OAT (One Amazing Thing): Bathynomus (Giant Isopod!)

We all love a good science fiction creature. Well, here’s one that really exists! The amazing bathynomus is an isopod that begs for stories to be written about it! I saw this specimen with Chris Mah at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Learn more at Chris’s amazing blog: The Echinoblog. You can also read about this creature from Kevin Zelnio’s article, which is like “Bathynomus 101″ – a great way to learn about these interesting deep sea creatures!
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Striped Sun Star

During low tide today I found a Striped Sun Star (Solaster stimpsoni) eating a sea cucumber (Tutka Bay, Alaska).

The second photo is the underside of the sunstar, and you can see its stomach which is protruding out from its mouth (because it was eating the sea cucumber that is in the third photo). After I took the photos, I returned it to finish its meal (while it was eating a sea cucumber this time, they also eat other sea stars).

Amazing creatures!

Striped Sun Star (Solaster stimpsoni)

Striped Sun Star (Solaster stimpsoni)

This is the underside, note the stomach protuding out the mouth.

This is the underside, note the stomach protuding out the mouth.

This is the sea cucumber that the striped sun star was eating.

This is the sea cucumber that the striped sun star was eating.

Close-up of that stomach protruding from the mouth on the underside of the striped sun star.

Close-up of that stomach protruding from the mouth on the underside of the striped sun star.

Simply galling: Cedar-Apple Rust

From the Archives: This is a re-post, but a story I really love to share.

Move over Davy Jones, you aren’t the only one with slimy tentacles. In fact, the orange growth I found in the cedar trees at the NC Museum of Life and Science could have been inspiration for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie’s character.

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I took these photos on May 19, 2010, after a few days of very heavy rain. I was stunned by the intricate design and beauty. The spectacular mass of glistening, glutinous tendrils contrasted sharply in color with the cedar green on that damp morning. But I had no idea what I was looking at. So, I just tried to get some good shots to identify later.

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Greg Dodge, the ranger at the NC Museum of Life and Science answered my email query quite quickly (wow, that’s pretty good alliteration for the letter q). He recognized my photo instantly as a Cedar-Apple Rust gall–a fungal disease. He confirmed my hunch that the recent deluge had coaxed the spectacular tendrils out of the gall that had been quietly developing in the branches of the cedar tree for the past year. Cornell University’s Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic has the best description of the life cycle of Cedar-Apple Rust, but I think I captured some fantastic photos of the telial horns.
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A few days later I went back and looked for the Cedar-Apple Rust galls again. By now, the orange telial horns had mostly disappeared (dropping to the ground), and the gall which had been developing during the previous year in anticipation of its final spectacular spring show was clearly visible.
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Amazing.

Lumps of Clay

Do you ever think much about what clay really is?

A while ago, we were at Bald Head Island, NC and spent some time on the beach. I enjoy walking on the beach and looking for interesting shells, etc. Something unusual caught my attention this time. A moist, brown/grey lump, roughly oval, covered with sand.

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I kept walking. Then I saw another, and another. Most people ignored them, or thought they were probably some kind of animal feces. I’m just too curious, and besides, I didn’t think it was fecal material (there were no flies). So, I picked one up. It had more weight to it than I thought by just looking at it. I broke it apart and saw uniform texture and what appeared to be clay inside the sandy coating. I started to gather these “clay” blobs… much to some other visitors’ stupefaction.

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Sea Star Wasting in Tutka Bay, Alaska

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While I was in Kachemak Bay, Alaska, this summer I observed what I had hoped I would not find: evidence of sea star wasting syndrome. I took photos of sea stars at Tutka Bay during an ultra low tide in May 2013 and again in September 2013. Once I was back in NC, I started to read about the mortality of millions of sea stars along the Pacific coastline of the US.

Background information:

Sea stars along much of the North American Pacific coast are dying in great numbers from a mysterious wasting syndrome. As yet the cause of the syndrome is unidentified, and it’s not clear whether it’s a due to an environmental change, disease or something else. Similar die-offs have occurred before in the 1970s, 80s, and the 90s, but never before at this magnitude and over such a wide geographic area.
seastarwasting.org (the UCSC research group working on this problem)

Since last summer, scientists and tidepoolers up and down the Pacific Coast have noticed starfish dying in startling numbers. Some observers have documented sea star bodies turning to mush, others described the creatures disintegrating, while others found stars that lost their limbs and color. The name of this phenomenon: “sea star wasting disease.”
http://blogs.kqed.org/science/2014/03/07/what-we-know-and-dont-know-about-the-sea-star-die-off/

So, I when I went back to Tutka Bay in July 2014, I wanted to see if I would notice any difference in the hundreds of sea stars that I had observed and photographed in 2013. The short answer: yes.

Two things were very evident: many sea stars exhibited the lesions and decay of tissue that are symptomatic of sea star wasting and the population of the 5-armed Pisaster ochraceus was dramatically diminished.

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Once I started studying the photos, I sent a few to the research team at UCSC to check my suspicions. They confirmed that the sea stars in the photos did indeed show indications of the disease, and that the location was the most Northern reported occurrence of the disease in the field. They asked me to submit some more photos and observations (info for how to submit data is here: http://www.eeb.ucsc.edu/pacificrockyintertidal/data-products/sea-star-wasting/observation-log.html#track-disease

I then looked back at my 2013 photos to do a comparison. I was surprised to see that as early as May 2013 I had photographed sea stars that were diseased.

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