Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Empty nest

Fresh, green veggies are good. And if they're eelgrass, they're being used as salad, as gym equipment, as shelter for a variety of critters.

But old, brown, even rotting veggies are even better, if you live in the intertidal zone. A blade of decayed eelgrass is a gourmet dish, if you're a hermit crab. Or an amphipod.

And they make a good nursery for babies just starting out into the wide world; the food underfoot is puréed already, the tough fibers and skins gone. Easy munching!

That's what I think happened here:

Five abandoned egg cases. There may be a baby or two still deciding to leave.

I don't know what animal laid these; I don't recognize the form of the cases. It's probably a snail, but not one I can identify.

The fuzzy stuff is a mass of diatoms, or possibly bacteria. A hermit crab will be along soon enough to clean all that out, leaving only the empty egg cases.


And there's more! I'm puzzling over a batch of green teeth. I'll post them tomorrow.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Dancing jester

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Especially underwater. Everything is layered; things grow on shells, on seaweed, on rocks; other plants and animals grow on those, and are home, again, to another community of something else. And everything eats. Hydroids eat plankton; nudibranchs and hermit crabs eat hydroids; crabs eat hermits when they can catch them; gulls eat crabs. So do we, if they're big enough.

On one of the blades of the skinny eelgrass I brought home the other day, I noticed a fuzzy barnacle. And the fuzz, looking at it with a hand lens, was not the expected diatoms or algae.

Side view of the blade of eelgrass. The barnacle is about 3 mm high.

These look like some type of hydroid; there's a stalk, a polyp surrounded by tentacles, these ones with knobs on the tips. But I can't find them in any of the books or web pages I've searched, probably because they are too small to attract attention.

Our common Obelia hydroids are branched.

Small Obelia, on another blade of the same plant. The eelgrass blade is 4 mm. wide.

But the new ones are clubs with at the most two polyps at the top. And they're noticeably orange, rather than semi-transparent like the Obelias.

But wait a minute! Looking at that first photo again, what is that thing that looks like a little man in a jester's hat? That's no hydroid!

I watched for a while, and the jester began to dance.

See him there, on the centre left side of the eelgrass?

It's a Caprellid, a skeleton shrimp. I never expected to see one so small. But nothing else dances like they do.

Standing upright again, waving antennae and big pincers (the jesters hat).

I found three more skeleton shrimp, all about the same size, along the blade of eelgrass. Standing upright, with the pincers raised, they mimic the hydroids, possibly as protection from predators that will avoid the stinging tentacles of a hydroid, and otherwise would find a caprellid quite tasty.

Most species are predators that sit and wait like a praying mantis, with their gnathopods ready to snatch any smaller invertebrates which come along. They accentuate their adaptive form and colouration by assuming an angular pose, resembling that of the fronds among which they live. They remain motionless for long periods of time while waiting to ambush their prey, often protozoa or small worms. (From Wikipedia, Caprellidae)

Wikipedia adds that they are eaten, in turn, by anemones, nudibranchs, and fish. I think I would add hermit crabs to the list. The colonies of hydroids and skeleton shrimp lasted only a night, with a dozen hermits busy cleaning the eelgrass. All that was left in the morning was the barnacle.


And there's more! Empty doughnuts tomorrow.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

On staples and little boxes

Sea lettuce. Barnacles. And eelgrass. The staple foods for my aquarium critters. Barnacles for the leafy hornmouth snail, sea lettuce for the hermits, the crabs, and the bubble shells. And eelgrass, preferably decorated with hydroids, for the hermits and snails. Anything else is a special treat, but these three are essentials.

This week, the high tide brought in a truckload of fresh, bright green sea lettuce, which pleased the bubble shells; one ate so much of it that I could see the green in his stomach right through the shell and flesh.

But though I walked a long way, just at the edge of the incoming waves, I only found one small eelgrass plant. And it was a meagre, frayed one, mostly straggly stem and browning leaves. I would have left it there, except that it was the only one available. I and the hermits would have missed a treat.

Settling it into the tank, I noticed a small patch of bryozoans on one thin blade of grass, just below the water surface. A live patch, too; I could even see, with a lens, movement on its surface.

I rarely get to see these; out of the water, they shut down instantly. Underwater, the turbidity and the depth make them into a faint blur. Too much light, and they're asleep. And the individual animals are so very tiny; millimetre-high, transparent funnels.

Encrusting bryozoan colony, Membranipora membranacea, awake and feeding.
This is a small colony, about 8 to 10 animals from edge to edge. Each individual zooid lives inside a little box; seen from above, they look like walls, but there is a top, as well. The animal lies horizontally inside, and when the situation looks right, extends its feeding funnel up into the water. At the slightest disturbance, the funnels disappear and all that can be seen are the walls.

Hydroids and anemones have stinging tentacles, to subdue their prey; these bryozoans do not, but are filter feeders like the barnacles, relying on water currents to deliver their groceries. They will eat diatoms and bacteria, as well as other planktonic swimmers, like my newly-hatched crab zoea.

The little spines at the corners of their boxes (difficult to see here, but we really need a microscope for a better view, like this one) help to make the colony an uncomfortable base for a hungry Doridella nudibranch. I found several of these a few years back, on kelp, eating bryozoans, spines or no spines. There were none on this little eelgrass; not enough prey to keep them here.


That was the beginning. I kept finding more and more interesting things on that eelgrass. Unidentified "thingies", tomorrow. And a thingie mimic.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

A few dune plants

The dunes above the beach on the west shore of Boundary Bay are half-wild, half tame gone feral. Logs and scraps of broken driftwood litter the sand, overrun with a tangle of native plants and lichens, but on the inner edge, bordering the last row of houses of Beach Grove, the home-owners have extended themselves beyond their walls, spreading chairs and hammocks, kayaks and abandoned toys well out into the sand. Some have blended their own garden plants in with the beach pea and sea rocket; here's a patch of purple and yellow irises, there's a couple of blue blossom shrubs, further along a mound of evergreen roses. Invasive Scotch broom rubs elbows with gumweed, heal-all, and nasturtiums.

Large-headed sedge, Carex macrocephalus. They grow best where the sand is driest.

Bee foraging in flowers. A garden escape, maybe?

Flowers, grasses, and ant.

"Garden" in a knothole.

Under the Scotch broom. I don't know what the white flowers are. The pinkish bits are purple dead-nettle.

I don't recognize this one. A garden escape, again?

The flowers, or maybe buds. I'll have to go back later to see what develops.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Wind powered

Let it blow; who cares?
I've a kite out there,
With a board that I ride,
And a string sort of thing ...

(Apologies to A.A. Milne.)

Kite surfing, Boundary Bay

Just the kites, seen from the far side of the dunes.

A few minutes later, the guy with the blue kite was 'way over on the far side of the bay. That was a brisk wind!

A Skywatch post.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015


Laurie was an artist and a collector; he lived surrounded by books (over 4000), music, Japanese porcelain, Chinese jade, his own paintings and wood carvings. (Of which more, later.) And he left me with the task of distributing it all after he was gone, some to friends and family, other items to charity. It's kept me busy this whole month, kept me from moping, maybe.

I finished the last of the immediate tasks this morning, and let the car take me where it wanted to go, since nothing and nowhere appealed to me. I found myself after a while pulling into our old parking spot in Beach Grove, by the boat ramp. And the tide was high, the wind cold, and the beach deserted; just the setting for a melancholy trudge along the rocks.

There is healing in the eternal wash of waves on stones, each one subsiding with a whisper, leaving space for the one behind. And the next, and the next, and the next; never stopping to let you hold the moment, indulge your mood. Life goes on, with enthusiasm.

Five herons flew overhead, in a straight line and a hurry. Snails rested on rocks, catching the last bit of sunshine before the water swallowed them again. A couple of men arrived with their kites, blue and yellow. I sat on a log to watch them and idly poked at the dried eelgrass at my feet; beach hoppers scattered in all directions, like popcorn on a hot stove.

Life goes on.

I walked back across the dunes, looking at new growth; large-headed sedge, Scotch broom, beach peas, sea rocket just starting to bloom, purple dead-nettle; the bees and butterflies will be busy this spring. And something called out, loudly, "Peet! Peet!"

Do you see it?

Zooming 'way in. She looks worried.

A killdeer. Her nest is probably somewhere in the middle of the beach pea patch; she led me on a merry chase all around the outskirts, never getting too far away, but never leading me towards the centre. Every few minutes she would call again, keeping my attention on her, not on a possible nest. I was hoping for the broken wing act, but she didn't think it was necessary.

Eventually, she led me to the road off the beach, decided that was far enough away from home, and flew back.

She's a bit more visible with the wings spread.

Life goes on. And so will I. But I wish Laurie had been with me to see the killdeer.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


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Monday, April 27, 2015

Oh, my poor garden!

My spring garden is coming along beautifully; we've had warmer than usual weather, and a bit of gentle rain. The perennials I put in last year are spreading and are just about to open their flowers. And then this happened!

(My video processing programs are acting up, so here's the file, as shot. I'm wondering how Blogger will handle it.)


The London Pride did just fine, of course, and I'm surprised that the Dutchman's breeches weren't completely pounded into the mud. But those white flower buds; one brave, raggedy flower is still standing. The sweet woodruff has disappeared, and the English cowslips are no more.

And then the sun came out and smiled innocently on the churned mud and ice.

(Update: The video ran for me on mute until I fixed it. Turn on the sound: loud! That's how it was. I don't know what that metallic tinkling was; maybe hailstones on ceramic flower pots.)

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Great-great-great and then some

Sorting through Laurie's collection of antiques, I found an ant. At least, I think it's an ant. It's all scrunched up, in the centre of a blob of amber made into a pendant.

Amber drop, 4 centimetres tall.

I count 3 legs on this side.

I remember buying this; the dealer said it was a spider. We brought it home and Laurie put it away carefully and I forgot about it until now. It doesn't look like a spider to me, now that I look at it.

Here's the back side of the pendant:

That paler bit could possibly be a spider abdomen, but it looks more like an ant gaster.

What do you think?

And I wonder how old it is; whether it still has relatives in this modern world. Poor lonely ant! (If it is an ant.)

From Wikipedia, I found a range of possible ages and sources; I have no idea where this piece fits, though.

 Amber becomes abundant long after the Carboniferous, in the Early Cretaceous, 150 million years ago, when it is found in association with insects. The oldest amber with arthropod inclusions comes from the Levant, from Lebanon and Jordan. This amber, roughly 125–135 million years old, is considered of high scientific value, providing evidence of some of the oldest sampled ecosystems. (From Wikipedia: Amber; Geological record.)

The Baltic region is home to the largest known deposit of amber, called Baltic amber or succinite. It dates from 44 million years ago (Eocene). It has been estimated that these forests created more than 100,000 tons of amber. (And Wikipedia: Baltic amber.)

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Why is it

... that when the tide goes out, all the sensible little beasties head for deeper water, or bury themselves in the sand, or hide under stones and logs; anything to keep from drying out. Except the Asian mud snails; they look for places to sunbathe, high and dry.

On stones,

On logs.

Note the tidepool in front of the log; very few snails remain there, and they're scrambling for the edge. Behind the log, on higher ground, the snails are so thick that in places they hide the stones.

They do the same thing in my aquarium; they spend at least half their time clinging to the walls above the water level, and sometimes leave the tank and go for walkies on the counter. Sometimes I find one behind the tank, dry as dust, completely sealed in, looking dead. I drop him back in the water, and he wakes up - and heads for the top again.

They don't eat out of the water; just sleep.


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Friday, April 24, 2015

Intense colours

Beach pea, just getting started:

First lathyrus flowers of the season.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

But I like the owl, too.

A sun-bleached log high on the beach looked like a good place to rest a while. And it had an interesting cut-out, besides.

What do you see here?

The shapes and textures set my imagination going; I see a worried face with a big, blobby nose, an owl, a dancing rabbit, and ... what's that in the middle?

I didn't imagine that. It's real.

Either the camera was very fast, or that's a slow-moving fly. I can even see the stripes on its thorax!

Zooming 'way in.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Barnacles on his knees

Beauty yesterday; the beast today.

The largest hermit crab in my aquarium is a hairy, shaggy, scruffy, awkward old geezer. He's far too big for the shells he wears, so his back feet, there to hold the shell in place, hang out, uselessly. And his main pincer is too big, again, to be used. He drags it along the ground, a dead weight doubled underneath him.

And he has barnacles on his back.

"Barney", with his right pincer curled back, and the tiny holding leg dangling.

Three good-sized barnacles, and a couple of tiny ones, along his waist. It looks like he's growing seaweed on his back, too.

More barnacles on his knees and ankles.

The shell he was wearing for the photo shoot also has barnacles and a two-tentacled worm, to boot. Today's shell is a bit larger, and black. He changes his shell every day; he likes variety. And when you're twice as big as your competition, you get to choose any shell you want, occupied or not.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Watch out for the coat!

On the underside of a rock at the end of the boat ramp at Boundary Bay - almost at the high tide line - I found a white and brown, squirmy, translucent bit of live jelly and wavy bits. It wouldn't sit still for its portrait, so I popped it in a bag with seaweed for protection, and brought it home.

He* wouldn't sit still in a bowl of clean water, either. I gave up and added him to the tank, where he promptly disappeared. He showed up two days later, and this time, he posed for me.

The opalescent nudibranch, Hermissenda crassicornis, hanging head down, belly outward. Isn't he beautiful?

Also known as the long-horned or thick-horned nudibranch, for the two long extensions in front. ("crassi ..." = L. "thick", "cornis" = L. "horn", as in unicorn, ".)

He's  about one inch long, usually, but sometimes stretches a good bit beyond. The "horns" are part of the foot. In this belly-forward photo, we can see the mouth and the two rhinopores. (More ancient languages, this time Greek: "rhinos" =  ῥινός, "nose", "phore" = φορος, "bearing".) All nudibranchs have these; they are scent or taste receptors. And on the right side, facing us, just above the head, that round, pearly button is the anus.

Along his back, he wears clumps of cerata, that function as gills; they wave about continuously in the current. In many of his cousins, the inner coloured area is orange; this guy only has tiny specks of orange.

Side view, showing the cerata and rhinophores.

He looks so soft and helpless; when my largest hermit came over to check him out, I cringed. Those huge pincers could have chopped him in two with no trouble, it seemed. But the hermit backed off and lost interest immediately. And "Herm" just kept on about his business, not in the least worried. He has his own hired bodyguards, in his coat.

This nudibranch eats anemones and hydroids. And digests everything but the stinging cells; those he stores in the tips of the soft cerata. And they still work, even in a foreign body, protecting the sea slug just as they protected the original anemones.

Browsing in the red algae; top of the head, with its distinctive markings.

He seems to have settled in happily to my aquarium; he wanders about, nibbling on whatever's growing on old stones and shells, and spending a lot of time in the red algae bushes.

 It eats hydroids, but the diet also includes small sea anemones, bryozoans, colonial ascidians (Aplidium solidum, botryllids), annelids, small crustacea, tiny clams, dead animals of any sort.  Will eat other Hermissenda. (From Wallawalla.edu.)

He shouldn't starve in the tank. Even though there's no other "Herm" for him to eat.

*These nudibranchs are hermaphroditic, with both male and female organs. Since this guy has no mate, he's not a mother, so "he" will do for him. For now.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

This may help

Because those crabs were too well camouflaged, here's a marked-up copy of the photo:

Crabs in red, hermits in green, green ribbon worms in yellow.

And there's a full-sized photo on Flickr, here.

Now, I've got to sleep. Tomorrow, my new critter!

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Saturday, April 18, 2015


On the underside of one smallish stone on the White Rock beach, life happens. Abundantly.

Flatworms, flatworm egg masses, barnacles, crabs, hermit crabs, snails, mussels, green ribbon worms, amphipods, and no telling what else.

Examining the photo, I found 6 crabs. Can you find them? And check out the varied colours and patterns of the flatworms while you're at it.

I uploaded a larger photo than usual, to make the search easier. If you right-click on the photo, you get an enlargeable view. (At least, that's the way it works for me.)

And I'm going to be busy the next couple of days, with an urgent assignment and a big garage sale at the same time, so I won't be posting 'till Monday. But then, I've got a beautiful new critter to show you!

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

More than he can chew

Yesterday a tiny green flatworm was out hunting snails.

Small mud snail, smaller green hunter

He chose one snail after another, and slithered around and around and around each one, looking for a vantage point to pull the snail out of its shell. Only trouble was, he was far too small to manage it.

He wasn't all that hungry; in the photo you can see the dark spots in his belly; undigested food. Another worm, maybe? An unwary amphipod?

I saw him again this afternoon, on the glass wall. He was completely green; all his food had been digested.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Elegant in black

The dunlins were feeding on Boundary Bay this afternoon; small flocks criss-crossed from sandbar to sandbar, some coming, some going, some more coming back. They never stay long in one place. I noticed that when they run on a sandbar, they all run at about the same speed, usually in the same direction, so that from a distance, they look connected, like wheels on an axle.

One group had a few odd-balls; I could see, even at a distance, solid black patches. I tiptoed up as close as they would let me; still too far for the camera's liking.

Black-bellied plovers, in full breeding regalia.

The paler version is either a female, or immature.

Some of the dunlins are wearing the black aprons, too.

And far away, halfway across the bay, a rafts of ducks and gulls waited for the tide to drop. It was going out too slowly for me; I left the birds and came home for supper.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015


This ...

Fern, unfolding

... reminded me of this ...

Anemone, unfolding.

Sometimes form follows function. Sometimes, it doesn't.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Wordless: Apple blossoms and lichen

Elgin Heritage Park.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Yellowlegs and oysters

At the mouth of the Nicomekl River, where it empties into Boundary Bay, the native Olympia oysters line the shores and pile up in shallow water. A discarded tire serves as a handy anchor point.

The water here is knee-deep to the long-legged yellowlegs.

The presence of a hard substrate or anchor surface is a key component to colony development, in conjunction with other suitable features such as flushing flows and adequate nutrients and food organisms. ...
Larval oysters tend to affix to the undersides of horizontal surfaces. The young oyster (“spat”) crawls with the foot along the surface of substrate and secretes glue from a “byssus” gland, which attaches the shell to the substrate.  (From Ibis, UBC)

The Greater yellowlegs was wading back and forth in the clear water, looking for food, and occasionally calling loudly. (Listen to his call here; the last of the alarm calls.) There were no other birds to be seen.

Hunting, hunting ... There's gotta be a fish here, somewhere.

Zooming in on the yellowlegs.

When I see one alone, it's hard to tell which it is; Greater or Lesser? Unless they're side by side, they look and act alike. And both species are likely to be found at this end of the Nikomekl.

The two yellowlegs species are very similar. Size is marked different when they appear together and can be compared against each other. Greater Yellowlegs's bill appears slightly upturned and blunt-tipped, while Lesser Yellowlegs's bill is straight and sharp-pointed. Lesser's bill is always dark, while Greater's bill is grayish at the base in nonbreeding season. Voice is best distinguishing character: Greater gives three or four piercing notes, Lesser two rapid, softer short whistles (sometimes or or three). (From Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)

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Striped leggings and red, red lips

... Barnacle outfits, that is.

Acorn barnacles on a stone, feeding. The inside of the shell is a deep red.

Long, pale legs, and shorter dark green legs. Another barnacle in the background, smiling.

A barnacle has 6 pairs of legs, putting them between the decapod crabs and shrimp, and the 14-legged isopods. They should really be called "dodecapods" (from the Greek δώδεκα dōdeka "twelve" + ποδός "foot"), although we usually forget that those waving fans are actually feet, modified into feathery cirri, to capture food and absorb oxygen from the water.

And then there is the thirteenth appendage:

The same barnacles. One on the lower right is starting to extend his long penis. It's hairy, too, but not striped.

Each barnacle is hermaphroditic, which is handy, because they can't wander about in search of a suitable mate. Any other barnacle will do, as long as it is within reach of that long, extensible penis.

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