On National Pig Day, let’s not leave out the odd but adorable sea pig! No relation to the land pig, the sea pig is actually a sea cucumber that can move along the seafloor by inflating and deflating its “legs” (large tube feet) like a car dealership tubeman.
“This octopus was NOT impressed when I interrupted its morning feeding stroll during my scuba dive in Melbourne, Australia. It blew itself up like a parachute multiple times to try to intimidate me, before trying to torpedo me like a bowling ball! Octopuses are beautiful, intelligent creatures and this one was using its most creative methods of self defense. Or maybe it was just hungry and angry at the same time (= hangry?)
Unlike us, echinoderms like sea urchins have what is known as radial symmetry – meaning they’re symmetrical around a center point, like a pie. These purple and red sea urchins were observed in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California.
Ocean acidification and the development of calcifying organisms
What is ocean acidification? Increased CO2 results in a lowering of pH in the ocean, making it more acidic. Since cold water absorbs CO2 more easily than warm water, polar regions are more at risk.
How does it impact calcifying organisms? It decreases the saturation state of CaCO3 (calcium carbonate), meaning that animals which produce calcium carbonate shells or skeletons (such as molluscs, echinoderms, and corals) will be severely impacted. Their skeletons and shells may become stunted, deformed, and more porous (see below).
Pictured Above: Echinoderm larvae from tropical, temperate and polar sea urchins under different pH levels (note: the lower the pH, the more acidic). This figure shows that increasing acidity significantly inhibits their development (Byrne et al., 2013). Scale bars = 200 µm.
Whats going to happen? - Species extinctions - A decrease in biodiversity, species richness, and biomass of coral reefs - Food webs will be simplified - Habitat complexity will be reduced - A shift from coral reefs to seagrass/algae based ecosystems in some areas
In honor of Bat Appreciation Day today, we bring you the colorful bat of the sea – the bat star! Found in several of your national marine sanctuaries, bat stars may not be quite like the famed superhero Batman, but they do play an important ecological role. Bat stars help clean dead organisms and algae from the seafloor.
What other “bats” of the sea can you think of?
(Photo: Dwayne Meadows/NOAA, taken in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary)
Friday Fact: The flower radiating in five petals at the heart of a sand dollar is a breathing bouquet, drawn by hundreds of tubular tentacles extending from within the dollar’s shell, like so many miniature snorkels to oxygenate its insides.
Boy oh boy was I looking forward to reviewing these guys. They are some of my favorite sea animals et al, they are echinoderms, and they are deep sea creatures to boot. What’s not to like?
So what do you get when you take a regular countryside pig, cross it over with a Metroid and add a touch of gummy bear, then dump the result into the ocean?
Probably not anything that resembles the sea pig, but the point still stands.
Look at this precious lil thing.
These guys are the genus Scotoplanes, a term which sounds very similar to “scuttling” and is thus perfectly fitting. Fuck you, I don’t know a shred of Latin.
These fuckos are some of the weirdest stuff you’ll find in the deep sea, which is impressive considering pretty much everything down there could cause Salvador Dalí to take a step back and reconsider his life choices, maybe even shave off his improbable moustache, Taxonomically, they are sea cucumbers, but their body plan is more similar to that of a fat slug that one day decided to grow legs just for the heck of it. The legs are pretty weird too, and function very unlike any other organ of locomotion on the planet. They are the same “tube feet” that starfish have, except a lot bigger. They are basically hollow socks of organic matter that the sea pig constantly inflates and deflates by circulating water in them. It basically does the job of an entire mall clown for each leg.
Despite the fact that they are more frail than a Fabergé egg made out of bath foam, and their exotic appearance, the sea pigs aren’t endangered. This is mostly due to the fact that they multiply with the vigor of steroid-enhanced bunnies, to the point where they constitute arund 60 percent of all seafloor life world-wide. Talk about the newest craze.
I weren’t kidding about the frailty though, these guys have the consistency of Jell-O. They are very vulnerable since they solve their water input by circulating entirely through their paper-thin skin, which makes studying them kind of hard, because, y’know, the sea pig you’ve brought to the surface will sometimes just straight-up fucking melt in your hands.
That’s not a big problem though,since there are lots of them. And when I say lots, I do mean lots. They act as the primary cleanup service on the sea floor, scouting around and getting rid of the organic muck in the mud. Their primary food source is so-called “marine snow”, basically a constant downpour of dead shit from the upper regions where other animals kick the bucket. Imagine it as the Biblical mana, except it’s much more macabre and not divine in origin. Hell, considering the place it falls down to, it probably falls right from Satan’s asshole.
This surreal corpse weather even has its own weather phenomena, most importantly the so-called “whalefalls”, which is basically a whale’s corpse slowly sinking to the seafloor. Whalefalls always involve the nastiest incarnations of pure NOPE dogpiling the carcass and gorging themselves on it until they can’t even move. Literally. The feasters include two-meter-long worms that sweat acid, cat-sized prehistoric isopods able to starve for five years, and bone-eating worms. The legions upon legions of sea pigs swarming these whalefalls look positively tame by comparison.
Speaking of legions, sea pigs have a tendency to gather into hundreds-strong groups and feed together. They usually all face the same direction, so as to better sniff out the incoming marine snow, but they look more like the minions of Hell marching to conquer the mortal realm.
The other reason they’re not endangered is because they don’t have many natural predators. Sea cucumbers tend to be a gourmet prey item on many predator’s menu, to the point where they have to defend themselves by firing their own guts at the enemy out of their buttholes. A sort of fartillery, if you will.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the shitty puns.
Due to the fact that most deep sea creatures are more preoccupied with contemplating how fucking ugy they are than with hunting, sea pigs are in less danger. So they can get away with more conventional defense tactics, such as being drop-dead poisonous. Their poison, called holothurin, is entirely unique to sea cucumbers, and is so effective that Indo-Pacific peoples are said to poison entire coral reef pools with it, since it can knock out lots of fish at once, which are then free to catch. So yeah, biological weaponry in tribal hunting, pretty much.
So what have we learned today? The sea pig feeds on death, tastes like death and is pretty darn cute. All in all it’s a pretty satisfying sea animal we’ve got here.
I have been fumbling around a little bit over here (posting memes and such) but I have decided to start fresh and create a bit of an encyclopedia of Phanerozoic invertebrates (clearly inspired by @a-dinosaur-a-day). Inverts need a little love as I feel they are somewhat under appreciated. If you have ever thought that anything without a backbone is a little bit boring - I just want to say that I was you once, too. Give me a little bit of time, and I hope to change your mind.
The plan is to cycle through the eras, i.e. Cambrian one day, Ordovician the next, but we will see how well that goes as I currently have far more for the Paleozoic than anything else. I’m therefore going to open up my submissions tab (I’ve never done that before) for if anyone has some ideas as to which critters I should post about.