes of Puget Sound here, and several tanks which held either fish or invertebrates native to the region. There was also a very large dome tank, filled with rockfish.

Along the out side of the annex were salmon steps, and inside there was a section explaining some of the salmon rearing that they were doing at the aquarium and around the area. The top part was almost completely dedicated to mammals and shorebirds. They had harbor seals, sea and river otters, and (my favorite) fur seals.

I've never seen a fur seal before, so this was rather novel. They look rather like a very large, but cute, water rat (at least the face does). Over all, not a bad aquarium, but be warned that the price is very steep for what it is. At $16 for adults and $10.50 for kids, you may want to look around for some deals. They are a member of AZA, so you can get a discount or free admission if you are a member too. There are also package deals, where you can get into the zoo, a cruise, and some museums for a single price.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Photohunter: Hats

I'm not much on hats myself, so I spent a bit of time going through my photos before finding this. It is a picture of my little sister dissecting a squid in a whale tail hat. This picture was taken at my all time favorite festival, the Whale Fiesta. This is a celebration of the return of the Gray whales migrating to Baja to where they have their calves. There are lots of fun activities going on, contests, and tons of vendors selling super-cool things (I'm hoping that the lady who makes nudibrach necklaces comes again). All and all my favorite festival to attend, and a very appropriate picture pick as the festival is next week!

Life size Gray Whale head (can you imagine fitting a hat to this?)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Red

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Mollusca

Class: Cephalopoda

Order: Octopoda

Family: Octopodidae

This lovely guy is a giant pacific octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini. They are found along the pacific coast from Alaska to southern California, and prefer to live in rocky crevices from the subtidal to 1650 ft (503 m). They are nocturnal and feed on crabs, shrimp, bivalves (such as clams and scallops), and fish.

They live for about 3 to 4 years, which is a little longer than your average octopus who only lives about 3 years max. They generally reach a size of 16 ft (5 m) from arm to arm, and weight about 90 to 100 lbs (45 kg). They can change the color and texture of their skin to match their surroundings.

They are extremely intelligent and there are many stories surrounding this intelligence. One of the more common stories is that they can escape from their tanks and go to other tanks for a midnight snack, if the mood takes them. They can come out of the water, and are great escape artists, so it is very plausible that this story is true. At the aquarium where I used to work (where this picture was shot), the octopus were kept in a very large tunnel tank about 150 ft (46 m) long. It was a pretty cool experience, because the octopus had enough room to actually swim the length of the tank. Also, I often ran sleepovers in the tunnels, so got to see the octopus walking around the tanks at night.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Life Photo Meme: New

ground squirrels by you.

Kingdom: Animlia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Family: Sciuridea

I am not exactly sure what kind of squirrel this is, but I suspect that it is a California Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi). These guys seem to be exploiting a new habitat, as humans tend to give them peanuts along the rocky coast area. They seem to live under the rubble provided to shore up the shoreline.

This is not a new photo, but one that I took a couple of weeks ago on my last collecting trip. I am currently on a collecting trip in Washington and Oregon, so expect new photos from that when I get back!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review: San Diego Natural History Museum and Balboa Park

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Balboa Park and the San Diego Museum of Natural History. The park itself has tons of different museums and gardens in it, and our original plan was to hit the natural history museum, the conservatory, and the Japanese tea garden. The park has some great architecture, which we were practically required to stop and admire. The above picture was the San Diego garden society headquarters.

We made the natural history museum our first stop, and it was interesting, but smaller than what I expected. They had two exhibits going on, H20 =Life and a wild life artist. I was not particularly interested in either, but H2O had some interesting exhibits (mostly watching the mudskippers eating).

In terms of fossils, they took up half of the second floor, which was open in the center (H2O took up the other half). The interesting thing to me, was that almost all of their fossils were found in San Diego county. This meant that there was a wide range of aquatic fossils, including these odd pelican foot snails...

I also saw some interesting fossil dolphins and even a fossil walrus. It was very interesting to think that San Diego used to host walrus and river dolphins. The best thing I was the way that they displayed some of their dinosaur bones. Most places put either the bones on display or make a model of the dinosaur. This museum did a combination of both. So one side gave you the artist model of what the dino might look like with muscles and skin attached...

While the other side showed you the bones...

I thought this was a really effective way to showcase these dinosaurs, and hope that other museums pick up on this.

After the natural history museum, we headed to the Japanese tea garden (the conservatory turned out to be closed). The garden basically consisted of a straight strip planted with azaleas. There was a very small koi pond and a building that you can go into to see some pictures of Japan. I thought the building offered the best view of the garden...

In the back, there were some (about 7) bonsai on display. All in all, rather disappointing, particularly as we had paid $3 each to get in. What was the best was the food outside of the garden. They a really great cafe, which served a variety of Japanese food for a reasonable price. And the portions were HUGE!

An unplanned stop of the day was the San Diego Museum of Art. Normally, I don't do art. (I mean I like impressionists, but nothing else really) But they had an interesting display on the Art of Kimono and it was awesome. The person who made the kimonos, Itchiku Kubota, pioneered a new way of making them because he was trying to recreate an old method. It's kind of like tie dye or batiking in that the colors are dyed directly onto the kimono. He made a set of kimonos that when put together display a landscape going from fall to winter. There were 30 kimonos in that set, and he had plans to do summer and spring as well.

We did not even get to the Air and Space Museum where there was a star trek exhibit. I guess the lesson is, if you are going to Balboa park make your plans flexible and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Life Photo Meme: Honor an invert

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera
Class: Demospongiae
Order: Dendroceratida
Family: Darwinellidae

For this month's honor an invert, I decided to go basic. Really basic. This is Aplysilla glacialis, the keratose sponge. It is found in the low intertidal zones to 84 meters (275 ft) down, all over the world.

This sponge is interesting because it lacks spicules; hard calcium or silica pieces that help act as the sponge's 'skeletal system'. Spicules are the classical way to identify and classify sponges, so this presented a problem. Now-a-days, they use not only the spicules, but also fibers and the secondary chemical compounds which it produces to help classify it.