Friday, September 26, 2014

Corals in Maine

Maine is perhaps the only state that's famous for a marine invertebrate.  We even celebrate those lobsters on our license plates.  But recently, Maine has been getting attention for a completely different type of marine invertebrate: our spectacular corals (and here).  If you think of corals only as colonial creatures that make reefs in tropical regions, this news may be surprising.  But several diverse taxa within the phylum Cnidaria are informally referred to as corals.  And some of them live in great abundance in Maine's deep waters.  These include stony corals in the order Scleractinia, which also includes the tropical reef builders.  In addition, there are Alcyonaceans (soft corals and sea fans), and Pennatulaceans (sea pens), with many families represented within each of these orders.  Definitely check out the slide show here; there are gorgeous sea anemones in addition to the abundant gorgonians, which are the stars of the show, comprising the "coral gardens."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Phialella zappai

I told a story in class yesterday about a jellyfish named to honor Frank Zappa.  I think I first heard this story in graduate school in the late 1980s, and it was told to me as a funny little anecdote about the power of invertebrate systematics to bring together a talented musician and an admiring fan, who just happened to be a jellyfish expert.  I had forgotten the name of the genus, but now the entire rich tale has a life on the internet. And there are many examples of other species named after famous (and infamous) folk.  If you are thinking of developing your own expertise in a particular taxon and leveraging your power in giving names to new species you discover as a way to meeting up with your favorite celebrity, you will have to get familiar not only with your organism, but also with rules of taxonomic nomenclature.  What new species, or higher-level taxon (genus, family, order, etc) would you like to be able to name, and what would you name it?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Midterm exam

Chromodoris by David Doubilet
Well done, everyone!  I have a thick stack of exams to grade, and will get a good start on them this weekend.  What follows is a minor rewrite of what I posted at this point in the term last time I taught this class.  As my students recover from turning in their midterms and from the various viruses that seem to be sweeping campus, this slideshow of photos taken by David Doubilet  might be therapeutic.  But don't get so dazzled by those lurid colors and such that you stop thinking altogether. Remember that one of the special things about gastropods is that they exhibit torsion, a 180-degree twist of the visceral mass (including most internal organs and nervous system) relative to the foot. Among many consequences of torsion is the loss of the left post-torsional gonad and displacement of all the pipes that empty into the mantle cavity over to the right, downstream of the gills, which is a better place to dump your urine, feces, and gametes, after all. While nudibranchs and their sea-sluggy opisthobranch kin are detorted (untwisted) as adults, notice they all retain a penis that emerges from the right side. Yes, they ALL have a penis, being simultaneous hermaphrodites, and it's on the right side for all of them. A remnant of torsion past, both ancestrally and developmentally.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bivalves are busier than they look

COA students census clams at Hadley Point
The processes of respiration, feeding, and locomotion in bivalves all rely on the animal moving water through the mantle cavity.  To burrow, bivalves rely on muscle action to squeeze the shells closed, which puts pressure on the blood sinuses in the visceral mass (body) and moves blood into the foot, causing it to extend.  The closing shells also squirt water anteriorly out of the mantle cavity, helping to soften the sediments in front of the burrowing clam, easing their work.  Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has a great description of the burrowing process along with photos and links to videos.  The water movement for feeding and respiration is more subtle, and it relies on the action of the cilia that cover the extensive ctenidia (gills) of most bivalves.  Water is swept into the mantle cavity through a larger, ventral incurrent opening at the posterior of the animal.  The oxygen-rich water, laden with food particles, moves anteriorly and dorsally across the ctenidia, which both capture food and extract oxygen from the water current.  The cleared water then passes back posteriorly and out through a smaller dorsal excurrent opening.  You can sometimes see this process in the lab by carefully marking the water near the incurrent opening using food coloring or milk.  You can also visualize water flow through mussels, using the spiffy technique of Schlieren imaging

Friday, October 12, 2012

The inspiring Vi Hart

Having just finished my midterm check-in with the class on how the course is going, I’ve been reflecting on my teaching, particularly the lectures for invertebrate zoology.  I like to think my lectures are content-rich and characterized by enthusiasm for the material and that the energy I bring serves as an invitation for students to engage more deeply with the class content.  My speaking style has been influenced by many people, and I am amused to sometimes hear echoes of their voices coming through in my lectures.  Sometimes channeling my inner Diver Ed is a very effective teaching tool.  Vi Hart is someone else whose expertise and exuberance I greatly admire.  I’ll never be able to match her speed of presentation, probably to my students’ relief.  This post was really just an excuse to share these cool videos on hexaflexagons.

Monday, October 1, 2012

tiny camera captures internal view of a starfish eating a mussel

There are some really nice echinoderm videos out there, but this one featured at Deep Sea News is unique.  The beginning of the video is dramatic enough, with an advancing front of starfish creeping up a mussel-encrusted pier piling.  Notice how fluid the starfish look in the time lapse.  Mutable collagenous tissue doing its thing!  Then the predation begins.  The starfish’s stomach should look somewhat familiar if you’ve ever interrupted a feeding starfish.  But seeing it from the perspective inside a mussel shell is a thrilling novelty.  Not really a “mussel’s eye view” as they have no eyes, but still!  As the stomach slides in, you can see the mussel’s gills, the ctenidia, on the right.  The slender, ciliated filaments that make up the gill show up as blurry striations in the foreground.  On the left is the mussel’s mantle, the organ that lays down the shell.  The dark orange gonad can be seen extending into the mantle tissue.  It’s all just starfish food. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Comb jellies

I always feel like the poor Ctenophora get short-shrift in Invertebrate Zoology, in the mad dash to get through 30+ phyla in a 10-week term.  So for some extra ctenophore wisdom, this is an excellent summary by Claudia Mills.  I knew Claudia from from my days as a UW grad student doing research at Friday HarborLabs.  I have memories of her walking along the FHL dock, scooping up various jellies (hydromedusae as well as ctenophores) using a plastic beaker attached to the end of a long pole.  This is the video I showed in class, in case you want to see it again.  Its awesomeness is marred only by a minor misspelling of the critter's name.  BEROE. 
Even though I spend more time talking about Cnidaria in class than the virtually neglected ctenophores, they’re over far too quickly as well.  For a bit more on a Hydrozoan order that is unusual in entirely lacking a polyp stage, check out this videoabout Narcomedusae by our very own Riley Thompson.