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Articles on this Page
- 07/22/14--21:34: _Deep-Sea Poop, Amoe...
- 07/30/14--04:23: _The Rotulidae: Stra...
- 08/05/14--14:53: _Before Computers! D...
- 08/12/14--18:45: _5 Cool, Weird Britt...
- 08/19/14--21:07: _Because Brisingid S...
- 08/20/14--06:28: _Golden Tickets in t...
- 08/27/14--05:48: _Giant Deep Sea Amoe...
- 09/03/14--10:44: _AWESOME vintage 184...
- 09/09/14--21:34: _(More than!) Five C...
- 09/17/14--05:34: _Five Surprising Poi...
- 09/23/14--05:44: _Let's Meet the Deep...
- 09/30/14--21:54: _Some Okeanos Explor...
- 10/08/14--06:48: _A panoply of Pycnog...
- 10/12/14--14:55: _What is that WEIRD ...
- 10/15/14--06:43: _Five Points About T...
- 10/22/14--05:01: _Coelopleurus! The m...
- 10/28/14--06:31: _Five Invertebrates ...
- 11/04/14--17:03: _Gorgeous Goniasteri...
- 11/24/14--23:14: _The Funky Octopuses...
- 12/01/14--14:34: _The Strange Deep-Se...
- 07/30/14--04:23: The Rotulidae: Strangest of the Sand Dollars
- 08/05/14--14:53: Before Computers! Deep-Sea Starfish Plates from circa 1919!
- 08/12/14--18:45: 5 Cool, Weird Brittle Star Behavior Captured on video/pictures!
- 08/27/14--05:48: Giant Deep Sea Amoebas! Meet the Xenophyophores!!
- Habitats for worms, copepods, crustaceans, ophiuroids, and even snail embryos!
- Peanut worms that live IN "dead" tests
- Eggs from various animals (worms or snails) on xenophyophore tests.
- Suspension feeding colonial animals called bryozoans sometimes are found "intergrown" on tests
- Some xenophyophores found ON sea urchins.
- Some amphipod crustaceans are thought to prey on the xenophyophores
- Plus other MORE! Possibly/probably associated with the bacteria growing on the surface??
- 09/17/14--05:34: Five Surprising Points about Discovering New Species & Taxonomy
- 09/30/14--21:54: Some Okeanos Explorer Dumbo Octopus Love!
- 10/12/14--14:55: What is that WEIRD THING on FACEBOOK???
- 10/22/14--05:01: Coelopleurus! The most gorgeous urchin you never heard of!
- 10/28/14--06:31: Five Invertebrates that would be Terrifying if they were Bigger!
- 11/04/14--17:03: Gorgeous Goniasterid Starfish! & some Cousteau Connection??
- 11/24/14--23:14: The Funky Octopuses of Paris Pt. 2!!
- 12/01/14--14:34: The Strange Deep-Sea Ophiuroids of Paris! Featuring Dr. Tim O'Hara!
- This new species of the Australian starfish Tosia, which was described by one of his students.
- This fantastic biogeographic pattern in brittle stars which he published several years ago!
- Tim was also the one who identified and, in part, documented "Brittle Star city"
|Gulf of Alaska 2004 Expedition. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration|
Many of you know that I have participated in the last two R/V Okeanos ROV dives as an onshore advisor. I often identify asteroids (i.e. starfish) and provide other information as I am able. I've only helped them out since 2013 but found lots of their images useful for my research.
You can find NOAA-Okeanos dive screengrab recaps on my bloghere for 2013 and here for the recent 2014 dive.
Those of you on my Twitter account (@echinoblog) have been watching me post links to various pictures as I have been reviewing these pics.. There are literally THOUSANDS of pictures of deep-sea biology, geology and history !!! Who would be crazy enough to go through all of it one by one??? Yes. Me!
So, for your education and infotainment I have cherry picked many noteworthy images and have showcased them below. (note that ALL images have original links below them)! Enjoy!
Giant Amoeba Houses??
Here's a cool structure made by a giant amoeba called a xenophyophorean! (deep-sea Galapagos) Take a moment to consider that a UNICELLULAR organism could have made this! (and yes, they will eat proper animals!)
|From the 2011 NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Galapagos Rift Expedition 2011|
|From July 2010 NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
Basket Stars Behaving uh... badly?
What is going on here? I've honestly never seen TWO basket stars so close to one another. What are they doing? Fighting? Doin teh sex? The gorgonocephalid equivalent of a backrub? Only they know for sure. (North Atlantic)
|From Lophelia II 2008: Deepwater Coral Expedition: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks|
|From the Lophelia II 2008: Deepwater Coral Expedition: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks|
|from Lophelia II 2008: Deepwater Coral Expedition: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks|
|From Bioluminescence 2009 Expedition, NOAA/OER|
|From 2009 Bioluminescence 2009 Expedition, NOAA/OER|
|From NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
|From NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
|Image courtesy of Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program|
|Image from the Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program|
|from NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Mid-Cayman Rise Expedition 2011|
Exotic Indonesian Sea cucumber poop? Or possibly from an Acorn Worm? (below)
|From NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
|From NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
|NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition|
|NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition|
Images from Indonesia.. Worms leaving unique castings in the sediment...
|From NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
|From NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010|
MANY valuable and interesting things in there! Enough for many more posts. But what's most amazing? A lot of it is UNPUBLISHED stuff!!
But its hard to make a guess as to what kinds of things you will find (sometimes because you don't know what you are looking for) This provides a taste of the diversity and abundance of tantalizing images. Sponges! Corals! Worms! Even protists!
But first things first. Sand dollars are highly modified SEA URCHINS that live on sandy bottoms, mostly in shallow tropical to temperate water places. Please make a note of it. (or go read this post here!)
Most sand dollars are either kind of disc-shaped such as this Pacific Dendraster excentricus.
But then you get THESE weirdos!
|This image is from Wikipedia!|
I should note that all members of the Rotulidae are also found as fossils...
1. The genus Rotuloidea. The first is this relatively simple looking guy.. Rotuloidea fimbriata. This species is only found as a fossil, occurring from the Miocene to the Pliocene (that's between 3-23 million years ago). Found in Morocco.
|Image from this Echinoids Gallery page|
|This image borrowed from this Excellent French site: Sciences de la Terre et de la Vie.|
|Image from this MBL page|
If you wanted to modify or target images for plates, there was no image modification software to do it for you, you literally had to take an exacto knife or razor blade to photographs, cut them out and affix them to the hardboard plates...
But the images were done in amazingly high quality and remain attractive to this day.. Here are scans of the ORIGINAL plates from Fisher's Philippine Starfish monograph. No Instagram. No other photo modification. These are directly off the original plates..
Flickr and YouTube have provided us with a HUGE quantity of imagery of interesting aspects of ophiuroid biology. Here is a sampling of the ones I found worth sharing!
2. Brittle Star Burrowing!? See those two brittle star arms emerging from the burrow?? That means the disk is buried within the sediment. But WOW! Look at the sediment being dumped out of that burrow in a continuous string! Maybe something else is in there putting that out? or is the brittle star doing that??
One of the rays of an amphiurid. Note the tube feet/spines fully occupied by sediment as it digs its way into the bottom.
That arm is probably part of this critter.. an amphiurid brittle star
3. Brittle Stars Feeding: Tube feet in ACTION!! How often do you get to see a brittle star in full feeding action??
and even MORE ophiuroid feeding action!!!
4. Brooding Brittle Star CT SCAN! Here is an internal CT scan of a BROODING ophiuroid! The ones inside the disk are juveniles!
5. Brittle Star "SWIMS"! This looks like Ophiocnemis, the brittle star which seems to find itself hitching a ride in jellyfishes! I've written about these here!
|This image from NOAA Photo Library. Here.|
|This is Novodinia.Photo form NOAA Okeanos Explorer|
|This image originally from NOAA Photo Library here.|
|Another Pic of Novodinia americana? from 2013. NOAA Photo Library.|
Pedicellariae are tiny claw-shaped structures that cover each of those spines..sort of like staples embedded in a sock. These capture various food and prey items.. but mostly it was thought they captured crustaceans. Capturing fish is a bit unusual....
Food caught by the spines and on the surface are then moved down to the underside to the mouth...
Colleague Jackson Chu, provides us with a GREAT pic of the UNDERSIDE of a brisingid, showing the mouth, tube foot grooves and etc.. just what you would expect from any proper sea star...
Here are some stunning panoramic shots of brisingids. Presumably, these occur on places where water currents are favorable for them to capture food... Both of these are from the North Atlantic via Okeanos Explorer..
These animals feed by holding their arms up into the water and capturing food/prey as it is carried by on the water currents...
This shot was from a spur projecting from the canyon wall in the North Atlantic (Block Canyon) in 2062-2131 m.
|This pic from 2013 Atlantic Canyons Expedition|
some very "at attention" individuals...
Not all species occur on hard bottoms.. Some live on mud and sediment...
|This one from the NE Canyons expedition in 2013|
|From NOAA Photo Library here.|
This is the "golden ticket" so to speak.. from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory! that moment when Charlie finds that rare golden ticket from millions of chocolate bars! That special ticket to the rare tour of the chocolate factory! From MANY, MANY hours of going through these pictures I've found several GREAT items.
|From NOAA Photo Library here.|
So that's why you guys are getting TWO posts this week!!
So, following up with all of the NOAA deep-sea Okeanos Explorer stuff, I've found that I am just FASCINATED by these things called Xenophyophores!! The name means "Bearer of foreign bodies".
But what are they? To put it they simply, they are giant, deep-sea amoebas that live in large, sediment "houses" called "tests" (similar to the way that echinoderm skeletons are also known as tests).
Footnote on the classificaiton: a quick survey of the various Protist classifications tells me that even calling these organisms "amoebas" is probably incorrect. But the nuances of this dynamic are for another day..
This one group, the Xenophyophorea live in the deep-sea.. DEEP in the deep-sea! Xenophyophores were observed as deep as10 KM (over 6 miles!) in the deepest of marine trenches (the Mariana) and occur in almost ALL of the world's oceans (except the Arctic).
They are considered among the world's largest living SINGLE CELLED organisms.
Xenophyophores create these large tests which they inhabit. The tests come in a variety of forms. There are 42 known species in 13 genera. As I understand it, xenophyophores are considered as a subgroup within the Foraminifera (these are amoeba-like unicellular organisms with tests).
Here's a variety of xenophyophore tests spied by the Okeanos Explorer below..but other patterns include big leafy structures and more network-like arrays of tubes. They vary quite a bit...
|From the NOAA Photo Library here.|
|From the NOAA Photo Library here|
|From the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA photo library|
1. How Big Are They??So, here's the thing. I've read plenty of accounts that jump to the conclusion "These are the MONSTER AMOEBAS!!!" But what a lot of these accounts seem to forget is that the large sizes considered by a lot of popular accounts are the TESTS (i.e., the skeletons).
To be sure, these structures can be pretty big (for something made by amoebas!) The example below is apparently about 25 cm (almost a foot!) across!
Most of the accounts I've read sort of assume (and I suppose this is reasonable) that the animal inhabits ALL of the test all the time, or perhaps with pseudopods or tentacles extended throughout? Frankly, none of the accounts I read could clarify how much of the test, the actual organism inhabits.
However, One estimate (here) indicates that the test volume might be as little as < 1% "protoplasm" (which if I understand the terminology includes cytoplasm, etc.).. so, the actual organisms are probably not as monstrous as some folks would think. I would imagine its quite difficult to measure an amoeba for something like this.
2. What Do They Eat?
So, when you think of big deep-sea amoebas, perhaps automatically we think "oh WOW! Wouldn't it be NEAT if they actually could eat ANIMALS?" Just like in the movies?? And in truth, there ARE marine amoebas which probably devour animals ... but to date, very little evidence is available on the full range of what xenophyophores actually eat. and the truth is sadly not likely to be as romantic as some would think...
paper by Laureillard, Mejanelle and Sibuet from 2004 studied the xenophyophore Syringammina corbicula and utilized a study of various lipids and amino acids to look at their nutrition. Their study showed that bacteria were present in great abundance!
Xenophyophores have strings of mucus which are deployed along the test which build up feces and sediment called stercomes. It was suggested that a flora of these bacteria were present in abundance on these mucous threads. Perhaps being farmed and being utilized as a source of food.
Their mucous threads also are constantly pulling and trapping particles from the surrounding area, presumably in part to provide further nutrition.
Here is an Scanning Electron Microscope Image of a stercome showing up close details of what's on them...
So, there seems to be a heavy dependence on poop and other "marine snow" that falls down to the bottom.. as well as bacterial/microbial growth. But very little is known about feeding in xenophyophores, so who knows what else they do??
3. What are those structures (tests) made of?
Tests on xenophyophores are made up of a patchwork of different bits. Sediment, but also the shells of other marine organisms such as radiolarians, other foraminiferans, and so on...
Probably the most interesting thing that I've picked up about Xenophyophores?? Is how potentially important they are to deep-sea ecosystems. Xenos are VERY abundant in the deep-sea, sometimes reaching up to 2000 per 100 square meters!
Lisa Levin published this neat paper in 1991 about their roles in deep-sea communities. Basically it turns out that where xenos are found, there are "hotspots" of animal diversity!
The pic below shows two big xenophyophore tests with brittle stars on them...
Examples of how animals use these tests?
So, one of the aforementioned articles by Levin on Xenophyophore paleoecology makes the case that tests and other modern examples of sediment structures by these organisms can explain various trace fossils, and other mysterious fossil structures.
Perhaps one of the best known is that of the fossil ichnogenus (like an organism name but for a trace fossil) Paleodictyon!
Paleodictyon was famously studied by oceanographer Peter Rona who made it an obsession of his career. It has covered by many other natural history blogs such as this and this.
Basically.. a trace fossil which looks like this.
Starfish! Always between the Devil and a hard place!
Starfish SENT FROM THE HEAVENS!
Field Work was an arduous task in those days!
Young Men & Women Studying the Sea Urchin in Ye Olden Times! Note the humor! "urchin" in Latin meant hedgehog! And in olde English meant "unkept little child" And what's that next to it??? (thanks to Emily for her tip!)
|From Okeanos expl5494|
|from Okeanos expl5475|
|from Okeanos expl2184|
|From Okeanos expl2188|
|from Okeanos expl 2195|
|fr. Okeanos expl 2196|
|From Okeanos expl5403|
A wonderous cladorhizid carnivorous sponge from about 1000 m!
|from Okeanos expl5560|
|from Okeanos expl 5599|
|from Okeanos expl5650|
|From Okeanos expl 5648|
|From Okeanos expl5646|
|fr. Okeanos 5671|
|fr. Okeanos 5672|
Some of these species are known ONLY from wood substrates!
But how often do you get to see an established wood fall community?? Here's what looks like those wood-eating urchins I wrote about a few years ago...
|Okeanos expl 5968|
|from Okeanos expl 5972|
and yeah, there was a LOT more...
So, Okeanos Decision Committee?? LET'S GO BACK TO INDONESIA!!!
|Austin H. Clark, first curator of echinoderms at the Smithsonian's NMNH. Also, butterfly enthusiast.|
Many of you may or may not realize that, although I am widely studied in echinoderms, my *actual* research focuses on starfish, specifically the diversity of starfish, including the description of new species and how they "fit" into the evolutionary classification of the echinoderms and all other animals. I've written a bit about the description of new species before (many years ago now) here. here and here.
Taxonomy is often one of the first things you learn about biology. How do you classify the organism? Plant? Animal? Phylum? Class? Family? Genus? Species?
There are scientists (and citizen scientists) whose entire expertise is devoted to studying a singular group of plants, animals, or "other" (protists, fungi, etc.) just as mine is devoted to studying sea stars.
These scientists, such as myself, discover which species are new, which are known and place them within a broad "family tree" of relationships. It is the ongoing effort of these scientists to document potentially important new species for a variety of reasons. Some have important medical uses, others are economically important.. while others are ecologically important.
such as the recent and mysterious genus Dendrogramma may have broad evolutionary relevance to our understanding of life on Earth. Or at the very least, might just be some odd, evolutionary novelty which has peaked everyone's curiosity.
New species are exciting! and hold the promise of new knowledge. A new predator?? A living member of an extinct group?? Or perhaps a new species with an unusual adaptation??
This whole process of discovering new species has changed over the years. So, here are some recent discussions/dynamics/opportunities that I find worth mentioning and that might be surprising.
A caveat: the points below are skewed towards what I have experienced and how the broad patterns have relevance to what I've done. So, yeah, plants, fungus and protists are a bit different but much of the essential dynamic remains the same. And yes.. there's undoubtedly some stuff I've left out.
5. There are a LOT of new species left to be found, but are there enough scientists to describe them? (Data fromCostello et al. 2013. Science 339: 413-416) and Tancoigne & Dubois 2013. Cladistics 29: 567-570
In 2002, a one month survey of the seabed in New Caledonia found 127,652 specimens and 2,738 species of mollusks. 80% of them were new to science!
MANY new species await discovery and description. But do we have enough scientists who can do so?? Are we losing that expertise? Is there not enough taxonomy being done to document organisms before extinction overtakes them?? This is part of what is called the "Taxonomic Impediment",i.e. the number of species/taxa described is limited (and possibly declining) relative to their need.
One interesting contradictory result in answer to this question in the the two recent papers above, is that both of those papers allege that there are MORE taxonomists (people who describe new species and etc.) and MORE papers about new species being published now than there have been in the past.
But then, WHY is there still a perception that there STILL aren't enough taxonomists? And is that expertise decreasing?
Remember that there is an urgency to describe the world's biodiversity before it goes extinct. This is the so-called "6th Extinction" or "Holocene Extinction."You can go here to see more about it.
The question is complex.. but I can tell you that from my experience, I am currently considered one of the only regularly publishing, broadly trained starfish taxonomists/systematists. There are a couple of regional specialists and maybe 3 starfish paleontologists but very few people work on the broad biodiversity of starfishes. (as I did here in Japan early this year..)
I have a backlog of easily a dozen or more species currently "cued up" in my "immediate projects" list. With many, MANY more waiting my attention. Remember that trip I took to the North Pacific with MBARI? Almost ALL of the species I found were new! Who knows how many more new species await discovery with more workers in the wings?? So I guess that boils down to the question "Is that enough?"
There are easily whole phyla of animals for whom there may be all of one or two specialists in the world. Based on what I've read the estimates for undiscovered marine biodiversity, especially for invertebrates is pretty high. And I can definitely tell you that the number of staff or faculty jobs for invertebrate zoologist/taxonomists is pretty small.
So, yeah.. we're gonna need more taxonomists! But also jobs!
4. Most new species are "found" in museum collections rather than immediately on expeditions.
here and here. and Japan? This is because I'm visiting museums which have extensive holdings of deep-sea Indo-Pacific starfishes.
While its certainly true that I go into the field to collect starfishes in remote and exotic places (e.g., Antarctica-see below)
A paper by Fontaine, Perrard and Bouchet (2012) report on time between museum storage & publication (more on that below) but they review one important point: Most specimens accumulate in museums following collection. Its often a misconception that new species are automatically recognized in the field and whisked away to be instantly described.... (although yes, it does happen..it depends..)
They are often stored in a museum, where they are sorted, preserved and shelved until a scientist can work on them.
How long does that take between museum storage to publication??
3. It takes on average about 21 years for a species to be described from "shelf" to publication
Note this new genus and species from Antarctica I described in 2011. Collection date?? 14 March, 1966!! This was collected 4 years before I was born!! Ha.
The Fontaine et al. paper further sampled researchers from a variety of fields and found that for a variety of disciplines, it took on average about two decades for a new species to be described following collection and museum storage.
There are a LOT of considerations of course.. Some specimens undergo years of study. DNA is extracted. Comparisons are made. Histology is performed. It depends on what kind of work is done.
Some fields have lost their only workers for literally a decade. There was easily a gap for about 10 to 15 years, when there was no one who was "the starfish expert"until I came along.
2. Taxonomy from Images: Flickr & More!
So, image proliferation on the Internet has started to make a HUGE impact on natural history and taxonomy.
There is now a massive proliferation of images of habitats, organisms, and etc. via MANY different crowd sourced (e.g., Flickr or Youtube) or other conveniently available resources. For example: screengrabs/twitter pics of the live stream Okeanos Explorer deep-sea feed!
in 2012 about an entomologist who discovered a new species of insect on the crowd-sourced photo bank Flickr!
I've actually spoken to several of my colleagues about whether images they've seen on Flickr or Facebook could be new species and indeed, it is surprising HOW many there are! And why not? People who post their pictures travel all around the world or are in very distant settings. Some with great camera set ups and a good eye. There's a HUGE potential for data mining here with a nearly infinite number of pictures (many are never labelled).
For the deep-sea species.. even seeing the life mode and color is a HUGE step in knowledge over what scientists in the 20th Century, who often worked with a dead, dried specimen.
Back in 2006, Dr. Simon Coppard, a sea urchin taxonomist recovered specimens of a new species of sea urchin, Coelopleurus exquisitus from the online auction website, Ebay!
This sounds kind of ...unusual, the truth is that scientists and natural historians have been buying exotic shells and items from vendors of "exotic goods" since the 1800s. Many species described from this time period were based on specimens obtained from "Far East" purchases. The Internet auction house puts a 21st Century spin on 19th Century practice.
Fortunately, this species was described in good order and with apparently little hassle (and I can only hope- good locality data!)
Relying on vendors isn't a good option relative to a formal expedition or even just a professional scientist collecting on his/her own. MANY issues can be at play. Permits are common place and some specimens may have been illegally collected. Some organisms, such as coral are protected by international regulations. Obtained specimens could be poorly preserved or have incomplete or downright incorrect locality data (i.e., where they were found). But sometimes, it can be another way to discover new biodiversity. Strange but there it is.
This week a special OKEANOS Explorer Treat!
Owing to a fantastic combination of various technologies: deep-sea subersibles, HD cameras, quick and efficient internet transmission and the wonder of social media, not only do we have LIVE streams of deep-sea biology and exploration via the R/V Okeanos Explorer, BUT we have for the ability for almost ANYONE to tune and watch discoveries as they happen! AND watching and observing the scientists making these discoveries as they happen!
Thanks to Twitter and even a special Facebook Group that takes screengrabs of things seen by the ROV we now have a unique circumstance: Exploration of the deep-sea being seen by everyone!! and not just scientists!!
But, the starfish you encounter on these dives are not exactly common place. Starting to learn about them first entails knowing which ones are which! Not an easy task given how poorly known how some of these species are. Some of these have never been seen alive! And that's where I come in.
And so as my BIG GIFT to people (scientists AND non-scientists) who are following the Okeanos Explorer 2014 LIVE deep-sea feed, here is a gallery/field guide of deep-sea starfishes observed along the North Atlantic east coast!!
To be clear, this list of starfish species that is known from the deep-sea Atlantic region (>1000 m in this case) is likely INCOMPLETE.. It is biased by what I've been able to identify and the limits of the known science of each species. So, yes we WILL still probably see things that are not on this post. And eventually, these things will see publication...as many are new records.
A caveat about use: This is mainly for use in the North Atlantic along the east coast of North America. Some of the genera (e.g., Novodinia, Hymenaster, Pteraster) occur world wide so you'll see them in deep-sea pictures in many places. Some, such as Porania pulvillus may also occur in very shallow water, which is unusual. But you can' t necessarily expect to find all of these species in say, Hawaii or even the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Where species occur is often a funny thing in biology, likely dependent on a number of factors that make those places suitable for a specific species.
My thanks in advance to Dr. Chris Kellogg (@DrChrisKellogg ), Carina M. Gsottbauer (@CarinaDSLR) AND the members of the Facebook Underwater Screengrab Group for their diligence!
1. Tremaster mirabilis(Asterinidae)
Here's an animal we don't know much about. Go here to see more of what this species looks like. It occurs widely in the Atlantic, the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Antarctic in fairly deep water. Video images from OE were the first time that I'd ever seen this species alive. Its been imaged alive in tropical Pacific but never quite this nicely...
2. Chondraster grandis (I think). (Poraniidae)
We don't know much about this. Someone collected it and named in back in 1878 but we really don't have any info about its biology. Its living color wasn't even really known until recently.
The body form in these is very unusual. Very soft and has kind of the texture of a mango.
Which brings us to this mystery. Same animal... I think? But TWO colors?? Is one a new species? Or could the body color simply be variation?? This is where collected specimens permit us to examine the body and perhaps extract DNA to study the possibility that there could be separate species being seen...
We don't know much about the actual biology of this species. We don't know anything about how/what it eats or what/how it reproduces or even anything about its ecology. The genus Neomorphaster also occurs in the eastern Atlantic in the deeps off Europe.
These are deep-sea members of what is mostly a Southern Hemisphere group, the Stichasteridae.
Stichasterids are a basal group within the Forcipulatacea (i.e., an early branching within the evolutionary history of the group), a large group of starfishes which also includes the common starfish Asterias as well as the brisingids and 6 rayed starfish below. A post about their family tree is here.
5. 6-armed starfish? Ampheraster? or Unknown Asteriid/pedicellasterid?
This one is kind of a mystery. It could be several possible genera or species. The names probably mean nothing to most people. But basically, this is likely a distant relative of Asterias. But we've not collected one. So uncertainty remains. It could be new! Or it could be known. I briefly discussed this in an earlier Okeanos post here.
6. Novodinia americana? (Brisingidae)
BRISINGIDS! My favorite critters! These are actually starfish which use tiny little wrench-like structures called pedicellariae to capture food as water currents carry it through their arms. Sort of like velcro. See my full article on brisingids here.
Brisingids are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to identify from pictures. Usually, you can't because the features used to identify it need to be studied under a microscope.
Fortunately, Novodinia has a large swollen arm region around the disk with very thick spines as you can see below..
7. "Brisingid" Not sure which...
BUT after you get past Novodinia, the identifications of different brisingid sea stars becomes pretty difficult since none of the diagnostic features are visible from pictures..There are MANY encountered in these deep-sea habitats and probably several species which are not easily registered from pictures.
But they remain striking members of the deep-sea community.. Go here to see more of this
Evoplosoma! A deep-sea octocoral predator! Often seen feeding on various bamboo "corals" (i.e. members of the Isididae). I wrote at some length about these here. There's several species of this genus in this region and its difficult to make the call on these from pictures.
From one of the recent dives: you see all those bare branches on this bamboo coral?? That's Evoplosoma chowing down on the "meat" of the coral... Its not unusual to see them climbing high up into the branches of such a colony..
9. Ceramaster granularis? (Goniasteridae)
A so-called "cookie star" This species might be the shallower-water C. granularis or maybe something else? Likely, feeding on encrusing organisms or the "goo" on the substrate but we really don't know.
10. Pythonaster, probably P. atlantidis
This was a RARE one. Barely known from 2 or 3 specimens, this is probably one of the FIRST living pictures of this species ever taken! We know NOTHING about its biology.
I wrote about it in more detail here. Let's hope we see another one in the next few weeks!
11. Peribolaster or ??
Another rarely encountered species. Haven't even quite figured out what this one is yet. But it has what looks to be an osculum, i.e., an opening on the central disk to allow water onto the body surface.
What is an osculum?? Look to the links on pterasterids below....
NMFS cephalopod expert Mike Vecchione has identified this one as Grimpoteuthis sp. Generally speaking though, "dumbo octopus" applies to one of two genera, Grimpoteuthis or Opisthoteuthis.
The two genera are quite diverse. Grimpoteuthis includes about 18 species (according to marinespecies.org) whereas Opisthoteuthis includes about 20. Although these two genera are separated into distinct families, my understanding is that there is some disagreement over the taxonomy of the group.
The video followed this guy around from the water column down to the rock, after which it eventually swam off..
2. From Nantucket Canyon. This pycnogonid with an arcturid isopod on its proboscis (ID thanks to Tammy Horton). Not sure why its there. Possibly food or??
So by now, everyone and their 3 best friends have seen the critter above and the video on Facebook (below) which seems to have freaked everyone the frack out. Its been circulated and seen by over 5.6 million people!!
Answer: A basket star. A distant relative of sea stars.
First thing: HARMLESS. and out of its element. But we don't know much about them.
This was even given time by IFLS but not being echinoderm specialists, their answer was a bit over generalized... So, here's MORE. Its actually a pretty neat beast.
1. This is a BASKET STAR.These are specialized ophiuroids. Ophiuroids are members of the phylum Echinodermata. In other words, its related to Sea Stars, sea urchins, etc. Basket stars in particular have a highly branched system of arms which they use to feed. I've discussed the feeding biology of basket stars here. They have hooks on those branches with which they feed on tiny bits of food.
There are actually several different groups (i.e., families) of ophiuroids which have these fleshy arms and highly branched arms.They occur widely and vary from habitat to habitat.
2. Euryale aspera? I've consulted with one of the world's experts on basket stars and euryalinid brittle stars, my colleague Dr. Masanori Okanishi, currently at Kyoto University. Discussions with him and checking my own resources suggests that the animal above is a shallow-water tropical species, called Euryale aspera. Identification of the species is uncertain since there was only a picture and no specimen but based on my cross-check, this seems like a likely name.
3. Where and HOW does it live? Euryale aspera is a shallow water species which occurs widely across the Indo-Pacifc. This species is found throughout the Indo-Pacific, from Asia but as far west as Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
As with other basket stars, feeding is accomplished via tiny hooks present on the MANY branching arms spread out into the water column when they feed.
5. What about OTHER BASKET STARS???
The term "basket stars" informally refers to several groups of ophiuroids within the order Euryalida, which all have thick, fleshy arms. Some are more serpentine (i.e. serpent stars) whereas others are branching and appear to form a "basket" (i.e., basket stars). But they are often similar in appearance leading once again to some "blurred lines" where common names are applied. There are about 177 species in five families.
Members of the Euryalida occur widely throughout the ocean depths. Many are shallow water, occurring in both cold and tropical habitats whereas others occur in the deep, deep sea (> 1000 m). Many of them occur at depths in between. But you can encounter basket stars at SCUBA depths on reefs or other shallow habitats, which is where the "creature" above was apparently collected from.
A "serpent star" (Asteroporpa annulata from the tropical Atlantic)
A "basket star"
And by the way, these have been caught on deck and seen before...
The original video indicates that the one collected was returned to the ocean. These don't take exposure very well.. but perhaps more adverse to the animal was its ability to re-establish a perch to resume feeding. But, frankly our knowledge of their biology is very poor. We don't know much about them.
Happy National Fossil Day!
Every few years I'm in a position to share some more love about echinoderms and fossils. I've done this on previous National Fossil Days and tried to shed some light on the often arcane world of fossil echinoderms...
Here's one on paleocology & fossil parasites..
A nice gallery of fossil crinoids.. and this classic piece on giant floating/pelagic crinoids!
Paleozoic Echinoderms: The Ophiocystioids! and the Helicoplacoids!
A LOT of the REALLY weird stuff in echinoderms takes place in the days of the Paleozoic, some 245 to 541 MILLION YEARS Ago... There was a lot of crazy stuff (evolutionarily speaking) happening then. Echinoderms, as a lineage PREDATE Dinosaurs and they've been around since before vertebrates walked on land.
But here's a bunch of interesting facts I've cobbled together to better understand and appreciate fossil echinoderms and their history!!
5. Animal Body Type can bias preservation. This is really a dynamic of fossil preservation which is true for almost ANYTHING. In order for animals or any organism to undergo the fossilization process, it has to "survive" long enough to be buried and then kept together so that it undergoes the process. MANY factors can affect which animals/organisms/whatever are preserved in the fossil record. The study of how different factors affect fossil preservation is called taphonomy and it affects our perception of the history of life on the planet.
One of those factors is the physical strength of the body itself. Is it delicate? Is it REALLY strong and tough?? Delicate, soft bodies tend NOT to preserve very well (although they can exceptionally) but some bodies with very heavy and strongly calcified bodies are MORE likely to preserve.
So for example, these starfish, in life would have a fairly chalky body. They hold together pretty well when all the tissue is removed.
If the animal lives in an environment in which it is predisposed to be buried ANYWAY, that makes it THAT much MORE likely that it will be preserved. One good example are sand dollars (or really anything which lives buried).
Sand dollars have a pretty solid skeleton but ALSO live buried in sand. Sometimes, they can be killed by burial and pretty much just get preserved there in the sediment as it turns into rock.
3. There were MORE KINDS of Echinoderms in the Paleozoic!
One of the oldest questions from biologists unfamiliar with the fossil record is, "Why haven't you completely figured out the evolutionary history (i.e. phylogeny) of Echinoderms yet?? There's only FIVE of them!"
Yes. Only five LIVING groups (crinoids, sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins & sea cucumbers) are around today. BUT when you get into the VERY earliest days of echinoderms in the Paleozoic (245-541 MILLION years ago), you have easily TRIPLE the number of groups! (i.e. classes) and a crazy diversity of body plans NOT seen today!
You got things that look like crinoids. Disc-shaped echinoderms. Accordian-shaped, asymmetrical echinoderms. Weird, crazy tentacle-balls. and all sorts of natural "experiments" in Echinoderm morphology.
A crazy panoply of things! Oh, to go back in a time machine to see when rock was young!
2. The Roots of Recent Echinoderms were there...
Picking up on the crazy, diversity of echinoderms mentioned above its worth mentioning that the ancestors of MODERN echinoderms were seen among them.
Ophiocistioids for example are intermediate between sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
Also in the Paleozoic, we had the early ancestors to brittle stars and sea stars. Today, the brittle stars and sea stars distinctive looking in appearance that we can easily tell them apart, but looking at those early forms was NOT so easy...
Can you imagine walking around in the Paleozoic seas and seeing something that was NOT quite a starfish but also NOT quite a brittle star!! Something in between....
That's kind of why some paleontologists get so twitchy about what you call a "sea star" versus a "brittle star". They have LITERALLY spent years arguing WHY that is the case..
So, then at the END of the Paleozoic, in the Permian, you have one of the most devastating MASS EXTINCTIONS known to life on Earth at the Permian-Triassic Boundary. That is the end of the Paleozoic and the beginning of the Mesozoic (i..e time of the dinosaurs).
This extinction was huge. 96% of marine species were wiped out. Part of this? All those aforementioned echinoderm classes.. (about 15 of them)? GONE.
Only survivors from FIVE groups survived to live on today. Here's a cartoon of this from Echinoblog Art Department!
|Echinoblog Art Department Lives on!|
The colors and patterns are embedded in the skeleton. So, if you drop them in a preservative like alcohol, the reds and purples, and etc. don't go away. They remain after death.
|Image from the NHM Echinoid database|
|The secret of the big terrifying jaws is #1 below!|
So, note that I actually am using REAL aspects of these animal's biology that make them, creepy, terrifying, spooky, whatever. Unlike SOME places.. I won't just find some weird looking, random animal and just SAY its spooky or creepy. It actually HAS to do something worthy of the name!
This year: a theme that often comes up with invertebrates: Predators that would be terrifying if they were larger!!
So, this is a pretty popular trope and frankly, there are ALREADY a bunch of huge, oversized marine invertebrates that freak people out. You will doubtlessly see some tweets about those beasts this week.
Here are some of my picks for invertebrate PREDATORS that to me, have earned the RIGHT to be optioned for movie rights! or other fantastic treatment! So, nothing that is weird looking but harmless (I mean, c'mon, BASKING SHARKS? SHREWS?)
There were MANY to choose from of course and so perhaps next year I'll present more of them. But for now, here's some good ones.....
5. Arrow Worms (phylum Chaetognatha)
Imagine the oceans filled with fast-swimming, transparent worms with sharp spines for teeth on their head, and which can effectively "see" in a 360 degree field of view AND attack and devour prey several times their own size.
They feed with these big nasty hooks that emerge off the front of the head!! Some are even known to do so with venoms like tetrodotoxin, the potent toxin from puffer fish.
Arrow worms have been documented as having capture prey several times their size...like fish!
Imagine a fleshy parasitic network that works its way into your body, commandeering your all your bodily functions, INCLUDING your gonads, such that all you do is produce eggs to make NEW parasites.
These don't really NEED to be bigger..but merely adjusted to parasitizing MORE than crabs.
These have been written about in some detail by Rebecca Helm over at Deep Sea News. Her account is quite chilling. I recommend reading it in the dark, while you are alone with some seafood....
This is one of my FAVORITE beasts.. which I wrote up here, early on in the blog (and on numerous other occasions).
But the short story: Giant 1.5 foot wide starfish with 50 arms, catches krill and other prey with arms!!
|Thanks to Bob Ford & Taylor Steed of Frederick University for the SEM pics|
Museum national d'Historie Naturelle! Home of Lamark and many other natural history legends!
Today...two neat specimens with some interesting commentary and history, respectively...
WOW! Look at the name of the collector! Could this be THE Calypso of Jacques Cousteau fame???
The MNHN is of course, the "national repository" (i.e., where they put all their stuff) of France, in the same way that the Smithsonian is the national repository of the United States. So, yeah, in theory anything they collect would be here.
Bonjour once again!! So, my trip to Paris has all but ended and I'll be returning to the United States in a few days. The trip has been a challenging one. The laptop crashed and was out of the loop for two weeks and left me without a computer for data collection and etc..
I had a great chance to learn about weird brittle stars from Tim and so I did!!
Learning about weird, deep-sea brittle stars with Dr. Tim O'Hara from Museum Victoria!
Tim was working with deep-sea biologists at the Paris Museum who are interested in New Caledonia. (I am one of them). Some may remember that this time last year, a huge new marine reserve was created in the New Caledonia region.
Thus, Dr. O'Hara's ecological and taxonomic expertise was brought to bear... not only to identify brittle stars...