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Octopuses & Squids: Support Your Local Cephalopod

TO BE SURE, CELEBRATING OCTOPUSES, SQUIDS AND THEIR COUSINS DOESN’T NEED A SPECIAL DATE. But it’s Cephalopod Week, so here are some awesome cephalopod facts, by the numbers:   1.   Cephalopods, best known by octopuses and squids, are remarkable for their braininess, and also their brains. Physically, their heads are often larger than their bodies, which perhaps explains why they’re very smart, as well. The term cephalopod is taken from the Greek for, literally, “head-feet.”

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Black Coral: Many Colors – But Rarely Black

BLACK CORALS ARE PROBABLY BEST KNOWN AS SHINY, JET BLACK JEWELRY. As living coral in their underwater habitats, they’re actually unlikely to be black. So what does black coral look like, actually? They’re most likely to be found in shades of soft reds, greens, yellows and other colors. They’re not stony corals – they grow in complex linear structures resembling trees, bushes or sea fans. The “black” part is the protein-based chitin that comprises the

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Iguanas in the Galapagos: Here Come the Marines

FAMOUS AS LIZARDS THAT SWIM IN THE OCEANS, marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) are found in only one place: the Galapagos Archipelago in the eastern Pacific off Ecuador. Galapagos iguanas also include three species of non-swimming land iguanas. Some land iguanas found in the West Indies – like green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and rock iguanas (nine species in the genus Cyclura) – are also known to swim when called for, but not with the marine lifestyle of A.

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Hamlet Fishes: Chasing the Hamlet Grand Slam

WHO KNEW THAT SPOTTING LITTLE GUYS LIKE BUTTER AND BARRED HAMLET FISHES could be challenging? I’ve thought of them as fairly bland little fishes of modest interest. I’m aware of occasionally seeing vivid blue indigo hamlets (Hypoplectus indigo) in Bonaire and Belize but not the other dozen or so species to be found around the tropical Atlantic/Caribbean. Which sounds fishy considering that Humann and DeLoache’s Reef Fish Identification says barred hamlets (Hypoplectus puella) constitute the most

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Stromatolites – The First Reefs, Living Fossils

SOME TWO BILLION YEARS AGO THE CLOSEST THING TO LIVING REEFS ON OUR PLANET were widespread masses of stromatolites, mounds of cyanobacteria and sediment held together by calcium carbonate they secreted. Before they arose to dominate the seas, the earth was a hellish place. Afterwards, it was a world on the road to the evolution of life as we know it. FOREBODING PLANET    Before stromatolites, the planet was largely a worldwide ocean, with landmasses no

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Banded Coral Shrimp – A Dance, a Wave & Maybe a Nice Massage

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS MAY BE THE FRIENDLIEST CREATURES ON THE REEF.  Well, they’re always waving at us. Waving, that is, their super-long white antennae trying to attract passing divers – okay, passing fishes, actually – to come over for a little close-up cleaning. With their prominent tentacles, red-and-white banded bodies and outsized claw limbs, they’re high-profile members of the fish-cleaning profession that’s also inhabited by anemone shrimps, cleaning gobies and other little (often-juvenile) fishes. Found in

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In Deep Waters, Corals Glow to Grow

CORALS’ ABILITY TO GLOW WITH FLUORESCENT LIGHT has been known for some time. The understanding with shallow water corals has been that fluorescent proteins absorb harmful ultraviolet rays, protecting the zooxanthellae algae that provide them with significant nutrition through photosynthesis (See “Corals’ Colors Are More Than Just Eye Candy”). IN DEEP WATERS, A DIFFERENT STRATEGY Now scientists have found that corals in deep waters, which receive very little solar energy, use different colors for a

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Barnacles at Work

BARNACLES HAVE BEEN DESCRIBED AS SHRIMP THAT STAND ON THEIR HEADS AND FLYFISH WITH THEIR FEET. Despite the hard mollusk-like shells they build, acorn and gooseneck barnacles are crustaceans, related to shrimps, crabs and lobsters. Look closely and you’ll see fine, feathery extensions constantly being flicked into the current from within those shells, like expert fishermen casting and recasting into a stream. The creatures within use these “cirri” – adapted leg-like appendages – to capture

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The Moon Snail Mystery

FOR A LONG TIME, DURING MY NEW ENGLAND DIVING DAYS, the northern moon snail (Euspira heros) represented a mystery to me. I kept seeing these structures I knew were moon snail “sand collars,” mucus-bound masses of sand that were said be be egg-laden. Except that there didn’t appear to be any eggs. SANDY SAND COLLARS  MOON SNAIL SAND COLLAR MYSTERY SOLVED Then, one day, I found this: BIGFOOT SIGHTED! Thinking about moon snails brings to

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Nudibranchs: Fantastic Mollusks Explained

THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF DIVERS: THOSE WHO ARE BONKERS ABOUT NUDIBRANCHS and those who ought to be. For those in the second category, here are some nudibranch facts. First, as the name “nudibranch” suggests – it’s from the Greek for “naked gills” – nudibranchs absorb their oxygen from the water through external breathing structures located on their backs. There’s great variation in gill architecture among the many species of nudibranchs, from flamboyant to demure. And

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