Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Watching Brittle Stars Bioturbate! Amazing brittle star burrowing videos!

Today, a cool assortment of unusual videos of brittle stars digging themselves into the sediment!

hmm.. yes, I know that doesn't sound all that special but brittle stars are some of the most abundant animals on the planet. In some settings, such as the deep-sea they are thought to comprise an incredible amount of biomass.  As I've written about before, the Amphiuridae, which often make their home in sediment and hiding in mud are among the most diverse groups of brittle stars.

For the topic at hand, some of these videos are pretty amazing. Enjoy!

We start with an Antarctic species, Ophionotus victoriae doing its thing in a special aquarium and its thing is AWESOME.

A gorgeous video of Amphiodia occidentalis from Bodega Head in the North Pacific! 

Here is a typical burrowing type of brittle star from the family Amphiuridae, in the genus Amphiura shot here moving through some loose sediment. 

If you want an idea of how important the movement of these individual brittle stars is ultimately importatnt, scientists have made videos of their communities in the sediment. They "turn over" and process the sand/mud pretty readily. 

Being buried all the time also helps in preservation of brittle stars as fossils...

and we close out with one of the most gorgeous brittle star videos ever shot "Emerging" by Robert Suntay featuring what looks to be Ophiopsila sp.  as it emerges from its burrow..
EMERGING from Robert Suntay on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What are the DEEPEST known echinoderms??

The depth of the ocean has been in the news a lot lately. Here's Virgin Oceanic planning to send someone down to the bottom,  as well as this excellent infographic from the Washington Post about how deep a challenge MH370's recovery might be..  

and of course 2012 was James Cameron's big dive in the Marianas Trench!
Image from NPR
The other day this came up in conversation "Blah, blah... but its not like echinoderms occur in the deep sea? I mean, I've only seen them inshore, they are mostly shallow water aren't they??"  Au contraire mon frere!!
Echinoderms are DEEP. They live in the deepest depths of the ocean..

But how deep are we talking?? Most folks think of "deep" as anything beyond the intertidal.

Many biologists think of "deep-sea" as anything below 200 m, which is where roughly where light stops penetrating. But then you get beyond THAT... then you start entering the REAL deep sea... the ones where biologists start saying stuff like "THAR be where dragons have lease..."
Via Wikipedia! 
To me, this starts at around 1000 m..and these zones include
  1. the Bathyal at roughly 700 to 1000 m
  2. the Abyssal at about 2000 to 4000 m
  3. the HADAL from 6000 to 10000 m
Basically, the true BOTTOM of the ocean is around 6000 to 10,000 meters. ABSOLUTE FARKING cold, dark, BOTTOM of the ocean.! And yes. Cameron's sub got down to 10,000 ish meters at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.  These are places where it is cold and dark. The coldest and the darkest in that there ocean!

Here is a chart from CNN (from the Cameron dive) which gives you a sense of scale about what these zones mean..
Image from CNN here
Echinoderms are among the DEEPEST living of all animals known on the planet. HOW DEEP? Which ones?? Let's find out!

Sources for this survey include Belyaev's "Hadal Bottom Fauna of the World Ocean", the former Online Echinoderm Newsletter World Records page and the Smithsonian NMNH specimen database!

1. Sea Urchins (Echinoidea) I start with one of the most familiar but also unfamiliar of sea urchin groups! There are many deep-sea urchins. Such as the echinothurioids (the tam o shanter urchins). or the bizarre Dermechinus.  Many of these urchins go deep, but still remain one of the "shallowest" of the Echinodermata. Many urchins occur at depths >1000 m but "only" go down to about 7000 meters.  Which urchins live at that 7000 meter threshold??

Pourtalesiidae: The "coke bottle" urchins! I have written about these bizarre deep-sea sea urchins before.  YES, these are sea urchins, albeit highly strange ones.

They have EXTREMELY thin and delicate skeletons, which can be almost paper thin. They live by burrowin through and digesting mud on the deep-sea bottoms. Records for the genus Pourtalesia sp. (usually only fragments are recovered) have been collected from 6,850 meters in the Java Trench.

2. Sea Stars (Asteroidea) Next up is my favorite group! They go deep but are not among the deepest. They go 2000-8000 m. That's not to say that there aren't a bunch of DEEP weird looking critters to look at! Here are the records!

Freyellid brisingidan starfish:  Freyastera sp. and Freyella sp. Brisingids are starfish that use their arms to pick food out of the water (more here). All the members of the Freyellidae occur in the VERY deepest depths. Typically below 1000m, but many occur between 4000-6000 m. But the deepest record for a freyellid was Freyella kurilokamchatica from 6860 meters.
"Mud Stars" Family Porcellanasteridae. NOW we're talkin. This entire family lives on muddy bottoms deep on the ocean floor, where they swallow massive amounts of mud for food. Similar to the mud star Ctenodiscus (here).  The specimen figured below from the NMNH collections is from 6, 250 METERS below the ocean surface!  Deepest record for this species, Eremicaster vicinus is from 7,614 meters! These live in the deepest abyssal-hadal bottoms around 4000 to 8000 meters.
Finally, Hymenaster, aka deep-sea slime stars. Here's a post about their shallower relatives. And you can always find more on my blog about them. Pic below is from 2000 m.

The deepest record for Hymenaster is for a species from 8,400 meters in the Kurile-Kamchatka trench!  So, Hymenaster (species remains undetermined) currently holds the record for deepest starfish. But who knows what new specimens and video remain to be discovered!

2.  Brittle Stars (Ophiuroidea)As with sea stars, their close relatives, the brittle stars don't seem to be quite as deep as some of the others but are still plenty deep. Plus, there's probably a bias of sampling as many brittle stars are tiny and more difficult to collect via nets and so forth..

The plate below is from this paper by Belyaev, G.M. & N.M. Litvinova, 1972: New genera and species of deep-sea Ophiuroidea. - Byull.mosk.Obshch.1spyt. rir. 77, 3: 5-20. (In Russian)
From Belyev & Litvinova 1972
The plate above conveniently displays three of the deepest occurring brittle star records known.
  1. In the upper two boxes is Perlophiura profundissima, which has been collected between 2265 and 8015 meters.
  2. Lower, left box is Homalophiura madseni, collected from 6156 to 7,230 meters! 
  3. and finally in the lower right hand box is Bathylepta pacifica which occurs between 5740 and 8006 meters! (thanks to Sabine Stohr for tipping me off to the correct species!)
There's easily a dozen species of brittle stars found below 6000 meters! Probably more...
4. Crinoids (Crinoidea) Down to the deepest TWO groups! 
Bathycrinus carpenteri from the SERPENT website
Among the crinoids, stalked crinoids are famous members of the deep-sea fauna. There are fossils of stalked crinoids which date back to the Paleozoic and there's always been sort of an unusual mystique to them.  Members of the family Bathycrinidae are recorded from 8,175 to 9,050 meters in the Kurile Kamchatka Trench! 

5. Sea Cucumbers (Holothuroidea)  So, which group takes the deep-sea CAKE for being deepest?? How could it be any other group than the Sea Cucumbers??? 

There's a LOT of diversity of sea cucumbers at the >5000 meter depth range. All of the swimming sea cucumbers live at these depths (click here

And of course, our old friends, the SEA PIGS!! (the one shown from 1500 m). Many members of the Elpidiidae, the group to which the sea pigs belong are among the deepest known. Several species occur as deep as 9,500 meters! 

But the winning sea cuke? the DEEPEST ones? Members of the Myriotrochidae, including Myriotrochus.  Records for these sea cucumbers go down to 10,687 meters!!! The NMNH has records of Myriotrochus bruuni from the Philippine Trench at depths of 10150 to 10190 meters! So yeah, if Cameron didn't see any of these when he was down there? That's HIS problem! 

This pic is from a Myriotrochus from the Kara Sea, but you get the idea.
this image from this Russian page 
This Russian Livejournal page actually has a nice photogallery of various cold-water deep-sea sea cucumber groups. Myriotrochids, molpadiids and sea pigs! Check it out..

There's a lot of weird stuff going on and through deep-sea sea cucumbers! Here's some of it.

So, yeah. Sea Cucumbers. Deep. And don't you forget it! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Echinoblog Travelog: Japan: the things I will miss.... Pt. 5 (final)

Just got back from Japan and the 15 hour flight just wiped me out... so today is pictures!
 See-through starfish! (Anseropoda petaloides)
Matching Socks!
Sweets! but not chocolate or the usual western types...
Nakano Broadway...
 and some of its unique and interesting goods... (cleared and stained fish skeletons for sale)
KAIJU! Ultrakaiju Gomora! (and other Japanese science fiction)
Starfish Kaiju (weird deep-sea starfish!, this one, Hymenaster is about a foot across)
FOOD! Ramen and gyoza!  (mm... tempura not pictured)
And special mention to KABOBS! After a long day of running around Tokyo? These are surprisingly satisfying....

and of course, big expensive toy robots! (shown here is Big Dai X)

Until next time Tokyo! 

P.S. These are surprisingly accurate....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Echinoblog Travelog! Pt. 4 Stories from Tsukuba & Japan!

Travel is about experiences. Here are some of mine.... Starfish and not....

1. Starfish Story! 
Found this cool disk from the starfish Plazaster borealis the other day.  I am somewhat obsessed with this starfish (see this blog). It goes by the common name "tako hitode" aka the "octopus starfish" and we know next to nothing about it.  Sadly, this specimen was found without arms. Probably something that happened when it was collected....

Cool thing about this and the specimen lot it was found in?? Collected in 1932.  This species of starfish was originally described in 1938. That means, this specimen was actually collected SIX years before the species was actually described by Dr. Tohru Uchida.
 Here's what the animal looks like in its natural state. Almost 40 arms! But they disarticulate pretty easily.

2. Starfish-Worm Story!
The other day, I encountered this: polynoid polychaete worms which live commensally on the starfish Solaster borealis! STILL attached and living to their "host".

To give you some perspective, here is what the animal looks like in situ (from the North American side of the Pacific). 
This image from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute! 
And here is a close up of the worms living inside the mouth and tube foot grooves of the starfish...
With this Japanese Solaster borealis, we are seeing the relationship among some relatively deep-sea species but this type of relationship is also seen on several North American species of Solaster, such as this one from a shallow-water Washington species.

Where better to live/feed than on the "top dog" starfish predator like Solaster?  (or any starfish for that matter!)

3. Tunicate Food Story!
Travelling to foreign lands and new places means trying new foods and dishes that you don't normally get to try when you are at home. Sometimes, these dishes can be quite exotic.

Case in point: after a presentation at the University of Tokyo, I was treated to some hospitality including the opportunity to try hoya aka raw sea squirt or tunicate! 
I wrote a post about exotic invertebrates eaten around the world here. Here is a picture of what hoya looks like alive.
What does it taste like? Hm. An acquired taste certainly. Kind of sour and medicine-like is probably the most polite way to put it... Not one of my favorites but glad that I tried it!

4. Bathroom Story!
This one is a simple lesson in keeping track of different kinds of plumbing! Behold my bathrooom set up!

The shower is nozzle connected to the sink faucet. Very efficient. There's a shunt switch that routes water either to the faucet OR to the shower head. The shower head is used in the bathtub, where it can drain. But it is stored on the wall up there over the sink.

Sometimes you forget that the shunt switch is turned to "shower" instead of "sink" AND you have replaced the shower head on the wall.

Looking to brush your teeth and BOOM!  That was messy. 

5. EARTH Story! 
So I'm workin' one night, when "I-san" a worker in the lab, who speaks only a little english, gets up and starts saying "oscillate" ????  Odd.  

So, I get up and he's pointing to the mini-fridge shaped air vent sitting above my seat (above). Big, but held up by big metal struts. It is ROCKING back and forth. The rest of the lab, the floor seems perfectly stationary.  "Ground is shaking because of Earth moving" He says. My eyes open wide, as I grasp what he is saying and realize, "Oh crap, we're having an earthquake!"  

It was a 5.1... and I very nearly ignored it. Yow. 
Info for the quake can be found here. 

There's a HUGE Diversity  of starfishes in Japan...
Whew! I'm winding down the trip to Tsukuba/Tokyo and the National Museum of Nature and Science!  I'm finding a HUGE diversity of sea stars in the collections. When I arrived, there was an estimated 200 species in Japan. When I leave, this number will be significantly higher!  Many of them will be from deep-sea habitats.

Hopefully, this trip will only be Part One!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Echinoderm & The Invertebrate Zoology Toys of Japan! Echinoblog Travelog Pt. 3

Japan is known for some of the biggest and most successful and widely known toys throughout the world. Giant robots! Godzilla! Pokemon! Sailor Moon! Hello Kitty!  For whatever reason, when you think about toys, Japan comes to mind.

During my travels, it's also become apparent how the interests of the people reflect on the diversity of toys that are available to everyone, from casually interested kid to hardcore collector.

Japan amazingly produces several toys of different species from not only the deep-sea but also from "deep time" with many fossils and so on. What makes these so amazing to me is that they were even made!  

Although some of these (the plushies) might have been made as part of the US show, many were simply made, for the general populace as either collectibles or items that interest the consumer.

To me, THAT is a huge message. There's folks in Japan who buy these because they think these creatures are interesting! You can even buy deep-sea biology books at 7-11 in Japan! 

1. Enypniastes! Take for example, the swimming deep-sea sea cucumber Enyniastes. You can read about this and other swimming sea cucumbers here
This amazing species is captured as a tiny highly detailed replica, known as a gashapon. They are obtained from specific gashapon machines, but these days most folks just buy them individually at special shops throught the "hobby" distrcts of Japan, such as Akihabara or at Nakano Broadway. 

These are highly detailed, come with a stand and are about 1-2 cm tall. 
Somewhat more specialized is the plushy Enypniastes obtained via the gift shop at the National Museum of Nature & Science! These are larger ad more hand size as indicated.
2. Sea Pigs! Yup. they got em'... Remember my original post here??  Deep-sea sea cucumbers with legs that for some reason combine cute and creepy!
No fewer than TWO brands of sea pig gashapon (again, small highly detailed plastic models of Scotoplanes globosa)                 
This cool plush toy from the gift shop at the National Museum of Nature & Science in Tokyo!
3. We've all heard/seen of the famous Japanese giant plush Bathynomus/giant isopod toy! 
and yes, it is indeed soft and cuddly! Perfect for those cold nights when your teddy bears and undependable stuffed mammals have run out on you! 
BUT what about the Giant Bathynomus-inspired designer vinyl action figure! Stands a good 10 inches tall with ray-gun!
Made by and for collectors, I've seen diferent sizes and color variations of this toy...
 ranging from 60 to $600.00! Some of them even glow in the dark! 

Plush toys are gaining momentum, there's even a set of Paleozoic invertebrate plushies!!
    The National Museum of Nature and Science of Tokyo had a fun set of Paleozoic invertebrates made into plushies!  Here's a carpoid! (Paleozoic echinoderm) But there was a whole Cambrian set which I'm not showing here...
4. But the BIGGEST THING? small toys.  Also known as gashapon!  As mentioned earlier, tiny little 2-6 cm replicas of the real thing. Part of different sets following various themes for collectors..

For example, highly detailed Paleozoic invertebrates! Eurypterids and trilobites! (carpoids & others are also available).

Ammonoids! and more!
You want crabs and other crustaceans?  YOU GOT IT! Anatomically accurate tiny plastic replicas of different crab families! Calappids! Portunids! Leucotheids! There's actually a second set with various lobsters and so forth...
 You want NUDIBRANCHS? Done.
And of course there's a lot of your requisite whale, deep-sea fish, jellies and so on.. But here's a pretty cool commemorative set!  Remember back when they had FIRST footage of the living deep-sea giant squid Architeuthis?? 

Yup, a commemorative and official (by the NMNS), Architeuthis squid gashapon set! With sperm whales and everything!