Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Colorful seaweeds

I've spent most of an afternoon, evening and night sorting the photos from 2010; thousands of them! Some are queued in a folder that says "Blog this." Labelled, filed, forgotten, now remembered.

At the front of the line-up are these seaweeds from beaches in the Campbell River area.

At the top of the subtidal zone, just beyond the low tide line, the seaweeds form a tangled jungle, swaying hypnotically in the waves. On some beaches we could wade, carefully, through them; on others, the rocks are hidden and treacherous. It's probably better to stay out. Under and in that jungle, small animals crawl and swim; star- and sun-fish, sea cucumbers, sea slugs, gunnels and spinfish. And crabs, especially kelp crabs, with their long legs and pincers. We neither want to step on them nor be nipped by an angry crab. But we can stand on a safe rock, watching the play of textures and colours: astonishing colours!

(Update: IDs corrected as per Hana's comment.)

Feathery seaweeds, sea lettuce, something red, and rockweed.

Reds, purples, browns, with sea lettuce for contrast, and a purply sheen on the water.

On the flat sands just above this zone, we often found entire fields of these little yellow-green balls, growing to about the size of a meatball.

Round brown bag. Sea cauliflower. That's the name they go by.* &**

A small ball; it's hollow. The seaweed beside it is the stem, but balls this size are often floating free. The walls are sturdy so they hold their shape.

Top side.

Around and under the pier in Campbell River, tall forests of bull kelp wave their fronds in the current, or tangle themselves around the pilings. On the beaches, the kelps are smaller and varied; crinkly, spiky, frilled; green, brown, and red.

Sugar wrack and winged kelp.  Imagine upholstery in those textures.

Two more kinds of kelp.

Red algae, on the left. 

From Hana, in the comments,
Sometimes, red algae can look like kelp if they are brown! The fun way to tell reds from browns is the "boingy-boingy test". If you try to stretch your seaweed, and it is springy (boingy-boingy) then you have a red.
"Boingy-boingy"! I'm sure to remember that!


Even the decaying seaweeds are beautiful. This is a sun-bleached scrap of Turkish towel.

Everyday sea lettuce, with a small crab scrambling over it.

N
Coralline algae (See Hana's comment.)

There was one other that I expected to find in this folder; I must have misfiled it. Watching the waves toss the seaweed around, I saw what appeared to be an oil sheen on some fronds. I was angry; such beautiful, clear water, such abundant life, and someone upstream was spilling oil!

When I got home, browsing through my books, I found the seaweed. It's Iridescent seaweed, or rainbow seaweed. The structure of the cell walls gives it an oily blue gloss. It's nice to be proved wrong, sometimes.

*Update: Christopher Taylor adds, in the comments,
They're also known as 'o(y)ster thieves'. The name apparently derives from cases where they've grown in oyster farms in Europe; as the mature oyster thief becomes larger and filled with gas, it may eventually float away with the oyster attached.

**Update # 2: Hana has more info about these balls.
The round brown balls are known as Leathesia difformis - or "sea cauliflower". The oyster thief seaweeds look really similar, but are actually another species: Colpomenia peregrina. You can tell them apart because the oyster thief has a bit of a thinner texture. Leathesia feels kind of crunchy, where as Colpomenia is a bit more of a sac.
Thanks, Christopher and Hana!  I had wondered about these, but the description in my encyclopedia seemed to match the Colpomenia. However, they did definitely feel "kind of crunchy", which would make them Leathesia.

9 comments:

  1. beautiful! love all the different types.

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  2. Round brown ball. That's the name they go by.

    They're also known as 'oster thieves'. The name apparently derives from cases where they've grown in oyster farms in Europe; as the mature oyster thief becomes larger and filled with gas, it may eventually float away with the oyster attached.

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  3. Thanks, Christopher. I had seen the name, but couldn't figure out how it applied.

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  4. I love the kelp forests of the West Coast... you make me wish I were there instead of on the continent's other coast.

    In the marsh here we often see what looks like an oil slick on the water, which is actually made up of floating diatoms. I've had people ask whether the clumps of marsh mud that wash up on the beach are tar, as well.

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  5. Hi Weeta! Lovely post, thank you! As a phycologist, I'm always delighted when someone else gets excited about the good ol' 'weeds.

    I thought you might like some information about some of your wonderful seaweed finds.
    The round brown balls are known as Leathesia difformis - or "sea cauliflower". The oyster thief seaweeds look really similar, but are actually another species: Colpomenia peregrina. You can tell them apart because the oyster thief has a bit of a thinner texture. Leathesia feels kind of crunchy, where as Colpomenia is a bit more of a sac. In your sugar wrack picture, right in the centre, you have Alaria, the winged kelp - beautiful specimen!

    The "And two more" picture actually has red algae in it. Sometimes, red algae can look like kelp if they are brown! The fun way to tell reds from browns is the "boingy-boingy test". If you try to stretch your seaweed, and it is springy (boingy-boingy) then you have a red.

    Lastly, your gorgonian actually is a seaweed! This is a coralline alga, a type of red alga. Coralline algae store calcium in their cell walls, making them hard and resistant to grazing by snails and other seaweed-munching animals. Coralline algae are usually pink because of the white from the calcium and the red algal pigments.

    If you want to know more about seaweeds, I highly recommend Dr. Louis Druehl's "Pacific Seaweeds" a jolly field guide to seaweeds. It's full of fun facts and great science too.

    Thanks again for the wonderful pictures! Have fun out there.

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  6. 'Oster' was a typo on my part, sorry.

    I had wondered if the last one might be a coralline alga, but wasn't sure enough to say as much. The jointed appearance was the give-away. Another way you'd be able to tell from the specimen would be the texture. Gorgonians and horn corals and such have a chitinous skeleton, so the specimen would be bendy (if fresh) or woody (if dry), not stony like a coralline alga.

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  7. Thanks, Christopher. Woody versus stony; that helps. The dry ones (there were many in that area) were definitely stony.

    So much to learn! And once I've got the identification more or less tamed, a whole new raft of questions will open up. Like, what grows where, and when, and what animals live on it ...

    :)

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  8. wonderful photos and information

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  9. Thanks very much for the photo and ID of Turkish Towel. My husband and I saw this on a beach yesterday (http://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/7530363792/) and were pretty sure it was Turkish towel, but I couldn't account for the red and white coloration, and couldn't find any other photos (like yours) that resembled the one we photographed. The sun bleaching makes sense.

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