Friday, February 23, 2018

Katy in black leather

The afternoon was sunny and warm, although the previous afternoon's snow still had not melted. Favouring my gimpy leg, I chose a beach for walking that is flat, flat, flat. Mostly hard sandstone, covered with rockweed; not too slippery, easy going.

I followed the tide out. At the base of an erratic, I found a community of whelks and chitons.

The erratic as first seen, about 3/4 tide.

Now, half an hour later, the water barely reaches the base. I could walk there.

I am always intrigued by these erratics, left behind by the glaciers eons ago. It's as if they levelled the ground, rolling it like a lawn, leaving only faint scratch marks, and then, on a whim, dropping a great chunk of rock in the middle. This one is about 4 metres tall (13 feet), judging by my height; I could not quite reach the green/yellow mark where the usual high tide covers the stone and barnacles.

At the base of the stone, on the seaward side, several chitons rested in a shallow pool.

I think this is the black leather (Black Katy) chiton, Katharina tunicata.

These grow to about 6 inches long; the ones I saw were around 3 inches. I touched a couple; they are hard and leathery, and were firmly attached to the rock.

Another, almost a blue-black. To get these photos, I had to balance on three points, feet on wobbly stones, leaning a shoulder against the rock on the far side of the pool, hoping not to fall in, trying to keep the camera dry. I'll try again another day, after the tide has fallen more.

Several chitons here, in a deeper spot in the pool. Two black Katies, and two much smaller, nicely patterned chitons, possibly lined chitons, Tonicella lineata. The star is a leather star, Dermasterias limbricata.

More on this beach's residents, tomorrow.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Calculating Eye

I was carrying a plastic bag, collecting plastic trash on the beach.The gulls must have thought it was old bread, or some other unwise addition to their diet; they mobbed me. This one could not be convinced I had nothing for her and followed me, glaring at me and my selfishness.

"Come on, share the goodies!"

After the recent stormy weather, the beach was littered with scraps. I made three trips up to the park to dump my bag of trash in less than half an hour.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

All new colours

Sparkling clean! This grainy hand hermit is freshly molted, and hasn't accumulated any of the usual dust, algae, and random critters that he usually carries.

Pagurus granosimanus

Bright orange,deep red, and yellowy-greens, pale blue spots on his legs.

The shell, of course, is still covered in algae. He discarded the old one, and picked up one a size larger, but not one of the fresh, white ones I brought last week. Sometimes the old jeans are just more comfortable.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Algae-eating art

"Woody", the chiton in my tank, is bigger and prettier every time I see him.

Woody chiton, Mopalia lignosa

The head end is at the top in this photo; the individual plates point towards the head. These chitons get their name, Woody, or M. lignosa, (Latin: lignum = wood.) from the wood-grain pattern of the plates. (They remind me most of Pacific Northwest First Nations' art work or totem pole figures, because of their shape and the thick lip around each plate. Sample: Tlingit carving, Bear panel.)

On the surrounding mantle, each round white dot supports a short, fattish, cream-coloured hair, visible at lower right in the photo at full size. (Click, click)

He is now a bit over two inches long, about 2/3 his maximum size. The dark red patches are an encrusting algae.

He used to stay on the old moon snail shell, but since I added this slab of sandstone to the tank, he has moved there, taking only the occasional walkabout off-site. He eats the green algae and any diatoms he finds.

Friday, February 16, 2018

I aten't ded

... but I've been mostly off-line for a few days.

Hurt my shoulders, tensing up trying to reduce the strain on a gimpy leg, hurt my hands carrying the camera trying to reduce the strain on my shoulders, ended up aching and frozen stiff all over, unable to sit up or to handle the mouse. Meanwhile, the computer crashed and ate all my recently processed photos.

Finally got back on-line, looked at the news briefly- disgusting! Will we never learn? Went back to bed, and pulled the blanket over my head.

But I aten't ded yet!

And I found and rescued a (photo of a) gull with a feather in his beak.

Tyee Spit

Ah, Tyee Spit on a sunny afternoon. Where families and friends amble peacefully along the paths, tiny children test out their training-wheeled bikes, someone throws a ball for a dog, an old man rests on a bench with his eyes closed, soaking in the warmth of the sun. Where a toddler runs towards the beach, yelling, "Crab! Crab! I find a crab!" Where the worst that may happen is a bit of childhood road rash. Or that the crab scuttles away too fast for tiny fingers.

Where the gulls squabble at water's edge, pigeons wheel from playground to hangar roof, and the eagle sits atop the tallest tree, keeping watch.

Why can't everywhere be like this?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018



First of the season

At Tyee Spit

And my snowdrops are up.

The weather is back to the norm; it's raining. But the snowdrops and crocuses are up! Let it rain!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Round trip

Third sunny day in a week!

I went to Salmon Point and walked the beach, looking for whelk shells for my hermits, who are growing out of the last batch. An hour of difficult walking, casting up and down the slope, over loose sand, round rocks, tossed-up logs. On the way back, I took the path through the small forest, looking at moss and lichens, and past Woodhus Slough, keeping an eye out for waterfowl, following side trails to look at the water.

I'm not used to it, after this rainy winter  (and a leg injury, to boot); I came home, dropped the shells into the tank, and limped into the bedroom. Woke up 6 hours later, stiff and sore.

And one of the hermits is wearing his nice, new, white shell!

I saw a flicker, a raft of buffleheads, a flock of Canada geese, mallards sleeping and flying, all far across the fields and the slough. My photos will end up posted on the Facebook page, "The worst bird photographs ever."

Well, maybe you can forgive me a photo of the flicker.

Basking in the sunshine

I took one step closer, and he flew away.

Woodhus Slough, glittering in the unaccustomed sunlight. No birds here.

All in all, totally worth the sore leg!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Friday, February 09, 2018

Blue sky and water, green critter food.

So the rain stopped. The sun showed up. Half unbelieving, I grabbed the camera and went to the beach.

Waves rolling in, long shadows. Looking north towards Oyster Bay.

The wind was brisk, and cold. But out of the shadows, it almost felt like spring. I unzipped my jacket.

Looking south. Although it is still early afternoon, 1:30 PM, the sun is dropping and the shadows are long.

Splash! Waves hitting rock at the northern tip of the breakwater.

Gull on the rocks.

And I got too close. 

I came home with a bag of freshly uprooted eelgrass, brought in by the waves, some Turkish towel, a shred of sea lettuce, two species of rockweed, a length of seersucker kelp, one small fragment of the invasive wire weed, Sargassum muticum, and a few branches of the beautiful sea braid, Plocamium cartilagineum. All except the kelp, which turned out to be past its sell-by date, went into the aquarium. All the hermits, some of the snails, and the crab have been feasting and climbing ever since.

There were also many lumps of some sort of spongy, but firm stuff. It looked sort of like a sponge, but none I had seen before. I collected a fair amount. At home, under a lens, it seems to have no structure, no sponge pores or canals. Under the microscope, it is a loose association of round cells, each seeming to be independent. There is still no structure to be seen.

I can't find it in my books, nor on the web. I'll try to get a decent photo this afternoon.

The hermits and snails loved it; they're working on their second clump now.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Worm caves and oyster grins

I bought an old abalone shell in a garage sale for a buck, 11 years ago. It sat on a shelf until I decided to use it in the aquarium as a hermit crab gym set. It has been very popular. The plumose anemone has chosen it as her permanent base, worms have built their tubes on the back, limpets sleep on the shiny floor, and the hermits still climb to the top to look at the world.

Over these ten years, much of the shell has dissolved into the water, and assorted algae have coated the rough outer side, creating interesting patterns. And colonies of tiny worms have made their homes in the pores, by now eroded into deep caves.

Outer rim of abalone shell, with algae and worms

Abalone shell, before being tanked, 2007. The outer shell is porous. The barnacle and tubeworm remains dissolved long ago.

The oyster, picked up on the beach after a storm, has been here only a few months. The shell was scrubbed white by wind and waves, but tank algae are at work here, too. And the oyster, not in the least fazed, is grinning.

Toothy grins

The oyster is a filter feeder, and pumps large volumes of water in, over the gills, where edibles are caught in mucus and moved down to the mouth.  What looks like teeth in those smiles are tiny tentacles. The gills are just behind them, sometimes visible when the oyster opens a bit wider.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Spring fever already

I turned over an oyster in my tank and crashed an amphipod party.

It's orgy season!

The amphipods scattered, but most of them were moving slowly because they were travelling in pairs. The male chooses a female and holds onto her until she's ready to mate, sometimes for a week. In this photo, I caught 4 couples and one lonely singleton.

Spring is on its way; even in my tank, inside, away from the tides and disrupted by on-again-off-again lighting, the critters know it. Several of the male hermit crabs are dragging around their chosen mates, too. And the anemones are multiplying like rabbits.

Pink-tipped green anemone, "Stretch", splitting in two.

Most of these anemones elongate to about twice their width, and then separate, but this one is ambitious and has spent several days stretching out to start the clone at a good distance from the parent. I just went to measure it; from one end to the other, it's 7 cm. And now the bridge between is shredding. By this afternoon, the youngster will set off on his own path.

This species of anemone is capable of reproducing both sexually and asexually. As adults, A. elegantissima release gametes into the water that join to form genetically unique individuals that settle on intertidal rock. This genetically distinct individual can then proliferate through binary fission. (Wikipedia, Aggregating anemone)

"Stretch" may be slightly confused as to the time of year; sexual reproduction starts in February, but the resulting gametes are usually released in summer. However, two weeks ago, before starting the stretching exercises, this anemone released a whitish cloud from its mouth. There's a YouTube video showing a spawning anemone here; this is what "Stretch" was doing.

These anemones, Anthopleura elegantissima, are either male or female (many others are hermaphrodites) and groups that have reproduced by splitting are clones, all the same sex. So spawning in my tank may be a wasted effort; the whole colony may be all males. Or females. (The only way I could know for sure would be to break the anemone off its site and look for sex organs; the female's are brownish pink, and the male's are yellowish white.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

High flyer

The ocean surface temperature along the east coast of Vancouver Island varies from about 6.5 degrees Celsius in February to a maximum of approximately 13.5 in August, our hottest month. (That's 45 Fahrenheit to 55 F.) My aquarium sits in a warmish room, with an average temperature of 20 to 21 degrees Celsius in the winter, more in summer. It's too hot for my intertidal invertebrates here, even in midwinter.

I keep everybody happy and healthy by adding ice to the tank. I freeze tank water in yogurt containers that have never seen detergent (which will poison some of the animals) and exchange them for the ones floating at the top of the tank several times a day. It's not pretty, but it works.

This morning, when I went to change the ice, I found a naked hermit riding the yogurt container. How he got up there, I don't know; he can't swim.

Hairy hermit, freshly molted.

When hermit crabs molt, they have to leave their shell. Often it won't fit any more when the molt is finished; all their growing happens in those few minutes between a molt and the hardening of their new skin.

They're vulnerable in this situation. Crabs aim for that juicy, curly abdomen. Fish, too. Luckily, there are no fish in this tank, but there's one big, starving (to hear her tell it) green shore crab. So the hermits head for the highest spot they can find to wait out the growing time. This one somehow found his way onto the iceberg.

It was a good choice. He'd already been damaged; he's missing his main defensive weapon, the large pincer on his right side. He uses the smaller one on the left to manipulate his food.

To replace the ice, then, I removed the yogurt container carefully, hermit and all. I put him into a bowl with a few empty shells for him to choose between whenever he was ready. 5 minutes later, he was dressed and rarin' to go. He had probably been waiting on the floating container for some time, not knowing how to get off without risking dropping into the waiting crab pincers.

With a good shell (according to him: he chose a broken one, well worn and covered with algae. He knows what feels best.) he went safely back into the tank.

(Look back at the photo. Look at the first foot on the upper left. It's not usually apparent that the legs are basically transparent, but here you can see the design on the yogurt container showing through.)

Monday, February 05, 2018


Chia, having subdued the vicious throw rug, remains alert. The twilight is fraught with dangers!

On guard, 24/7

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Fading to yellow

Pink-tipped green anemone in winter colours.

Anthopleura elegantissima

Out on the shore, these anemones are green, with pink or very pink tips. In the tank, and especially over winter, they gradually lose the green algae that give them their colour. These algae need sunlight to grow. Indoors, there are only a few hours of filtered sunlight; in winter, in my apartment, they get only artificial light.

Most are olive to bright green (depending on the species of algal symbionts present) with tentacles tipped in pink. Individuals that live in microhabitats that are deficient in photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), such as under docks or in caves, lack symbionts and are pale yellow to white in color. (Wikipedia)

The anemones on our shores are a very bright green, unless they're hiding under deep rock overhangs.

Anemones, Edgewater beach, 2009

From a paper referenced in this Wikipedia post: " ... anemones display phototactic behavior and may  move to regions of the cave that produce the best physiological fit between host and symbiont species." (David Secord, 2005)

This may possibly hint at the reason all of the pink-tipped green anemones in my tank congregate along the front wall, where the light is stronger.

The internal algae, busily converting sunlight and carbon to carbohydrates, provide oxygen to the anemone hosts as a by-product. Without this, the anemones survive, but do not reproduce as quickly. However, in my tank, a year ago, there were 5 of these anemones. I counted this afternoon; now there are 19, and one is busy splitting in two, to make it 20.

Morning sunlight should be arriving at their window sometime in April. If it's strong enough (I may re-direct it with a mirror to be sure), some of the green colour may return.

Looking again at the first photo, I am reminded that a powdery green algae grows everywhere in the tank, on walls, shells, even on hermit crab carapaces. But not inside the anemones; it's obviously not the correct species. And it likes artificial light.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Little Brother worm

When I changed the water and cleaned the aquarium yesterday, I separated out the empty snail shells, to look them over later. Maybe they weren't as empty as they looked, I thought.

Most of them turned out to be temporary hideouts for amphipods. One held a baby anemone, so small I needed the microscope to identify it. A few had been colonized by the rose seaweed. And one is home to a curious polychaete.

Side view, showing his fleshy palps and many tentacles. The shell is about 1 cm across. The worm has made himself a tube for protection.

Curious critter; if I jostled the shell, or even the tray, he instantly retreated into the shell, but less than a minute later, there he was again, reaching out, casting about, looking this way and that. Curious, or hungry.

Top view, showing his bristly paddle feet, one pair per body segment. He has four eyes, but in this photo, only two are visible.

Earlier, sifting the sand, I had carefully removed another worm, maybe the same species, but this one is now 6 inches long. They're fragile, out of their protective coverings, so I make sure they're safe before I wash the sand. And then, they're the first critters to be replaced once the tank is clean; within seconds they bury themselves in the sand, not to be seen again until next cleanup.

Little Brother's shell went back into the tank, gently buried under a fingertip's depth of sand. I found two more in the tray; tiny red hairs, identifiable as bristle worms only under the microscope.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Deep throat

I scrubbed the glass aquarium wall, but left a few faint spots of algae. A mud snail, looking for a meal, had to open wide to scrape off the leftovers.

Mud snail, Batillaria attramentaria, and copepods.

Looking closely, down his throat, a few ridges are visible. As far as I can tell, this is the radula, the file-like ribbon that peels his food off the surfaces where it grows.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

4-inch ecosystem

Inverterbrate aquarium photos usually have to be cropped and cleaned. From an inch or two away, the depth of field leaves most of the photo a blur, and the tiny swimmers in the water obscure the view. In today's photo, I cropped only the top 1/3, which was only bubbly water, and erased only a couple of scratches on the outside of the glass, which were not part of the animals' environment.

About 4 inches of aquarium front.

The spots in the water are bubbles from the pump and the air stone (the big blobs and the hard-looking rods), fragments of algae looking for a place to settle down, copepods (mostly tiny streaks in random directions) and leftover shrimp pellet fragments (these will feed the smaller anemones and the barnacles).

Animals present: two hairy hermits, eight pink-tipped green anemones (which look yellow under artificial light), three Asian mud snails (Batillaria attramentaria), one channeled dogwinkle (Nucella canaliculata), one limpet, barnacles (two species), several unidentifiable tentacles or worms or edges of half-hidden critters; some of these may be tiny orange-striped green anemones. A vague brownish shadow in the background, upper left, is the edge of the plumose anemone. The oyster shell on the right harbours a large flatworm on its underside. In the blurry sand and broken shells in front, a couple of amphipods blend in completely until they move.

The Japanese nassa snails have hidden themselves underneath the sand again.

Plants: bright green algae that grows on every surface, including the glass, pink encrusting algae on the oyster shell and the hermit's adopted shells, and - look! _ on the hairs on the hermit legs, orange algae (on the oyster and barnacle shells). On the rock in centre front, a deep red encrusting algae, probably the winter stage of Turkish washcloth (Mastocarpus papillatus). In back, the enthusiastic Rose seaweed (Rhodymenia californica), something orange, probably bits of leftover kelp holdfast, glimpses of eelgrass and sea lettuce.

This is why I keep a stool pulled up so that I can sit with my nose to the glass.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Following his nose

The Japanese nassa snails that live in my aquarium spend most of their days plowing through the sand at the bottom; I see them only when I clean the tank and sift the sand. But at times, for reasons of their own, they stop digging and head for higher ground. (At the moment, there are four climbing the walls.) Spring fever? Maybe, because they find nothing to eat up there; they're not algae eaters.

Japanese nassa, Nassarius fraterculus, siphon extended, hurrying.

Nassa snails have sturdy sensory siphons. Sometimes they bury themselves in the sand, with only the siphons poking out, waiting for food. Travelling, they follow their nosessiphons, sniffing the water for interesting goodies. Or maybe, for potential mates.

Yesterday, one of the climbers was on top of the moon snail shell, surveying the territory from there.

The eyes are small and inefficient. The sensitive siphon makes up for the lack.

A few seconds after I took this photo, a hermit crab ran up from behind. As soon as she touched the snail's shell, it retracted the siphon, then the body, and clamped itself down on the moon snail.

"Who's that?" 10 seconds later; siphon half-way down. Hermit barely visible in back.

The mud snails, algae eaters, have an oval opening, with a slight notch at both ends. These Nassas, carnivorous scavengers, have to travel longer distances to find food, hence the need for a sensitive water taster. The shell mouth has a separate notch or canal at the front end, to support and protect the siphon, which is the first thing retracted in case of danger; a siphonless Nassa will starve to death quickly.

Parts of a carnivorous marine snail. (From U. of Iowa.)

Comparative shell openings. J. Nassa in the centre. L to R: 3 mud snails, Battillaria attramentaria; unidentified whelk; 3 periwinkles. The whelk and the Nassa have siphon canals and fat lips. And siphons, of course. 2009 photo.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Blocky eyes

The hermit crabs in my aquarium carry their eyes on stalks. The eye itself is round, with a pale stripe across the centre, and the circular lens in the stripe.

Hairy hermit, Pagurus hirsutiusculus.

Tonight, while I tried to photograph a snail eating algae, trying to get a glimpse of its radula, a small hermit photobombed the scene. Maybe it's the angle: the hermit is above me, staring straight down at the flashing light that had attracted her attention: the whole eye is dark, and looks rectangular. I'd never seen one like that before.

"My turn! Forget that boring, slowpoke snail!"

She stepped on the snail's head, and he (the snail) promptly retreated into the shell. End of photo op.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

And tomorrow, rain

It's snowing again. A bit of variety after the eternal rain.

4:50 AM, from the shelter of my carport.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Bright eyed and thirsty

I'm calling him Sidney, after Terry Pratchett's Sidney Lopsides.

This young 6-legged harvestman showed up three mornings in a row in my kitchen sink, getting a drink. Transferred gently to a damp paper towel, he* clung to it for several hours, then went his way. The third day, yesterday, I convinced him to move to a water-loving cyclamen pot. He didn't come back today.

"Water is fine, thanks!"

It's not harvestman season outside; too wet, too cold, too windy. But the pots on my windowsill will be a good place to rest and recuperate.

I am probably too soft-hearted.

*I'm calling him "he", although he could be female. I'm just guessing. Male and female spiders are easily distinguished by the "boxing gloves" on the male's pedipalps, but although harvestmen are also arachnids, they don't follow this pattern. Male harvestmen (The name implies, masculinity, doesn't it?) tend to have longer legs, and a smaller than the female does. The males' colours are brighter, but when the colours are brown and black, there's not much difference.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Signs of spring

I try not to complain. BC winter weather is what it is; fickle, inconstant, but usually wet. Sunny and calm this morning, raining cats and dogs and the occasional fish just as I set out for a long drive on unfamiliar back roads, blowing and howling one moment, the whitecaps out in the channel spraying foam, and so peaceful that every building on the shore reflects cleanly off the water the next.

In a gap between weather extremes, I went to look at the garden. The dandelions and hawkweed are spreading out their new leaves, enthusiastically, as usual. I ripped handfuls out; their roots were already down a full handslength.

But the primulas are blooming, muddily. And my perennial parsley is back. And everywhere, the early blues are sprouting. Bluebells, hyacinths, crocuses, and maybe a tulip or two; at this stage, I can't tell which is which.

Bluebells, I think.

And my pink hydrangea is budding!

No complaints, then. The garden likes the weather, so I will, too.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More oldies - clamshell patterns

I lined up these clamshells on the White Rock beach to look at their designs.

All these were within a few metres of each other. 2009

The designs remind me of ancient Chinese brush paintings, such as this:

Painting by Wang Hui, 1662, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And this one's from 2012, also at White Rock.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mountain peaks on the flats

More oldies dug out of the hard drive. Just because.

Worm poop mountain, Boundary Bay beach.

And barnacle peak, White Rock beach.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Old photo and weather report

I'm still poring over old photos, looking for overlooked goodies. In a photo of sponges and mussels, found on a rock at a very low tide on White Rock beach, I discovered other members of their community.

Sponges, mussels, large plumose anemones (Metridium senile), at least 4 species of seaweed, several tiny snails, and a pretty white whelk. And maybe, down in the shade, another anemone or two.

The wind is still howling and shrieking outside. My windows are rattling; sometimes the raindrops hit so hard they sound like pebbles. It's a very good time to be sitting inside sorting photos.

Chia goes outside to do her business; she doesn't like kitty litter. And she doesn't mind the rain, but tonight, she comes in meowing and swats at me, as if the wind were my fault.

The wind knocked down one of the bird feeders. I went out to refill it and tie it more securely; there were no birds to be seen. I came in, hung up my jacket, and looked out the window. There was a bird on the feeder already. And they were busy at it all afternoon, in spite of the wind. How they manage to steer in this wind, I can't imagine.