from the specimen drawer

from the specimen drawer

Saturday, August 23, 2014

UPDATE: Qu'est-ce que c'est? ANSWERED!

Congratulations to Steve who correctly guessed that this horrible looking thing is the mouth-part of a sea urchin. Well, he actually guessed "Aristotle's lantern" which is a hard, calcareous feeding structure comprised of very intricate parts unique to sea urchins. But since he was the only person who took a guess I cut him a little slack on not specifically indicating "body part" and "animal". 

Here is the whole image:

So this is the underside or oral surface of Spike, a purple urchin (Arbacia punctulata) that I had in a tank long ago. See his pretty purple-tipped spines?

He was attached to the glass with his tube feet (those long tentacle-y looking things with round suction tips). The larger, striped tube feet with slightly indented suctions that surround the mouth are the buccal podia used for "tasting" stuff before chomping on it. The green fleshy part around the white pointy bits are essentially Spike's "lips" or peristomial membrane (peri = around, stoma = mouth). The little pink tongue-like structures- are, well, like tongues (don't know name).

The aforementioned "pointy bits" are the five white "teeth" that Spike was using to scrape algae from the glass. These teeth are the protruding tips of the Aristotle's lantern (the rest of the lantern is internal). According to Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia (Volume 3: Mollusks and Echinoderms; 1972), the Aristotle's lantern was so-named by Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79). I bet Pliny was probably beat up by his Roman classmates since he was clearly a nerd and his full name was Gaius Plinius Secundus (bless his heart and thanks Wikipedia). But I guess all those guys had pretty silly names back then so maybe Pliny was never subject to whatever the Roman version of a "swirly" or "wedgie" entailed. 

Anyway, here is a great illustration (by Diller?) from the Grzimek text showing all the little "bones" of the Aristotle's lantern.  

Here is photo of what remained of Spike after he died and was nicely cleaned of all his fleshy parts by a couple of crabs and other little critters in the tank. This is his "shell" or test (calcareous plates that served as his skeleton). The large hole is where the Aristotle's lantern would sit.

And here is a photo of Spike's Aristotle's lantern. I've included a quid (pound sterling- British) and a nickel (five cents- American) for scale. Queen Elizabeth and Thomas Jefferson make a handsome couple, don't you reckon?


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Spongey Goodness!

Dearest Fellow Marine Invertebrate Lovers,

I have returned from a long leave of absence from bloggery due to a combination of hard work, school, research and, most of all, extreme laziness.

My apologies and here are two new limericks I wrote in honor of the lowly but highly successful sponges- about half-a-billion years successful! Not too shabby for the animal kingdom. The members of this phylum are an excellent example of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

I am not going to expound on sponges as they are currently the center of my research (Cliona in particular- an excavating sponge) and I just don't want to talk about it. BUT if you have specific questions you would like to put forth to me regarding the Porifera, please do!

An animal? Completely ridiculous!
Just cells and sponge matrix quite spiculous.
No brain, heart, or gut!
No eyeballs! No butt!
Tis true though- the research? Meticulous!

This next one is dedicated to my friends in Australia for coming up with this great nickname for the boring sponges, a true bane to oyster, scallop and pearl farmers around the globe.

Ode to “Red Arse”
It’s so boring it ain’t even funny.
Can’t eat it and it ain’t worth no money.
“So this sponge has no charm?
What could be the harm?”
It digs right through my oyster shells, Honey!

I leave you with a lovely photo of Ocypode quadrata, the cute and square ghost crab. He (or she) was just trying to get down to the water to wet his gills and maybe grab a little snack when I interrupted his progress. He was mad. Tried to pinch me when I grabbed at him- go figure.

Photo copyright 2014 Heather Lynn Robertson (Stoker)
Stay tuned next week (or so), for a new category "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" where I post a picture of a whole or part of an invertebrate and you try to guess what it is! Maybe there will be a prize of little or no value involved. How enticing!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Barnacle Limerick

Steve, here is your requested limerick about barnacles. Also, if you want more on barnacles go to "That's Gross but Cool" post about the amazing barnacle penis (October 8, 2009) and the latest "Inverta-bits" post has a few dirty photos of goose barnacles.

Here it is- hope you like it:

A barnacle's a crustacean- who knew it?
Darwin did- but Linnaeus- he blew it.
What about its hard shell?
And no claws- what the hell?
It's the nauplius larva that proved it!

It was once thought that barnacles were actually mollusks (calcium carbonate shell-like plates threw them off!) Sadly, SOME people still do- I saw a photo on some site that described a goose barnacle as a bi-valve. Shame! Anyway...
Here is a photo re-enacting a barnacle attack on an unsuspecting diver. The manta ray is not intending to help at all- just curious to see if the barnacle can chew through the wetsuit.

Here's a closeup of the barnacle trying to eat the diver. It's ok- he only lost his forearm and his tank. Luckily his diving buddy was nearby and was willing to share his oxygen. (Reminder to never dive alone!)

Really, barnacles are completely harmless unless you are plankton, in which case it's probably pretty scary getting trapped in the cirri ("legs") of the barnacle. Barnacles are suspension feeders, that is, they stick their feathery thoracopods into the water and, essentially, wait to catch whatever swims into their legs and then move the food down to their mouth. Some species of barnacles can actively filter the water by reversing the direction of the cirri and moving their legs in a stroking motion (happens when water currents are slow).

Here is a photo of a striped barnacle, Balanus amphitrite, trying to compete for space with some mussels. (Photo taken on some mysterious black, semi-hard, tar-like formation that formed tide pools over a few years on a stretch of beach on Jekyll Island, GA).
                                                                                           Photo copyright 2008
Hope you liked your limerick Steve! I'll send your other stuff out in a couple of weeks.

To all of my fabulous readers and fellow nerds- talk to you after the new year!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Warning: Indecent Barnacle Photos!

Oh My Ostracod! No it's not invertebrate porn (the next logical step after invertebrate limericks- which everyone knows IS the gateway poetry to lewd graphic crustacean photo spreads). It's Lepas anatifera- or the common goose barnacle, the slightly creepy cousin of your standard stalkless barnacle.
These big boys- some with stalks up to five or six inches long and, easily, an inch in diameter- were found attached, en masse, to a Tsunami Buoy pulled out of the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The fleshy "member" (sorry) is called a PEDUNCLE which, frankly, has to be one of the best words ever. These particular peduncles are big enough that you might refer to them as honkinbadonkapeduncles (ooh- I'm copyrighting that!).
Here are the goose barnacles covering the buoy.
The shelled portion is referred to as the Capitulum (Latin for "head") and the various calcareous plates that make up the head include the Tergum, Scutum and Rostrum (amongst a couple of others but I like to say these in particular). Here is a picture of the Capitulum with the barnacle's thoracic appendages (legs) reaching out to you.
It was actually quite sad to see hundreds of these guys stretching their little, feathery legs out to the ozone but, ALAS! Instead of touching their precious briny deep only air- "air, air everywhere and not a drop of dissolved oxygen or plankton to drink" (isn't that how the quote goes?).

Yes, very, very sad... until they started to stink and then I was able to comfort myself with the tried and true "all in the name of science" maxim.

Way to be gross, barnacles!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Symbion Limerick

Sorry for the delay in getting your invertebrate limericks out, Jason R.! For your long wait, I give you not just one of the requested limericks about Symbions but two! And because I was so mentally exhausted coming up with these, instead of a third limerick about the slipper lobster (scyllarid) as you asked, I wrote you an aquatic animal alphabet anecdote to lighten my mood after my brain taxing.

Thanks for introducing the Symbion to me. I knew nothing of this animal and, frankly, after doing research for limerick inspiration, happily close the chapter on these odd little commensal symbionts. So here are your two limericks (finally!) and a little slipper lobster story. And by the way, for those of you who are not familiar with Symbions, here is a photo of one (or, um, two? Soon to be three?) from

photo copyright Peter Funch (University of Copenhagen)

1 = adhesive disk attached to lobster mouth part; 2 = male on asexual feeding body waiting for female to bud to have sex with; 3 = anus of feeding body; 4 = mouth of feeding body.

Here we go...

The Symbion

The symbion’s a weird, little topic
It’s sac-like and hardly exotic.
Stuck on with a disc
To its host-lobster’s “lips”
eating leftovers in size microscopic

Symbion “Love”

No pooping and (like always) no kissing
Cause his mouth and his anus are missing
two sex-organs knock-up
a she-symbion bud
Of romance, there’ll be no reminiscing.

A Slipper Lobster Story

Scylarrid strolled silently southward, shoveling through sediment searching for something satisfying to swallow. Sadly, the search was sabotaged by seventy six stupid spiny lobsters sneaking by single-file. Scylarrid circumnavigated the shenanigans slowly, scowling severely at number sixty seven who he seriously suspected stole his scallops on Saturday. Soon the scene was sublime and Scyllarid slippered somewhere safe and submerged himself in the sand and said, sotto voce, "so-much for a scrumptious seafood snack" and seethed until supper.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Invertebrate Anus Limericks

I thought the best way to bring in the new year was to share with you a few limericks I wrote about the anuses (ani?) of some of our invertebrate friends. But before I do, here is an up close and personal look at the anus of Spike, one of the sea urchins in my tank.
(Sorry, Spike!)

photo copyright 2009

The flower shape is comprised of four genital plates with gonopores (holes in the plates where the eggs or sperm, in Spike's case, are released) and a madreporite (opening to water vascular system). The center of the "flower" is the periproct and the anus is right in the middle of that. Enough anatomy! Here are the limericks!

Gastropod Anus Limerick
The gastropod’s nicely “turned out”
In its calcium carbonate house,
But it has the misfortune
(due to visceral torsion)
Of pooping right next to its mouth.

Anemone Anus Limerick
The anemone (and those of its phylum)
Has an “in” hole the same as its “out” one.
It MUST shit before
It can eat one piece more,
A real gastronomic conundrum!

Sea Cucumber Anus Limerick
The sea cucumber’s anus is neat
It can shoot sticky threads many feet!
A fish can live in its butt
(Go ahead- look it up!)
It even uses its asshole to breathe!

Hope you enjoyed those. And remember: Out with the old and in with the new! And to illustrate that new year's sentiment, here is a picture of Spike pooping.
photo copyright 2009

Looks like snow! Happy New Year!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sea Pork!

Here is my foot and a big, delicious piece of sea pork.

Sea pork is a colony of animals- clusters of zooids encased in a yummy gelatinous matrix. You should try slicing one up and making some sea pork cutlets in, perhaps, some sausage gravy with a side salad of sea pansies. (Disclaimer: No- don't do that.) I do not think you should eat sea pork (or sea pansies, for that matter) unless you are really hung over. Then you can put the sea pork in a blender with some clamato and vodka. NO- don't do that either! I don't know what would happen to you if you ate or drank sea pork but it might be bad and I don't want to be held responsible.

So here is another look at the compound tunicate (from the group of animals known as Ascidians)- early relatives of yours by the way. Did you know you were in the same taxonomic phylum as sea squirts and sea pork? Well you are. In fact knowing this may put some things in perspective in regard to some people you've always wondered about.

This stuff is really dense and rubbery. I've seen it in hues of pink and orange and white. You'll find smaller colonies than the one here but they can reach a couple of meters across. You could feed a family of ten with just one giant piece of sea pork! (As I said earlier- No- don't do that.) But who does eat sea pork? Stingrays like it- those rotten little bastards. Here is another picture of my foot a few days after being whapped by a stringray.

I was just minding my own business, poking around in the shallows with my little dip net on a beach in S. Carolina when- whammo! I didn't even see the stingray but blood was squirting everywhere (well, okay, maybe not squirting- but it was dripping profusely) and in about 30 seconds pain bad enough that, according to my son, caused me to yell "God Damnit!" and "Son of a bitch!" in front of what I'm sure were some very lovely families enjoying a nice evening on the beach. (Sorry!)

Finally, I wanted to mention some (of the many!) marine invertebrates that have names that start with "sea". There are some pretty ones: sea pansy, sea heart, sea feather, and sea star. And there are some funny ones: sea mouse, sea walnut, sea bat, sea gooseberry, sea lemon and sea pussy (stop snickering- it was probably named way back when that was a perfectly innocent word) and sea weener (ha! ha! I just made that up!). But there is a sea rod. (I'm not very mature, am I?)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Invertebrate Limerick

Here is Limerick #1 for the illustrious snapping shrimp.

He looks like a peanut-sized lobster
A miniature decapod mobster
His pistol claw poised
To pop off a loud noise
and scare away mean arthropodsters

The snapping or pistol shrimp have one very big claw that makes a REALLY loud pop when it is closed. It can scare away predators and stun prey. It is not, however, the snapping together of the pincers that makes the noise but the popping of a cavitation bubble caused by the speed at which the claw snaps shut. Here is a link where you can download a very cool video of this happening: (scroll down to contents and "video material").

Here is limerick #2, specifically about Alpheus heterochaelis, the big-clawed snapping shrimp.

Alpheus and black-clawed Panopeus
Live together in sweet symbiosis
The crab digs the hole
The shrimp stands patrol
Of their “marriage” they’re making the mostest

Here's a really terrible drawing I did of A. heterochaelis and Panopeus herbstii, the black-clawed mud crab. I know I said I might draw the snapping shrimp playing poker but they had already finished the game. Alpheus won as you can see from the ace of spades stuck in his hat band- he had a boat- bullets over snowmen. He's cool, huh?! I wish I had a red fedora like that.

It's not uncommon for snapping shrimp to have symbiotic relationships with other animals- vertebrates (gobies, eg.) and invertebrates alike (even anemones!). In areas of the coast where big-clawed snapping shrimp inhabit oyster reefs, they often share burrows with black-clawed mud crabs (see the crab in the hole?). Apparently, Alpheus is not able to dig nice burrows around the hard oyster beds like Panopeus can. The crab, in return, gets a personal warning alarm in the form of loud popping.

So there you go Kevin. I hope the two limericks and my crappy drawing made up for no invertebrate sonnet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Blue Mussel Limerick

J. Rogers guessed the two invertebrates on and in the moon snail shell. ON the shell was a colonial hydroid called "snail fur" or Hydractinia echinata. You don't see the tiny, living polyps extended in the picture, but the colony's spiky sort of exoskeleton covering the shell. The animal IN the shell was a flat-clawed hermit crab, Pagurus pollicarus.
For his winning guesses, J. will be receiving a custom limerick about the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis. Hope you like it and it makes your mouth water!

photo copyright 2009

To the Blue Mussel
His byssal threads grip really great
(that he shot through his shell’s pedal gape)
But you’ve got white wine and butta
(oh, the poor little mutha)
He’s now moules marinière on your plate!

Here is a link to a delicious sounding recipe for Moules au roquefort:

Get your blue cheese and French to English dictionary ready!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weird Invertebrate Sex Moves

This is a new category. Basically, all the weird bits that don't go under any of the other categories.

So, I like to write down certain scientific terms that I come across that I've either never heard before or that I think are funny. They are just words that bring a little joy to my day, and hopefully to yours, too. Here's a few that I'm going to run all together in a little inverta-word stew.

Ramate Malleate Forcipate Incudate
Anal cone Ovarian balls Uterine bell Tentacular crown
Ciliated gutter Ciliary pit Germovitellaria
Lemnisci Lorica Obturaculum

I love biology.

I also love the many ways in which our invertebrate friends play "hide the gonopod". Two ways in particular that I, personally, would find extremely upsetting were they to occur amongst our species.

The first is hypodermic impregnation. Oh my god! Anybody with a penis at the ready could just come up to you and poke you anywhere on your body- your arm, your back, the side of your head- and inseminate you! It is truly a terrifying thought. But pretty great in the world of invertebrates where politeness, etiquette, and general civility don't get in the way of passing on your genes. Male flatworms and rotifers, for example, don't have to worry about the girl flatworm or rotifer saying "Oh no you didn't just stick your copulatory organ through my body wall!" and then getting smacked with, say, a baseball bat.

The second is the most appalling and TOTALLY GENIUS cement plug in the vagina. Wow, if there ever was a way to ensure that the next guy, or in this case, the next acanthocephalan (nasty little fresh water and marine parasite) didn't get his gametes in the mix- this is it. More likely, I would guess, to keep the sperm inside the female. But still... can you imagine the conversation between human partners? "Heeeeey!!! What the... ?! Did you just put a cement cap in my uterine bell?!! Get out of here you deposit feeding son-of-a-sipunculan!"

I hope this inverta-bit encouraged everyone to try new things with their special someone. (Or maybe you better not...)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Love Limpets!

Et voici la coquille de la semaine- la patelle.

photo copyright 2009 

Pourquoi en français? Because (ou, parce que!) this is a French limpet. Much more exciting than an American limpet because I got to go to France and I found it on a French beach (la plage de Trestrignel in Perros Guirec) and French limpets are bigger than any limpet I ever found here, in America, the country with inferior limpets. I was worried all the way to the airport, chanting silently, “Sil vous plait, customs people, don’t take my huge limpets. Mon Dieu! I will die if you take my limpets!” Needless to say, they did not. I came home with about twenty common European limpets (Patella vulgata). Here are some of the patellids in the wild.

photo copyright 2007
Here is a photo to give you a better idea of how big they are… The biggest is almost 2 and 1/2 inches (over 6 cm).
photo copyright 2009

The shells are also very deep. Here are the lovely limpets nested together.
photo copyright 2009 

What’s so cool about limpets is that they dig out a little limpet-shaped spot on their rock (with the help of limpet-made acid). When they go off to feed they leave a mucous trail of their personal scent so they can find their way home to their customized divot. Limpets have a very strong foot (they have to in order to hang on to their rock under crashing, pulling waves- especially in France where the waves are much more dramatic and impassioned). It would take a lot of pulling to dislodge a limpet. But if you follow my empty shell policy you wouldn’t be a limpet yanker anyway. If, however, you do not subscribe to this policy, or perhaps you need some limpets for your bouillabaisse, Peterson suggests sneaking up on the limpet and quickly slicing under its foot with a very sharp knife.

Here is a sign on the beach saying “Don’t molest the limpets!” (and something about never letting your dog on the beach even if it’s on a leash).
photo copyright 2007

Love ya’ll, les patelles! Vraiment!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sea Hare Sex and Fun at the Aquarium

Today’s gross but cool entry was going to be about how some sea hares have penises on the sides of their heads AND vaginas (in around the usual location) and, because they are simultaneous hermaphrodites, can form mating chains. So if you had 5 sea hares mating it would go (from front to back) girl, boy/girl, boy/girl, boy/girl, boy. In humans this mating technique might be somewhat shocking and even offensive to behold but in squooshy, little sea hares it’s just plain cute- all stacked up on each other, little “wings” folded up... It really is quite an economical way to get your gametes out there. But I’m not going into any more detail as I think I’ve been talking entirely too much about penises and invertebrate sex lately. (Though the topic will be revisited I am sure.) So instead I thought I might recount one of several gross experiences I have had doing biology work.

I did the usual stint as an aquarium volunteer. At first I worked at the touch tank where I kept my sanity by having imaginary conversations with the younger, not so gentle, clientele. “It might be a good idea to stop yanking on that horseshoe crab’s tail. It’s highly venomous and if he gets really irritated he’ll catapult himself out of the water and latch onto your face and suck your brains out through your eye socket.”

Anyway, next I worked with the reptiles. Pretty far removed from my field of interest but I actually do love snakes and on my breaks I could go visit the cuttlefish. It was in the reptile care facility that I had one of the grossest moments of my life ever. EVER! I swallowed turtle crap. That’s right, turtle crap.

I was instructed to clean a big tank, that held a really cheeky diamondback terrapin, by siphoning out the water- with my mouth. Many of you, I am sure, are thinking “Wow, she’s really stupid.” And you would be correct. Anyway, I was just following orders like a good volunteer. As per instructions, I put my shirt over the sucking end (and, by the way, the tube was the diameter of a garden hose and it was long so there was a need for mighty sucking power) and I sucked and nothing happened. The turtle was watching me and I swear he was smiling. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took an extra shit special for me. So I tried again. I was even watching the hose and somehow did not see the nasty turtle water shooting up through it straight through my t-shirt and down my throat. I spit out what I could and my “mentor” assured me “No, you won’t die”, “No, you won’t get some turtle disease” and so on. So the cool part of this story? There isn’t one! It was just a really sucky moment (literally and figuratively).

Oh, and one last thing. I had to pour sugar on the surprisingly large penis of a snapping turtle with an erectile dysfunction. Who the hell knows why!? Needless to say, I was not a volunteer much longer.

Hey! I managed to talk about penises afterall!

Reminiscing about vertebrates has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth so let’s close this post with a soothing photo of an INvertebrate.
photo copyright 2007 

Heeeeeeeey… there’s actually two invertebrates here. This looks like a good guessing opportunity for someone… Any takers? You know the prize!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tube Anemone Limerick

Kevin Z. chose the tube anemone, or Cerianthid, for this Limerick's subject. The Cerianthid is not a true anemone (different taxonomic order) but a perfectly lovely invertebrate none-the-less. However, this animal, for some reason, did not prove to be a good Limerick muse. By the time I was finished with this poem, I really wished I had not run out of wine two nights ago. Anyway, here it is, Kevin. I hope you like it and appreciate the pain and suffering I experienced writing it.

A house of organic con-du-it
(of cnidae and mucus he glued it).
In his tube he stays firm
Like a large, erect worm.
THE ORAL DISK!! Oops- he withdrew it.

Tomorrow... something gross...but cool!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The UN-Invertebrate Limerick

Well today it is actually the un-invertebrate limerick. This is the only time I will write one about a bony thing, but a promise is a promise and JD, one of the winners who guessed an item from the glass cabinet really loves the belted sandfish, Serranus subligarius, and since she is such an awesome biologist and a very groovy person in general, I will honor her wish of a fish limerick.

First I wanted to share this Haiku unknowingly written by Peterson Field Guides (basically text directly from Atlantic Coast Fishes loosely rearranged by moi to fit the Haiku format).

belted sandfish with
belly abruptly white and
body boldly barred

And now for the un-invertebrate limerick about the lovely belted sandfish. My apologies in advance for the last word but, as you will see, I really had no choice.

Simultaneous hermaphroditism
Amongst sandfish can cause quite a schism
From he-she to she-he
Streaking males and fish orgies
Procreation by broadcasted jism.

(Told you.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blue Crabs- Mean but Cute!

Here is a photo I took of a blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, giving birth:
photo copyright 2008 

I'm just kidding!!! It's really a blue crab cloning itself through asexual budding. Just kidding again! Did I make anybody go "What the &*#$@%!!!". Blue crabs are strictly into copulation (sexual reproduction only). And they do not pop out ginormous babies (female carries millions of fertilized eggs under her apron which she will eventually release into the ocean). This is actually a photo of a blue crab shedding (molting) its carapace. These are photos I took while doing research with a guy who runs a blue crab shedding facility. Here's another one. This is the only time I've thought of a blue crab as being cute- look at her squooshy, little, bent lateral spines. Aaaaaaaaah....

photo copyright 2008

Though I have seen it over and over there is something fascinating and miraculous about this event that takes place about thirty times in an adult crab’s short life. The blue crab will shed, or molt, its shell when its inner body becomes too big to be contained in its rigid exoskeleton. They actually increase their body size by about 25%. In this next photo you can really see the dififference in carapace size.

photo copyright 2008 

The crab appears to be busting open, thus the common nickname of “buster crab” that is given to this animal during this stage of ecdysis. With much effort and with the aid of hydrostatic pressure from water the crab has taken in during the process of molting the blue crab then works its way backwards out of its shell. Not only does the blue crab have to wiggle all of its new legs out of their old encasings (even the skinny claw tips), its many fine gill layers and the coverings of its eye stalks must also cleanly detach from a thin exoskeleton.

The crab comes out completely soft. Here is a good closeup of one of her bent lateral spines.
photo copyright 2008 

Here are some soft shelled crabs taking a little nap together in a box. I lied again. They are waiting to be cryogenically frozen. Well not exactly. But they will be put in the refrigerator (essentially slows down crab's metabolism to stop the hardening process of the shell) on a little bed of damp newspaper and covered with a little damp newspaper blanket to keep their gills moist so they are alive when they reach the restaurant where they will be breaded and dropped, screaming, into a vat of hot oil. Just kidding again. They only moan quietly to themselves.

Photo copyright 2008

Ultimately, the soft shell crab will end up on someone's plate with legs hanging out the sides of two slices of white bread which your child will stare at in horror thinking you are about to eat a giant, fried bug sandwich, thereby ruining any future chance your child will have of enjoying (even trying) soft shell crabs, which I hear are really delicious.

Here's to you blue crab. You're mean and nasty but we love you anyway.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cuttlefish Limerick

Congratulations to Jason R., who guessed the most recent item from the glass cabinet: octocoral skeleton, frond oyster and jewel box (leafy). Jason asked that I compose a Limerick in honor of the just passed Cephalopod Awareness Days. I am quite partial to cuttlefish, so here is a Limerick dedicated to them.

The cuttlefish flashed a “Good morning!”
Hectocotylus waving fair warning
Her tentacles grabbed at
His proffered sperm packet
Chromatophores blinking “I’m horny!”

And because I love cuttlefish so much, here is an alphabet anecdote:

Clarence the cuttlefish was casually cruising the corals when he came upon a cranky crab. The crab was cantankerous as is customary of crustaceans so Clarence cautiously cuffed the clawed critter. “Crap!” cried Clarence as the crab clacked his claws at the cute cuttlefish. But Clarence was clever and quickly cloaked himself using cryptic coloration confusing the crab and conquering him with a crunch to the carapace.

And, finally, here is a drawing (sorry, not quite done) of an octopus because I love you too! (Okay, I guess I love you too squids but not as much cause you're a little creepy and untrustworthy looking and maybe even a little mean).

Thanks Jason for bringing Cephalopod Days to my attention! I will pass it on and will definitely be celebrating Squidmas this year!

Hawk-Wing Conch

This beauty is the Hawk-wing Conch, officially, Strombus raninus.

photos copyright 2009 

This particular one, around 3” high (tip to tip), was an empty shell I found wedged in some rocks in Key West, Florida. This shell is a lesser representation of another Hawk-wing that was responsible for the only moment in my life that I experienced utter joy followed by utter disappointment in less than 10 seconds.

I was snorkeling over a seagrass bed where these guys like to hang out and found a beautiful, full-grown (about 5”) Hawk-wing Conch shell, fabulously pink inside its highly flared outer lip. Oh! Heart palpitations! And then I saw down inside the aperture (shell opening) the operculum pulling in, the door closing, so to speak, on the living snail inside its shell. Dang!!!! Anyway, I had to return it to the water. I know many regard removing an animal that is basically just a slug from a great shell specimen as no big deal but I look at it this way...

You’re at home in your pretty little house and someone knocks on the door and you answer it and there’s some huge, scary guy who says “Gimme your house!” And you say, “No way, dude, I live here.” And he says, “I don’t care, I want it, it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and if I have to I’ll remove you by force.” And you say, “Well, you’re gonna have to, bubba, cause I’m really attached to my house.” And then he kills you and takes your house! Does that seem right? No, it does not! He’s just a big, greedy jerk who needs to go find a house that nobody’s living in! I’m just saying…

Anyway, back to the Hawk-wing shell. True conchs are in the family Strombidae. Here is one more photo showing the "stromboid" notch, characteristic of all adult conch species. It is the rounded indentation on the lower, outer lip (not the canal opening on the very end of the shell).

photo copyright 2009 

Tune in tomorrow to hear about the Sacrificial Clam in Tank Diaries.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Barnacle PENIS- Wow!

For those of you who have a penis, imagine for a moment that it is ten times the length of your body. Your first reaction might be “That would be awesome!” But after you’ve had time to calm down and give the idea a little more thought you would realize you’d have no place to put your ridiculously long penis and no person to… uh… put it in (sorry). You’d have to drag it everywhere and nobody could sit next to you in the front seat of your car because your 60 foot penis would take up the whole passenger side. For those of you who don’t have a penis you are probably thinking this topic would do better under the heading “That’s Gross and Scary”. And you’d be right, UNLESS you are a barnacle in which case you’re not reading this so nevermind.

So now imagine you ARE a barnacle. You’re sessile, that is, permanently fixed to a surface, forced to forever look at the same barnacle neighbors who look just like you which is totally boring. Okay, you’re not really LOOKING at your neighbors ‘cause your head is cemented to a rock (or piling, or whale, or whatever), upside down inside your home of hard, calcareous plates, with your feathery little legs up in the air (er…water) filtering DSMs (Delicious Suspended Morsels). All of a sudden you need to mate- you HAVE to. You can’t go look for a mate- you’re stuck- you have to settle for the barnacle right next to you. Or DO you???

No you do not because (and this is the COOL part) you have a REALLY long penis, in fact the greatest schlong (scientific term) to body ratio of any animal! You can reach that barnacle way over there! Ooooh! And that one too! You can reach almost everyone in your neighborhood and that’s what you want to do- genetic diversity is good, it’s great, it’s the best way to go!!!

“Wait just a darn minute…” you say, “What if everyone around him is a boy barnacle and his poking them is completely futile?” Excellent question! “He” is not a “he” but a “he/she”. Simultaneous Hermaphroditism (most barnacle species)- the answer to sexual reproduction for the mobile-y challenged. Mother Nature is so smart!

Note: There is much conflicting info about the actual penis to body length ratio- depending on where you look (and not all sources are reliable) the estimates range from 8x to 40x body length. The latter seems unlikely. I have scoured two invert texts, a zoology text, a crustacean biology text and various field guides, none of which are specific on this topic- I’ll keep digging.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Donkey Dung Sea Cuke Limerick

Cliff actually chose a Limerick and wants one about sea cucumbers. So here it is- hope you enjoy it!

Ode to Holothuria mexicana

There was a cucumber well hung
Who went by the name Donkey Dung
into bioturbation
and gut expellation
Concombres de mer are such fun!

To see a photo of the Donkey Dung sea cucumber from the Marine Species Identification Portal go to:

In searching for inspiration for my Limerick I discovered some very interesting things. Did you know that you can order dried sea cucumbers! One seller says "Any potential buyer are encourage to meet me freely in bandung to see the products before decide to buy. Order above 1 ton will have a discount." Wow! How fast can I get to Bandung?! Which by the way is in Indonesia. It is probably no surprise that sea cucumbers are a food most enjoyed in Asian countries, China in particular. (They do seem to be enamored with aphrodesiac food things and clearly sea cucumbers have that power!)

Here is one photo I found of some of the fine echinoderm product (from

YUMMY! So there is of course a fishery for these animals. Here are two interesting links that can tell you more, one from Alaska's Department of Fish and Game and one from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community

And finally, in the event that you are planning a romantic dinner here is a link to a recipe for braised sea cucumber:

Something to keep in mind... this recipe gives the impression that cooking sea cucumbers is an easy thing, however, from other articles I have read regarding the prepartion of dried sea cucumbers, there can be a lot more involved than throwing them into a little sauce. For example, soaking them for days, with periodic water changes to get them tender enough to eat.
Apparently they can rehydrate to 10 times their dried size (hmmm...). So if you are brave enough to order and try eating these ugly things, good luck! And let me know how they taste!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Things Coming Out of Anuses (Wait! It's Educational!)

Warning: this post may not be suitable for those individuals with a sensitive nature.

So... As I mentioned earlier, I was going to talk to you about things coming out of anuses. This would definitely fall under the category of Gross, but how could it be cool? Oh, it is. Just imagine, say, you're taking a hike in the woods and all of a sudden a cougar jumps out at you. You forget all the cougar rules like "don't run", "try to look big", etc., blah, blah, blah and you, quite naturally panic and run. The cougar is just about to catch you when all of a sudden you remember your special adaptation to being easy, slow prey and you pull down your pants and shoot your guts out of your anus. There they are, your innards, in a nice, fresh, steaming pile on the ground. (Hey, I told you it was gross.) It's really what the cougar wants anyway. He doesn't WANT to waste valuable energy leaping on you and then holding you down while you are thrashing around under him, then after all that having to chew through your clothes to eat you! Anyway, he sees your delicious guts and starts munching, totally ignoring you while you make your getaway and hide out in the woods until your guts grow back.

But wait, there's more! Imagine you're a crime fighter or super hero. You're being chased by a bad guy. He's really strong and fast and has other powers much greater than yours so you know that if he catches you you're dead. So what do you do? You use your super DOO-PER power and lift your cape and release your rear hatch and let loose long (more than 30 times your body length!) sticky strings from your anus. Of course the bad guy doesn't expect this so he runs right into the middle of the pile. The more he struggles the more tangled he gets. You release the strings from your anus and take off into the night...

THESE SUPER POWERS REALLY EXIST! Sadly not with us. Though it would be a great excuse to get out of work- "Sorry, I can't come in today. My cat jumped out at me last night and I accidentally expelled all of my guts through my anus and I need to stay home until they grow back." Besides, you could only use that excuse once every few years.) Seriously... Sea Cucumbers, the Holothurians, one class of echinoderms, can do these things! "AAAAH!!"- the sea cucumber screams as he lays in the sandy sea grass bed inching along on his little bristley "legs"- "It's gonna eat me!"... SPLAT...narrow escape...

Next time you play "would you rather" with your kids ask them if they would rather have super speed or shoot long sticky, strings out of their butts. I bet they'll say "That's Gross!" and some might even say "That's Gross... but cool!"