The Dreaded Sticky Thong and Other Curiosities

Posted in Under the Sea on October 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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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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Hold Your Nose – We’re Going Under!

Posted in Under the Sea on September 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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We’re going diving, but first I have to get this out of my brain:  How smart can Google be?

I Googled this (without the quotes) “how many people are killed by falling coconuts each year?” Out of the ten hits at the top, nearly all claimed that 150 are killed in an average year by falling coconuts. This is, you understand, of no little importance to me. I spend a lot of time out in my garden, which is lined with 25 metre coconut trees. I’m quite certain that a konk on the head with a coconut from that height would spoil my entire day.

Interestingly there was one hit from THE ISLOMANIAC ™ (islomaniac: īl-o-mā’nē-āk’ [noun] One with a passion or craze for islands) which claims that the number is purely mythological. And, as you’d expect, there was a rebutting comment exposing an obscure journal article as evidence supporting the quantity.

So, never mind that Google pointed me to pertinent information on the first hit, I’m nevertheless no more informed than I was before.

Still unsatisfied that Google is trusworthy to point me to useful information, I tried the classic: “how many angels can dance on the point of a pin?” Again, Google pointed me to some interesting pages, but failed to answer the fundamental question for me. It seems that nobody knows for certain where the question originated (though it is a very obvious  query and of huge significance), but Wikipedia has an interesting, if brief, history of it.

The most informative hit was number nine from the Journal of Improbable Research.  It’s titled Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem  and, though it still fails to quantify the exact number of angels, it does set some handy upper and lower bounds. I was especially amused to be brought to the realisiation that, if angels are small enough, and are not massless, an angel sock-hop of sufficient popularity could produce a black hole!

Okay, enough philosphy. Let’s get wet.

Here’s how the fan coral looked without the flash:

Sea fan - natural light

Here’s how it looks with the flash:

Sea Fan - flash exposureFakey, fakey, fakey. Okay, that is the end of my nearly daily protestations of using artificial light for UW photographs. You must  be getting bored with that.

This is an interesting coral that we see on nearly every dive. It’s Lobophyllia hemprichii.  We call it, “That bright red stuff.” It is, indeed, red. You can see it glowing from a great distance:

Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)

Here is a thick branch of Staghorn Coral with an encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp.)  eating it from the bottom up:

Encrusting sponge (Echinochalina sp. ?) growing on Staghorn Coral

You wouldn’t think sponges could be that viscious.

This critter is a Leopard Sea Cucumber, a kind of bech-de-mere (Bohadschia argus).  You can see some little bits of seaweed and coral sticking to it. They sometimes cover themselves completely with camouflage material. They are rather beautiful, if squishy, creatures with an astounding defensive weapon. The stickiest, nastiest substance on the planet.

Sea Cucumber ( Bohadschia argus)

I don’t have an image of my own to show you, so I’m filching (with attribution) this from OceanwideImages.com. The image is by Gary Bell:

Leopard Sea Cucumber by Gary Bell / OceanwideImages.com

If you poke (a no, no) or otherwise bother the Leopard Sea Cucumber, it will emit these seemingly innocuous white filaments. You could not be more wrong if you think that they are no bother. Pity any critter who gets stuck on these. They don’t sting, but they are nearly impossible to get off. You have to let the dry (and STINK) until they flake off.

Winding down now, I have one more shot for you. This is a perfectly ordinary coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis)  on the left. That’s not the interesting item in the image:

Coral (Goniopora djiboutiensis) on the left with a crayfish hiding on the right under the ledge

What is amusing it the lobster hiding under the ledge on the right. Sometimes it is easy to fixate on a particular specemine and miss something 30 cm away. I could have had a good chance for an image of a critter not yet in my collection, if I’d only noticed it.

Maybe next time.

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