Sunday 4 September 2011

A to B in the Deep Sea

I think it's great to move around sometimes. Quite a few animals in the world seem to disagree, to say nothing of plants, but I find that movement can give one some really welcome options.

Get this:

Imagine you're at A. You see B. You like B. B looks good. Why not just go over to B? Sweet! I don't even have to think about it.

There's a saying: "the grass is always greener on the other side." It actually means that no-one is ever satisfied with A, and B always looks better for some reason or other. And once you're at B both C and A start to look increasingly appealing.

Anyway, in the deep sea, there is no grass. And all the green looks a bit sickly and murky. Still, those deep sea oddities still like to move about a bit, and that's great. Some of them have really odd ways of doing it, which is also great.

You know what else is great? That's right! The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. That's exactly what I was thinking! They do a whole bunch of great stuff, one of them is making great videos like this one. So why don't we check it out:


Wow! Great stuff! And you know what? Some of those weird animals there look pretty familiar. In fact, a lot of them do, because weird is what we do here!

Image by Russ Hopcroft, eol
First, we have a jellyfish. We've seen a few jellyfish in our time, like the biggest of the lot and a couple deep sea ones which were also really big.

This one, Botrynema brucei, isn't big at all, it's only about 3 cm across. This small size seems to help it out in being quite pretty rather than all ugly and nasty looking, They're almost entirely transparent with little internal structures providing a bit of colour.

It swims with muscular pulses of its body that unsettle the short tentacles in a rather beautiful way. It actually looks like a snazzy lampshade. Which is nice. Pity there's no light bulb in there - this jellyfish is found over 1,000 metres deep in Arctic waters. A bit of heat and light may not be so unwelcome.

Beroid Comb Jelly
Another "jelly type thing" is the Comb Jelly. They are significantly different to jellyfish and have a completely different way of getting around. Along their body are 8 rows of cilia, which are like tiny, little hairs, perhaps just 2 mm long. These beat in a sort of Mexican wave, pushing them through the water and providing the viewer with beautiful iridescent rainbow colours. It looks effortless, but those hairs are actually moving very quickly indeed.

Beroids look quite harmless when they're just minding their own business. But then they open their gigantic mouths and engulf some other Comb Jelly and you find yourself thinking, "oh... I see."

Image by kqedquest via Flickr
We've seen surface dwelling siphonophores like the Portuguese Man o' War before, they must surely be the most famous of the lot. They used a gas filled sack called a pneumatophore to help them float.

We also saw a couple of deep sea siphonophores, one that was quite pretty, another that will one day destroy civilization by the sheer power of ugliness.

Here, we see how these things can get around when they're not at the mercy of currents and winds.

Siphonphores are cnidarians, related to jellyfish, and the nectophores at the end of many siphonophores are basically modified jellyfish attached to the rest of the organism. This nectophore pulsates like a jellyfish and get's all those tentacles moving.

Sea Butterfly
Beautiful, swimming snails. Can you imagine such a thing? You don't have to, because that's what Sea Butterflies are.

The big, slimy foot of other snails has become a delicate pair of wings for flying upside down in the water. I suppose it's swimming really, but "flying" seems so much more appropriate. It looks utterly charming and beautiful, a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon.

You wouldn't want to have a picnic with one, though - Sea Butterflies capture their food in a web of mucus. You can always trust a snail to find an interesting new use for slime.

Humboldt Squid
Oh dear. After all that serenity here comes a Humboldt Squid bursting in like a motorbike through a bowling green. Mud is flying, cups of tea upturned, tables rattling to the floor. Turns out all those respectable senior citizens can really turn the air blue when they want to.

The Humboldt Squid is a ferocious and voracious predator of the sea. Fins on the side of their mantle give them some momentum, but a jet of water from the siphon can propel them at speeds of 24 kilometres per hour (15 mph).

They're also very strong and about the size of a man. A man who's quite a lot shorter than I happen to be, but still. They're also misunderstood. Just like I am! Try and understand the Humboldt Squid in the previous post, they'll thank you for it one day. By not tearing your arm off, perhaps.

Dumbo Octopus
After the angry Rottweiler that was the Humboldt Squid, it's nice to see the sweet, puppy dog of the cephalopod world - the Dumbo Octopus.

Look at it there! Playfully rollicking around with its charming ears all aflutter. It looks like it's just about to have a good roll around in the disgusting mud. Awww!

Dumbos spend their time right at the bottom of the sea, just above the floor. They don't often do the jet propulsion thing of other octopus, being content with flapping their ear fins and pulsing their webbed arms. It seems to be a much more relaxed, uneventful life for the Dumbo Octopus.

Benthoctopus are much more akin to your usual octopus. They don't have the ears or the extent of webbing between the arms that the Dumbos have. They often still have a bit though, and this helps the effectiveness of their arms when using them to swim. They use the water jets more often and are generally faster and more active than Dumbos.

Benthoctopus tend to spend their time at the sea bed too. They are also a bit more scary looking I think. All that white, red and purple crawling about on the rocks... it reminds me of zombies!

Marine Hatchetfish
Wow! The Hatchetfish appears almost normal in motion. From certain angles at least.

They use good, old fashioned tail power to get around. Old fashioned for fish, that is. Tail power would be a completely new experience for me.

These Hatchetfish are so small and squashed up (sort of thing) that you can see how they very quickly undulate their entire body to swim. Compared to everything we've seen before this fish reminds of a shrew or something. Those tiny animals that have to eat like twice their own weight in insects every day because they're just moving around so much the whole time. I'm like that sometimes. The eating I mean, not so much the moving around.

Gulper Eel
Gosh! This Gulper Eel looks great! Almost... sort of... sexy. Look at those curves... I think I need a bath. Maybe a whole new brain, too.

You might remember how unashamedly ugly these Gulpers really are when seen from the appropriate angle, one which shows its face. But from here, from a distance, you can see how that looooong tail is used like a whip to propel it through the water.

In contrast to the little Hatchetfish, the head and belly don't seem to move at all. This must be pretty good when they're full of something that is approximately their own size - nausea at that point can NOT end well.

Also note that it's a Saccopharynx Swallower, not a Pelican Eel.

Before seeing the Gulper Eel you might have said the Rattail, or Grenadier, has a long, thin tail. Still, it's fairly thin. Thin enough that I always find it surprising to see them moving so well, it's not a bad swimmer at all!

It also seems to be very suspicious of the camera. Man, those eyes are HUGE!

Anyway, we can see how it undulates the tail to propel itself forward. It seems to work really well. The Grenadier is looking active and agile, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Not bushy tailed.

Pacific White Skate
Here comes the ghost. The Pacific White Skate uses its huge pectoral fins to hover over the ocean bed.

It really does look spooky and spectral. There seems to be almost no effort required in quietly floating above the mud and brittle stars. No doubt mud and brittle stars would spoil his lovely white colour, they're beneath him in every possible way.

It's a good thing it doesn't take up much energy to do what he's doing because he doesn't appear to be doing anything at all. It looks like the equivalent of me having a lie down. That doesn't take up much energy either, else I wouldn't do it so much.

Swimming Sea Cucumber
Hey, err... anyone lost a liver? What's going on here? Is this The Nose part 2 or what? When comes the puppet version?

Apparently this Swimming Sea Cucumber is in the genus Paelopadites, although the rest of the internet doesn't appear to have heard of them.

Still, we can see how it very slowly flaps the cape that's around its head. It also seems to be using the other fins along the lower parts of the body, too.

It'll take a lot of work to discover a liver more graceful than this. And if you tried, people would probably be looking through your genealogy for clues to the identity of Jack the Ripper. So... don't. In my humble opinion.

Sea Spider
I'm stunned! I just didn't know the Sea Spider had it in 'em! Striding through the water, indeed. It looks great. Lanky, utterly weird and great.

Not all Sea Spiders have legs quite this long, and here they even seem to be fringed with hairs to help with the surface area. I wonder if any shallow water one's do this too? It looks so fragile, I would think it too dangerous in a place with predators galore.

And then comes "backward leg propulsion". It looks like ballet! When they've been leaping about and then they run along the floor with tiny, tip-toe steps. Maybe even holding some wispy, lacy thing that trails aloft behind them, looking all lovely and lively and similar to Sea Spider legs.

Who knew?

Feather Star
Finally, the Feather Star. You wouldn't have guessed it was so closely related to that Swimming Sea Cucumber. It looks more like some kind of desert plant that's uprooted itself and is seeking out a better place to live.

It's impressive to see those delicate arms furiously pounding away. In fact, I think there's an idea here. An idea for a battery operated feather duster. It could work not only to take out some of the drudgery of dusting, but also as a fascinating visual centre-piece for the home.

It could have a range of colours and featheriness. The lava lamp of the 21st century. But also it's a feather duster, which is old fashioned so it will probably be "ironic" or something. You could probably double the sales price then, 'cos irony is expensive these days.

Oh, yes... Oh, yes indeed...


Kali said...

I enjoyed this very much! As a relative newcomer to your blog, the links off to other fascinating posts and things are most welcome ... and dangerous!

Joseph JG said...

Hi, Kali! Welcome to the blog and comments! I'm glad you're enjoying it! I actually saw that video a little while ago and noticed that I'd done about half all the animals, so I decided to the other half. It took a long time! I'm happy to see it's useful to you. And just a little bit of danger is good, too!

Crunchy said...

I read recently that engineers (with real lab coats!) are studying moon jellyfish locomotion in order to develop a new propulsion system for ships. Hopefully with fewer stinging tentacles. It seems that they don't just use jet propulsion to move around:

"Instead, they create complex vortex rings in the wake of their motion that allow them propel themselves forward."

Have a look!

Joseph JG said...

Hey, thanks! That's fascinating. It's odd what we can learn from such unlikely places. Not long ago I found out about the surprising use penguins get out of a load of bubbles:

But jellyfish using vortex rings? Amazing! Especially after looking up "vortex rings".

Crunchy said...

I know, it's such a great sciencey term, isn't it? It's really the "vortex" part that sells it, then the "rings" makes it relatable! Sounds way better than, "a million little jellyfish (or penguins) on tiny leashes pulling our ships."

Joseph JG said...

Yes, you gotta love vortex. A million jellyfish on tiny leashes sounds pretty good too, though!