Monday, December 31, 2012

400th POST! 2012 Cool Happenings & Top Posts from the Echinoblog!

As 2012 draws to a close here are Five (of course) cool and awesome things that the Echinoblog enjoyed this year! These are not in any particular order....

1. MENTORSHIP!  This year I mentored 3 kids from Iolani high school in Honolulu, Hawaii who studied brisingids (deep- sea asteroids). Their research was entered into the International Science and Engineering Fair and they were rewarded for their efforts!

Here was their group pin..
A video that shows some of the neat biology (time lapse behavior) from their engineering feats!

2. THIRST DC.  I gave a great and fun talk to a new social venue in Washington DC for the Smithsonian. Here's my brief outreach talk for the very gracious audience.

I also gave some Fun talks for volunteers at the NMNH,  Invertebrate House for the National Zoo AND American University! 

3. ANTARCTIC INVERTEBRATES  Go here! I provide a list of neat Antarctic invertebrates for all to enjoy including everyone's favorite monstrous Antarctic scale worm  Eulagisca gigantea!!

I'm always happy when something I do takes off and gets widely circulated this one did so in a pretty big way..
The blog was picked up by my good friends at Deep Sea News (go here) and then later on by the Austrian Newspaper Der Standard (here) (this was in no small part to Miriam Goldstein! thanks!)

By the way the pictures from the US Antarctic Research Program (here) were WIDELY circulated and not always given proper credit. So let's remember that public research funded some of the interesting reading from here and here.

Other popular Echinoblog posts included:
1. Sand Dollars ARE Sea Urchins! Please make a note of it!
2. Sea Cucumber Evisceration Defense! 
3. Sea Cucumber: Cuverian Tubule Defense!
4. Pedicellariae Diversity
5. The Anal Cone Controversy!
6. How Starfish Tube Feet work!

To Brussels, Belgium in August for the 14th International Echinoderm Conference!  Echinoderms were studied, argued about and laughed upon! and as with the asteriid sea stars I have studied, mussels were devoured!

and to Paris in November for research with my French colleagues at the Museum national d'Histoire naturelle!  see here  and here! 

2013 promises publications that feature new species and other new discoveries published from data collected in 2012! (yeah, I know that sounds lame but that's how it works sometimes...)

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who has supported the Echinoblog!! 2013 promises to be a good one but as always..I'm happy to hear what topics you'd like to read about!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Heterocentrotus Holidays from the Echinoblog!

Its Christmas! I'm off to enjoy eggnog and awful movies but here's some bright colorful sea urchins for the holidays! Heterocentrotus from the Indo-Pacific (mostly Heterocentrotus mammilatus pics)
My best to all of my readers and followers for the holiday season!

Image by "backofthenapkin"
Slate pencil sea urchin
from Hawaii by weedmandan
'Ina 'ula or slate-pencil urcin (Heterocentrotus mammillatus)
From Hawaiian Islands. Photographed by Dwayne Meadows, NOAA-NMFS
One from the Red Sea. Image by vanveeleen
Pencil urchin
Here's another one from the Red Sea (maybe H. trigonarius?). Image by furstyferret81
Red Sea Diving - Dahab- Slate pencil sea urchin
A nice one from Hawaii. Image by Alan Cressler
Heterocentrotus mammillatus, Waiopae Tide Pools, Hawaii County, Hawaii 1
One from the Sinai peninsula. Image by bluepeda
sinai - 534
from Hawaii. mage by mbasile
(Red) Slate Pencil Urchin
from Hawaii by Arian durst
A close up by Geoff Spiby
pencil urchin 2
Another Hawaiian one by chinds_1133
Pencil Urchin

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Biodiversity Spotlight on: The NMNH Invertebrate Zoology Department!

This week a departure from the weekly echinoblogging to spotlight some people behind the biodiversity of marine invertebrates! (although that is a very photogenic Protoreaster lincki on the cover!)

A few weeks ago Ward Appeltans, who was the project manager for the massive World Registry of Marine Species database (here) collected and presented 121 contributors of various marine species, including some plants, protozoans and chromistans, fungi, some chordates and a WHOLE bunch of invertebrates!
The link to the paper is here. I believe it is open access until January 2013.

There are a lot of digests and news articles about this including these:
Discovery News
e!Science News

But of course in a "big picture" treatment, one often lacks some detail so I thought I would spotlight a department with which I was most familiar:  Invertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History!
Department of Invertebrate Zoology
Eight out of the 121 contributors of the paper (that's about 6%) are residents/associates/employees of  the Invertebrate Zoology Dept. at the National Museum of Natural History!!(part of the Smithsonian Institution)
Top: Jon Norenburg (worms), Dennis Opresko (antipatharians aka black corals), Stephen Cairns (scleractinians and gorgonians)
Middle: Rafael Lemaitre (anomuran crabs), Kristian Fauchald (polychaetes)
Lower: T. Chad Walter (copepods), Marilyn Schotte (isopods)
Bottom: Me (starfish)
6 % may not seem like a lot, but it is the largest contribution of the 95 different organizations which participated.  Only the Dept. of Marine Zoology at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands had the 2nd highest number of contributors (n=7)

A look at the number of records modified per taxonomic editor below. Several of the largest contributors are persons from the NMNH!
This graph from the WoRMS statistics page
Among the names and numbers!
Chris Mah with 6,060
Marilyn Schotte with 14, 384
Chad Walter with 27, 508
and Kristian Fauchald with a whopping 36, 480 records!!

Here's which Marine Invertebrate Databases and/or taxa they oversee..

Kristian Fauchald (lead editor: Geoff Read): World Polychaeta Database and Twitter: @WPolyDB
Chad Walter (with Geoff Boxshall): World of Copepod Database! 
Dennis Opresko: WoRMS-the Antipatharia (black corals)
Chris Mah:  World Asteroidea Database (starfishes and sea stars)

Some Neat Factoids about the NMNH Invertebrate Zoology Dept.

  • The Collection includes a representative of every recognized animal phylum, including the two most recently recognized-the Loricifera and the Cycliophora! 
  • You can always check the holdings by going to the online catalog here! 
  • The dept. has over ONE MILLION cataloged specimens in its database! 
  • IZ oversees one of, if not the largest collection of Antarctic invertebrates in North America. Here is the USARP page!
  • IZ currently hosts 10 active on-staff research zoologists whose interests range from deep-sea cucumbers, freshwater mollusks, midwater polychaete worms, to barcoding and understanding tropical biodiversity.
  • Go Check out the IZ Twitter page:  @InvertebratesDC

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hawaiian Brisingid Starfish Munitions Mysteries!

Image courtesy of Chris Kelley, Hawaiian Undersea Research Labs
November has been a busy month! While I was hard at work in Paris other projects were underway! I often wish that I could be in two places at once because it happens that different and exciting things happen at once!

Case in point-I have discussed how I have worked with the University of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Undersea Research Laboratory before. (go here to see)
From the HUMMA Project website
Specifically, I have been working with Dr. Margo Edwards in conjunction with the Hawai'i Undersea Military Munitions Assessment Project (or HUMMA) which is a coalition of institutions including the University of Hawai'i, NOAA, the US Army and others. 

To put it briefly, there's a lot of unexploded bombs and munitions about 5 miles off the coast of the island of Oahu (and other locations throughout the Hawaiian Islands).

Screen shot 2012-12-02 at 12.41.01 PM

The HUMMA project is part of an ongoing effort to map, survey and reconcile these weapons. A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about this can be found here.

A nice video about this project is here:

And in fact the HUMMA Project has a Youtube Channel with a bunch of interesting things documenting their work here

So how does a humble starfish scientist like me get involved with all of this seemingly unrelated (but interesting) work?

Brisingid starfishes!
What are brisingids? Short answer: Sea Stars/Starfish that put their arms up into the water to capture food using a special kind of "starfish velcro".  Go here to see a full write up about these weird deep-sea starfish!

In November the Hawaiian Undersea Research Lab (HURL) and the HUMMA Project took to the water with the submersible Pisces V (one of the only manned research submersibles still operating in the US!)
From the Friends of HURL Facebook page
From the Friends of HURL Facebook page!
One of their objectives during this November dive was to look at the various animal biota in and around the ordnance (go here for a HUMMA Project update) such as these sea anemones living on a vertically oriented mine...
From the HUMMA Project website
Probably one of the most abundant and interesting of the animals living in and around the ordnance and other structures were brisingid asteroids. So, there was an interest in finding out more about them.

Especially since they seemed to have large round "lesions" or swellings on the arms (note the large one on the upper center arm)..
Image courtesy of Chris Kelley, Hawaiian Undersea Research Labs
Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do with brisingids from video and pictures taken at a distance.  So many questions!

What species were these brisingids?  
How many different kinds of brisingids were present? 
What were the swellings?  Why were there so many of them? 

And so, collections were made using the Pisces V submersible's collector arm..

Being able to look over the specimens at long last gave us two valuable discoveries!

1. Possibly a new species?  The brisingids we were studying belonged to a genus that had never been seen in Hawaii before! And a species that could not be reconciled with any of the known ones!  Further work remains to be done-but it seems like there is good reason to believe at least some of the brisingids studied belong to an undiscovered species!

2. What were the swellings? An examination of the swellings revealed an even more interesting discovery!!   They were parasitic barnacles!!

There are some VERY unusual types of barnacles called Ascothoracidans that can enter into the body cavity of sea stars (and other echinoderms), affix themselves to the internal body structures.

Some relatives of ascothoracidans, called rhizocephalans have highly unusual relationships and can take over a host's reproductive system! (go here to see on case)  It is unclear what the parasites in these brisingids do however.

The Time Lapse Project!
Brisingids were the subject of a neat project undertaken by 3 intrepid students from Honolulu's famous Iolani High School: Kyle, Erin and Logan (shown here with model of their study organism)

Their efforts were largely directed at some ecology and behavior of these starfish, about which VERY little is known.  Often times, we can barely identify brisingids much less describe how they live in their natural habitat!
They participated and won awards at the 2012 International Science and Engineering Fair! Woo! Here was a pin of their crest!

One part of the student's work involved engineering and developing their very own time-lapse camera for use in observing brisingid sea stars!!

Here is a video from their early efforts in shallow water   
and extended to night time....

And finally, here is the final product observing deep-sea brisingid starfish and some deep-sea sea anemones!  Note how the brisingids move.. 
The full scientific impact and write up of all these discoveries is currently underway.

But I find it a hearty endorsement of these kids' abilities that they were able to develop such a clever and useful device given their constraints!  This was something they did in high school! I look forward to their efforts in college!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Off-topic: A Panoply of Polychaetes! Photos by Arthur Anker

Nereis cf riisei, rolled in a spiral

Just returned from Paris and am snowed under by jet lag and catchup, so here are some stunning images of various polychate worms!  by my colleague  Arthur Anker formerly at the Universidade Federal do Ceara, Labomar but now at the National University of Singapore.

Arthur's photography stuns me whenever I see it and if I can share it with the public than I do! Enjoy!

and if you enjoy polychaetes go check out my link page of "bobbit worm" videos! here.

My post on the worm-shrimp 1-2 punch vs. crown of thorns starfish here.

Gorekia! the worm that lives INSIDE a sea urchin! here.

The Leather star (Dermasterias) scale worm love? story! here.

A gorgeous Trypanosyllis sp, a syllid worm from Moorea, French Polynesia.
Wormy elegance
A stunning Eupolymnia tube worm from the Caribbean
Eupolymnia sp (?), a Caribbean tube worm

Head on with Diopatra sp. (Onuphidae) from the mudflats of Singapore
Diopatra sp ? (Onuphidae) from mudflats of Singapore

and more Diopatra love!
Diopatra sp (Onuphidae)
Hermodice cf. canunculata-a fire worm from Sao Tome
Hermodice cf carunculata - a fire worm from Sao Tome

Eunice sp from the Caribbean coast of Panama
Eunice sp from the Caribbean coast of Panama

Nereis cf. riisei, rolled up into a spiral, fr. Panama
Nereis cf riisei, rolled in a spiral

Fireworm (Chloeia sp) from Panama Canal
Fireworm (Chloeia sp) from Panama Canal

Branchiomma sp. a sabellid worm from Sao Tome, Brazil
Branchiomma sp, a sabellid worm from Sao Tome

Lepidonotus sp. from the Caribbean
Lepidonotus (2)

 Pontogenia from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia 
Pontogenia sp (Pontogeniidae), GBR, Australia

A festively colored scale worm, Lepidasthenia sp. from Cozumel Island, Mexico
Colourful scale worm (Lepidasthenia sp ?), Cozumel Island, Mexico

A neat pic of a sand-tube worm, Pectinaria IN a sand-grain tube! from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Sand-tube worm (Pectinaria sp) in its sand-grain tube, GBR, Australia

Another Pectinaria species, from Florida showing the worm and its sand-grain tube
Pectinaria sp in its sofisticated sand tube, Seahorse Key, FL

Finally, a maldanid polychaete worm from Australia
Maldanid worm