Nematocysts & the Science of Sting

NEMATOCYSTS ARE OCEAN STINGERS’ SECRET WEAPONS. In fact, they are the stingers. The way in which nematocysts sting is a story of the sneaky, harpoon-like ordnance of Phylum Cnidaria – jellyfish, coral and gorgonian polyps, sea anemones, fire corals and hydroids. If you happen to touch a sea anemone, a sea plume or coral tentacles (which you shouldn’t do), you’re likely to not feel their sting. Actually, you’ve probably been stung, ineffectively. Those animals’ stingers

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To Define Plankton, Think: “Ocean Food Bank”

THE PLANKTON IS ONE OF THE KEYSTONES OF THE OCEAN FOOD CHAIN. In fact, it’s one of the most important elements of life in the sea. And, yet, every time I mention the word, seek to talk about plankton, discuss plankton, define plankton, I can hear eyes roll all across Planet Earth. True, plankton doesn’t have the same excitement attached to it as, say, a celebrity punching a shark on You-Know-What Week. On the other hand,

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Geohistory and the Triangle of Diversity

Gone diving. Out of touch. Not posting too much new stuff. In the meantime, here’s a re-post that’s terrific:  CONSIDER THE TRIANGLE OF DIVERSITY. It wasn’t that long ago (in geohistory terms) that tropical marine life was distributed much more uniformly worldwide than is the case today. The Earth’s landmasses were configured differently and a strong current circled the planet along the Equator, widely dispersing tropical life. So why, today, do many of us have to

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The Roadway of Life – an Essay on Connection

HERE’S AN IDEA: LET’S PAY ATTENTION TO THE HISTORY OF SPONGES. And sea urchins, and how much like us they are. And, for that matter, sea jellies. They’re all part of the roadway of life. This is a personal view, perhaps a sentimental one. But, it’s about a way of looking at life under the sea, as signposts on the roadway of evolution that led to us. Understanding it helps us appreciate the watery world we are

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The Plankton: The Soup of Life

NOBODY GOES UNDERWATER TO LOOK AT THE PLANKTON.  Well, actually, corals, gorgonians, sea anemones, baleen whales, whale sharks, sponges, brittlestars, a lot of kinds of fish and many other denizens of the deep do. But divers fixated on large, celebrity species like sharks and mantas may find omni-present microscopic organisms they can’t particularly see less than engrossing. They’re missing an enormous point. To the aforementioned denizens, the plankton are the staff of life, the dinner

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Balloonfishes, Porcupinefishes: Prone to Blowing Up!

WHEN YOU SEE PHOTOS OF PORCUPINEFISHES AND BALLOONFISHES, they’re often inflated like stuffed pincushions. In fact, like this..  But the truth is that recreational divers who are minding their manners are unlikely to see them in a puffed-up state (Note to wiseguys seeking to initiate inflation: leave them alone). With their bulky shapes in uninflated modes, they’ve have been described as “footballs with a tail.” Big-eyed and gentle, permanently affixed with Mona Lisa smiles, they

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Christmas Tree Worms: Beautiful (and Wormy)

EVERYBODY RAVES ABOUT THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS (Spirobranchus giganteus), with their fantastic arrays of bright colors and shapes like perfect fir trees. The wormy bodies behind the gorgeous finery, maybe not so much. The spiraling crowns we see are specialized tentacles, called radioles, that filter plankton from the  surrounding waters for food, passing it down to the worm’s mouth in cilia-lined grooves. They also work like “gills” to let the animals absorb oxygen.

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Six Ways in Which Algae is Our Friend

ALGAE COMES IN EIGHT GAZILLION DIFFERENT FORMS, from tiny little slimy green stuff to giant kelp, and to most of us it seems obnoxious and a thing to be ignored, if not despised. Except that algae is the foundation of the food chain, a pioneer in the evolution of life, and essential to our existence.  Algae uses sunlight to photosynthesize the carbon dioxide and hydrogen in water into the simple sugars that are nutrients for

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Sea Fans, Rods & Plumes: Thinking Outside the Calyx

NOBODY GOES TO THE TROPICS TO SEE GORGONIANS. The sea fans, plumes, rods and whips that make up Order Gorgonacea are just there, incidental bystanders on the “real” reefs of beautiful, stony corals. Sometimes, they’re in the way. While none of the 500 or so species of fans, plumes, rods or whips can compare to the exquisite beauty that hard corals achieve (although some sea fans make a good effort), they’re part of the broad

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Soft Corals – Undersea Wildflowers

As opposed to the sometimes-use of the term “soft coral” for everything that isn’t a stony coral, “soft corals” is also the informal name for a specific type of animal in the order Alcyonacea. Individually only millimeters in width and height, they form colonial structures that resemble multibranched  trees, presenting a delicate, feathery appearance. They’ve been dubbed “undersea wildflowers.” Alcyonacea polyps (al-see-nay‘-see-ah, from the Greek word for kingfisher) are like all coral polyps, with symmetrically

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