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?



  1. Replies
    1. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Nice job Steve! Email me an address where I can send photo and shell OR I can email you the photo in jpeg format for you to print as many copies as you like to share with your friends (I mean who wouldn't want a photo of that? haha!) and I will write you TWO custom limericks of inverts of your choice (can you tell I'm trying to save myself postage to Australia?).