Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ophiuroids (brittle stars) & other photography by Dr. Arthur Anker!

This week is busy and so I leave you with some STUNNING photography by one of my colleagues.. Dr. Arthur Anker!  He studies mostly shrimps and other crustaceans but does incredible things with a camera! If you're looking to hire a biologist who knows his decapods he gets my vote!

Artour's full photostream can be found here on Flickr!   Enjoy!

Tropical brittle stars (2)

Tropical brittle stars (1)

Harlequin brittlestar, Utila, Honduras

This looks like the top side of Ophiarachna
Labyrinth brittle star

Here's the mouth and underside..
Brittle star oral side

Damn... just stunning. An electric blue Ophiothrix from Australia (Great Barrier Reef)
Electric brittle-star (Ophiothrix sp), GBR, Australia

Here's an Ophiothrix from Panama

Ophionereis? I think.. from Panama
A leopard brittle star from the Pacific coast of Panama

I believe this is Ophioderma (giraffe patterned) from St. Martin
Giraffe-patterned brittle-star

Some baby brittle stars from Moorea!
Baby brittle stars

Some Non-echinoderms...
A male sea spider...
Male ovigerous sea spider (Pycnogonida)

Wormy elegance
An amazing worm (Trypanosyllis sp. (Syllidae) from Moorea, French Polynesia. (ID by Leslie Harris)
A polychaete worm (Nereis cf. riisei) rolled up into a spiral
Nereis cf riisei, rolled in a spiral
One of the most beautiful (and IMHO best named) crabs in the world-Lophozozymus incisus
Lophozozymus incisus - one of the most beautiful crabs in the world
A sexy yellow and purple hermit crab Pylopaguropsis lemaitrei from Moorea
Yellow & purple: Pylopaguropsis lemaitrei from Moorea

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Echinoblog Extra Off topic! Odd Crustaceans in Comics!

Some of you have picked up that I'm a pretty big fan of pop culture and I enjoy picking up on moments when they turn up in a popular geek venues. This week has been rich in crustacean comic book imagery!
So here's an extra off-topic Echinoblog for those with a fondness for the Incredible Hulk and monstrous crustaceans!

First from a recent issue 
 (#9) of the Incredible Hulk, written by Jason Aaron and Pasqual Ferry. The Hulk encounters a distant suburb of Atlantis where he meets...the Crab Riders!!

Crab Riders apparently ride large hermit crabs!
These are apparently inspired by the LAND hermit crab Birgus latro which occurs throughout the South and Indo-Pacific. And not..as the comic would suggest at the bottom of the ocean..  It was nonetheless a very fun surprise and who doesn't like to watch the Hulk fighting crabs and giant squid??

These crabs are actually endangered. Here's some general info on them.

This was a recent favorite of mine from Red Hulk #28 by Jeff Parker and Steve Firchow as we saw the Red Hulk visit U.N. Shadow Designation X-86 aka Monster Island!

Red Hulk and A-Bomb (a transformed Rick Jones-long story) discover a panoply of giant monsters about to attack the world! 

They discover that they are being controlled by GIANT MONSTER BARNACLES!!! These things shriek GYEEE!!! and they have TEETH! 
So, for those of you who are worried. Barnacles are filter feeders and don't have teeth...at least not like they do above. They use their legs to feed..

However, there IS such a thing as a GIANT barnacle! They live on whales... Here's an individual one..They can be about the size of a good sized beer mug..barnacle
and here's a bunch of them pictured living on a whale's rostrum (the front tip of the animal)Humpback whale barnacles on tip of Rostrum 
Also, while barnacles don't engage in "mind control" per se SOME barnacles are parasites and CAN actually control the reproduction of their hosts.. Here's a great little summary of the biology of these REAL animals by Casey Dunn at Brown University (via CreatureCast)
CreatureCast - Rhizocephala from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.
Thanks to Marvel comics creators Jason Aarons, Pasqual Ferry, Jeff Parker, and Steve Firchow for drawing inspiration from these cool animals in their comics! 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Follow up on the Anal Cone! (thanks to the New Scientist)

(Photo by David Fleetham) 
So, a few weeks ago I posted this bit about the enigmatic nature of anal cones in diadematid sea urchins. What do they do?

Remember that Anal Cones are these bizarre floating bulbs that you see atop Astropyga radiata-one kind of fire urchin. This photo by Pauldub shows it nicely...
                 Fire urchin
As does this great video by Rakufuku

Well, earlier this week, the New Scientist posted this great photo and blog taken by marine nature photographer David Fleetham of a sea urchin from off the coat of Maui.

about which the writer, Rowan Hooper sez this

Full Quote:
I CAN'T be the only person who sees this beast - rudely captured as it expels its guts through its mouth - and thinks of a dramatic scene at the end of the  Watchmen graphic novel. In it, a giant alien writhes in its death throes in New York City.(italics are mine)
So, here's the thing. The picture above IS NOT a sea urchin expelling  "guts through its mouth." 
The author may have been might be thinking of sea cucumbers which expel their guts with great gusto! Here's a thing I wrote about that.

So, what is this a picture of??  This is an ANAL CONE at work!  In other words, this is the sac that expels waste from the animal.
This is a structure that is found on the "top" surface of the urchin. Note that the mouth is found on the underside facing "downward" AWAY from its anus and the anal cone.

All those little pellets in the sac? Yup. THAT is sea urchin feces. This is the first good picture I have seen which so clearly shows the scatalogical functions of the anal cone!  WOO!

Yay the things you learn here! 

Echinoblog Present your evidence!

1. The Madreporite is plainly visible.

So you know that offset plate that you see on the top of a starfish? I wrote a whole post about them here.  In sea urchins they are part of what's called the APICAL SYSTEM that is found on the top of the animal.

Photographer Fleetham's excellent photo skills capture this plate quite nicely... (shown below in the black circle)

Here is a nice photo from the British Museum's Echinoid Database of the cleaned test showing the madreporite Darkened in the upper right.

2. That brown tuft at the tip of the structure? Is the same as what's present in other close ups

                    Fire urchin

 Add to the fact that the mouth space would be a lot larger. Image from the British Museum's Echinoid directory

Its also worth noting that photographer Fleetham noted that this was "expelling waste" and not "expelling guts" as noted above. 

So my thanks to the New Scientist and photographer David Fleetham for capturing what is probably a bit of undocumented biology! 

P.S. For comic book Watchmen geeks. As much as echinoderms would love to claim Adrian Veidt's mind blowing monstrosity-it really is more cephalopod/squid like...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Some Colobocentrotus diversity! (aka the Shingle or Helmet Urchins!)

Helmet or Shingle Urchins
(photo by Emily Miller Kauai)
So, recently I've gotten a bunch of questions about these peculiar sea urchins via email-and so I thought today might be a good time to re-visit them.

I've written the biology and resistance of these neat sea urchins before in one of my earliest posts (go here!)

Long story short:
1. SEA URCHINS with PLATE-LIKE spines!
2. NAME of the most commonly encountered species is Colobocentrotus atratus, called kaupali in Hawaii
3. HOLD ON TO BOTTOMS in shallow but rough seas at the edge of wave-swept rock like this...                                    
4. LIVE IN CENTRAL/SOUTH INDO-PACIFIC From Hawaii, Japan to the Indian Ocean

Don't believe me that these are actually sea urchins??  here's a nice video that shows the underside with tube feet and everything!  Note this species is the Asian C. mertensi.

Here are some NICE close ups of Colobocentrotus atratus  showing the plates (photo by Ken-ichi)
Helmet Urchin

Another excellent close photo up by "Fishandfungi"
Helmet Urchin, Puako, Hawaii

and yet another by Alan Cressler
colobocentrotus atratus, kapaa beach park, kawaihae coast, north kohala district, hawaii county, hawaii 1

This species often occurs in these clusters.. presumably to conserve moisture..
helmet urchin airport beach
(photo by KCClarke)

Helmet or Shingle Urchins
(photo by Emily Miller Kauai)

Here are some from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean (that's Northwest of Australia)
Alien urchins!!
Helmet or Shingle urchins
Helmet urchins
(above photos by MerMate)

Here's a nice little video about Colobocentrotus from Reunion Island
There is also a SECOND species of helmet urchin!  This one appears to be present primarily in Asia, including Japan, China and Taiwan...

Colobocentrotus mertenseni  also called ジンガサウニ or Jingasauni
This species has more widely distributed plates (which also seem to be a slightly different shape) and dried and preserved animal are this curious green color...

Here..we see one that is partly denuded (i.e., spines removed) showing the urchin beneath...
The specimen above is from Taiwan, image from the Digital Museum of Nature & Culture

How cool is Colobocentrotus?? Well, Mozambique put them on a stamp!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Firebrick Star (Asterodiscides truncatus): Some biology from Flickr!

Asterodiscides truncatus (Firebrick Seastar)3, Batemans Marine Park
(photo by NSW National Parks)
I've spoken before about how photostreams like Flickr are intriguing portals that connect scientists and the public with high quality images of animals from "the field."

Another example of a starfish species that falls under the category "about which, little is known..."  but thanks to photographers from Australia and New Zealand we can now see some stunning images of not just its appearance but some biology as well! 

The subject?  A starfish called Asterodiscides truncatus (described in 1911) called "the fire brick starfish" because of the very fiery colored, brick-like tubercles that cover the surface of this species. 
Firebrick Star
Photo above by Simon Franicevic

Photo by kbean45
PKnights_032008_ (14 of 20)

Also.. note the large swollen tubercles at each arm tip which kind of resemble buttocks?? or a pair of toenails?   These features are present in all 18 species of Asterodiscides, which are found throughout the Indo-Pacific from Madagascar to Hawaii/Japan and to the South Pacific. 

Photo by WillOwyong
Firebrick Sea Star and Half Banded Sea Perch

Photo by quikflik
Firebrick Starfish

They tend to occur in deeper water and so there isn't that much known about them. 

They get quite big.. (photo by newtestleopard)
Firebrick Starfish

Some biology from Flickr!

For example, this image by Richard Ling looks to show A. truncatus in feeding position on some bryozoans. 
Sea Star Party

Asterodiscides is shown here in "tippy toe" formation producing gametes! I wrote about this awhile back. The significance isn't well understood-and this is probably the FIRST time this behavior has been documented in this species.
Spawning firebrick
Photo above by cameronandali@yahoo.com.au

These images show various crustacean commensals with A. truncatus.  A shrimp (photo by Rowland Cain)
Fire Brick Seastar & Shrimp - Ulladulla

and an amphipod (also by Rowland Cain)
Amphipod - Auginish Rocks

Some great close up shots of the beautifully colored tubercles on the animal's surface
from Richard Ling
Firebrick Sea Star

from Billunder
a closer look at the texture of a Firebrick Sea Star (Asterodiscides truncatus).

from lndr
Asterodiscides texture

from tarasutherland
Firebrick Starfish on Landing Bay Pinnacle, Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve

from kbean45
PKnights_032008_ (15 of 20)

And here's some video so you can see what they look like alive! Something most scientists have probably not experienced. (I know that I have never seen one of these alive).

My gratitude to all of the photographers who took the time to take such incredible shots and make them available for all. Not only have you made an aesthetic contribution-but perhaps these will inspire a scientific endeavor as well!