The Angriest Golf Ball You Ever Did See

I went for a wander through some tide pools the other day. The flats were shallow and productive, full of algae and little fish, hermit crabs and snails:

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But besides the cowries and more typical-looking snails, I found this guy:

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He may look distinctive in this photo, but he’s only about an inch long and I nearly stepped on him- he’s all the same colors as the surrounding sand and algae. Camouflage is good most of the time, but I’d have felt really bad if his turned out to be too effective.

My feet were in the water, since there were no dry places to step- I really did have to keep an eye out. Especially when I looked into a slightly deeper pool to see a little brown cephalopod scuttling across the bottom, arms tucked underneath- I leaned in and shuffled very carefully closer, hoping for a cuttlefish or a baby reef octopus. The golf ball below blanched and then flashed blue, and I snapped this photo before backing off rather hastily:

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It’s enough to confirm the presence of a blue-ringed octopus, one of the most venomous marine animals in the world. That angry little golf ball that changed direction and charged at my toes contained enough potent and antidote-less venom to kill me in minutes. “Not aggressive,” it says on Wikipedia. Well, as far as I know I didn’t do anything to make it mad. Perhaps it didn’t sleep well, or perhaps it wasn’t expecting any observers of its afternoon hunting and was embarrassed at the state of its hair.

Anyways, it was really blue and quite agitated, so I decided to get out of its way. It turned and headed deeper into its little pool as I watched from a nearby rocky perch, so it may not have been aimed at me anyways… I really wasn’t terribly interested in finding out for sure.

Fun fact: every photo in this post has, as its subject, a member of the phylum Mollusca. Shelled, invertebrate, mantled- each cephalopod or gastropod (brain-foot or stomach-foot, respectively) here descends from a hypothetical limpet-like ancestor. Evolution is neat! And just because I love evolution so much, here is a bonus sea hare, about the length of my hand:

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Hooray! Go explore something!

-AgentRedSquirrel

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Puddles and Lil’ Booger

Puddles is what we have decided to name our new friend. He’s not as dear to me as Nacho (see one of my posts from Monteverde for the story of Nacho the Science Dog) and he was not as lingering a companion, but Puddles is very beautiful nonetheless.

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See why we call him Puddles? Tyler found him under a giant lump of dead coral, and we coaxed him into one of our sampling buckets to get a better look at him. He was obviously unhappy, so we didn’t hold on to him for too long- just long enough to watch him change from bright turquoise to green and red and back again.

Puddles might have been the reason we didn’t find any mantis shrimp in that section of the beach, though- octopuses are listed as major predators of the formidable mantis shrimp. Seems like “squishy” would not be the best strategy for tackling the smashers and spearers of the stomatopod world, but cephalopods are supposed to be very smart, so maybe there are some secret plans and clever tricks involved…

I still doubted, however, that this little lady could take on our mantis shrimp:

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BABY OCTOPUS

 

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She was just so weensy, and so floppy that it wasn’t, in fact, difficult to imagine that Tyler had just sneezed her right out. Hence her nickname, Booger.

When they’re that young, it’s hard to ID them to species, but she (it, he, I don’t really know…) is likely the same type of Caribbean Reef Octopus as Puddles. Which is good, because that species is not known to be venomous, and this little Booger bit Tyler quite hard with her teeny little beak. 

Booger actually managed to escape captivity all by herself, but not before I got this shot of her post-battle pose:

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If I were a witch (I totally am not, please do not be suspicious in any way because IT’S NOT TRUE I SWEAR) my familiar would definitely be an octopus. The inconvenience of carrying around a bucket of seawater would be far outweighed by the awesomeness of their square pupils, the wiggliness and versatility of their soft bodies and extendo-sucker-arms, and the constant reminder of the Beatles’ song “Octopus’ Garden,” which I have loved since I was small. Plus according to Zak, one of our TAs, they’re GREAT conversationalists.

 

Squidnappers and Octopossies: the Wild Wild Wet

Okay, that title might have been a bit too much, but science puns are fun! Science! Yay?

Anyways, the point is that I went on a night snorkel last night and it was AWESOME. Little tiny blinky lights in the seagrass, the moon full and high above the water, the reef dark and looming ahead of us… We (three of us, me, Molly, and Ellen) swam out into the darkness with our little dive torches, ready to explore the now-familiar reef in front of the LCRC in a completely unfamiliar light (or lack thereof, as it were).

It’s a different place after dark. Coral polyps compete with anemones (invisible or hidden during the day) for the title of “wiggliest sessile animal in these parts here’bouts” and giant spiny lobsters assure one another that the reef is certainly not big enough for all of them. Meanwhile, Billy the Squid is sneaking up from behind with glowing spots and tentacles drawn:

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As the parrotfishes all slept in their warm mucus blankies, the predators were on the prowl, thieving and snatching and generally causing very quiet but very effective mayhem on anything unlucky enough to get caught out after the curfew set by the sun. This octopus is bank robber #1 out on this reef, reaching tentacles into reef hidey-holes and swapping disguises to blend in with the background and escape notice from the good townsfolk of the reef.

IMG_9406The water is dark and the visibility is limited- but the rewards are great for those who dare to venture forth to the frontier of night. Invertebrates galore, bioluminescence, and all kinds of stealthy hunters and skittish prey… never a dull time out in the wild, wild wet.