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Articles on this Page
- 07/08/16--07:08: _Pycnopodia Watch! C...
- 07/13/16--15:16: _Astropyga The Radia...
- 07/28/16--20:33: _The Crown of Thorns...
- 08/10/16--19:17: _HYMENASTER Deep-Sea...
- 08/23/16--15:43: _Gorgeous Closeups o...
- 09/14/16--06:03: _Taxonomy: Lurking b...
- 09/21/16--06:36: _Unravelling the sec...
- 09/30/16--07:46: _A Guide to Inverteb...
- 10/13/16--07:28: _New Species of Sea ...
- 10/29/16--05:32: _#SEASLUGDAY2016: Nu...
- 11/29/16--23:05: _Trenches: Death Sta...
- 12/17/16--11:05: _Starfish Guide for ...
- 02/01/17--07:43: _Brittle Stars that ...
- 03/06/17--06:23: _Highlights from the...
- 03/17/17--07:45: _Okeanos Tropical Pa...
- 04/25/17--06:35: _Okeanos Follow-up: ...
- 05/08/17--10:37: _Brittle Stars of (s...
- 05/16/17--05:44: _Tremaster mirabilis...
- 05/31/17--07:49: _Five Highlights fro...
- 06/27/17--09:24: _BIG NEWS!!! Echino...
- 08/10/17--08:09: _Okeanos Explorer Co...
- 09/05/17--13:43: _Pacific Northwest S...
- 01/24/18--10:27: _Unusual Surface Tex...
- 03/19/18--05:54: _Taxonomy Day 2018! ...
- 04/23/18--10:05: _The "starfish walki...
- 07/08/16--07:08: Pycnopodia Watch! Cautious Optimism about Sunflower Stars!
- 08/10/16--19:17: HYMENASTER Deep-Sea Slime Stars from the Atlantic and Pacific!
- 08/23/16--15:43: Gorgeous Closeups of Australian Starfishes!
- 09/14/16--06:03: Taxonomy: Lurking behind all the Big Announcements!
- 09/30/16--07:46: A Guide to Invertebrate Zoology on Twitter!!
- October 8 – Octopus Day, for all the eight-armed species
- October 9 – Nautilus Night, a time for all the lesser-known extant cephalopods
- October 10 – Squid Day/Cuttlefish Day, or Squidturday, covering the tentacular species
- October 11 – Myths and Legends Day, for all the fantastical cephalopods of movies, literature and legend.
- October 12 – Fossil Day
- 10/13/16--07:28: New Species of Sea Stars from the North Pacific and BEYOND!
- 10/29/16--05:32: #SEASLUGDAY2016: Nudibranchs eat ALL THE THINGS!
- 11/29/16--23:05: Trenches: Death Stars vs. Sea Stars! (thank you again Paris!)
- 02/01/17--07:43: Brittle Stars that Steal Food From Jellyfish!
- 03/06/17--06:23: Highlights from the recent NOAA Okeanos Explorer Samoa Expedition!
- 06/27/17--09:24: BIG NEWS!!! Echinoblog Will be ON Okeanos Explorer!!
- 08/10/17--08:09: Okeanos Explorer Communities & Deep-Sea Discoveries!
- 09/05/17--13:43: Pacific Northwest Sea Stars Names: EXPLAINED!!
- 03/19/18--05:54: Taxonomy Day 2018! Museum Trends from Starfish Travels!
- 04/23/18--10:05: The "starfish walking back to the sea" FAQ & why it is sad
2013 as I blogged about here and it became suddenly noticeable by MANY scientists on the west coast from Canada to California. Due to a massive population explosion there followed a catastrophic die off in British Columbia which I documented here, with pictures courtesy of Jonathan Martin.
In the intervening years, the Starfish Wasting Disease "event" had taken on a HUGE stage. UC Santa Cruz now monitors the health of west coast asteroids on their website (here).
The first Sea Star Wasting Symposium was held earlier this year in Seattle. A meeting which I attended and reported on here.
Perhaps one of the most significant losses following the massive starfish wasting disease epidemic that hit the west coast of North America (and possibly parts of the east coast) was the apocalyptic loss of the iconic sunflower sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides.
When I was growing up on the west coast, there were sunflower stars that were HUGE!! Tall tales would report them reaching two and a half, then THREE feet across! But most were a good dinner plate size.
These animals were voracious predators and for starfish, moved quickly across the intertidal and subtidal...
Sunflower Stars are an ecologically important species.
Unfortunately, populations of this species were DEVASTATED by the starfish wasting disease epidemic. More so than almost any of the other species, the sunflower stars were more often than not, completely removed from local areas along the coast.
Ecologically this has had VERY significant ramifications. Recent ecological studies, such as this 2016 paper in PeerJ by Schultz et al have indicated that green sea urchin abundance in British Columbia has increased FOUR FOLD!
This has agreed somewhat with anecdotal observations by naturalists on Twitter observing sea urchin abundance in California...
Ever since the disappearance of Pycnopodia sea stars, the purple urchins have become very common - coincidence...? pic.twitter.com/LohVivn8YJ— M. Sid Kelly (@MSidKelly) June 12, 2016
Those of us who are most familiar with the West coast fauna.. divers, naturalists, scientists, citizen scientists, beach goers, students, fishermen, anyone with an intertidal or subtidal ID guide was suddenly NOT seeing this species. It was and still is a significant and sad loss.
And so.. observations of THIS species have had a SPECIAL significance..
BUT today, a colleague of mine, Ms. Brenna Green observed THIS. A juvenile Pycnopodia helianthoides in Northern California!! According to her, one of the first she's seen in a good long while!!
I was directed to iNaturalist which has been monitoring observations of ALL asteroids on the west coast.. There were only 60 observations of Pycnopodia since 2014!!- so only about 20 per year that are reported Note also-some of those observations were from areas that are distant from the primary Sea Star Wasting Disease areas (such as Alaska).
Make no mistake, that's a very low number... but surprising considering that they were considered completely gone from some areas..
But they ARE still out there. And are still popping up..
An anecdotal skim of Flickr and Twitter shows that small sunflower stars have been popping up over the last year or so...
From Titlow, Tacoma, Washington from February 29, 2016
The diadematid ASTROPYGA!
Common names of these urchins include "radial urchins" and "fire urchins."But many refer to echinothuriids in the genus Asthenosoma as "proper" Fire Urchins, for obvious reasons.. but mainly because they are VERY painful to get stung by..
Astropyga also appears to have a rather painful array of spines but I'm unsure if these pack quite the toxic wallop that Asthenosoma does..
Astropyga includes four known species, one in the tropical East Pacific and another in the Indo-Pacific and two in the tropical Atlantic. All are known to occur primarily from relatively shallow to mesophotic depths as we saw recently on a Bishop Museum expedition to the "Twilight Zone" (here)
But even within the widely occurring Indo-Pacific species. A. radiata there appears to be quite a bit of color variation from the dark colors seen below to the lighter ones like this
The genus name can be broken down to "Astro" meaning star and "pyga" which refers to rump or buttocks.. so the name literally translates to "Star Butt"!!.
Why? Well, you see this giant bulb on the surface? That's an extension of the intestine called the anal sac. That's where the POOP comes out! I've talked about that here. So, basically some wry taxonomist looked at the anal sac and the pentagonal symmetry and decided "yes. The STAR ASS!"
All the images below are probably A. radiata from the Indo-Pacific.
Astropyga scavenging on dead fish!(Lembeh)
Based on a round up of papers I could locate, A. radiata has been reported primarily as a scavengers, feeding on algal debris and other stuff from sediments, etc. But if this image is accurate (and not posed) they occasionally much on dead fish as well. This is actually consistent with other sea urchin feeding habits, so I feel comfortable in presenting it here..
This speaks for itself. As with other echinoderms I've shown here (such as the sea cucumbers) just because you see white fluid being emitted its not actually clear what sexes of the species are present. The fluids likely represent BOTH sperm AND eggs.
Astropyga moves surprisingly quickly!
While I haven't actually seen one of these alive and close up, its pretty clear that even for sea urchins they are capable of a surprisingly brisk sprints! and across some unusual terrains to boot!
That's quite a lot of coordination of spines and tube feet at play..
my first underwater timelapse from prodtv on Vimeo.
And finally, one of the things that we LOVE to watch urchins doing? POOPING! Something that is arguably part of their namesake! Here's the time I corrected New Scientist on their mistaken urchin pooping picture!
Here's a whole post on echinoderm anuses for your reading pleasure!
Image from Wikipedia, taken by Jon Hanson, in Thailand: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown-of-thorns_starfish#/media/File:Crown_of_Thorns-jonhanson.jpg
But genetics DOES indicate that there are multiple "cryptic species" across this animal's wide range in the Indo-Pacific..
and the ANUS of course! That's the dark spot, probably surrounded by spines... this shot is nice because it not only shows off the papulae (the gills) but also the pedicellariae (the red tweezer like structures)
And the ORAL surface!
Strangely enough, the top surface of Acanthaster is remarkably well known but how many people have actually seen the ORAL surface where the mouth is???
In addition to the tube feet all converging at the mouth, you also see the oral spines projecting into the mouth itself!
|From 2001. Hymenaster pentagonalis from the Hawaiian Islands region. Image by H. Reiswig|
My first exposure to LIVING Hymenaster was back in 2001 when I was working with Craig Young on an expedition to study glass sponges in the Hawaiian Islands (see pic above)
I got an opportunity to collect a bunch of deep-sea asteroids at that time and saw my FIRST deep-sea slime star!!
and a few minutes after, I discovered for the first time that, just like their shallow-water cousins, Hymenaster could emit mucus just as effectively!! In other words SLIME!
|Image by H. Reiswig.|
The name Hymenaster translates from the Greek into "Hymen" and "aster" or "Membrane Star" which as we shall see is pretty fitting.
The body is almost transparent. You can see the five radiating tube foot grooves plus the mouth and some spines and etc. in the surface areas which you can sort of see through.
|Hymenaster sp. from Maro Crater (Hawaiian Islands)|
Hymenaster occurs all throughout the world: Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian and Antarctic (i.e. the Southern) Ocean. The genus includes approximately 60 species.
Hymenaster lives primarily in very DEEP water (1000-8400) with some species occurring in the DEEPEST of ocean depths, setting records for starfish deep-sea occurrence (here). The deepest known Hymenaster was recorded from 8,400 meter depths aka the ULTRA abyssal!! But some, such as the shallow Hymenaster pellucidus take advantage of the cold water in the Arctic and can occur in as shallow as 128 meters.
The problem with many of these deep-sea pictures is that the diagnostic characters used to ID them are from characters that are either on the underside, along the tube foot grooves or actually INSIDE the body. Color, shape and surface texture all seem to vary..so it can be difficult to "nail down" which species is which..
Unfortunately, these animals don't hold up well after collection. Here's one after the delicate touch of a robot submersible. Think about what what a delicate animal like this looks like AFTER a trawl net has dragged it for about an hour on the sea bottom!
There is nearly NOTHING known about the biology of these animals. What do they eat? What is the slime used for? What is the gelatin-like body an adaptation for? Where do the species live? Are they separated by depth? How have they evolved?
ALL of the observations below have screengrabs via the Okeanos Explorer program!!
The deep Pacific is a VAST area. Images below are mostly from North Pacific observations..undoubtedly there remain many MORE species further south.
A Pink One from the southern region of "Bank 9" in the Hawaiian Islands region
here was an ENORMOUS one from the Hawaiian Okeanos that was HUGE about 20 cm across!
This one nicely illustrates the osculum, which is that big center hole on the surface which is how water enters the cavity surrounding the body surface thus bringing water/gases to the papulae (i.e. the gills) within..
It gave us a nice show with its opening and closing osculum!
This is what I previously identified for HURL as H. pentagonalis..but it doesn't seem to match the orange one at the top of the post above in terms of color or texture. So, possibly something else.
and yet ANOTHER Hymenaster species (I think??) from Salmon Bank in the Hawaiian region. White with flyffy surface texture!
A recent image of Hymenaster sp. from McDonnell Guyot in the Wake Island region. Same genus but the surface texture is VERY different..
Its also entirely POSSIBLE that SOME of these Atlantic species might actually be the SAME ones as the Pacific ones.. There are some similarities below with the ones above..
Contributions herein by photographers: Bill, Tony Brown, Beth Heap, Leander, Richard Ling, Lox Pix, Morley Mason, Andrew Newton, Matt Nimbs, Valguille and especially SASpotato!
|image by Peter Southwood, via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goniasteridae#/media/File:Nectria_ocellata_P2133340.JPG|
Scientific Names vs. Common or Popular Names: What's Required
There are actually a set of internationally recognized CODES (i.e. rules) for describing species and governing their use. These codes are overseen by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (here) and although they are not much more than a regulatory organization, they do try to keep everything from going taxonomic kablooey!
Basically, it is these rules that dictate HOW a lot of organisms in the world get scientific names. So, simply SAYING that a new organism is called "A blue Baboo Fish" won't cut it. It actually has to be supported by evidence and published in a PEER-REVIEWED journal and given a proper scientific name in the proper format (in Latin, etc.). ONLY THEN is such a name considered valid.
Common or popular names (e.g., "blue tang" or "cushion star") have their uses but ultimately, scientists depend on the specific context of having a unique identifier associated with a particular organism. Mainly because common names are EXTREMELY variable. I've talked about the insanity of the term "cushion star" here before..
BUT a number of other rules are also at play in order to keep the process of naming new species orderly...
Nomen Nudum aka Why we don't know the name of the President's Fish (yet!)
Have you ever noticed that there's often a significant time lag between the time someone ANNOUNCES that they have DISCOVERED a new species and the time that new species is ACTUALLY described??
probably saw the news that there was a fish species named in honor of President Obama (here), who dramatically expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Note that while some accounts actually went so far as to cite the genus name (Tosanoides) nowhere will you find the FULL name until its published in the literature. Is it a liberal conspiracy? NOPE. Its Taxonomy!
If they actually announced the full species it would create a nomen nudum, which is kind of like the taxonomic equivalent of a time-space anomaly from Star Trek. That means there's a proper scientific name flying around WITHOUT a proper scientific description.
When written out completely, the full format of valid scientific names display a reference to the original author and date of the paper which described it. Thus, the full name of one of my species
"Circeaster arandae Mah 2006" refers to a paper in 2006 in which I described the species Circeaster arandae.
Getting back to the nomen nudum however, Note that this does not necessarily invalidate the name. But it does open the name up for other unscrupulous (or unknowing) individuals to inadvertently use the name, thus "taking away" the name from the author's original intent. (or in the worst case, stealing the name from the original author).
Another real example...
You might have seen this little guy for example. A new species of dumbo octopus that one of my colleagues Stephanie Bush is working on out at MBARI/Monterey Bay Aquarium.
In an interview she alluded to the fact that the animal is SO cute that she might call it "adorabilis." She called it that informally as part of an interview but the media took the name and pretty much made it stick.
SO many news outlets have now used this name that it has turned up everywhere..but it has NOT been described or published in a scientific journal as of this date (Sept. 2016). This is not strictly a nomen nudum but conceivably, someone might mistakenly cite it in a scientific journal somewhere.
If that happens, then BOOM. It has entered the literature. This still does not mean that Dr. Bush cannot use the name..but it DOES mean that if someone else happens to use the species name "Opisthoteuthis adorabilis" that will "steal" the name away from her because ANOTHER scientist will have justified a species using that name in compliance with the ICZN code..
If by chance the name was published TWICE and in proper compliance by BOTH authors then a new situation arises. In that case the name published first has priority... A great segue into a discussion of SYNONYMY...
Synonymy aka Why you have to be careful if you "bought" a new species
Probably one of the most important of the codes in the ICZN is that of "priority" which basically states that the OLDEST (i.e. the FIRST) name established for a species is the correct one. All subsequent names of the SAME species are essentially considered redundant and their use is suppressed once that assessment is made (but there are exceptions on occasion-better explained at another time).
That seems pretty straightforward. But in truth, it can get pretty unfairly brutal.
There's a LOT of new species that are named in "good faith", sometimes even with very strong data that for whatever reason are ultimately deemed to be "redundant" and are suppressed in the literature.
So that means if someone described a new species with a shoddy (or in some cases, almost NO details) description-but it was ADEQUATE, followed by a second description that was just an objectively BETTER account, that FIRST author gets credit and the other species get put into the list of "redundant names" aka the synonymy.
While this consideration is always important, one of the biggest trends this becomes relevant for is the "Buy a new species name" thing that has been done recently to raise funds for further research, or otherwise charitable causes... Scripps Institute of Oceanography advertised the honor of naming a new species for $5,000 (see worm below as an example) whereas other places have gone over into bidding wars over $7,200! This ebay auction won the rights to name this new species of moth for $12,600.00
But its STILL possible, sometimes even if nothing was done wrong... Science is an ongoing process and although taxonomy has kind of a reputation for being a bit stogy the truth is that it IS quite dynamic and taxonomic changes are common place (much to the annoyance of those who use species names!)
Can you name a new species from a picture?
Okeanos Explorer is a research vessel operated by NOAA that broadcasts LIVE streams of its deep-sea research over the internet. I'm one of the "shoreside talent pool" which answers questions from the scientists on the ship AND from the public. (see #Okeanos on Twitter for some of my live-tweets from the dive).
A question that came up recently from my last Okeanos round, was whether or not a new species could be described ONLY from a picture or video rather than a specimen???
Uh.. No and yes.
For MOST (nearly all) cases, some kind of voucher is necessary. Why? Because we require EVIDENCE to describe a new species. Measurements. Observations of the skeletal (or non-skeletal) structure. Analysis of different features. DNA. Any one of thousands of kinds of data which permit us to carefully contrast the known species of organisms from one another.
At the very least, a specimen must be examined so that we can carefully discern why its gross morphology is different from other similar species. These specimens are conserved. They are saved in museums for future generations to reference and retained for hundreds of years.
HOWEVER. In some RARE instances, there IS an allowance for new species to be described ONLY from a picture. It used to be invoked for exceptional cases-rare and endangered species for example.
But just a FEW months ago Neal Evenhuis at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii made the case that in some cases, a photo ALONE is enough to describe a new species-given PROPER evidence. (Scientific paper is here)
The octopus seen by Okeanos was identified because it was an "incirrate" octopus (as identified by NOAA researcher Mike Vecchione) which had NEVER been seen at that depth before. Almost certainly a new species
The conservative scientific approach in publications would be to indicate it IS a new species but without a proper name (e.g., Octopus n. sp. 1)
BUT it can't be properly characterized because a LOT of octopus characters are internal and require direct comparison (unlike the South African bee example above which COULD be identified and characterized).
Also, while unlikely, its POSSIBLE that there is a specimen of this animal somewhere in a museum somewhere in the world which has already been published. Without reconciliation of all these disparate factors, one risks creating redundant names which are essentially permanent and creating possible confusion.
Thus, identifying a species directly from ONLY a picture would be more direct but not as thorough and does not give us enough data to properly assess it. But yes, there are exceptions.
Identifying species only from pictures also invites the possibility of abuse and reckless taxonomy which could impede and hopelessly confuse the work of legitimate scientists during a time when there is a dire need for workers to be be studying Earth's biodiversity...
Species named after celebrities & pop culture? What's up with that?
This also made scientific names pretty straightforward. I've documented the word origins of MANY starfish species before (such as here) Some make great stories in and of themselves
Most scientific names are based on descriptive terminology. So, for example, the name Acanthaster , which is the scientific name of the Crown of Thorns starfish (learn more about this genus here), literally translates into "thorny star" from the Greek acanth- and the Latin -aster meaning star. Many of these names were sort of an open book...
"noted scientist of the day", for example Luidia-the starfish is named for Edward Lhuyd who called himself Luidius.
Although you would think that naming a genus would be better than a species (because a genus is higher up in the taxonomic hierarchy), in fact, its not. Higher level names tend to be made into synonymies more frequently than species. Species tend to stick around for quite awhile longer..
It USED to be that many of these names would stick to people known to the scientists: wives, children, close confidants and good colleagues and certainly this continues to be the case. I've named MANY species after close friends and colleagues.
As we have gotten into the 20th and 21st Century however, we NOW see increasingly the role of pop culture influencing taxonomists! There are a number of reasons: Some think it makes taxonomy more relatable, some have found genuine inspiration from popular entertainment, others have many MANY species and have just "run out" of Latin names.. an endless list from a huge pool of scientists.
Sometimes the people/characters as names are directly influential! As with Yoda above. the genital flaps of that acorn worm (an enteropneust) were VERY reminiscent of Star Wars Jedi Master Yoda! The ICZN is actually surprisingly flexible in allowing for "translating" terms into taxonomic names... And hence its namesake! From a character created in the late 20th Century into an ancient dead language! No problem! (if you know how)
We have flies named after Beyonce, wasps named after Shakira and trilobites named after Mick Jagger! You can see a full list of names here on Wikipedia.
and of course the brittle star named after George RR Martin of Game of Thrones!
Taxonomists are diverse. No longer done by ONLY classic stodgy, out of touch scientists-but hip, trendy nerds as well! .. it is done by many students and dynamic individuals who follow popular trends.. and we will likely see more and MORE of these pop culture names in the future....
thanks to Monica M. who asked me the question about Obama's fish! that inspired this post.
via the NOAA photo library http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/expl6751.htm
Here's some video to give you an idea of what it looks like/how it moves, etc. (I would watch without sound to enjoy the zen of the animal)
IF the name doesn't sound familiar, the animal's distinctive appearance definitely stays glued in your head after you've seen one! Imagine a big blobby sea cucumber with what looks to be a HUGE LOBE sticking out of its hind end!
Note the image above contrasted to this diagram showing mouth (top) and anus end (with lobe-bottom).
The genus Psychropotes is derived from the Greek for Psychros which means "cold or frigid" and "potes" which honestly, I could not find a definitive translation for... One root translated to "flight"? possibly alluding to the ability of this species to swim...And another colleague tells me it might mean "dweller". Ah well, one mystery at a time!!
Psychropotes includes 11 species which occur widely, all around the world in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern (but not in the Arctic) oceans in the deep abyss of the world's oceans! That means roughly 2000 to 6000m. They are the deepest of the deep! Considered "classic" deep-sea inhabitants they were collected and described from the HMS Challenger's historic mission.
These can be pretty BIG animals!! as this image from a recent MBARI expedition demonstrates. (with deep-sea biologist Greg Rouse for scale!)
|From MBARI https://twitter.com/sarahkeartes/status/593979334056022016|
Note the one above with the shorter, forked "lobe" Is it the SAME species as the purple one shown earlier? Is this variation? (such as what we might see in humans who live in different parts of the world) Or are these separate species?
|Figure 2 from Gubili et al. 2016|
|Figure 3 from Ghibili et al.|
What further mysteries does Psychropotes have in store? I anxiously await the next paper!
....now if I could only figure out what the "potes" part of Psychropotes means!
— Libby Ross (@Libby_Ross) January 27, 2013
|from ebay http://www.ebay.com/itm/Psychropotes-varipes-Stuffed-Toy-sea-cucumber-peluches-Kuscheltiere-Japan-Eboshi-/271795943477|
It surprised me that SO MANY have since become established. I remember many years ago when it was less than 6 people and most of it was secondary to blogging!
Invertebrate Themed Twitter Events
#TrilobiteTuesdays. Held every Tuesday. If you are into Paleozoic arthropods then Tuesdays are YOUR thing!
#WormWednesday: Held every Wednesday. These bring forth all manner of worm-like phyla: Polychaeta, Annelida, Nematoda, Platyhelminthes, Acoela, and so on and so forth..
#SpongeThursday: Held every Thursday. Love the Porifera? the Hexactinellida? Go forth and
enjoy/post about them!
Honorable mention goes to #FossilFriday which is mostly about Dinosaurs and vertebrates..but you get some ammonites and other invertebrates in there pretty regularly...
#CephalopodAwarenessWeek. aka #CephalopodAwarenessDays Every year from October 8 to 12. You can keep on updates at @cephalopodday. Basically 5 days celebrating EACH class of cephalopods and then some...
#SeaSlugDay. Held every year on October 29th in honor of Dr. Terry Gosliner's birthday! Celebrate by posting images, videos and links to all manner of shell-less marine gastropods! Nudibranchs and their kin! My post from last year.
And of course #Okeanos when the NOAA vessel Okeanos Explorer goes into research/streaming mode! in which case, there are new deep-sea invertebrate posts for several hours every day for about 2 to 3 weeks!!
Various Twitter accounts/Persons with Invertebrate themed content
|from the USNM Invertebrate Zoology FB page @InvertebratesDC|
This will be a fairly subjective list-I focused mainly on marine groups and those with academic or otherwise focused content that I thought was appropriate. Activity was also a consideration. Some accounts looked essentially inactive and were not included.
Let me clear that there are a LOT of accounts which have a broader focus that regularly include Invertebrate Zoology themed tweets, including aquariums, natural history museums, etc. and frankly those have so many followers its unnecessary to give them much more publicity anyway..
There were MANY, many individual accounts of photographers, naturalists, educators, scientists, etc. who for one reason or another I just couldn't include for the sake of space, focus, etc.
And there are some topics, for example about coral reefs, there's a TON of coral-related accounts and I simply could not list them all... A search on Twitter's search engine will get you all of those names pretty quickly though.
So, please don't take an omission as an offense. In fact, if you've got an IZ twitter account that you'd like me to know about, please let me know and if I think its appropriate, I'd be happy to include it.
As a side note: my search for these Twitter accounts took me to some interesting places and its curious to see how many of of the phylum or other taxonomic names have made it into popular use: band names, student groups, social clubs, business organizations, video games, so on and so forth...
Invertebrate Zoology department of the NMNH at the Smithsonian @InvertebratesDC The official account for one of the most active Invertebrate Zoology departments in the world.
Heidi Gartner. @RBCMInverts.Collection Manager at the Royal British Columbia Museum Invertebrate Zoology dept.
Annelida & Segemented Worms
Dr. Christoph Bleidorn @C_Blei. Evolutionary biologist at the MNCN in Madrid
Dr. Conrad Helm. @conrad_helm. Sars International Center at the University of Bergen. Works on the systematics of segmented worms.
Brachiopod research at the Natural History Museum in London @NHM_Brachiopoda.
Bryozoan research at the Natural History Museum in London @BryozoanNHM This is, I daresay, the finest Twitter account about bryozoans I have seen to date!! Both fossil and living!
Dr. Allen Collins, NMFS/Invertebrate Zoology NMNH. @tesserazoa. Specialist in jellyfish systematics, sponges and metazoans relationships.
Australian Coral Reef Society. @AustCoralReefs. Official twitter account of the Australian Coral Reef Society.
Dr. Casey Dunn, Brown University. @caseywdunn. Evolutionary biologist at Brown with a special eye towards siphonophores! He also produces Creature Cast videos.
Dr. Cheryl Lewis Ames, @boxjellytalk. NMNH/University of Maryland, box jelly expert.
Coral Morphologic. @CoralMorph. Strong visuals, images, videos of cnidarians and many other invertebrates.
Gates Lab @GatesCoralLab.Coral Research at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
Dr. David Plachetzki. University of New Hampshire. @plachetzki. Cnidarian genomics.
Dr. Mercer R. Brugler @ProfBrugler. Professor at City Tech, SUNY, Taxonomy & Systematics of Black Corals & Anemones.
Medusozoa Columbia. @Medusozoacol. Jellyfishes of Columbia!
NOAA Coral Program @NOAACoral. Official Twitter account for the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.
Dr. Rebecca Helm. @RebeccaRHelm. Woods Hole Oceanographic Instition. Jellyfishes and all manner of swimming cnidarian.
Dr. Paulyn Cartwright @pcart. Professor at the University of Kansas specializing in Cnidarian Evolution.
Dr. Andrea Quattrini. @quattrinia. Harvey Mudd College. Studies deep-sea corals.
Miranda Lowe, @NatHistGirl. Principal curator of Marine Invertebrates at the Natural History Museum in London.
Dr. Tammy Horton, Amphipod taxonomist at the Discovery Collections in Southampton @tammy_horton.
Adam Hadsall. @_Nezumiiro_ Tweets #craboftheday and many other items of carcinological interest!
Chris Mah, Research Associate at the NMNH. @echinoblog.I work on sea stars but know stuff about things.
David Clark. @Clarkeocrinus.A great account for enjoying Paleozoic and fossil stalked crinoids!
Fossil Worms (Miscellaneous)
Luke Perry. At the University of Bristol in the UK/Natural History Museum. @Cambriannelids.Works on Cambrian worms, primarily annelids.
Hemichordates, deuterostomes, etc.
Dr. Chris Cameron. @InvertEvo at the University of Montreal.One of my colleagues who studies the evolution and development of deuterostomes, especially hemichordates.
Dr. Dave Rudkin, @RudkinDave. Royal Ontario Museum. Studies Paleozoic arthropods and other fossil invertebrates.
Dr. Michael Bok at the University of Hawaii @mikebok. Studies Vision in invertebrates.
Dr. Anna Phillips, Curator of leeches and parasitic worms at the NMNH, Smithsonian. @Annalida500.
Dr. Mark Siddall Curator at the American Museum of Natural History. @theleechguy.
Dr. Sebastian Kvist, Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum. @sebastian_kvist. Annelid & leech systematics.
Dr. David Hayes. @Gnarly_Larvae at Eastern Kentucky University. Works primarily on molecular ecology and freshwater mussels.
Freshwater Mussels. @WeNeedMussels.What more can you ask for? A Twitter account entirely devoted to Freshwater mussels!
ALCES: The AUT Lab for Cephalopod Ecology and Systematics. @ALESonline. Devoted to studying cephalopod biology, especially deep-sea squids
Research account for fossil cephalopods at the Natural History Museum in London. @NHM_cephalopoda
CIAC-The Cephalopod International Advisory Council. @cephCIAC. The Cephalopod International Advisory Council is a scientific group for cephalopod researchers worldwide
Dr. Louise Allock. @DrShmoo at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Deep-sea octopuses!
The Octopus Newsletter Online (TONMO) @cephs A hub for cephalopod research and interest.
Dr. Stephanie Bush, Monterey Bay Aquarium. @podlett.Deep-sea Octopus biologist/systematist at MBA.
Mollusks-Gastropoda (shelled snails & slugs)
Dr. Chong Chen, Biologist at JAMSTEC who works on deep-sea snails @squamiferum.
Jessica Goodheart. @sluglife28. PhD student at the University of Maryland/NMNH.Studies sea slug systematics and behavior.
Dr. Kevin Kokot, @kmkocot. University of Alabama. Mollusk & metazoan phylogeny.
The Blaxter Lab (Dr. Mark Blaxter, University of Edinburgh),@blaxterlab. Nematode, tardigrade and other invertebrate genomics/genetics.
Nemerteans (Ribbon Worms)
Dr. Jon Norenburg, dept. chair of the Invertebrate Zoology dept. at the NMNH. @Jnorenburg and @nemertinator (personal account) Specializes in ribbon worms and meiofauna.
Iberian Nemerteans. @nemertan. Truth in advertising. A Twitter account about ribbon worms based in Spain.
Twitter account for the American Society of Parasitologists @AmSocParasit All parasites. All the time.
Tommy Leung, Parasitologist who authors the "Parasite of the Day" blog. @The_Episiarch
Leann Biancani, @LeannMBiancani PhD student at the University of Maryland and the NMNH. Studies the biology and relationships among pelagic invertebrates, including amphipods and polychaetes.
Dr. Steve Haddock, MBARI. @beroe Dr. Haddock is an expert in ALL manner of pelagic deep-sea invertebrates.
Dr. Richard Kirby, based in Plymouth, United Kingdom. @planktonpundit. A wonderful account with regular images and videos of planktonic/nektonic and other related organisms.
Platyhelminthes & Flatworms
Dr. Ulf Jondelius @ulfjo, specializes in aceolomorph "flatworms" at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.
Dr. Jean-Lou Justine, specialist on free-living land flatworms at the MNHN in Paris. @Plathelminthe4 If you are REALLY into Bipalium and other terrestrial, free living flatworms this feed is for you!
The Polychaeta Database @WpolyDB Twitter account of the World Polychaete Database (WoRMS)
ケムシ屋 @alciopidae. I don't have a full name unfortunately. A Japanese polychaete taxonomist (Cirratuliformia/Alvinellidae/ Myzostomida/Opheliidae/Polynoidae etc...)
Dr. Helena Wiklund. @helena_wiklund, University of Gothenberg, Germany. Polychaetes and annelid diversity.
Maddie Brasier. @Madsbrasier. Studying Antarctic polychaetes.
Dr. Shinri Tomioka. @Capitellico PhD student at Hokkaido University in Japan studying polychaetes.
Dr. Torkild Bakken. @TorkildBakken.Marine biologist at NTNU University Museum, polychaetes and other deep-sea diversity.
Porifera (the sponges)
Twitter account for deep-seasponges.org @Deepsea_sponges You don't get much more specific than this, where deep-sea Porifera are concerned!
Dr. Jackson Chu @jwfchu. Glass sponges and benthic ecology.
The Pawlik Lab @PawlikLab at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Sponge chemical ecology and biology.
Dr. Ana Riesgo at the Natural History Museum in London. @anariesgogil Sponge researcher at the British Museum.
Dr. Bob Thacker at Stony Brook University. @thackerbob Ecology and systematics of sponges, Involved with the Porifera Tree of Life Project.
The International Society of Protistologists! @protistologists . Pretty much all in the title.
Psi Wavefunction.@PsiWavefunction.Protist blogger and scientist.
Dr. Daiki Horikawa. University of Tokyo. @daikidhori Tardigrade biology & genomics!
The first few specimens of this species were collected by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute from Taney Seamount (off the coast of San Francisco) from abyssal depths (over 3000 meters!).
|photo by J. Sharei|
|image by Alexander Semenov|
|Note: this image probably does not accurately represent the feeding biology of dorid nudibranchs|
5. Echinoderms (such as brittle stars)
I begin with that most sinister of predatory nudibranch: the echinodermativore! To be sure, the number of sea slugs that are known to feed on echinoderms is a relatively short list-but probably one of the most gorgeous is this Indo-Pacific one: Kalinga ornata!
4. SHRIMP! I wrote about Melibe on SeaslugDay last year. and I've already shown this video of Melibe viridis capturing this shrimp.. but its VERY impressive. So you get it again...
3. Bryozoans & various Cnidarians (hydroids, anemones, etc.)! Among the most typical of foods fed upon by nudibranchs are the many, many types of encrusting and/or otherwise sessile animals that live on and around nudibranchs, ranging from small, colonial animals to huge tube-shaped sea anemones!
Here's a nice pic, for example, of a dorid nudibranchOnchidoris muircata feeding on a bryozoan colony. Bryozoans aka "lace animals" are a phylum of colonial invertebrates that form very delicate skeletons. They are fairly common in many areas as encrusting, colonial forms.. MANY nudibranch species seem to feed on them...
Not sure which species this is..but you can see they've pretty efficiently cleared off the living tissue from the bryozoan skeleton
This species, Crimora coneja was imaged in Oregon feeding on the bryozoan colony here. You can see the stark white regions around the nudibranch where it has fed, versus the lighter, fuzzier areas around the edges.
Nudibranch feeding on sponge from BIOPIXEL on Vimeo.
Its always interesting how many people are fascinating not just by predation but "cannibalism" which when applied to the animal world seems to mean when one "type" of animal feeds on the same or similar "type" of animal. (i.e. sea stars that feed on sea stars) and not just one species feeding on itself (as it does in humans).
Its not as common but there are several noteworthy nudibranch predators that feed on OTHER nudibranchs...
The formidible Navanax from the North Pacific for example.. They seem to be quite effiicient at swallowing their prey whole! If these were the size of say, a dog or a wolf we would be VERY afraid of them!
I've always loved the name of this nudibranch. It has a nice ring to it!
In the tropical Indo-Pacific, there is another formidable predator, those slugs in the genus Gymnodoris, which as we'll see feed not only on other sea slugs but have progressed up to vertebrates as food!
1. SLUG EAT FISH!
This really WAS the most amazing thing to discover. It turns out there's a dorid nudibranch called Gymnodoris nigricolor (name translates into the "black Gymnodoris) which attacks and EATS the FINS of certain FISH!
These slugs basically crawl onto a goby and begin to eat their way down a fin spine, gnawing off the meat on the fin. Some have called this behavior parasitc but I think of it as more predatory. I suppose its really kind of both.
My friends over at BlennyWatcher have a nice little account of this with links, etc. here.I've included a VIDEO of this behavior at the bottom!
DOES seem to show the same kind of off-set position on a starfish! It IS one of the first things you notice about the disk when you look at it!
Its normal for the tube foot groove to have defense or other kinds of structures right on the edge of the "trench"
In some groups, we see more... pronounced structures that one might compare with the anti-fighter craft on the Death Star's surface..
Man the embattlements! Turbo lasers to the defense! Starfish don't QUITE have the anti-X-wing capabilities of the Death Star but what they DO have....
Its not QUITE clear what pedicelllariae do however. They look jaw or even clam-shaped, sometimes with numerous teeth on each piece.
These look more analogous to "turbo lasers" in that they are extended well off the surface of the starfish's body.
|Photo by Matt Kiefer via Wikipedia:|
Today's post is a kind of response to a fairly common request I get via email: "Can you help me ID this species of starfish from the Philippines?" (paraphrased)
A question I get from divers, photographers and students who actually live in the Philippines. And strangely enough I get it quite frequently and there are surprisingly few resources to help people with pictures.
In the past I have done variations on this by crowd sourcing images off places like Flickr and YouTube and its been awhile since I've done an "on line field guide." So I thought it would be a good time for another one!
With the exception of Acanthaster brevispinus (above), EVERYTHING below is taken from Flickr and recorded as being from the Philippines by the photographer.
The Philippines has a rich, RICH diversity of sea stars (as well as many, other marine animals) and so this "guide" won't be complete, but it includes several of the most frequently encountered species which are photographed and put on the web.
If you are looking for professional taxonomic monography of Philippine sea stars a good place to start is the work of Walter K. Fisher at the Biodiversity Heritage Library. HERE.
There are many, MANY published ID guides to the Indo-Pacific area and I've identified species in many of those books. But these days, images of sea stars and other marine animals are so prolific, it became clear that it really wouldn't take much to curate a collection of these to provide help for people who want to know what the animals were who didn't have expertise to the published accounts..
Another place to look for a nice crowd-sourced inventory of sea stars from the Philippines or anywhere is at iNaturalist! Go HERE. Identifications are not always from experts but its a good place to start.
I always like to remind folks when actually in the field.. look but don't TOUCH (or at least put it back!)
So here we go in reverse alphabetical order....
Euretaster attenuatus.This species belongs to the family of sea stars which are best known as "slime stars" in cold-water habitats.There's only been one account of the tropical species using "slime" as a defense and it wasn't really in a scientific journal.
This species has a distinct hole in the center of the disk called an osculum which allows water into the surface of the disk which is kind of like a circus tent that covers over the ACTUAL surface of the animal underneath (see the blog link above).
Its a species we know very little about. Another species, Euretaster insignis is usually what gets encountered in the Philippines. This image however most resembles E. attenuatus which was first described from New Caledonia. This is possibly a new record!
This species occurs widely around the Indo-Pacific, extending into the Indian Ocean with many, MANY color variations. Food, biology, etc. are poorly known.
As I've written about before here, this is one of the most heavily fished sea stars in the Indo-Pacific. Not just for tourist baubles but also for the aquarium trade. Its a handsome species and frequently gets "volunteered" for tourist pictures, beach moments, and aquarium scenes.
Nardoa frianti The genus Nardoa is named for the Italian naturalist Giovanni Nardo as I discussed in a post WAAAY back in 2008
There are MANY species. And they are often quite complicated. Even this one with its distinctive tubercles (the bumps) is conceivably part of a broader species complex. To make things even more complicated, you will sometimes see Nardoa species with these big bumps in the genus Gomophia.
Nardoa sp. similar to "N. novaecaledoniae" This one has flattened or at least, MORE flat plates relative to Nardoa frianti (above).
The exact species ID for this animal can't be made from a picture like this because we need to see the underside in order for the precise details. It LOOKS like a species that I would call Nardoa novaecaledoniae but there are several other possibilities. Close up on the underside would be necessary.
They have relatively solid surfaces with spiny surfaces. There is relatively little known about their general biology.
Luidiidae. There's only one genus in this family,Luidia and I've written about the general biology of the group here. The genus named after Edward Lhuyd, a Welsh naturalist.
Most members of Luidia are 5 armed..but for whatever reason, the ones in the tropics are often BIG and have more than 10 arms!
Luidia avicularia?Interesting to see this one since it doesn't usually occur at shallow depths. But the color pattern matches.
Luidia maculata This is a fairly large predatory starfish, often found buried below the surface of the sand.
We know very little about it.
Echinaster callosus I've seen this species often mixed up with Nardoa frianti, above. The big difference is in the texture of the "puffy" structures on the surface. Nardoa's bumps are just that- hard bumps covered by granules.
The surface of Echinaster callosus is covered by a bunch of big colorful puffy pin cushions. The big blobs are soft and each surround a sharp spine. When dead, they often deflate.
Colors are quite pretty and variable...
This species appears, at first to be fairly non-descript but a lot of things are going on with this species. In addition to the asexual reproduction and arm regeneration, this species is also often the host to benthic comb jellies! You can read more about that here.
Acanthaster planci (or A. cf. solaris). The notorious Crown of Thorns starfish has recently been studied using molecular techniques and revealed to actually be SEVERAL species. The one occurring in the Pacific has been referred to an older name, Acanthaster solaris. But presumably there are still several details to work out..
|Ophiuroids on Jelly in Mozambique. Photo by Andrea Marshall, Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/~/article-3990782/index.html#i-570251ad33a88841|
1. How many different types of Jellyfish species does Ophiocnemis marmorata occur ON??
The paper reports at least five or six, including at least 3 species of Rhopilema, Cephea cephea (the cauliflower jellyfish), Netrostoma and Aurelia aurita. But other internet records and social media show further hosts.. such as this hydrozoan, Aequorea from Thailand..
|From Chaloklum Diving in Singapore, http://www.chaloklum-diving.com/marine-life-koh-phangan/corals-more-cnidaria/true-jellyfish-scythozoa/scythozoa-other-jellyfish/|
And here's a blog that documents this brittle stars on the "hairy" jellyfish. Lobocnema
|Image by Thomas Peschak, https://www.thomaspeschak.com/|
Its also worth noting that the brittle stars stay on the medusae ONLY within their home range. Many of these jellies, such as Aurelia (i.e. moon jellies) actually go beyond tropical settings and they really aren't seen on jellies in cold to temperate waters..
3. So, what are the brittle stars EATING??
The authors used a novel new method which basically breaks down the organic components of specific isotopes (Carbon and Nitrogen) and looks for how much of those isotopes is present in the subjects versus that which is provided by the environment.
Long story short: The data indcates that most of the food sources in Ophiocnemis seems to come from PLANKTONIC SOURCES! (i.e. the mesozooplankton) and NOT from the medusae itself and there were not any observations of Ophiocnemis filter feeding (i.e. arms up in the water).
And so the authors suggest that they are what's called KLEPTOPARASITES (a great word-really!). In other words, they take food directly away from the jellyfish out of the mouth or the oral arms, stealing or scavenging food from the jellyfish which are known as big pelagic predators.. What would be called "indirect food sources"...
There are several reports of other brittle stars that practice "kleptoparasitc" behavior.. i.e. moving down into the feeding arms or near the mouth and stealing food directly from the host. Some of it might not be a big deal to the host.. scraps and etc.. but meaningful to the ophiuroids..
|Image by Ron Yeo at Tidechaser, http://tidechaser.blogspot.com/2012/03/brittle-stars-ophiuroidea-of-singapore.html|
4. Growth and Settlement..aka Living on a Changing Jellyfish World
|Image by Ron Yeo at Tidechaser http://tidechaser.blogspot.com/2012/03/brittle-stars-ophiuroidea-of-singapore.html|
That wraps up #Okeanos American Samoa expedition! Never fear, next expedition to explore Pacific MPAs starts March 7. We'll be back soon! pic.twitter.com/nTlBkF0NRG— NOAA Ocean Explorer (@oceanexplorer) March 1, 2017
Most of what I'll present here are animals, but in the deep regions of the ocean, single-celled organisms that are basically HUGE amoebas can develop fairly LARGE structures out of sediment. I've written about them here. Some are called xenophyophores but it turns out that there's a fair diversity of them.
Here's at least one structure observed on Utu Seamount at about 3030 meters!
those spines emerging off the edge makes it a deadly deep-sea umbrella!
Cnidarians are of course-those animals with stinging cells and radial symmetry. Jellyfish, sea anemones, hydras, hydroids and so on.They account for a huge diversity in deep-sea habitats!
This "cosmic jellyfish" has been making the rounds. Its been identified as Benthocodon hyalinus by my colleague Allen Collins at NMFS. It was observed on Utu Seamount at about 3006 meters!!
Dandelion siphonophore, seen at 2500m depth in Rose Atoll. #Okeanos back at Rose Atoll today, but starting at 700m. ROV on bottom in ~3hrs! pic.twitter.com/CXB4wnl4SQ— NOAA Ocean Explorer (@oceanexplorer) February 25, 2017
Probably the BIG, weird star of this leg was this BIZARRE blobby tree shaped thing! Turns out its a bizarre sea anemone in the family Aliciidae! Its tentacles had been withdrawn...
we saw one of these during the Marianas expedition LAST year! Which makes the one above a likely DIFFERENT species from the other one we saw which had yellow buttons rather than white ones..
Dr. Dave Pawson at the National Museum of Natural History was apparently stung by one of these (only 6 inches long) and reported that each of these buttons are batteries of STINGING cells which can cause painful stings that last for several hours!! (click here)
ROV scoop flipped one of these critters over & iIndividual gills (arrows) mean MONOPLACOPHORAN!— Carina M. Gsottbauer (@CarinaDSLR) February 24, 2017
~3800m, Utu Seamount, Samoa #okeanospic.twitter.com/xKALOOeCtR
Octopus! So, of course we are always fond of cephalopods when they turn up! This white translucent octopus species was observed at least twice on the dive at relatively "shallow" depths between 380 and 400 m. This first shot was from Tau seamount.
Note that the webs of skin between the arms were translucent!
but for now, here's some striking "spiny-skinned" friends that I saw...
This funny beast which I think was in the Deimatidae? Note that as with many deep-sea sea cucumbers, the body wall was translucent and we can see the sediment eaten by the animal THROUGH the body wall!
I blogged about this genus of sea cucumber and the number of species there might in the world oceans!
Rewatching today's #okeanos dive:— Carina M. Gsottbauer (@CarinaDSLR) February 24, 2017
A sea cucumber singing the song of its people ;)
~3900m, Utu seamount, Samoa pic.twitter.com/EiIkoxCgRD
A sea urchin the family Pedinidae I think? Lovely greenish coloration!
The crab benefits from the protection and the zoanthid gets driven around by the crab for dispersion, food, etc.. Interesting commensalism!
Before I get into the cool pix.. remember NOAA OPERATES Okeanos Explorer!! NOAA has been threatened with severe budget cuts. CONTACT YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REP AND TELL THEM THAT NOAA IS AN ESSENTIAL Agency!
1. PELAGOTHURIA! The "TRUE" swimming Echinoderm!!
I have written about this amazing animal before when I found an image of it misidentified as a jellyfish in the Galapagos Rift 2011 Okeanos photo gallery and have written at some length about swimming sea cucumbers here.
Basically, almost all sea cucumbers and indeed most echinoderms are benthic..that is they live entirely on the sea floor and never get into the water column the way fish or jellyfish do.. Yes. Some sea cucumbers can swim but ultimately they return to the bottom.
Pelagothuria is unique because it LIVES SWIMMING in the water column! Similar to the way a jellyfish does. As a result of its strange lifestyle, it has MANY bizarre adaptations and looks unlike most other sea cucumbers much less other echinoderms!
Its not a commonly encountered animal..and we live in a wonderous time that we can see several minutes of HD video of this seldom seen animal swimming by...
The video for this can be found HERE: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1703/dailyupdates/media/video/dive08_seacuke/seacuke.html
2. The strange irregular urchin Phrissocystis! From Polo Seamount, about 2100 m we saw one of the most seldom seen spatangoid urchins known! These are highly evolutionarily derived sea urchins which live by digging through and swallowing sediment looking for food.
Although they are bristling with spines, they are actually quite delicate. One collected many years ago apparently collapsed as soon as it was brought out of the water in the submersible collection box!
It was quite large with an unusual texture to the stalk and the cup...
5. The enigmatic sea star Tremaster mirabilis Here's another strange one! A sea star that basically looks like a bowl on the top of a table!
We've seen these before on Atlantic Okeanos dives (see that here) and I wrote about this animal many years ago before people started seeing them alive..
There is nominally ONE species present in almost every ocean in the world.. they've been found in the Atlantic, around New Caledonia, near Hawaii and in the Antarctic. Not sure if they've been found in the Indian Ocean.
Interestingly, these were found in astonishing abundance on one of the seamount dives
5a. The Deep-Sea Slime Star HYMENASTER
From Titov Seamount was this glorious, glorious deep-sea SLIME STAR, in the genus Hymenaster.
I've written about the shallow water representatives of this genus here. and explored the diversity of Hymenaster in the deep-sea here
*EXTRA! and of course a bunch of weird sea cucumbers!!
A deimatid sea cucumber with many tentacular extensions, this one from Swains Atoll
and this one from Titov Seamount but they look to be similar if not identical
This one has been seen repeatedly rearing back and presenting what I think is its mouth into the water. so maybe feeding?
A red one from Polo Seamount
Mostly I call in on starfishes or echinoderm biology..but I do have a broad interest in deep-sea biology. And I just LOVE seeing observations like the one above: a weird animal doing something no one is familiar with!
And the BEST thing about Okeanos Explorer? EVERYONE can enjoy it along with you!! Here's a BUNCH of Sea spider observations from the Atlantic Okeanos Explorer in 2014!
...BUT of course, our ship and shore-side scientists can't know EVERYTHING. We'll often observe an event, many of us make note of it in case we see it again and often times we'll move on.... forgetting about it until such a time when the observation comes up again.
ONE such observation was one from 2014 on the Atlantic Physalia Seamount wherein we observed a sea spider in the genus Colossendeis sp. with its proboscis (that's the long cigar shaped feeding tube) stuckINTO into this hydroid (an animal similar to a Hydra from freshwater)! Was this feeding? Was it NEW?
|Physalia Seamount in the North Atlantic|
Most sea spiders are pretty tiny and are less than about an inch (2 cm) across and its not unusual for them to be quite cryptic. So even though they can be present, you really DO have to look for them...
Here a photoessay of tropical, shallow water species by scientist/photographer Arthur Anker displaying some spectactular colors! Here's a spectacular male carrying eggs..
Many live in shallow water but are never seen (hidden and small)... but that's NOT a problem with the deep-sea and Antarctic species! There's one frequently encountered genus: Colossendeis which is one of the largest known sea spiders reaching a leg-to-leg diameter of over 50 cm! that's almost a FOOT and a HALF!
Most members of Colossendeis live in the proper deep ocean abyss: roughly 1000 to 5000 m and also in Antarctica where the cold-waters allow them to occur in relatively shallow water settings.
Note also the sizeable cigar shaped projection at the top end! That's called the PROBOSCIS! That will be important later! That is presumably what they use to feed.
So, were the observations something unusual? Has science encountered something like that before??
But much to my delight: YES! There WAS a previous account of sea spiders feeding! and WOO HOO! It turns out my friends at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California actually observed something JUST LIKE THIS in 2010!!! Here was their blog post about it!
The paper, by Caren Braby, Vicky Pearse, Bonnie Bain and Bob Vrijenhoek was published in Invertebrate Biology in 2009, 128(4): 359-363. and it documented "Pycnogonid-cnidarian trophic interaction in the deep Monterey Submarine Canyon"
They observed the same genus, Colossendeis, but at least two species, C. gigas and C. japonica feeding on commonly encountered sea anemones in the deeps of Monterey Canyon.
Braby et al.'s observations were the first for deep-sea Colossendeis (as opposed to Antarctic) species. Her team's work focused on their feeding on the deep-sea "pom pom anemone"Liponema brevicornis, an unusual sea anemone which literally "rolls" along the bottom of the deep-sea in a manner similar to a tumbleweed!
After the last 2017 Okeanos leg in the Phoenix Islands, I rounded up a BUNCH of the sea spider-feeding observations and decided to share them here as a comparison! Who knows? perhaps it will inspire a further paper!
Remember that NOAA's Okeanos Explorer program has captured these images and made them available for EVERYONE's enjoyment! Please remember that the next time someone talks about government funded science!
Winslow Reef: This one had its proboscis firmly ensconced into this flytrap anemone and was apparently sucking something out of it! The rather lethargic looking appearance is likely the result of being on the receiving end of whatever is going on here...
And ANOTHER on Winslow Reef! that was QUITE a dive! Here's another flytrap anemone with a sea spider attacking it! As we saw earlier from Monterey Canyon, sea anemones and other cnidarians seem to be one kind of preferred food!
Baker Island we saw one attacking what was identified as a cup coral...The proboscis seemed to be "drinking" pretty heavily on this one...
Howland Island.....and just for good measure they saw this one crawling over a glass sponge
More Atlantic Feeding? Here we had a sea spider in the Atlantic Nygren Canyon which has been identified as Pallenopsis (thanks to Bonnie Bain), climbing and possibly feeding on this sea pen.
So, unfortunately I'm not really a sea spider taxonomist, so beyond the genus Colossendeis, I'm not sure how many species we are looking at here..but images such as this inspire many questions: Is predation specific to species? Or generalized? How significant are these events to the ecosystem?
Do sea spiders attack the big colonial corals as well?
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!
(video captured by 2011ACVVV)
Spines in these brittle stars is sharp and often with jagged edges..so capturing something soft-bodied isn't TOO surprising..
squid not escaping the brittle star @ jarvis island, se.#okeanos— soren 💬 (@roomthily) May 6, 2017
oh. oh no. pic.twitter.com/81YLCv6cfj
Yes! Most of us don't think of sea stars OR brittle stars as capturing fast moving or SWIMMING prey! Strangely enough, THIS WAS CAUGHT ONCE BEFORE!!
Once, back in 1996 at the San Francisco International Echinoderm Conference Dr. Steve Stancyk and C. Muir at the University of South Carolina and Dr. Toshihiko Fujita of the National Science Museum in Tokyo presented some fascinating data showing the very abundant deep-sea brittle star Ophiura sarsicapturing and then swarming over and DEVOURING fish and shrimp as they got too close to the abundant carpets of brittle stars on the deep-sea bottom!!! Here was my blog post about back in 2008!
I remember seeing the presentation of this talk at San Francisco State University. The room was Standing Room ONLY! EVERYONE had to see the famous video of the brittle stars capturing swimming prey!!
Since I wrote that introductory post in 2008 not only have I learned more about it-but we've now seen it ALIVE all over the Atlantic and the tropical Pacific thanks to the livestream videos of Okeanos Explorer!
Brief Introductory Details: Tremaster is a starfish in the family Asterinidae, that puts in the same family as "bat stars" and a bunch of other sea stars you probably recognize from shallow waters and home aquariums. Go read this account on this huge and diverse group, which I wrote a while back...
|image via Flickr by Ed Bierman|
Katie published this great paper on feeding biology and ecology of deep-sea asteroids collected off the coast of Canada in the North Atlantic in Deep-Sea Research in 2013. I blogged it up here.
During the course of Katie's research she collected a fair amount of cool "anecdotal data" which amounts to singular observations and some other stuff which furthers the "natural history observation" of a starfish about which we know very little! So her observations along with some further observations from the 2017 research legs of the NOAA Okeanos Explorer, some further homework on my part and voila!
Let us learn MORE about the weird starfish Tremaster mirabilis!
1. It eats coral (possibly)
Probably one of the BIGGEST questions I had for such a strange looking sea star! As we'll see, this species is seen quite a bit and yet one of the most immediate questions about it seemed elusive!
Fortunately Katie Gale was quite lucky and was able to capture and image of this specimen of T. mirabilis taken by the fine people who operate the Remotely Operated Vehicle ROPOS/DFO. Gale's paper cites this image showing our mysterious starfish feeding on CORAL!
Specifically the octocoral Acanthogorgia!
BUT we have THIS image taken on Whaley Seamount during Leg 3 of the Okeanos Explorer mission at 875m!
Could its location on the rock surface be because its near a yummy food source? Another coral predator to add into our understanding of deep-sea coral ecosystems???
2. Time lapse movement and??
This probably seems like a common sense thing-we KNOW starfish move albeit VERY slowly. and can actually show some behavioral complexity (here)
Katie nabbed some of this GREAT video showing this species moving around its aquarium and more importantly NOT attacking this sea anemone in the aquarium.
This is actually an important point because we know MOST starfish CAN move but they often don't.
So, ACTUALLY capturing it doing so gives us some insight into what they do when we aren't watching them..
If we sped the movement of this "constellation" of Tremaster mirabilis up, would we still see no movement? or is it a Times Square of Deep-Sea Starfishes???
It USED to be that everything we knew about this species was taken from museum specimens and indeed we are STILL dependent on samples from throughout the world for new records of where many species live.
There is some question about whether or not this one species "Tremaster mirabilis" is actually one species or possibly several 'cryptic' species disguised by the fact that all the individuals observed all appear to be the same.
The external characters vary only slightly and its not unusual for a widely occurring species to demonstrate some... variation throughout its range. However, when we examine dead museum specimens we are often missing data such as color and behavior which can be important. Especially when its range where it lives is at least THREE oceans!
Tremaster is a moderately occurring deep-sea species.. occurring roughly between 200 and 600 m
Thanks to submersibles such as Okeanos Explorer we now have VIDEO and ON SITE (in situ) observations of LIVING animals!
Tremaster mirabilis is supposed to be one species..but as you can see there is a SLIGHT difference in body form..
North & Central Atlantic:An image from Nygren Canyon (top) and the lower image from Puerto Rico. Note there's more of a "skirt" around the edge versus the Pacific ones.
Throughout the tropical Pacific
And interesting brick colored one from Pau Pau seamount
and this interesting lighter colored individual from Baker Island..
Another place where Tremaster shows up? Antarctica and nearby...
Also had a nice Tremaster mirabilis (the ‘orange peel star’, we joke on #AugSurvey) pic.twitter.com/Mw38CCmtjY— Claude Nozeres (@cnozeres) September 16, 2016
4. There are Jurassic Fossils
As if dealing with living animals weren't enough, these intriguing beasts show a CLEAR relationship to at least TWO Jurassic fossils!
Bear in mind that the Jurassic is quite a LONG time ago. These sea star were living in the world's oceans while dinosaurs roamed the Earth!
AND like its modern descendents-these were quite spread out. Antarctica versus Switzerland!
Here's Protremaster felli, from the Jurassic of Antarctica! Described by Andrew Smith and T. H. Tranter in Geology Magazine 1985
|Image from the Wikipedia file: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mesotremaster_felli.jpg|
5. What does "Tremaster" actually mean? And"brood chambers"??
FINALLY! What does the genus "Tremaster" actually MEAN anyway?"aster" is obviously "star" but it turns out "Trema-" refers to "aperture" or OPENING!
When Addison Emery Verrill described this genus in 1880 he made allusion to these FIVE openings present in each interradius! These were one of the distinctive characters he used to diagnose his (then) new genus!! and "mirabilis" of course refers to "wonderful"
Here's a photo of the underside of a Tremaster specimen.. the openings are indicated by yellow circles!
So, as it turns out if you look more CLOSELY at these openings, they are actually OPENINGS into chambers present INSIDE and THROUGH the body wall and open up on the TOP:
Here are images of a dissected individual from the underside showing these openings (i.e. these are close ups of what's in the yellow circles above)
Thus, the openings appear to provide an opening for water to circulate into these chambers which could serve any number of purposes.. Possibly to aerate the "brood" chambers? Or perhaps they assist in the degree of arching the dome-like shape is capable of?? Filter feeding? Predation??
One of the great things about science is how it marches on! Its been 9 years (!!) since I wrote that first post and I LOVE that what in addition to what I've learned from reading, there has ALSO been genuine progress in learning NEW information on the biology of these animals.. And one of these days we will more FULLY understand it and its strange signficance!
For those who are interested, it was in the latest issue of Zootaxa, published online here (I don't believe the print version is out yet).
The paper focuses on a group of tropical shallow/deep goniasterid sea stars which include reef setting genera such as Neoferdina but also seldom studied genera such as Ferdina and their relatives. I actually ended up describing 3 additional new genera and MANY new species!
The whole thing is a lot to unpack.. and so here's some take away lessons that I thought I would share from writing it!
I've talked about this before.. the world is flooded with divers, photographers and interested people with cell phones all over the world!
Thanks to a combination of museum collections and divers I was able to identify and describe several new species and even add color variation to poorly known species in the group I published on! Many times these get misidentified as people try to "shoehorn" them into known species in field guides.
This new species for example, Neoferdina oni from the Philippines! I actually identified this species based on material collected by the California Academy of Sciences from one of their recent expeditions (such as this one)
The photographer of this specimen, Martha Kiser was incredibly helpful in allowing me to see her photos of this new species. You can see more of her work on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/martykiser/sets/with/72157634344493477
Images such as this one gave me more insight into how the colors vary in already established species! and provide leads to possible NEW species...
2. The Mesophotic Zone: New studies and new Species!
There's a depth region in the ocean that falls just below "coral reef" (~30m) depth but just above the "deep sea" (above 200m).. that's roughly between 100 and 500 feet. More about this area here. and this entire website devoted to this area!
This area is also known as the "Twilight Zone" aka the "sub Reef area" and contains a fauna that is related and similar but distinctly different from those seen at the surface.
The California Academy of Sciences's research division as well as their Steinhart Aquarium have both been studying this area in the Philippines. In 2015, they collected this lovely beast, (and here was a news account showing it off) which I had also been observing in the Paris collections from areas throughout the Indo-Pacific!
I initially identified it as a familiar genus, Neoferdina, but eventually realized it was actually a separate and undescribed genus which I named Bathyferdina!
I've actually been describing Mesophotic Zone starfish for quite a long time. Here was Astrosarkus idipi from many years ago aka the "Great Pumpkin Starfish" and there were several more as well...
One important take away message: Describing new species is PART of understanding the biology of a NEW ecosystem. This was the same thing that happened with understanding all of those predatory coral starfish.. new species led to understanding each "character" of a new ecosystem!
3. Museums & Travel: Where the New Species Roam
Here's a neat new species from the western Indian Ocean-Madagascar and the east coast of South Africa.. Ferdina mena! Identified by the two distinctive bald patches present in each interradius (i.e. the "armpit") of the starfish.
Thanks to the stunning photos of "Optical Allusion" I was even able to find living images of this species in South Africa!
During one of my recent visits to Paris and the Museum national d'HIstorie naturelle in Paris, I discovered that this wasn't just an odd specimen with the twin bald, red spots in each interradius..it was present on ALL of the specimens collected from a collection made from Madagascar!!
and to return to the citizen science angle.. images on Flickr further showed this species in Mozambique as well as further color and pattern variation of this species from South Africa thanks to photographer Derek Keats and others!
So, somewhere in there, this seems to be consistent with the "21 years" which malacologist Dr. Philippe Bouchet has published as the average time it takes for a specimen to get from collection to publication!
This was an interesting lesson.
For one of the new species I had discovered, Paraferdina plakos, I only had one or two individuals on which to base my new species description. Were they the same? Was it variation? How do different individuals differ from one another? Are the defining characters the same across the species range?
SO, I took advantage of some aspects of the internet which I usually list as pet peeves...
1. Misidentified species made by people who don't want/need to figure out the correct species
2. Pictures of species collected by Internet aquarium and pet shops
I was actually able to make OVER TWENTY OBSERVATIONS of this species misidentified as the common "peppermint star"Fromia monilis!!
What does this tell us? Not ONLY are A LOT of new species yet to be discovered but we are ALREADY seeing them sold in the pet trade.. and with no correct identifications by scientists to recognize them, are they endangered? For a species that has just been described we know NOTHING bout its reproductive biology, populations, can they handle the strain of being "fished" for this trade???
Some EXCITING news! I have signed on to join NOAA's research vessel Okeanos Explorer as the Biology co-Lead for their July Expedition Broad casting from (approximately) July 13 to August 1!
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I have live-tweeted the Okeanos Explorer dives for a couple of years (here) in addition to providing identifications for the Facebook Screengrab Group as well as blogging about highlights observed during the dives (here).
I'm BACK! After a month at sea with 2.5 weeks worth of dives I've safely returned to "home base" in Washington DC! I was out in the central Pacific with NOAA's R/V Okeanos Explorer on their Laulima O Ka Moana expedition, exploring the deep-sea of the Marine National Monument in the Central Pacific!
1. Forest of the Weird: Land of the Glass Sponges!
This was probably the most amazing thing I have seen in awhile! (at least since that Basket Star community in the Marianas a few years ago!)
So, the key thing about nearly ALL Of these sponges? Many of them are what's called GLASS SPONGES aka members of the Hexactinellida. That means they have bodies which are made out of silicon oxide!
These often have bizarre and weird shapes. I have done a post about these before here in 2015.
Here's a highlight video of the discovery-basically water currents ran at an ideal rate at the top of this geologic feature making it IDEAL for what seems to be a huge abundance, if moderate diversity of glass sponge species!
Note also how all of them are turned into the current!! We were in this "forest of the weird" for the remainder of the dive (over an hour) so there was quite a lot of it..
...that they are CARNIVOROUS!!!
Wait.. WHAT? Yup. MOST sponges are filter feeders. But in this group, they use glue or spines to capture prey, which are then digested by the animal in question. We've seen different types of these carnivorous sponges before, including some possible new species.. These sponges kind of look like a feather.. a central stalk with fine hairs or spines coming off the sides
Similar to this species in the NOAA benthic inverts guide...
Here..they were present in HUGE densities.. alongside some frond-like bryozoans! and some stoloniferous zoanthids (a sea anemone like cnidarian) These actually seemed to be pretty thin at first but got bigger, longer and thicker as we encountered them!
Yes.. I suppose I'm overhyping them..but that's basically a "killing field" of carnivorous sponges! with these projecting into the
3. This Amazing Farreid Sponge/Acanthogorgia Wall!
Shallow-water dives can be VERY productive but because of the nature of Okeanos Explorer we tend not to do many of them relative to the really deep dives (>1000 m).
The one we did at Johnston Atoll did NOT disappoint!
This large block and several like it had this AMAZING side flanked on one side by sponges in the Farreidae, but then on another side covered by octocorals in the genus Acanthogorgia!
versus the "sponge side" which was relatively low current...
and many critters were to be found amongst the corals (such as this... sea slug)
3. Astrophiura! the "sea star ophiuroid" Probably one of the MOST memorable observations for me OUTSIDE of the starfishes was this weird little brittle star!
One of the videographers, Bob, saw it adjacent to the base of one of the sponges. And there it was plain as day!
These animals are TINY. Maybe dime sized. So, the D2 camera's caught a really RARELY ENCOUNTERED and SMALL species.. (about 2000 m depth)
Here is some imagery of as illustrated by H. Matsumoto.. It has rather famously been shown in echinoderm books as an example of a bizarre form. Its shape is very similar to those caymanostellids and is thought to be an adaptation to lying flush on the substrate..
Astrophiura kawamnrai n. sp.
4. Pumpkin Sized Echinothuriids Sea urchins!
This dive started out pretty uneventfully up slope along a cone, resulting in the discovery of a pretty amazing colony of plexaurid corals
Wikipedia lists the "largest" species at 14 inches (36 cm) but did not elaborate on species..(will need to check). But if that's the upper limit, then 8 inches is definitely monstrous!
This one was quite a surprise, because I had largely thought that sea slugs were limited to relatively shallow depths, much less PROPER nudibranchs which are overwhelmingly found in nearshore settings.
This looked pretty bigh on camera and was about 5 inches long? when we collected it..
Amazingly, there is one genus of proper nudibranch in not only the Antarctic but in the deep-sea: Bathydoris! I'm not sure quite yet what they eat but will find out!
How will the species we collected compare??? Stay tuned! (and thanks to Vanessa Knutson for her help with the ID!)
From pic I don't see rolled rhinophores & appears to have dorsal gill rather than side-reminds me of Bathydoris but w ex long ant. papillae!— Vanessa Knutson (@Bugs_and_Slugs) July 27, 2017
That's a quick recap of some of the non-sea star events..but I'll post more as opportunity permits! THANK YOU to the crew of the Okeanos Explorer, NOAA and my science team colleagues for inviting my participation!
Today.. some interesting etymology: i.e. the origins of scientific names!!!
I actually used to think that I was going to be writing about the origins of scientific names WAY more often then I ended up doing.. I wrote this post early on back in my first year (2006) here and I've written about some deep-sea starfish names (such as brisingids) with many more little bits about scientific names scattered throughout my long blog history!
The other day, someone asked me about one of the most familiar sea stars that I've worked with.. the Ochre star on the west coast of North America.. and shockingly. I didn't know.
I've also been working on some very old literature associated with the World Asteroidea Database and have been becoming familiar with many of the first descriptive papers used for species that are familiar to many a marine biologist!
So, this week: A short feature on FIVE (ish) names of very common sea stars encountered on the Pacific coast of North America!
What's interesting is that MANY of these species were NOT described by Americans or by American scientists. They were described by scientists in Europe! Many of whom probably regarded North America as exotic as Australia or "the Orient"..
But now, thanks to many, MANY field guides, textbooks, scientific studies and citizen science many of these names are practically a household name! But what do they mean? How does the original Latin/Greek break down..especially in the context of its taxonomic history.. HIDDEN SECRETS of the Pacific NW starfish fauna begin!
This species is of course, famous internationally. Pisaster ochraceus is the "poster child" for the keystone species concept among other things..and is well known on mussel beds..and while the other two species aren't as well known-they are still familiar species..
The name: Descriptions were quite brief at the time and many taxonomists never bothered to include the rationale for the names because scientific names are written in Latin and everyone who was considered educated at the time was already assumed to have KNOWN Latin..
Some accounts online suggested that the name meant "fish" but that makes NO sense (sorry Merriam Webster!) As Adam West's Batman would say "NOT SO FAST, old chum...."
Fortunately my former Masters degree advisor Tom Niesen (formerly of San Francisco State University) came through! He pointed out that the name ACTUALLY refers to the Latin for "pea" ... PISIUM!
and what about the species names?
Pisaster brevispinus is the easiest. "brevis" and "spinus" aka "brief or short spined" So, the short spined Pisaster. This makes reference to the short spines present on its body, which differ somewhat from the other Pisaster spp..
So TECHNICALLY... the common name for this species "Ochre stars" which is usually taken as a translation of the scientific "ochraceus" name actually means "pale yellow" (possibly orange) stars
holotype of this species was described in 1857 by William Stimpson. (specimen shown here)
It lives here in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History and it is CRAZY BIG, almost 2 feet across! (sadly, nothing this big will likely ever be encountered in the wild again..)
So, it was quite the monster for its time.
But they clearly had no reference to the greater variation of this species which is in most cases.. nowhere nearly as large as this
This kind of thing is the poster child example for why you need to study variation in a new species..especially if you're going to NAME it based on a characteristic seen only in a single individual!
2. Orthasterias koehleri
The genus name means: "Straight star" with "ortho" meaning "straight" likely in allusion to the spine series on the body which form regular series and "-asterias" referring to the animal.
Species? Probably what throws people the MOST about this animal is the species name.. "koehleri" and most people always try to find a Latin root for it.. except that its NOT a word that is made out of a Latin adjective!
This species was originally described as Asterias koehleri by a Swiss worker, Perceval de Loriol who mainly worked on fossils in the late 1800s. In 1897 he described this species from Vancouver Island and named it after prominent echinoderm worker, Professor Rene Koehler (photo courtesy of Dr. Dave Pawson, NMNH!) who taught at the University of Lyon and was a later president of the Société zoologique de France.
Interestingly, the species was described in 1897 but the genus, Orthasterias was not described until 1914. So, it was SEVENTEEN YEARS until the modern version of this name (Orthasterias koehleri) came to pass..
3. Evasterias troscheli
4. Stylasterias forreri
What does the name mean? The genus "Stylasterias" has the same root as "stylet" or "stilleto" referring to a "sharp stick" or needle. Plus "-asterias" (for sea star). The "Styl-" prefix alludes to the sharp spines covering the surface.
Who was the species named after? This was another species originally described by a European (in this case, Swiss) worker, Perceval de Loriol in 1887. This was collected and brought to deLoriol's museum by a "M. Forrer" (I'm unsure if "M" is the first initial or shorthand for "Messieur" but that is who the species is named for and was almost certainly described in a vacuum by deLoriol. Basically.. described purely as an object without much if any ecological information.
Again, this is a species which had a name for 30 years before being assigned its new name Stylasterias in 1914!
BONUS. Pycnopodia helianthoides& Rathbunaster californicus
Pycnopodia is arguably one of the most immediately recognizable species in the world given its size and unique appearance.. and interesting.. it wasn't named all at once!
This species was originally named as Asterias helianthoides and was described by J.F. Brandt, a German naturalist who apparently worked mostly in Russia in 1835 here. Asterias was the name they assigned to practically all sea stars back then.. with some species in different families sharing the same genus. and yeah.. if you looked it up the description is basically two short paragraphs long...in Latin. That's why taxonomy gets such a bad rap in the long run..
The species epithet helianthoides is Greek for "like a sunflower" making the common name Sunflower Star one of the best fitting of all of these older species.
On the other hand.. it wasn't until 1862 when a second biologist, an American named William Stimpson (who described the misnamed "Asterias giganteus" (now Pisaster giganteus) rightly thought that this animal belonged in a new and separate taxonomic category..
Stimpson named it Pycnopodia, which in Greek translates to "pycnos" as dense or thick and "podia" referring to its tube feet.. Hence "Dense Tube feet", almost certainly in reference to its very numerous and abundant podia..
Stimpson was actually SO impressed by this animal that in the original description of the genus, Pycnopodia he actually created a new FAMILY to accomodate it: the Pycnopodiidae. This new family hasn't been widely accepted but hasn't quite been disproven either...
Pycnopodia has a SISTER species in deep-water called Rathbunaster californicus.. and I wrote a WHOLE blog about it and its name here. So go check it out!
Some common trends then...
1. Many of these species were named by Europeans in the 19th Century. Many of them had almost certainly NEVER even been to North America!
2. Many of the genera? Described in the early 20th Century probably in 1914, by Addison Emery Verrill.
3. There were a LOT of names which were based on a bunch of old European guys honoring each other. What you're seeing here doesn't even include ALL of the species that were described. It was typical of a lot of taxonomists from this era to oversplit.. that is designate a new species based on some highly variable detail. These "oversplit" names were often deemed to be redundatt by later
authors and made obsolete.
4. One important lesson? Try to see some variation in the species before assigning it a name based on that one character!
For my inaugural 2018 post: a MYSTERY!
I've written about the genus Luidia before.. these are predatory sand stars which are found all around the world.
They can vary in appearance and in some places they are very abundant.. Most species are shallow and occur in temperate tropical habitats. Although many species are five rayed.. some such as L. ciliaris can have seven or more arms. Some species in the tropical Indo-Pacific have very striking patterns and can reach almost 2 feet in diameter!
Luidia ciliaris is found pretty much only in the North Atlantic although it has likely close-relatives in nearby areas. This species is regularly seen by divers in the United Kingdom, France, Spain and etc..
|Image from http://www.european-marine-life.org/30/photo-luidia-ciliaris-wb01.php|
Interestingly, he noticed that THIS one had a VERY unusual banding or strange segmentation on the arms!
|Image from http://www.european-marine-life.org/30/photo-luidia-ciliaris-wb01.php|
|Photo by Chris Orr via Twitter|
Yeah, what about this, just found at Lamlash beach, massive starfish pic.twitter.com/2FUbpnio9r— Chris Orr (@ChrisOrr_ELC) July 22, 2017
(thanks to Andy Jackson and Bernard Picton!)
1. Museums Remain THE HUB for discoveries!
Everything from natural history surveys, research expeditions, to simple donations by well-travelled museum patrons you can find all manner of important specimens that result in new species, rarely found species, juveniles and even specimens showing ecological interactions!
My recent travel has been VERY fruitful. Mainly resulting from recent deep-sea expeditions to exotic lands!
In the MNHN in Paris, their recent expeditions to the Indian Ocean, particularly their expeditions to Madagascar and nearby areas have resulted in a forthcoming paper where I will describe over a dozen new species of goniasterid sea stars! and there were more....
The Museum Victoria in Melbourne for example includes recent work by Australian colleagues including Dr. Tim O'Hara returned last year with thousands of specimens, ranging from worms to sea stars to fishes! from a survey of the deep-sea habitats of Australia!
Their work recovered hundreds of new records and many new species of sea stars. Its gonna take awhile to work that up!! As I've mentioned before.. prior work has recorded that it takes on average about 21 years for a specimen to go from collection to shelf to publication!
I've been ahead of the curve in describing many of these species!
2. When a Good Thing Becomes a Challenge: Space the Ongoing Frontier!
So. Here's the thing. A reality of ANY kind of collection. At some point, if it is growing at a healthy clip, EVENTUALLY you will have problems with space.
That is to say.. not enough of it. You have more and more specimens.. and eventually every shelf, every inch of space gets used up.
Its not unusual for some museums to literally inherit a collection from ANOTHER collection, often from universities or other academic institutions, instantly doubling the contents but also the workload and burden on resources.
This is an issue that has come up at EVERY museum collection I have visited!
Museums are often judicious in what they accept..but in other cases they are obliged either legally or scientifically to accept valuable specimens. Sometimes museums are faced with inheriting important historical collections-lots of type specimens, rare or even extinct (non fossil) species..
3. Databasing & Cataloging! Making Collections Available to everyone!
This is, of course, a natural function of any natural history museum collection.
Keeping track of what's available.. BUT lately there has been a HUGE push to make sure that materials have not only been cataloged and database but ALSO available to the scientific public!
This has been especially important for historically important scientific collections such as the one at Paris, which has specimens that have been around since the 1800s and the time of Lamarck!
Museums have taken to making creative use of volunteers and citizen scientists to help with cataloging specimens. I've seen "cataloging parties" where volunteers help to sort and catalog specimens en masse (simple locality data) into a database leaving the more complex entry tasks to the staff.
Museums with Online Catalogs!
Museum national d'Historie Naturelle: https://science.mnhn.fr/all/search
Invertebrate Zoology at the NMNH, Smithsonian Institution: https://collections.nmnh.si.edu/search/iz/
Invertebrate Zoology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco: http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/izg/iz_coll_db/index.asp
Collections Search at Museum Victoria: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/search
4. Digital Imagery: More of it and its increasing significance!
The last few years have seen a HUGE uptick in the abundance and availability of imagery.
Everything from live-streamed deep-sea biology such as Okeanos Explorer : http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/media/exstream/exstream.html (returning in April!)
Controversy has been found as some scientists have argued imagery itself can be used in stead of specimens: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/10/bug-species-photo/409108/
But more commonly throughout the museum world I've merely seen that almost EVERYPLACE I've been has uploaded imagery of their collection, making those specimens available to anyone with internet access.
This is particularly important for those ever so rare specimens known as TYPES (here for full explanation) basically the specimen or specimens designated by the original researcher which defines a new species.
"Digital images of the specimens will make it MUCH easier for people to see the specimen so we don't need to ship it or so they won't need to visit!"
Others have expressed the opinion that these images will DOOM the museum!
"Digital images of the specimens will make it MUCH easier for people to see the specimen so we won't need to ship it or so they won't visit!
4a. Biodiversity Heritage Library!
I remember the olden terrible days before the days of the Internet..but ESPECIALLY before the days when the Biodiversity Heritage Library was available!!
At the very least, having to carry along the photocopy or notes of the huge taxonomic monograph was just a huge pain in the ass. Unfortunately, especially for marine invertebrates such as echinoderms the really IMPORTANT taxonomic references tend to be in huge oversized, heavy folios like these...
thanks to the online version of these books I can now carry a global-scale library for starfish taxonomy on my laptop.. almost anywhere in the world! Not everyone has a Smithsonian or Paris-level library.. but now you can.
A list of starfish BHL references can be found here: http://echinoblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/classic-echinoderm-starfish-taxonomy.html
5. Shipping & Customs! New Challenges!
What might surprise many people is just how IMPORTANT shipping and customs regulations are to museum "business."
Specimens regularly ship back and forth between natural history museums, mostly as loans for researchers to study specimens they wouldn't normally be able to study. Specimens would be analogous to rare books being sent back and forth between different libraries so that scholars in different parts of the world can refer to then..
Shipping unfortunately always seems to come with some risk..and more lately. Scientific specimens in preservative run afoul of safety shipping and biosecurity protocols. Many specimens, such as corals, are now protected by international law, making them difficult to ship. and so on and so on...
In one high profile case in 2017, Australian customs officials who were ignorant or unaware of the value of museum specimens destroyed unique and priceless French holotypes... which led to an international incident.
Undoubtedly.. there are those who would say that nothing I've summarized here is necessarily new...and perhaps to the museum worker or working taxonomist..probably not. But the common travails of the natural history museum to the public are often hidden and I hope this helps to communicate the challenges that these museums face in the 21st Century!
Here's the original, very static heavy video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV5H1qNwFKo
and here is the "cleaned up" version which was released in October 2017...
These and other venues reported it with such inaccurate hyperbole as "Incredible moment starfish WALKS down the beach after getting stranded on the sand!!"with the word "INCREDIBLE" being dropped as if this was somehow aliens landing on the Earth for the first time!
But sadly, what was happening here wasn't really THAT momentous and in fact was pretty sad.
There was no information on what was happening, what species this was or the context of this whole thing... So here's my attempt to shed some light on this..
1. What species is this? And how does it live normally?
You can read lots about Luidia in a blog I wrote here in 2014!
Long story short..they eat snails, clams and other small critters in the sand. They can bury themselves in the top part of the sediment where they live.
This species in the waters of the tropical Atlantic on the US coast.. Florida, South Carolina, etc. are commonly encountered and commonly seen on beaches..
2. Seen on BEACHES? Why is THAT??
How did this individual end up on the beach? Likely due to a mass stranding following a storm, which I've written about here... But here's a video of such an occurrence featuring many, MANY of this species stranded along the shoreline
3. What makes them so vulnerable?
Basically these sea stars don't have a lot of "hold" on the surface because their tube feet are pointed rather than suckered. Their little tube feet are modified to help them efficiently dig into the sand or other sediment both to help them feed and to hide them from potential predators..
BUT when big waves or currents come along.. they can be swept away and taken to hostile environs such as this seashore..
Bear in mind that this species is quite abundant and while its unclear what these "natural disasters" mean for the population of these animals, I wouldn't be surprised if the recovery was relatively quick given how many of them there are..
4. What do they look like alive and "normal"???
Here is a healthy individual of this species moving naturally underwater, albeit near the beachfrot
So, its literally been months since the original "crawling" video posted but I STILL have this being sent to me with comments about "HOW WONDERFUL IS NATURE OCEAN" or "AMAZING OCEAN CREATURE" etc. etc... when in truth this video exploits this animal desperately trying to get back to the ocean
There's an important consideration here: Sea stars operate using a unique series of tubes in their body called the water vascular system which operates primarily using hydraulic pressure throughout the arms and so forth. This is how they move and operate all of their tube feet and so on...
The water vascular system NEEDS SEAWATER TO OPERATE.
Fluid is still required for movement AND survival. Water carries oxygen and other necessities, such as food and etc. throughout the body.