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Archive for the ‘mollusks i’ve met’ Category

So I’m back from Maui and fully recovered. I’ve gone through the grieving process that I’m not there any more. So now is the time to report on the mollusks that I saw.

The short version: I didn’t see much in the way of mollusks.

The longer version: I saw no terrestrial mollusks. The first day I was there my husband pointed out a crushed snail shell in a parking lot that was rather huge. I’m guessing that might have been something invasive, like a giant African land snail. It didn’t strike me as particularly photogenic at the time, so I don’t have a photo of that for you.

On the road to Hana, we stopped at Ke’anae Beach Park, a point with waves crashing onto lava rocks dramatically. The tide was out-ish, so there were some tidepools to inspect, much to my delight. A couple of little snail sightings happened then.

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Other than that, I spent a lot of time snorkeling, which was great. The only mollusk I saw while snorkeling was this cowrie at the Molokini Crater. Let me tell you, this thing was huge. I’d estimate along the long axis it was maybe 15cm. Definitely my best mollusk sighting of the week.

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That was it. I realize lots of the mollusks that live in Hawaii are pretty small, but I also didn’t see any seashells on any of the beaches I visited.

So here’s the weird thing: Why is there such a surfeit of seashell atrocities being sold in Hawaii when there seems to be a paucity of (visible) shells in actual nature? It’s like buying souvenirs from a place somebody else imagined. Sounds like an Italo Calvino short story to me.

My next post will be all of the non-mollusk nature I saw. I had much better luck on that front, as you’ll soon see!

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It’s not too glamorous, but hey. When you live in New York City, wildlife that isn’t pigeons, cockroaches, and rats is a welcome sight.

I chaperoned a high school field trip to the wilds of New Jersey in the spring, during which there was lots of rock flipping and rooting around in the wilderness for different kinds of animals. We did pretty well, especially on the arthropod front: crayfish, isopods, centipedes, all sorts of bugs and spiders. On the mollusk front, there was only one find: I turned up a slug!

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I love how you can just see its little tentacles there. So cute.
I was thinking of this slug because I am currently reading (for the first time, if you can believe it) Watership Down, and I like that the hedgehogs sing to the moon to make the slugs come out:

O Slug-a-Moon, O Slug-a-Moon,
O grant thy faithful hedgehog’s boon!

I think I’ll sing this to the moon on the eve of International Rock Flipping Day this year, in hopes that I find mollusks and not earwigs.

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So last time I just focused on the chitons, but there were many other very cool creatures to be seen at Golden Gardens during the minus tide on Memorial Day.

One of the very first things we saw as we walked toward where the shore birds were swooping (including one bald eagle!) was a sunflower sea star. I’ve never seen one of these before in the wild, so it was clearly already a good day.

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Another thing we saw a lot of were sand collars from moon snails. I’d never seen one of these either, believe it or not. Moon snails are vicious predators, and in fact In one of my chiton photos there’s a moon snail victim in the frame. You can tell from the circular hole drilled into the shell by the moon snail’s radula.

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Another extremely common sight were clam siphons sticking up out of the sand. I don’t know what kind of clams they were–maybe butter clams?– but it was funny to see them shoot jets of water into the air every once in a while. There were enough of them on the beach that you didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds to see one in your periferal vision. Kind of like watching a meteor shower.

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The undersides of boulders are good places to find things. A bunch of ocher stars are clinging to this one here.

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Under this boulder were a bunch of sea cucumbers. I’ve seen sea cucumbers while snorkeling in Alaksa, but the guides dove down to retrieve them from the sea floor. These are the first ever sea cucumbers spotted by mine own eyes. Also a lovely anemone in the photo.

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This rock is just covered in anemones. In my mind, one anemone got some delusions of grandeur and just cloned the crap out of itself.

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There were also lots of barnacle-encrusted boulders. Here’s one with a passing train in the background.

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And to bring things back to mollusks, here’s a little snail clinging onto a boulder. It’s a funny sensation to touch a shell to see if it still has something alive inside and feel it grip onto the rock. This dude wasn’t going to budge.

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All in all, a very good outing. I have to keep an eye on the tides here in New York and check out what’s to be seen in my own neck of the woods. A goal of mine is to see a horseshoe crab, another of my favorite invertebrates, along the water under the Brooklyn Bridge.

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I was in Seattle over Memorial Day weekend for a wedding, and there was a minus tide Monday morning. I couldn’t resist a chance to see some of the creatures that live in this most beloved habitat of mine. Seattle has a few spots to go tidepooling, but the one closest to where I was staying is Golden Gardens Park. The tide wasn’t that low, so conditions weren’t ideal, but my husband and I saw a bunch of cool stuff nonetheless, including some of my favorite mollusks, chitons! Here’s one of the ones we saw.

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I’m going to focus on chitons in this post because there’s some cool chiton news as of late: Chiton eyes! The extra cool thing: they are made of rock, aragonite in particular. They also seem to do more than just sense light and dark: in laboratory conditions, it seemed the chitons can perhaps tell the difference between threatening darkness from a predator’s approach as opposed to darkness caused by a cloud momentarily blotting out the sun. Also cool is that the eyes work either underwater or in air. That seems pretty handy if you happen to be living in the intertidal zone.

Chitons are not the only creatures with rock eyes. Trilobites had rock eyes too. Trilobite eyes were also made of calcium carbonate crystals, but a different crystal formation, namely calcite. Chitons are the first organisms discovered to have aragonite for their rock eyes.

The chitons we saw were mossy chitons, which I believe don’t have eyes, but they fascinating anyway. Here’s another that we saw.

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I’m back from epic holiday travels, where I spent some amount of time in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. I drove through five of those states on the same day, in fact.

I was so fortunate during this time to visit two aquariums! I have been to both before, but I hadn’t been to the National Aquarium in Baltimore since I was but a wee lass, and I visited the New England Aquarium several times in childhood and again as an undergrad.

First up was the National Aquarium. I love that it has this big awesome tank with rays and sharks and a three-legged sea turtle hanging out in it. Very mesmerizing. As for mollusks, they had a young-ish Pacific Giant Octopus and many an unlabeled snail-type creature. I was rather pleased with myself that I correctly identified the octopus as “rather small” when the explainer standing by told me it was indeed a young ‘un. There were also chambered nautiluses hovering ominously.

The most alarming and new-to-me thing I saw there was the sea robin. Sea robins have these spines that have separated from the pectoral fins to become creepy leg-like appendages. It was…Das Unheimliche. Watch the video, if you dare.

The other cool invertebrate thing at the National Aquarium was the jellyfish exhibit. I’ve seen jellyfish exhibits before, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and at the aquarium in the Mall of America (yes I went to the Mall of America; no judging), but I think this is the first time I’ve seen Upside Down Jellyfish. They are a lot of fun to watch, somehow.

Next up, my adventures at the New England Aquarium!

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Happy Cephalopod Awareness Days! For more about the history, see this post on the Cephalopodiatrist. Today is Octopus Day. For today I wrote a teensy poem and I’ll share this photo of a North Pacific Giant Octopus I saw at the Seattle Aquarium. I don’t know if it’s the geometry of the enclosure or if that octopus was just in a particularly feisty mood, but it was by far the most active octopus I’ve ever seen in captivity.

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And now, my Octopoem

The tips of the tentacle could define
the vertices of a cube
a fleeting octagon
an umbrella that furls and unfurls,
furls and unfurls.

These teardrops are salt but not sorrow.
I can’t say who this flesh belongs to.

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During my recent trip to the American Museum of Natural History, I stumbled upon a section I’d never been to before: The Hall of Mollusks! That’s not really what it’s called. I wish I had written down the name of the exhibition, because it was named after a person. Hopefully next time I’m there it’ll still be there, because it’s not labeled on the floor plan and I only found it accidentally while on my way to the restroom. If you’re ever at AMNH, here’s where to go:

This hallway is primarily a collection of shells, but there are also some models of cephalopods, nudibranchs, slugs, and the like. I think my favorite were the painted tree snails, Polymita picta, whose colors are the very definition of whimsy. My photo is awful and blurry, but here’s a much better one:

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(photo: Incognita Nom de Plume)

The next section of the hallway was devoted to the mollusks of New York state. I got really excited, because it meant I might be able to identify those two kinds of snails whose shells I find in the Harlem Meer. Here those are once more.

And so here are my best guesses for both of these. Chinese mystery snail (how appropriate!) and Three whorled ram’s horn. Check out the AMNH specimens.

They look pretty good to me, but I’m certainly no expert. In any case, I was completely thrilled to find this corridor and have a tentative answer to my question. Museums for the win!

On to other parts of AMNH. I just can’t stay away from the Hall of Biodiversity.


(There’s nothing here for scale, but I do see people sitting inside this shell quite often.)
This octopus hangs from the ceiling, and I sort of love how glowy this photo is.

Of course, no trip to AMNH is complete without saying hello to the blue whale in the Millstein Hall of Ocean Life. When I first lived in New York City in 2002, the hall was closed for renovation. When they reopened it, there was a lot of fanfare– street banners saying “The whale is back!” and the like. I hadn’t seen the whale since I was but a wee girl on one of my family’s semiannual trips to the city. In my memory it was just the hugest thing I had ever seen. I was hesitant about going back, because it can be really disappointing to see something that awed you as a child and lose that sense of awe when you see that it’s nothing spectacular after all. Still, I couldn’t resist going back; AMNH has been such an incredible place for learning and making memories all my life. So, I went to see the whale. And you know what? It’s still just as awe inspiring as it was when I was 6. That’s how big blue whales are. It’ll be a banner day when I see one that’s not made of plaster.

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