Annileda is the phylum of segmented worms, with over 22,000 extant species, including leeches and earthworms. Today, I’m going to share with you the shiny rainbow horror that is the bobbit worm.
Eunice aphroditis looks like a creature from a horror writer’s drug-induced fever dream.
Averaging about 3 feet long and 1 inch wide, the bobbit is also a member of the bristle worms. Along each side of its body are paired, spike-like appendages called parapodia. Each fleshy protrusion contains several bristles. The bobbit worm comes in an array of colors, from black to purple to metallic. The body appears to have this shimmery rainbow effect to it, especially in photographs.
The bobbit worm is an ambush predator. It conceals its body, all 3‒10 feet of it, beneath the sand of the seafloor, except for its antennae. When a fish or crustacean brushes up against the antennae, the bobbit worm emerges from the sand to grab its prey and pull it under.
What make this creature appear nightmarish are its powerful mandibles protruding from its mouth and the speed at which it grabs its prey. The mandibles are scissor-like appendages that extend far from the mouth, and they’re used to grab prey. On occasion, the bobbit worm has been seen cutting its prey in half with the mandibles.
The bobbit worm is found in tropical waters, mostly in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Not much is known about its reproduction. They are considered rare, and these worms are hard to find because of how they bury themselves beneath the sand.
Eunice aphroditis supposedly gets their common name from the Bobbitt Case in the 1990s involving a married couple with the last name Bobbitt. It’s a disturbing case to read about, so learn about it at your own risk; it involved domestic abuse and violence between the couple.
Despite its nightmarish appearance, the bobbit worm was pretty interesting to look into. There’s still room for research, so if you’re looking for something to focus on, look into polychaetas and the bobbit worm! If you want an idea for a freaky yet colorful horror thriller, I think this worm might give you an idea or two.
I have this kids’ picture book that illustrates 1000 things you can find in the sea, and I use it on occasion to decide what I’m going to research next. I haven’t written about a shark in a while, so I decided to research the Tawny Nurse Shark, also called Nebrius ferrugineus. Though to her friends, she’s referred to as Madame X…
I wish I was kidding about the common name Madame X . Supposedly, the common name was coined in the 1930s by a shark fisherman that found a specimen in Australian waters; before then, it had not been recorded in those areas.
The tawny nurse shark is located in the Indian Ocean, and the in western and southwestern areas of the Pacific Ocean. This shark hangs out near or on the bottom in sheltered areas, including lagoons, channels, seagrass beds, caves on the outskirts of coral reefs, crevices in coral reefs, and right off beaches. They sleep together in secluded areas during the day and hunt for prey at night.
Around the mouth, tawny nurse sharks have barbels—whisker-like appendage—that help them sense prey. They eat small fish and benthic organisms (creatures that live on the seafloor), including crustaceans, sea urchins, and some cephalopods. When it finds potential food, the shark creates a suction to pull the prey out of hiding and into its mouth, where comb-like teeth help to break up hard shells.
This is a pretty docile shark. Divers consider it a favorite because the shark allows the divers to approach it, even touch it. However, when harassed, it will fight back and has been recorded to cause non-fatal bite injuries.
Please do not touch sea creatures unless you have the specific training to do so! You would lash out too if a stranger came up and started putting their hands all over you.
Tawny nurse sharks are considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List, and their population numbers are declining. They have a limited home range, so their immediate environment is very important to them. Some populations are declining due to overfishing of the nearby reefs. Some sharks get caught up in gill nets and die as bycatch.
Bycatch refers to any creature that isn’t the target of the catch. So if fisherman are using nets to catch tuna, then anything that isn’t tuna that gets caught up in the net is considered bycatch. Typically, bycatch is thrown back into the ocean, whether it’s alive or dead, because most fishing boats have a bycatch limit.
Tawny nurse sharks are also considered game in some countries. Their “fighting spirit” and strength make them a popular shark to fish for, especially in competitive fishing. Some areas will eat the meat of the tawny nurse shark and ship the fins to Asian countries.
If we’re not careful, this is another species of shark that can disappear before we know it, especially since it has a low reproductive rate. A balance between the fishing industry’s needs and proper fishing regulations must be found in order to address this issue.
Butterflyfish, like butterflies, come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Today, I’m going to introduce you to the longnose butterflyfish, or Forcipiger longirotris.
Longnose butterflyfish are distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean, including around the islands of Oahu and Maui of the Hawaiian island chain. These fish are found on the very edges of seaward reefs, or coral reefs that extend toward the sea.
When you look at the genus name Forcipiger, does anything pop-out at you? Forcip-iger
Forceps are pincer-like instruments made for grasping and holding objects, similar to tweezers. Forceps are typically used in medical and surgical situations.
Forcipiger refers to how the organism feeds, grasping and eating prey whole. The species name longirotris describes the fish’s long snout. F. longirotris feed on small crustaceans found in the rocky crevices of the reef, or they suck them right off of branching coral.
Most individuals of this species are bright yellow with a black head, and a long, thin, silvery-white snout. Rare individuals have been recorded as all black or brown instead of yellow, though this color change has never been recorded in an aquarium. All longnose butterflyfish have a clear caudal (tail) fin, but the rest of their fins are yellow. Near the base of its tail fin is a black spot called an eyespot.
A defense tactic, eyespots are spots on an organism that resemble eyes to confuse predators. Eyespots are typically located away from the head and anything vital. For fish, it’s to fool predators into thinking that the tail end of the fish is the head, especially since the eyes of F. longirotris are hidden in the black coloring of its head. For insects, these eyespots can look like the eyes of other organisms. Eyespots are a common defense found on fish, reptiles, and insects, and each group uses them differently.
Longnose butterfly fish have often been observed in pairs. These fish form monogamous pairs during the breeding season, though it’s unclear if the same two would pair up in the next breeding season. The female releases thousands of eggs into the water column to be carried elsewhere in the water current.
I’ve swum around reefs in the Pacific Ocean twice, once in Hawai’i and once off the Great Barrier Reef. Both times were snorkel only, so I didn’t explore too deep around the reefs, and I doubt I would have seen these fish. I hope to fix that someday because these guys look impressive with their long noses!
There is potential research for Forcipiger longirotris. One, there’s no clear explanation as to why some individuals change their color to all-black or brown and why it’s never done in an aquarium setting. Two, they are labeled as Least Concern by IUCN Red List, but their population numbers haven’t been evaluated since 2009, so there is potential research in re-evaluating their population numbers.
When talking about invasive species, I mentioned the lionfish. Can they hurt you? Yes. Are they devastating Atlantic coral reefs? Yes. However, they are not evil fish, despite one of their other common names: the devil firefish.
Pterois volitans is a beautiful fish native to the tropical waters of the eastern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. They can be found in depths of 7−180ft (2−55m) near seagrass beds, coral reefs, artificial reefs, and sunken ships. I’ve seen them hiding in crevasses or overhanging ledges on the reef.
When diving, lionfish can be fairly easy to identify. Along the head and body of the fish are alternating maroon and white strips, stretching from top to bottom. Long, unique, fan-like fins, with the same stipe pattern, help the lionfish corner its prey against a reef or hard surface. Along the top, are long striped spines that you want to avoid.
Lionfish are carnivorous fish that prey upon shrimp, crabs, and more than 50 species of fish. In their native habitats, they help to keep the reef healthy, and their populations are controlled by the few predators that eat lionfish, including a couple of species of moray eels and the bobbit worm.
In the Atlantic Ocean, however, they can eat all the available prey in a given reef if gone unchecked. With no natural predators in the Atlantic, and the fact that they produce a lot of eggs each year, their populations have boomed while the populations of herbivore and commercial fish have decreased.
Despite their invasion of the Atlantic, lionfish are quite important. Whether it’s in the Pacific, Indian, or Atlantic Ocean, Pterois volitans provides food and income to the coastal communities. Divers pay good money to see lionfish, and the fish is often the target of many spearfishing tournaments in the Atlantic. You can win hundreds of dollars, depending on where you sign up! Because they’re so distinctive, lionfish can be easy targets for divers.
P. volitans are also quite popular in home aquariums around the world. Their unique coloring and flamboyant fins make for a great conversation starter at a party! Just a reminder, though: if you’re getting rid of your aquarium fish, please don’t dump them in the ocean closest to you. Take them to your local aquarium and ask for help. You never want to dump a potential invasive species in your ocean.
Another common name for lionfish is tastyfish. When I was studying in Jamaica, our dive teams would always bring spear guns, and we would hunt lionfish while exploring or doing research. When we’d come back to the lab, we’d clean them and give them to the lab’s cafeteria. Let me tell you, those wonderful ladies made some amazingly spicy lionfish!
If we make it more popular to eat lionfish, then that will help solve the population issues in the Atlantic, and it will help take the pressure off some of our commercial fish. So, the next time you’re at your local fish market or restaurant, ask for lionfish and let the owners know you’re interested!
The coloration of a lionfish is a special adaptation called warning coloration, which indicates to potential predators that it’s unsafe to eat the lionfish. In this case, the warning is legitimate. In the spines along the top are glands that store venom. When the spines puncture the skin the glands release the venom into the wound. The venom can cause excruciating pain, sweating, paralysis, and respiratory distress; rarely has it been fatal to humans.
I had a couple of classmates get stung by lionfish. One kid got stung by a live one they didn’t see in the reef, which is why you never reach your hands into areas you can’t fully see. Another kid got stung when handling a dead lionfish. In both cases, they had to be rushed to the doctor, but even after being treated, the wounds remained quite painful for a while. So please be careful while diving around lionfish or when handling them!
Do you know the significance of the number 42? Bottlenose dolphins sing a song about Earth’s destruction; quick, ask them before they leave the planet!
The world’s about to be destroyed There’s no point getting all annoyed Lie back and let the planet dissolve around you
Never mind; the dolphins are too busy. Forty-two is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything—at least, according to the super computer Deep Thought and Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
For me, this is the 42nd post on this blog, and I thought I’d be funny about it. So, no, the world is not going to end and all the bottlenose dolphins aren’t breaking out into song before jetting themselves out of the ocean and into space. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, I highly recommend them.
Now, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming!
The common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is one of the most exposed dolphins in the world. They are very common in zoos and aquariums. They make appearances in movies or even star in them, like Flipper. They also like to hang around boats and can be seen close to the beach. When people think of dolphins, they usually imagine a T. truncatus.
Bottlenose dolphins are found in a variety of habitats around the world. Their distribution stretches from the temperate waters of the Northern Hemisphere to the temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Local populations of the common bottlenose dolphin can be found along every continent but Antarctica.
Tursiops truncatus have a wide head and body, short stubby beak, long flippers, and a relatively tall dorsal fin. These dolphins have a crease between the beak and the melon that allows researchers to distinguish common bottlenose dolphins from similar-looking species, like the Rough-toothed dolphins.
The common bottlenose can be found inshore of most coasts, living in or near bays, estuaries, coral reefs, or even the mouths of rivers that link directly to the sea. Other populations of dolphins can be found offshore in deeper waters. Offshore bottlenose dolphins look a little different from their inshore relatives with thicker, darker bodies and shorter flippers, though genetically they are the same species.
Bottlenose dolphins are extremely sociable creatures, between themselves and other animals as well, including pilot whales and human swimmers. Despite their stereotypical friendliness, they have been reported to be unfriendly towards other species of dolphins. Along with acting sociable, dolphins emit a wide variety of clicks, squeaks, and squeals that they use to communicate with each other and other pods of bottlenose. Research suggests that each dolphin has a specific sound associated with it, like a name, that other dolphins use.
T. truncatus are highly intelligent creatures. Depending on their prey, the dolphins use various tools and techniques to catch their food. Some use echolocation, the emission of high frequency sound, to locate and confuse fish. Others have been seen rushing a school toward the shore, getting the fish nearly beached before the dolphins catch and eat them.
The diet of the dolphin changes depending on where the pod is located. For instance, inshore dolphins may have more crustaceans and shrimp in their diet while offshore bottlenose have more deep sea fish and squids in theirs. Bottlenose dolphins are remarkably adaptable, even to the extent of learning to identify fishing vessels and shrimp boats, and incorporating the fisherman’s actions into their hunting behavior.
Overall, their population numbers are good. The species as a whole is not a concern for extinction. Local populations, however, are decreasing due to viral outbreaks, weaker immune systems due to biotoxins and pollution, loss of habitat, and depleted fishing stocks. On a smaller scale, many local populations of inshore bottlenose dolphins need help.
When I first got interested in the ocean, I wanted to work with dolphins. In elementary school, I had a well-worn book on dolphins and sharks that was a companion novel to a Magic Treehouse book. I was so proud of it!
Now my focus has changed to coral, and I have a love/hate relationship with dolphins. I absolutely love dolphins; they are beautiful, intelligent creatures that want nothing more than to eat and play—and boy, do they play! However, sometimes I feel that they get too much attention from the public, and other sea creatures are hurt by it, as in the example of dolphin-safe tuna.
I don’t have time to get into the history and nuances of dolphin-safe tuna; I’ll leave that topic for a future post. The common bottlenose is one species that I’ve loved since I was a child. My biggest complaint is that dolphins get more empathy—because they are warm-blooded creatures like us—than any other creature in the ocean, except for maybe polar bears. This lack of human empathy toward cold-blooded creatures can have a negative impact on the ocean, and, ultimately, dolphins to.
Today we’re going to discuss sea otters! These adorable carnivores can be rather cool to read about, especially when you get into behavior, adaptations, and their ecological role in their environment.
The sea otter is the only otter that can spend its whole life in the ocean, all other otter species dwell near the water for resources but lack the adaptations needed to live in the water. One such adaptation is their fur in sea otters, which was highly coveted by fur traders a century or more ago because of how dense it was.
In fact, they have the densest coat of all mammals, their hairs are so tightly packed that water can’t penetrate, keeping them nice and dry in the cold Pacific waters. And while all the other mammals are jealous of their glorious fur, the sea otters need it because they lack any real fat to help keep them warm.
These guys can be found along the coasts of Japan, Alaska, and California and especially near kelp forests. Enhydra lutris are what we call a keystone species because of their massive impact on the kelp forests, which I’ll discuss in a later post.
Sea otters are carnivores that feed on crabs, sea urchins, and mollusks. They can dive up to 40 meters to grab food that they bring to the surface, and then they use a stone to crack open shells and other protective covers so they can get at the meat inside.
I know what you’re thinking, if these guys can’t breathe underwater how do they sleep? Well, they use the giant kelp around them to help prevent them from drifting out to sea with the ocean current. They also live in communities with other sea otters, making them social creatures. When they need to rest they’ll form groups called rafts, and they’ll hold onto each other to keep their friends and baby otters from drifting out to sea—cute, right?
Like I’ve said earlier, there is so much more to sea otters than I can discuss in a single post. If I’ve piqued your interest, then I highly recommend looking at the links I’ve provided below! They’re cool mammals that use tools to help them with food and survival, and they’re also extremely adorable to watch. If I could do several more posts about sea otters I would, but that wouldn’t be very fair to the other sea creatures that are incredible in their own right!
Last time, we talked about Jellyfish Lake in the Palau region of the Caroline Islands archipelago. We learned that the meromictic lake, which has distinct layers of water that do not intermix, is the only place you can find Golden Jellyfish.
I highly recommend putting this place on your bucket list, not only would you get killer pictures but you’ll experience something unlike anywhere else in the world! Now, let’s move on to the special guest of the day.
Golden Jellyfish (Mastigias papua etpisoni) are a species of jellyfish that are closely related to the spotted jellyfish that can be found in the lagoons near Jellyfish Lake. Like coral, they benefit from a close relationship with zooxanthellae. What, did you think coral were the only ones to be best friends with the greatest algae of the ocean?
Like coral, the jellyfish house the zooxanthellae in their tissue which gives the jellyfish their golden color. They also have a mutualistic relationship with the algae; the golden jellies provide housing, waste that the algae uses for nutrients, and sunlight in exchange for the sugar that the zooxanthellae don’t use from photosynthesis.
In fact, it’s the sugar that gives the jellies all the energy they need to grow and reproduce, because they don’t gather food on their own since they lost their ability to sting prey through untold years of evolution. It also allows them to propel and migrate through the water, giving the zooxanthellae access to sunlight throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky, casting shadows on the lake.
This migration has a positive effect on the lake’s ecosystem, by stirring up the nutrients and microorganisms found in the water, providing one of the only sources of circulation in the layers they inhabit. So in this scenario everyone wins: the zooxanthellae get everything they need to make food, the jellies get all the leftovers, and the surface of the lake gets stirred up for the other organisms that call it home.
But the jellies aren’t without predators. They’re preyed upon by anemones that concentrate in areas that the jellies frequently migrate through, creating a bottleneck effect. Thankfully, the sheer number of Golden Jellyfish provide their predators a healthy diet without affecting the population too much.
I find these guys to be really cool creatures to study just because of their relationship with the zooxanthellae and their ecosystem. In general, the whole lake is fascinating and worth the time to read about. It’s a wonderful example of how crazy nature can become when isolated from what used to be similar environments and/or species.
I’m going to take a brief interlude to talk about something different. Don’t worry though I have a reason for this!
Several archipelagos dot the Pacific Ocean, but today I’m going to talk about one in particular. The Republic of Palau is made up of several hundred islands that are populated by a people who have been shaped by the sea and nature. There are so many cool islands to choose from, I bet you could easily spend a few years there and still not see everything. Today, though, we’re going to focus on a unique lake found in the Rock Islands of Palau, Jellyfish Lake.
Jellyfish Lake is a brackish marine lake that is located near the sea. The lake is fed by rainwater, but it isn’t considered a fresh water lake because it’s a bit saltier than freshwater, although it doesn’t match the salinity of the nearby ocean. Jellyfish Lake is also largely isolated from the ocean, so where does the salt water come from?
One of the unique things about this lake is that they’ve found tunnels and fissures in the surrounding limestone that actually connect the lake to the ocean, and that’s where the salt comes from. However, another unique thing about this lake is that unlike other tropical lakes there’s no circulation movement of water.
In other words, the lake has no current and the wind only affects the surface water, so the lake has developed distinct layers making this a meromictic lake. As cool as that sounds, the coolest thing about the lake is how it got its name.
Jellyfish Lake is home to the nonstinging Golden Jellyfish, which can’t be found anywhere else in the world! The main attraction to this place is the sheer number of jellyfish that you can find in the lake–at least over a million of little animals to safely swim with!
The biggest reason I wanted to talk about this lake is because I want to visit it myself. For a while, Palau officials closed the lake to tourism due to a drastic drop in the Golden Jellyfish numbers, so they wanted to run studies and try to help the jellyfish population.
Now, the numbers are back at healthy levels and they have reopened the lake to visitors. So grab your fins, snorkel, and mask and go have a relaxing swim with these harmless jellyfish and experience a world unlike any other—I know I’m going to!