The Dreaded Sticky Thong and Other Curiosities

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Before we get to the thong (no,  not that  kind) I’ll show you a few other odd critters that live in my front yard.

This peculiar thing is commonly known as a Cushion Star, or as my Grandmother told me, a Sea Pincushion. If you’re on less familiar terms with the critter, you may call it Mr. Culcita novaeguineae:

Cushion Star or Sea Pincushion (Culcita novaeguineae)

I doubt that they are aware if you get the gender right, so it won’t much matter. They reproduce both sexually and asexually, so such distinctions probably seem silly to them.

I admit with some shame that it nearly impossible to resist the urge once in a great while to pick up one of these football sized legless starfish and give it a toss at your dive buddy. I’m certain that this activity is much opposed by “Amalgamated Cushion Stars Committee Against Humans Playing Football With Us”, a loose confederation of local Cushion Star bowling clubs. How they manage to bowl with no arms is beyond me. Anyway, here’s a side shot:

Cushion Star or Sea Pincushion (Culcita novaeguineae)

They are squishy in a very strange way. If you poke it, it feels hard at first, almost stone-like. However, if you nudge gently and continuously, your finger will begin to make a dent that continues to deepen until you begin to feel very guilty and pull your finger away. Then, slowly, the dent will become more and more shallow until it is gone.

You’ve seen Notodoris Minor  before. It is absolute torture to get an image of these things which shows their actual shape. They are so monochromatic that the camera, even your eyes, can’t capture the subtleties of shading that model the contours of the critter. Visually, they look like a vivid yellow blob. It strains the eyes to make out any details. I worked feverishly on these shots to bring out the fine differences of shade in these images to show you bizarre shape of these nudibranchs:

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)Compare the distinction of detail between the shot above and the shot in this post. I think that I’m finally getting it figured out.

Hard to please today?  Okay, how about two Notodoris Minor ?

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)

Take that!  However. I think that we may have intruded on a little tête-`a-tête,  so let’s leave them to it.

Finally, I can complete my report to you concerning the stickiest substance know to man, the filamentous cuvierian tubules exuded from the stinky end of the Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  I wrote about this before.
The sticky white filaments of Bohadschia argus on a flip-flop

What I didn’t know, on the day a friend accidentally stepped on one (no harm done to the Leopard), that my friend Amanda Watson took a photo of the goo-encrusted flip-flop (or thong, as we call them here).

I managed to get most of it off without covering my fingers. Imagine the stickiest, nasty old chewing gum that has been baking on the sidewalk for a week.

This stuff is worse. Much worse.

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7 Responses to “The Dreaded Sticky Thong and Other Curiosities”

  1. Steve Goodheart Says:

    I really like this Cushion Star (or Pincushion Star) and your description of what they feel like when you poke them….I know there is huge variety of shapes and looks with starfish, but I also undersand they usually have 5 arms, and if you look at the shape of this animal, you can still see the “five” bumps around it’s circumference.

    To me, that’s totally interesting….I wonder what advantage this particular kind of starfish found in this kind of stubby, almost non-existant “arm” structure?Did ancient proto-stars start out like Mr. Cushion, with almost no arms, and then find Darwinian advantage in growing longer arms…or is this particular beastie’s shape the result of finding adaptive advantage in going from a more typical long-armed star to this shape? I can never look at any creature without thinking….what evolutionary forces led to what we see before us now? Of course, I just love what I see for what it is, but sometimes, science can add intrigue and mystery to what’s self-evidently there.

  2. Steve Goodheart Says:

    PS – That sea cucumber goo is simply amazing….I wonder if we can learn anything helpful in terms of adhesives or glues from them? (All humanity’s first glues were bioadhesives, of course.) And as a science buff, I’d love to know why it’s so damn sticky….what’s going on at the molecular level….is it a physical or mechanical stickiness, physical penetration, micro-hooks and grabbers, or is there something going on at the chemical level with some sort of covalent bonding? (Jan, not asking you for answers! Just mumbling out loud.) 🙂

    Anyway, I think I’m going to look into sea cucumbers today…always wanted to know more about them.

  3. MadDog Says:

    I’ve seen quite a few starfish around here that ‘normally’ have five arms but have six or even seven. I have a couple of images of them in my journal. (the search feature works pretty well for finding things)

    I think that they would lose mobility and certainly stability, but they would be much less likely to have something bitten off. We see starfish with legs missing on every dive. I’ve even seen new starfish growing from a bitten-off leg!

  4. Steve Goodheart Says:

    I think I might have nabbed one of those 5-plus stars from your site before we met…..I’ll have fun with the search and find some more…

    Makes sense about the vulnerability of long, relatively skinny legs….you have any idea who’s snapping off starfish arms?

    At the beach in Laguna, I’d seen stars growing back “limbs,” but growing a whole critter from a leg is remarkable — wouldn’t it be great if we could regenerate limbs salamander-style? I know scientists are working on that….

  5. MadDog Says:

    I have an image somewhere of a single leg of a small starfish growing four other legs out of the base. I’ll try to find it. I don’t know what bites off starfish legs. You’re the science editor; you tell me.

  6. Steve Goodheart Says:

    That would be an interesting picture.

    Hmmm, a science editor, yes, but Mr. Wizard, no! 🙂 I was just wondering if you might have seen one under attack in your dives.

    A quick look look around the intertubes and my into my endless treasury of accumulated science facts tells us that sharks, rays, and some large boney fish will take a bite if they can…also, that bad-ass triton snail totally whups ass and noms on the crown-of-thorns starfish (interestingly, the overfishing of the beautiful triton is at least partially responsible for the crown-of-thorns plague on the Great Barrier Reef.)

  7. Things I See | Madang - Ples Bilong Mi Says:

    […] experience that you do not want to allow these filaments to come into contact with your skin or anything else for that matter. If scientists could develop a glue as efficient and durable as this stuff, they […]