Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weird stuff! One of the starfish I described will be a....TOY???? #EchinoblogInJapan2015

Back in 2003,  I described this very ODD deep-sea starfish. Astrosarkus idipi, a weird and HUGE sea star which had a pretty weird body plan.. You can read my full post about it here.  It occurs in relatively deep-water and is pretty big. About the size of a pumpkin. This species was honored by Quentin Wheeler & Sara Pennak as one of the world's most amazing 100 species! 

My Japanese colleagues discovered more specimens of this species a few years ago in Japanese waters and named it 竜宮桜ヒトデ aka the "deep-sea cherry blossom starfish". The english name was more like "Pumpkin Starfish" But cultural differences, dontcha know...

Today, one of my Japanese colleagues emails me THIS ad for a new series of Japanese "candy toys" aka gashapon. I've discussed how the Japanese LOVE their little, highly detailed toys (here)..

This series is entitled "Deep-sea Sushi"and features various deep-sea animals on little sushi rice things...

The series includes, from left to right:

1. The Dumbo octopus aka Opisthoteuthis californiana
2. the Giant isopod, Bathynomus, probably B. giganteus aka ダイオウグソクムシ(大王具足虫). Read more about the Japanese obsession with giant isopods here.
3. The big deep-sea Oarfish
4. The Anglerfish.
5. Blobfish.


I had no idea this was being done and I certainly am not getting any money for this. I'm going to have to buy this set if I want one.. I'm not even entirely sure who makes them. 

Weird day. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Echinoblog In Japan 2015: A Visit to JAMSTEC!!

Greetings to everyone from Japan! Yes. I missed last week.. transit and jet lag just wiped me out..but this week.. something a little longer and .. SPECIAL!!

An exclusive look at specimens and technology at JAMSTEC, the Japanese Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology!! 

I'm here visiting the National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan's equivalent to its Smithsonian or National Museum of Natural History, where I am studying Japanese starfishes and trying to identify the total number of species in the region. This includes the discovery of new species, clarifying the taxonmy and relationships of known species and etc..

Some of my earlier efforts in Japan from 2014 included some stuff from here and stuff here  and even more here.

Fortunately, the NMNS has some ties with the oceanographic institution JAMSTEC, which is sort of the Japanese version of Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution or NOAA...  and so, a visit!

My gratitude to Dr. Toshihiko Fujita for arranging the visit! And my thanks to his student Miki for making sure that I did not get lost in the THREE hour trip via the Japanese rail system to get there!

Deep-Sea Invertebrates!! 
The JAMSTEC collections had many interesting specimens.....

In addition to my research, I also got to see some unusual species I don't ordinarily get to see.. for example the armored snail, Cyrsomallon sp. , which you can read about here... 
Along side a 500 yen coin for scale...

Later that day, we got a fantastic opportunity to tour the two JAMSTEC research vessels! 

Shinkai 6500!! 
Most famous of course is the world famous Shinkai 6500, one of the few manned subs left in the world... which was being refit.. 
but still VERY impressive! 
You may remember that the Shinkai recently returned from a world tour in 2013!! ! during the Quelle 2013 expedition

The Research Vessels! 
the R/V Kairei (Japanese for ridge), which operates the research ROV Kaiko 7000.  I've never seen what shipboard life has been like on board vessels in other countries, so this was pretty neat! 
The ROV Kaiko 7000 was not on board the Kairei.. but you could see that its a HUGE submarine robot!!  That blue carrige on the left?? THAT is where the Kaiko usually sits before being deployed by the crane on the right...

Here's the Bridge
Here is their ROV control room.. normally completely darkened with big computer/TV screens... NOTE how clean the floor is.. The WHOLE computer and video room is IMMACULATE...
It is kept SO clean, that you actually take your shoes off before entering INTO the control/video ROV room!!!  Which frankly.. was a first for me...

MESS HALL! Yes. they have a rice cooker...

In the Mess Hall, one of the things I loved was that ALL of their tea pots, cups, etc. have the JAMSTEC logo on them!!! How cool is that??

The bathrooms were different compared to a western ship, which typically only use showers. Here's the men's common area bathing room.. two showers PLUS a BATH TUB!  Its customary to take a nice hot bath in Japan.. but still, a shift from what I'm accustomed to...
Still... a bathtub at sea?? Sure. I'd try it!

And of course, a highly sophisticated Japanese electric toilet!!!

The R/V Kaiyo (Japanese for ocean)
Is a bit different..a catamoran with twin hulls... which is similar in overall morphology to the R/V Western Flyer operated by MBARI.. The Kaiyo is a bit older and due to be retired next year..

But is a VERY stable platform...
Aft View...

Miscellanous Fun Stuff seen around JAMSTEC

1.  Deep-Sea Origami Invertebrates: (Giant Isopod, Dumbo octopus and crab below)

2.Deep Sea chemosynthetic clams on display in the JAMSTEC exhibition halll

3. A life size reproduction of the Shinkai observation module!!
4. Cool Gift Shop stuff including pencils with CORE sample markings!!   
Note that the R/V Chikyu is yet ANOTHER one of the JAMSTEC research vessels, which is the platform for the Ocean Drilling Project! 

I am EXTREMELY grateful to my JAMSTEC hosts: Dr. Katsunori Fujikura, who provided the tour as well as Dr. Takashi Hosono and Marika Ichiyanagi of the JAMSTEC data management group!! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

AMPHIPODS! Tiny Crustaceans that show AMAZING colors!

Image by Arthur Anker
AMPHIPODS! What are they? Small, very diverse crustaceans that occur all over the world in marine, freshwater and even terrestrial habitats. They are distinctive in that their bodies are laterally compressed, in other words, their bodies are "taller" than they are wide.

There's a bewildering diversity of them with over 9500 species known.
Most of them are pretty tiny (about 1.0 to 20 millimeters) but some giants approach 34 centimeters (13 inches!).. such as these supergiant amphipods which live in the abyss of the deep-sea at 7,012 meters!

There's a MASSIVE amount of diversity within the group. Some are transparent, while others are colorful. Sometimes they occur in huge densities and are often thought of as the "bugs" of the sea. They often act as detritivores/scavengers as well as predators..

I thought today might be a good idea to share some of the more unusual body forms, courtesy of the highly talented photo naturalists on Flickr. Enjoy!

Epimeria loricata by Olga Zimina

Apparently 2 different color morphs of Paramphithoe hystrix by Olga Zimina
A "Jewel beetle" amphipod by Arthur Anker

A stunning podocerid? from Arthur Anker
A stunning hyperiid...

Some interesting "reef aquarium" species by Waldo Nell
the same under green filters/light!

Some Antarctic amphipod goodness (Echiniphimedia hodgsoni ,family Iphimediidae-ID by Marie Verhaye!) from US Antarctic Research Program at the NMNH

and a delightful species from the White sea.. by Alexander Semenov

There's this stunning beauty, ..also by A. Semenov

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pegaster stichos A Cretaceous California starfish example of Paleo History!!

This week, I am in California on my way to Japan! I am visiting the world-renowned Invertebrate Zoology & Geology department at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco! 

I used to work here when I was a grad student at San Francisco State University in the 90s and as such I have a long-standing relationship with colleagues at the museum.
While going through the collections, I encountered a specimen of this awesome classic fossil, the Cretaceous Pegaster stichos, a starfish belonging to the family Stichasteridae described by my former PhD advisor, Dan Blake and Dallas Peterson in 1993 in the Journal of Paleontology. Their specimen is below...

The CAS specimen (CASG 68139)  is also from the Cretaceous of California... (my thanks to Dr. Peter Roopnarine @peterroopnarine and Collection Manager Dr. Jean deMouthe for their help!)

If some of you are "old timer" San Franciscans.. you may even recognize that this fossil was originally on display in the old CAS Life Through Time Exhibit!!
These specimens (and others like them) are powerful pieces of evidence for how the distributional ranges of marine animals has changed over time. 

but first.. just a little introduction so we're all on the same page...

The starfish in question belongs to the Stichasteridae, which is a group of forcipulate starfishes. I wrote about the curious pattern of biogeographically arranged lineages in the family tree of these animals awhile back...

Note the purple arrow below. The Stichasterids are down at the base of the tree. Given that the record of this whole group goes back to the Triassic, the fact that they are still around is pretty cool.
BUT most members of the Stichasteridae in MODERN oceans live mostly in the Southern Hemisphere (shown here by Stichaster australis), usually seen in Australia, New Zealand and/or the cold-temperate part of South America

As I've blogged before, shallow water members of this family are often times convergent with sea stars in a different family, the Asteriidae from intertidal habitats in the Northern Hemisphere..

But most members of the Stichasteridae are absent from the Northern Hemisphere EXCEPT in the deep-sea, such as this Neomorphaster we saw in a 2013 Okeanos Expedition, where they can be surprisingly abundant..

The only other EXCEPTION to this occurrence in the northern hemisphere is from FOSSILS!! 

Behold this awesome specimen of the Cretaceous stichasterid, Pegaster stichos!! 
So, this shows that at ONE TIME, this group of sea stars lived in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Pacific, perhaps even more widely than was previously known. Note also that in this time period, a good chunk of the west coast of North America was well as a good parts of Texas and the south..
From NPR:
For most of us, we think of the Cretaceous as the time of the dinosaurs and other big marine reptiles!
from the NPS National fossil DAY page! 
But MANY a starfish and sea urchin was around during those days...

and sea urchins of course!

What happened to them??  Extinction apparently. Or maybe they just moved into more friendly waters?   Why?? Any number of factors including sea level and/or climate change.

Where do modern faunas come from? They were here and there.. and sometimes we can see them back then....