Fun Science FRIEDay – Underwater World of Pollination

Pollination. I think most people understand why this is important (or maybe I should say, I hope). To put it simply, the process of pollination facilitates reproduction in plants by transferring pollen from one plant to another. In the terrestrial world, this can be mediated by physical forcing (e.g., wind) or by animals (e.g., insects) – and its why people are freaking out about the loss of bees due to pesticides (because they are a primary pollinator), but I digress. Until relatively recently, pollination by animals was not thought to occur in the ocean. Unlike on land, where most flowering plants rely on creatures to carry pollen, plant reproduction in an aquatic world was surmised to rely exclusively on currents and tides. However, a team of researchers led by marine biologist Brigitta van Tussenbroek revoked the long standing paradigm that pollen in the sea is transported only by water, discovering and documenting the process of zoobenthophilous pollination (a term they coined).

Gamarid amphipod feeding on pollen or mucilage of a male flower of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum at night. (Photo credit: Tussenbroek et al. 2012)

Gamarid amphipod feeding on pollen of a male
flower of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum at night. (Photo credit: Tussenbroek et al. 2012)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Drug Resistant Bacteria, The Movie

In today’s FSF we bring you both a jaw dropping, and somewhat terrifying cinematic visualization of how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, and overtime can become super bugs immune to any antibiotic treatment.  A concise and detailed description is presented below:

This stunning video of evolution in action captures how bacteria with no resistance to an antibiotic can in a very short time become resistant to concentrations of more than a thousand times the initial concentration. Other scientists have documented this phenomenon before, but never with such vivid clarity as that provided by Michael Bay and Roy Kishony of Harvard University.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Shark Daycare

A great white shark nursery in the North Atlantic that was discovered in 1985 south of Cape Cod in the waters off Montauk, New York  has received renewed attention due to the increased activity of white sharks off cape cod in recent years. The nursery was first documented in 1985 by Casey and Pratt who deduced the presence of a nursery based on the number of juvenile sightings and landings in the area. This work was followed up recently  by OCEARCH (an organization dedicated to generating scientific data related to tracking/telemetry and biological studies of keystone marine species such as great white sharks), which tagged and tracked nine infant great whites to the nursery, located a few miles off Montauk.

Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com

Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_shark.jpg

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_shark.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fun Science FRIEDay – The worlds largest sponge.

Recently a team of scientists on a deep sea expedition in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard the R/V Okeanos Explorer made a monumental discovery… pun intended. While exploring the depths of the seafloor in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, with their remotely operated vehicles (ROV) Seirios and Deep Discover, they discovered and documented the largest sponge ever observed on this planet… or any planet for that matter.

Large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: NOAA's Office of Exploration and Research)

Large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research)

Lateral view of a large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo credit: NOAA's Office of Exploration and Research)

Lateral view of a large hexactinellid sponge found in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
(Photo credit: NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seagull swallowed by tuna

The tuna that ate a seagull, and other bird swallowing marine megafauna

Once again, the internet is in a fervour over a rarely documented, but pretty common, animal interaction.  The video below shows fishermen at a pier in L’Escala, Spain tossing small fish to a tuna.  A nearby seagull went for the same fish and was ingested by the tuna, much to everyone’s surprise.  Naturally, the tuna spat out the seagull, luckily uninjured, and it flew away to dive another day:

Seabirds are often ingested by marine megafauna since both groups forage in the same areas, often on the exact same prey.  This video was an artificial overlap of foraging animals created by the people tossing fish from the pier, but in natural settings where two animals feed on the same prey and one of those animals is considerably larger than the other, the smaller animal faces a pretty high risk of being swallowed.

This is especially true for lunge-feeding whales that take in large mouthfuls of fish, water, and anything else at the surface.  Haynes et al. identified three Glaucous-winged gulls in the fecal remains of foraging humpback whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska.  The birds were mostly intact, suggesting that humpback whales aren’t capable of digesting birds well (we’ve all been there).

All of the examples above are accidental ingestion, but some marine animals deliberately target birds for food, too.  Tiger sharks seasonally aggregate at the Hawaiian Islands of French Frigate Shoals to forage on albatross fledglings.  Fledglings are fat, slow, and naïve, making them easy and profitable prey.  This foraging strategy is common among sharks and is the same reason white sharks target seal colonies during South African winters.

The alien giant catfish of the river Tarn in southwestern France is an aquatic example.  They have also acquired a taste for feathered food and learned to ambush aloof pigeons, with a success rate of 28%:

Although not mega- megafauna, the Hilaire’s Side-necked turtles of Brazil have been documented consuming pigeons in a scene that honestly rivals Jaws.  Who’s slow now? (Edit: Thanks to @mattkeevil for the reference!)

Marine and aquatic animals do indeed eat birds, accidentally and deliberately.  Exactly how regularly this happens is unknown, but this antipodean pairing is essentially the chocolate shake and fries of the natural world.  The bottom line is, if you are in the same space where something bigger than you is foraging, you might get swallowed.  Birds, and humans, alike:

Fun Science FRIEDay – Osprey Version of the Truman Show #ospreycam

Do you ever get that feeling that you are being watched? I imagine that is what the ospreys at the nesting platform at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) must feel, if they notice at all. These birds have a camera that is trained on their nest 24/7 during the osprey breeding season (generally from mid-March to October).

Osprey in a nest on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Photo Credit: VIMS)

Osprey in a nest on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Photo Credit: VIMS)

Ospreys are unique among North American raptors for their diet of live fish and ability to dive into the water to catch them. As a result of their life history strategies, osprey nests occur around nearly any body of water: saltmarshes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, estuaries, and even coral reefs. The placement of OspreyCam at VIMS provides us with an around-the-clock window into the world and “family” dynamics of these amazing birds. We are able to watch as a mating pair cohabit their nest and use it to rear their young. As you can imagine, once the chickies hatch, things get quite interesting in the osprey nest!

Checkout the addictive live feed below, and happy FSF!!

Fun Science FRIEDay – Dude, I’m Glowing!

Happy Fun Science FRIEDay! After a brief hiatus, due to life, hoping this installment represents the regular…err, semi-regular, occurrence of FSF.

So this hit the interwebs pretty big earlier this week, the first documented reptile to glow. That honor belongs to the Hawksbill a sea turtle, observed first by  David Gruber, of City University of New York.

Fluorescing hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo credit: David Gruber, of City University of New York)

Fluorescing hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo credit: David Gruber, of City University of New York)

Lets get one thing out of the way before we delve into the glowing version of Crusher (for my finding Nemo aficionados). The sea turtle is not glowing, its fluorescing… there is a difference. In the ocean lots of organisms fluoresce at longer wavelengths (green, yellow, red) in response to shorter wavelengths (UV, blue, violet). It is a typical property of many biological materials and is noticeable if viewed through restrictive long pass filters, as is the case here.

That being said, documenting a sea turtle fluorescing is still pretty freaking cool! Like many scientific discoveries this was totally by happenstance. David was in the Solomon Islands to film biofluorescence in small sharks and coral reefs. And during his observations of sharks and corals glowing Crusher just swims by like, “Dude, I’m all glowing and stuff.”

Checkout the awesome video of it below, and Happy FSF!

 

 

Fun Science FRIEDay – “A cold-water fish with a warm heart!”

OPAH, OPAH, OPAH!

Recently scientists at NOAA’s South West Fisheries Science Center made a stunning discovery, the worlds first known warm-blooded fish, the moonfish, opah  (Lampris guttatus). Until this recent discovery all fish were considered cold-blooded ectotherms – allowing their body temperature to fluctuate with the change in ambient ocean temperature. However, opah’s are different, in that these largely solitary fish regulate their internal body temperature above the ambient temperature of their environment like mammals and birds (other warm-blooded animals).

Opah off the coast of southern California. (Photo credit: Ralph Pace Photography)

Opah off the coast of southern California. (Photo credit: Ralph Pace Photography)

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Happy Fun Science FRIEDay – Glass Frogs

Raise your hand if you realized there were frogs so translucent you could see their innards? Ok if you actually raised your hand while reading this, kudos, but put it down now. Glass frogs are tiny green organisms whos organs are visible from their underside given the translucent nature of their bellies. There were 148 species of glass frogs, all of which reside in Central and South America.  Well make that 149 species of glass frogs now! Recently a new species of glass frog, Hyalinobatrachium dianae, was discovered in in the forested mountains of eastern Costa Rica.

A new species of glass frog named Hyalinobatrachium dianae. (Photo credit: Brian Kubicki)

A new species of glass frog named Hyalinobatrachium dianae. (Photo credit: Brian Kubicki)

The frog is nocturnal and stands out from other glass frogs because of its long, thin feet and black-and-white eyes. This new species also boasts a distinct call, which frogs produce to attract females. This frogs call is a long tiny whistle similar to the noise produced by insects, which helps explain why this frog went unidentified for so long.

Glass frogs are tanslucent, so their organs are visible. (Photo credit: Brian Kubicki)

Glass frogs are tanslucent, so their organs are visible.
(Photo credit: Brian Kubicki)

You can view this study in its entirety at the journal of Zootaxa.

 

Happy FSF!

Fun Science FRIEDay – Weaponized Insulin

Most people have heard of cone snails. They are the genus of venomous marine snails that shoot a poisonous “dart” (hypodermic-like modified radula tooth attached to a venom gland) to attack and paralyze their prey before feeding on it. Smaller cone snails primarily hunt and prey on marine worms, while the larger ones hunt fish. To humans the sting of a smaller cone snail is similar to that of a bee, but contact with larger cone snails can be fatal! Basically they are the badasses of the snail world.

Cone snails are venomous! Their toxin is estimated to be 1,000 times more powerful than morphine. (Photo credit: http://www.siart.karoo.net)

Cone snails are venomous! Their toxin is estimated to be 1,000 times more powerful than morphine. (Photo credit: http://www.siart.karoo.net)

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