Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Off-topic: Sea Spiders (aka Pycnogonids) Galore!

Sea (not a) spider
Image by Arthur Anker!
 Here's looking at you!

Image by the always awesome Arthur Anker! (Straits of Johore Biodiversity Survey, Oct 2012)
This week, owing to "crunch time" on my trip and being up to my arm pits in Antarctic starfish- you get a nice photo essay about sea spiders (btw-not arachnids) aka pycnogonids! Not echinoderms but arthropods!

Mostly of these are pretty tiny, which is why most people never see them, but the details are everything! I was told once by one of my professors many years ago that you could go your whole life and never see one of these-wow! times have changed...

From the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (probably Anoplodactylus sp.)
Sea spider (probably Anoplodactylus sp), GBR, Australia
Image by Arthur Anker!

Some neat south African pcynogonids in the Florida Museum of Natural History collections
South African sea spiders (Pycnogonida) in the FLMNH collections, Gainesville, Florida
Image by Arthur Anker!

Shown this one before (from St. Martin) -but its amazing so here it is again!
Male ovigerous sea spider (Pycnogonida)
Image by Arthur Ankder

A neat one from Grand Cayman.
Sea Spider 5915
Image by Courtney Platt

This one identified as Nymphon breviostre but not sure where its from... Images by Alexander Semenov
Sea spider posing
Image by Alexander Semenov
Carrying eggs..
Almost father
image by Alexander Semenov
This one identified as Nymphon grossipes feeding on bryozoa. Image by Alexander Semenov
Image by Alexander Semenov
Pink and Yellow! From Australia. Image by Indr
Sea Spider @ Jervis Bay
Image by Leander Wiseman

Pallenopsis macneilli from Port Phillip, Australia
Pycnogonid (Seaspider) - Pallenopsis macneilli
Image by Peter Fuller

Yikes. This one looks overrun by wee sea spiders!
by A. Semenov

Images by Alexander Semenov

Here's one of the deep-sea taxa, possibly Colossendeis. They get to be over 7 inches across! This one looks big..
Sea spider
by the SERPENT project
But what do Sea Spiders (Pycnogonids) actually look like alive and moving?  here's some HD macro video for ya!
Sea Spiders from liquidguru on Vimeo.

And thanks to NEPTUNE Canada for reminding me about this neat video of a giant deep-sea sea-spider moving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Paris! Sea Urchins or Street Urchins?

This week, the Urchins of Paris! 

Wait, what?  Do you mean those delightful scamps that run around making mischief in the streets ??
Not street urchins-but oursins!  Or Sea urchins! (tests-the dried internal skeletons shown here)
This week:  some of the rich and diverse holdings of the Museum national d'Historie naturelle!

Sea Urchins (oursins!) or members of the Echinoidea are of course-the echinoderms that look like a big spiny ball (this includes sand dollars and sea biscuits!).  Sea urchin specimens comprise  an incredibly diverse (and important) collection in Paris with holdings from all over the world-especially from the tropical Indo and South Pacific! Undoubtedly many new species await description! 

So for example here we have the very incredible looking Chondrocidaris gigantea

Others from the tropics are distinctive and RED but remain sadly, unidentified. Is this a new species awaiting discovery?? 

In addition to the above "regular" urchins, here are some cleaned tests (again-the skeleton of an urchin with all the spines removed) of some "irregular urchins" (distantly related to sand dollars).

A test of Schizaster edwardsi from the Atlantic...
I believe this one was called Breynia but not sure which species.                                                                        

But why limit yourself to enjoying only the outside of these skeletons when you can go INSIDE??   No-not x-rays...but old-school careful dissection...

Here's the Atlantic "sea biscut" Clypeaster rosaceus with the "top" completely removed..
 showing the internal struts around the mouth...
 Go ahead and take a walk around inside a sea biscuit!
The long history of the museum permits me to share with you some display mounts from a bygone era...

These are the individual spines of various species mounted on one plate each. These are easily 100 years old and are possibly MUCH older... probably from the 1800s...

Here is a vintage 1894 specimen collected by the sea urchin researcher Gustave Honoré Cotteau (he died in 1894 so this is probably just a note indicating the specimen is part of his collection).
Here is a brief summary of who he was (in French)  A short summary translation of his bio (some edits for clarity):
Judge, naturalist, geologist.
Gustave Cotteau made ​​a career in the judiciary while devoting himself to paleontological studies. It was a judge in civil court Coulommiers civil court judge in Auxerre (1867), and retired in 1874.
As a scientist, he devoted himself to the research and study of living and fossil echinoids, which he had a collection of over 500 species. With numerous articles in newsletters and journals of learned societies which he belongs, he continued the publication of the collection founded by Alcide d'Orbigny in 1840, Paleontology French. He was curator of the town of Auxerre.
Secretary-General of the Institute of Provinces, responsible for publishing the reports of international conferences of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology and the annual reports on the progress of geology and paleontology in France from 1858 to 1869...
You can check out some of Cotteau's work at the Biodiversity Heritage Library site HERE (for free download). But Cotteau was a prolific author and wrote MANY classic texts on fossil echinoderms.

Okay! Now time to go get some Turkish Delight! More next week!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The Echinoblog greets you from Paris France where I am currently working with my colleagues at the world famous Le Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle where I am working with my colleagues on starfish in the collections of the museum!   For my past blogs about Paris-click here!

Much of what I do is a mixture of new cutting edge research and very classical, old-fashioned stuff. 

Essentially, there are massive collections of starfish (and other invertebrates) in the museum which are part of biodiversity surveys, expeditions, and exploration of various exotic locales throughout the world-Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar to name a few...

I see a lot of this material as preserved material in buckets that look like this..
This material may look brown and unappealing, but it is a rich treasure trove of scientific data for the modern evolutionary biologist.  Research endeavors from this kind of collection includes:
  • Describing New Taxa, including genera and species! 
  • Extracting DNA and "barcoding" populations to study relationships across different areas (ie biogeography)
  • Extracting DNA and studying evolutionary relationships among different species
  • Discovering parasites in their hosts!
  • Studying the full sizes of a species to see how they change. (e.g., think of caterpillars to butterflies to realize how this is important)
  • Ecological Modelling
And there's probably no end to the number of potential projects. Mostly, I'm involved with the top two kinds of projects-but I've seen them all done.

In contrast though, sometimes there's a lot that's important from a historical and scientific perspective to see some of the original material figured and illustrated from major scientific papers and books!  The MNHN is no slouch where historical persons have left their mark.. Click here to see an older post about some of the labels still bearing the Lamarck's wrting! 

Here for example is a photograph from a Plate in a famous starfish monograph from 1894 by Edmond Perrier showing Brisinga endecacnemos
And here is the original specimen as it appears today-still largely intact and looks just like it does in the book..
while not figured, here's a rather striking display jar for the 50-rayed Antarctic Labidiaster annulatus..
Often times, my research trips (and those of other scientists to the museum)  fuse the old and the new. And go something like this:
  1. You find something new in the collections, 
  2. Sequence it for its DNA (or analyze its external appearance), discover it is close to an existing species...
  3. Compare the specimen to a historical voucher (often called a type) to see if it conforms to the established definition. Is it a new species?  A rarely seen species? 
  4. Publish!
There are any number of complications.. 

Types can be missing, analyses reveal unexpected results and of course new material is ALWAYS turning up in museums.. Sometimes new specimens can completely support a dubiously defined new species or instantly show how a recently described species is in fact just a variable individual of a known species..

Okay! But enough about work!   Paris is a delightful city and I would be remiss if I did not share some of its charms..some not so subtle...

For example, this ammonite is already pretty cool "as-is" 
But then you realize WHERE it is..and it just has an awesome new twist! 

Every good city has geology to be found in the unlikeliest of places... For example here is fossilifeous limestone used as floor stones on the Gare d'Lest train station..

Can you see the cross-sections through various shells and other invertebrates??  Unseen by thousands of persons a day??

Tucked away in various parts of the city are weird little fun moments like this one... (near Les Halles)

And where would we be if we didn't show some French food porn!   Y'know what's amazing about this? The "pink" donuts in the US have famously adopted the description "pink flavor"..

But in Paris?  not only can you get them warm-but they are RASBERRY. Tasty!

Some Turkish Delight...
And some very tantalizing cooking Macarons
We'll see you next week!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sea Star/Starfish Close Ups!

Solaster skin
Image by Alexander Semenov
Bonjour to everyone! At the moment I am continuing my research in Paris at the Museum national d'Historie naturelle! Here are a bunch of my prior posts about studying at this incredible place!

I'll be blogging more on this shortly but in the meantime, here are some neat close ups of various starfish species!

Solaster endeca (Pacific Northwest/N. Atlantic) click here to see what the animal looks like
Solaster skin
Image by Alexander Semenov
Crossaster papposus (Pacific Northwest/N. Atlantic) click here to see what the animal looks like
Crossaster skin
Image by Alexander Semenov
Plectaster decanus (Australia) Click here to see what the animal looks like
Starfish close up
Image by Weedy Seadragon
Gomophia gomophia (Okinawa, Japan) click here to see what this animal looks like
Starfish, Gomophia gomophia
Image by Okinawa Nature Photography
Nardoa sp. from the Indo-Pacific
Warty sea star
Image by sbailliez
Echinaster callosus from the Indo-Pacific Warty seastar (Echinaster callosus)
Warty seastar (Echinaster callosus)
Images by Optical Allusion
The sand star Astropecten aranaciacus (temperate Europe, Mediterranean) click here to see it!
Note the star-shaped pillars are called paxillae. In theory they protect the papulae (aka the gills) from burial)
Astropecten aranciacus
Image by fabbricmare
From Mediaster aequalis (west coast of N. America) a similar bunch of structures called tabula or tabular plates.. Click here to see it!
Starfish macro

From an Australian relative of Mediaster called Nectria ocellata with some enlarged tabulae. It looks like this.
Macro adventures pt 2
Image by ~aquaplane
 Close up surface texture of the Indo-Pacific Archaster typicus. Learn more about it here!
Close up of texture of Common sea star