Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Pink hair

Occasionally, wading in the eelgrass beds, I see what looks like a swirl of delicate pink lace floating by; finery that, bought in a store, would have a label saying, "Handwash only, with care."

They're remarkably resilient; I caught a double handful, tossed it in my bag, threw a couple of heavy clamshells and a tangle of eelgrass on top, and hauled it from pillar to post around the beach. It made the trip home intact, with not a shred torn off.

Filamentous red algae, with mussels, snail, and at least one skeleton shrimp. Can you find it?

Collected fresh like this, before they've been tossed up on the beach and sun-dried, they're home to hundreds of small critters. Skeleton shrimp are usually the first I see, mostly because they keep dancing. Then there are tiny black dots that under the microscope turn out to be baby snails and mussels. And each thread of the lace is surrounded with fine hairs, and a swarm of zippy copepods, and in season, jiggling crab or hermit zoea, trying to dodge the skeleton shrimp.

And then there's the seaweed itself:

Dotted-line branches. With passengers.

Zooming in.

My Encyclopedia tells me that there are maybe 60 or more species of these filamentous red algae along our coast, usually under 6 inches long.

Most are difficult to identify without the aid of a microscope.

Filamentous algae are made up of rows of single cells, in some species forming long threads, in others, branching. Each cell has a double wall; the outer ring contains the pigment that gives it the red colouring, phycoerithrin, masking the clorophyll that converts sunlight to sugars.

These are large cells; think of those snails crawling up and down the threads; multi-celled critters, with a complex anatomy, each total smaller than one cell of the algae.

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