Seabits 4.3 (fwd)

From: mike williamson (
Date: Fri Mar 03 2000 - 19:35:35 EST

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 16:49:37 -0500
From: Jen Goebel <>
To: Seabits <>
Subject: Seabits 4.3

New England Aquarium Monthly e-mail Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 3, March 2000
Copyright, New England Aquarium 2000
This month, Seabits brings you an in-depth look at the mothering skills of
the giant Pacific octopus, an aquarist's diary on raising young needlefish
and a special view from one of the oft-neglected members of the aquatic
community, a plant. Behind the scenes here at the New England Aquarium,
things are bustling. Our Coastal Rhythms exhibit closed at the end of
February, giving us about six weeks to demolish our fiberglass coasts and
construct an East African lakeshore community in its place. The spectacular
birds, fish, insects and reptiles of East Africa are waiting in the wings,
ready to take their place in our Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea exhibit in
April. In the meantime, we hope you'll join us for Turtle-Palooza, our day
of turtle festivities on March 11.

In this issue:
  Watery Words
    - Giant Pacific Octopus: No Mother Could Give More
    - Needlefish Diary
    - Pitching In
  Out on the Net
    - Aquatic & Wildlife African Safari
    - New Summer Marine Ecology Program
    - Family Field Trips
  March Calendar
  Contact Us

***** WATERY WORDS ********************************************************

Jay Chamberlin, a policy analyst with a local land trust in northern
California, dons his boots and [grabs a] flashlight after hearing the first
calls of Pacific treefrogs and makes his way to the small pond in his
backyard. There, he will spend the next few minutes cupping his hands
around his ears and counting the frogs he sees and hears. Mr. Chamberlin is
one of hundreds of U.S. citizens who are counting frogs as part of the U.S.
Geological Survey's Frogwatch USA program.

                       -- USGS Press Release
                          For more information about
                          Frogwatch USA, visit their website

***** STORIES *************************************************************
This month's stories
  1) Giant Pacific Octopus: No Mother Could Give More
  2) Needlefish Diary
  3) Pitching In

Special to Seabits by Jim Cosgrove, Chief of Biological Collections at The
Royal British Columbia Museum and renowned giant Pacific octopus biologist.

It is winter and now it is dark. Only the beams of our hand-held lights
illuminate the surroundings as we move forward. I can hear my heart beat;
otherwise the silence is broken only by the sounds of our breathing.

Half an hour ago my wife, Jeannie, and I arrived at Saanich Inlet [British
Columbia, Canada] just as dusk was painting dark shadows on the still
surface of the water. Now the water's surface is 25 meters above our heads
as we near the object of our investigation. This is a trip we have swum
many times in the last six months, but this time we are hoping to be lucky
enough to attend a birth -- a multiple birth actually -- of more than
50,000 baby octopuses.

As we arrive at the den -- a large rock with a number of smaller rocks
surrounding it -- we see a large number of rockfish hovering nearby. They
are hungrily anticipating the emergence of the miniature octopuses -- this
means that the hatch will occur very soon.

Quickly, I move some of the small rocks that the mother octopus has placed
to block the entrance to the den. A flash of my light inside the den
confirms that she is still there and that the eggs have not yet hatched. I
replace the rocks, resealing the den.

The female octopus selected this den more than six months ago, after she
mated. A typical nesting den is in water deeper than 15 meters and has an
internal space large enough for the mother and her eggs. Her first act was
to lay the eggs in the den. Then she gathered rocks from the surrounding
area and sealed all the entrances to prevent predators, such as crabs, sea
stars and large fish, from getting in and destroying the eggs. This
dedicated mother has lived in her den for six or seven months, without
leaving even to feed, tending her eggs and waiting for them to hatch. By
now, she has lost more than 50% of her nesting weight of about 15
kilograms, and she will not recover from this ordeal.

Each female octopus lays about 56,000 eggs. She attaches the eggs, in
groups of about 170, to long strings that she glues to the roof of the den.
Usually, more than 300 strings cover the roof of the den when the nest is

In each of the last six months, I removed one string of eggs and brought it
back to my laboratory where I counted and measured the eggs, and
photographed the various stages of development. The eggs in the last string
I collected actually began hatching in my lab as the water warmed up.

Each egg is a gleaming white tear-drop about the size of a grain of rice.
Inside the egg, the baby octopus will develop. As the yolk sac is consumed
and the octopus grows larger, it is forced to switch ends inside the egg.
Through the shells of the eggs I gathered, I saw the eyes of the developing
babies. I also saw when they reversed position in their eggs, which gave me
clues as to when the hatching would occur.

The babies are spectacular. Measuring 6 mm and weighing just 0.029 grams,
they are perfect miniatures of their parents. They have 8 tiny arms adorned
with suckers. They can change colors instantly and can even produce a
miniature puff of ink when they are disturbed.

A female octopus is as dedicated a parent as you can imagine. For months
she continuously grooms the eggs with her arms, and blows water over them
with her siphon. She protects them from predators and keeps them clean and
free of growths that might suffocate the embryos in them.

Tonight in the waters of Saanich Inlet, it is clear that this female will
not survive much longer. She is much smaller now and her breath comes in
sporadic gasps. Her once brick-red color is now a deathly gray and her skin
shows signs of decay. This is the end of the race that every nesting female
faces. If she has stored enough food energy before laying her eggs, then
she will survive to see all her eggs hatch. Over several nights, when many
of the predators like the rockfish are asleep, she will blow all her babies
out of the den. Like a thin plume of smoke, the juveniles will swim to the
surface where they join the host of plankton for several months.

If the female does not have the necessary energy reserves, then her last
act will be to unseal the den and leave. Often she will only move a meter
or two before she dies. Without the female, the eggs will probably not
hatch. The nest is attacked by sea stars and crabs, and can be completely
destroyed in a matter of days.

As Jeannie and I return to the surface, in the green halo of water
illuminated by our lights, we cannot help but marvel at the complexity of
nature. We promise each other that we will return again tomorrow!
Will they return tomorrow to see the babies hatch? Stay tuned for Part II,
next issue.

Jim Cosgrove is an accomplished diver and has studied octopuses for almost
30 years. This article reprinted with permission from The Royal British
Columbia Museum. Copyright "1995 by The Royal British Columbia Museum. All
rights reserved. Province of British Columbia. Ministry of Small Business,
Tourism and Culture.
Droplet: Technically, an octopus has arms, not tentacles. Arms have suckers
for the full length and are not specialized, except for reproduction.
Tentacles are suckerless, except for the ends, which contain numerous
suckers. Tentacles are highly modified and very extensible structures for
food gathering. Cuttlefish and squid have 8 arms and they also have 2
additional appendages that are the true tentacles.

----- NEEDLEFISH DIARY --------------------------------------------------------
(Derived from original notes taken by aquarists on observing our first
captive-reared needlefish.)
By Sherrie Floyd, Senior Aquarist

JANUARY 1, 1999: In our 200,000-gallon Caribbean Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) we
noticed the needlefish performing elaborate courtship rituals: pointing
beaks to surface, bloating neck area, crossing over each other, swimming
very close, then separating, then joining again. We also observed some
color changes. The tips of the caudal fins and the anal fin turned a bright
orange on several of the animals, and remained that way for several days.
Similar behavior was seen on 2/24/99, 4/20/99 and 4/30/99.

MAY 17, 1999: We spotted a juvenile Atlantic needlefish measuring about 1.5
centimeters at the surface of the GOT. We collected it with a plastic bag
and placed it in a small tank. The temperature in this system typically
ranges between 75 -77 degrees F.

MAY 18-19, 1999: We harvested 23 more juvenile needlefish from the exhibit.
They ranged in size from 1-2 cm. Several of the smaller specimens still had
yolk sacs intact. We introduced two kinds of enriched brine on May 18, a
24-hour-old brine/algae blend, and a 48-hour-old variation. Most of the
needlefish seem to be more interested in the 48-hour brine.

MAY 22, 1999: Feedings have improved. Most staff members are seeing actual
ingestion. With the exception of feedings, they are spending most of their
time on the bottom of the tank. We tried adding floating artificial plants,
but they still did not migrate to the surface. Another odd behavior we
observe is that many of the needlefish will frantically hit the sides of
the tank when we feed them. As a result there are several bent or broken
beaks. The damaged beaks may survive beak morphology changes, but we are
transferring the animals to a darker space.

MAY 25, 1999: Some of the needlefish have almost doubled in size! It
appears that they are not opening beaks to feed, but instead sucking food
in. Many are still hitting the side of tank. Tomorrow we will split the
group into two smaller groups. Most animals are still not swimming at the

MAY 26, 1999: They still prefer the bottom of the tank. We need to
investigate this behavior because most literature suggests that they would
hover at the surface. We found all of them at the surface of the GOT. We
test water quality and DO (dissolved oxygen) daily, and the parameters are
normal. Floating matter did not encourage them to migrate to the surface.
Several are beginning to show blue/green coloration.

JUNE 2, 1999: Most animals have tripled in size.

JUNE 3, 1999: Transferred all juveniles to a 40-gallon tank. Although much
more appropriate for size and number of animals, food density is a problem.
Had to feed twice as much brine to achieve the desired food density.

JUNE 5, 1999: They are feeding consistently and growing. They seem to feed
more aggressively when the flashlight is directed into the tank. It
requires a little extra time, but it is worth it to achieve more productive

JUNE 15, 1999: All 22 specimens are eating adult brine. They still seem to
prefer the bottom of the tank.

JUNE 23, 1999: Behavior since we blackened the bottom of tank has improved.
Although they have not migrated to the surface, they have spread out in the
tank. We cut two windows into the blackened sides to encourage them to move
up in the water column. So far, they seem either unaware or disinterested
in the window areas. Their appetites are huge!

JUNE 28-29, 1999: 14 new juveniles were harvested from the GOT. They range
in size from 1-1.5 cm. We feed this batch the 48-hour brine only.

JULY 10, 1999: In reviewing size measurements from batch 1 and 2, batch 2
grew at a much faster rate than batch 1. Some aggressive behavior has been
observed within the batch 1 group. The larger specimens frequently out
compete the smaller specimens for food. We have been experimenting with
non-live food items, and have found that they will eat a combination of
frozen brine, mysis shrimp and zooplankton.

AUGUST 21, 1999: On July 23, a staff veterinarian examined all needlefish.
On July 31, we moved batch 1 to a larger tank with a current. Due to a lot
of traffic around the new location, they are acting very skittish. A black
tarp helped to minimize the stress level, but their overall behavior is
peculiar: lots of darting and slamming when anyone approaches the tank.

NOVEMBER 27, 1999: Batch 1 never adjusted to the current tank, and we
re-located all 17 surviving needlefish to a public exhibit tank in the
Tropical Gallery. The skittish behavior disappeared almost overnight. But,
we found two needlefish on the floor of the Tropical Gallery. We then took
precautions to "jump proof" the exhibit. To date, there are 15 juvenile
needlefish on exhibit in the Tropical Gallery.

FEBRUARY 28, 2000: With the demolition of the Coastal Rhythms exhibit, we
need to find new space for the needlefish. Luckily, a local research group
is interested in studying needlefish locomotion and morphology, so the
needlefish are off to Harvard! The needlefish will stay at Harvard for the
duration of the study and until they are big enough to be introduced to the
Giant Ocean Tank.

Droplet: A school of 10 needlefish, funny-looking small fish with
needle-like noses, joined our exhibit in 1998. Our GOT is "biology in
action," and, unfortunately, eventually all of these fish became another
fish's lunch, despite our best efforts to keep all the inhabitants stuffed
to the gills, if you'll excuse the expression.

----- PITCHING IN -------------------------------------------------------------
By Julie Anand, Aquarium Intern and Spokesperson for the Plants

A small beetle searches a local bog for a meal. It catches a waft of sweet
fragrance, hones in, and ambles about the scarlet-veined surface of a
plant, enticed by nectar. Where the nectar is most abundant, the beetle
suddenly finds itself perched on the lip of a precipice. Mouth parts still
dripping with nectar, it tumbles down long, pointing hairs until it hits a
pool of water with a splash. Within this bath of rainwater and bacteria, it
struggles, then drowns. Its body is slowly digested to a husk, its
nutrients absorbed by a wily predator, in this case, a purple pitcher plant.

Carnivory is one strategy that plants living on "mean streets," or places
with poor resources, have evolved to supplement the food they produce by
photosynthesis. Many carnivorous plants live in acidic boggy soils, which
are slim on important nutrients like nitrogen. By catching insects, these
plants survive where few other plants can.

How do these plants lure unsuspecting prey? They have evolved all sorts of
booby-trap devices for capturing small animals. Some carnivorous plants,
like pitcher plants, lure in insects with nectar and trap them in their
tall, slippery pitchers. The purple pitcher plant collects rainwater in its
base, where the insects fall, drown and eventually get digested. Others,
like the more familiar venus flytrap, snap their leaf lobes together to
trap their prey.

While most pitchers secrete digestive enzymes like those found in a human
stomach, purple pitchers rely on bacteria in their rainwater baths to
digest prey. These bacteria are probably introduced into a pitcher from the
bodies of insect prey. How's that for irony? Digested by the bacteria in
your own gut. The bacteria have a mutually beneficial relationship with the
pitcher plant, much as our own intestinal flora happily prosper within our
guts, providing a digestive service.

Pitcher plants are fascinating mini-aquatic environments occupied by a
whole community of organisms. At the bottom level, there are bacteria, but
bacteria aren't the only creatures who can survive in the base of a
vase-like pitcher. There are also protozoa (single-celled organisms) and
rotifers (simple animals with guts and teeth) that feed on bacteria and
detritus. At the top of the pitcher food web are several insect larvae,
including the pitcher plant mosquito, copepods (small shrimp-like
crustaceans) and aquatic mites.

Some non-aquatic organisms use the natural cavity of a pitcher as a
protective home. These residents convert pitcher aquariums into terrariums.
A large spider frequently barricades the mouth of a pitcher with cobwebs
and leaf litter, and guards its eggs within. In the southeastern U.S., a
certain wasp habitually plugs the pitcher base with moss, partitions off
cells and deposits in each cell a grasshopper carcass and an egg. And, some
moths depend on pitcher plants as their sole food source. They lay their
eggs on inner pitcher walls. When the caterpillars hatch, they close the
pitcher top by either spinning a web, or by eating a groove at the base of
the hood, which then flops over and dries up. In this sanctuary, the
caterpillars maintain closed feeding chambers, pass the winter as pupa and
eventually emerge. The moths living in purple pitcher plant have red,
yellow and smoky purple wings, which camouflage nicely against the
colorful, veined pitcher walls.

Pitcher plant microcosms illustrate nature's zeal for exploiting niches,
and hint at the intricate complexity of the earth-all this action centered
on a bog plant with strange, veined leaves like large, wrinkly ears!

If they trap and eat bugs, how do pitcher plants get pollinated? Luckily
for the pollinating insects (and for the pitcher plants), their leaf-traps
develop AFTER they bloom.

***** OUT ON THE NET ******************************************************
For additional information, you might want to check out the following
websites. Some of these links represent partners in aquatic conservation
and animal husbandry; others are simply resources we think may help you
enrich your perspective on our watery world. By listing these websites, the
New England Aquarium is not automatically endorsing or verifying the
accuracy of their content unless explicitly stated.

Giant Pacific Octopus


Pitcher Plants

***** Announcements *******************************************************
This month's announcements
  1) Aquatic and Wildlife Safari
  2) New Marine Ecology Summer Program
  3) Family Field Trips

----- AQUATIC & WILDLIFE AFRICAN SAFARI ---------------------------------------
Join us from June 10-23 on a special aquatic safari to celebrate our newest
exhibit Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea. Experience traditional fishing
villages, enjoy an exclusive behind the scenes tour at the National Museums
of Kenya, visit the beautiful Rift Valley lakes as well as the Kakamega
Forest. The trip culminates in a visit to the famed Maasai Mara Game
Reserve to see hundreds of rare mammals and birds from the safety of
comfortable safari vehicles. Accommodations include both deluxe lodges and
tented camps.
Program cost: $4,595 (Round trip airfare from Boston included)
Optional 5-day Post-Extension to Tanzania $1,795 returns June 28, 2000
Contact Jeanne Rankin at (617) 973-5458 or e-mail <> to
register or to receive a free color brochure.

----- NEW MARINE ECOLOGY SUMMER PROGRAM ---------------------------------------
The New England Aquarium has joined with Duxbury Bay Maritime School (DBMS)
to offer marine ecology programs along with the very popular DBMS sailing
programs. To register for any DBMS Marine Ecology Summer Program, please
call the Duxbury Bay Maritime School at (781) 934-7555 or email your
inquiries to <>. You can select from three different
one-week ecology programs, listed below:

Ages 9-12: June 26-30, July 17-21 or August 7-11
Ages 13-14: August 7-11 only
Ages 9-12: July 3-7, July 24-28 or August 14-18
Ages 13-14: August 14-18 only
Ages 9-12: July 10-14, July 31-August 4 or August 21-25
Ages 13-14: August 21 - 25 only

----- FAMILY FIELD TRIPS ------------------------------------------------------
Spring is almost here and that means time to get outdoors! Spend a few
hours with Aquarium educators exploring local habitats and raising your
awareness about environmental issues in your area. Activities will be based
on age and interest so every family member will have a unique learning
experience. All trips begin and end at the site mentioned, and do not
include transportation. Most trips are two hours long, from 10 a.m. to 12
noon. Fees: $6 per person for members, $12 per person for non-members. For
more information, visit our calendar section in our website
<> or call Central Reservations at (617)

For Ages 5+
Seashore Field Trips
Saturday, June 24: Chandler Hovey, Marblehead, MA
Saturday, July 8: Yerrill Beach, Winthrop, MA
Saturday, July 22: Webb State Park, Hingham, MA
Saturday, August 5: Carson Beach, South Boston, MA
Saturday, September 2: Brant Rock, Marshfield, MA
Saturday, October 7: Yerrill Beach, Winthrop, MA
Saturday, October 21: Chandler Hovey, Marblehead, MA

Salt Marsh Field Trips
Saturday, May 27: Chappaquoit Marsh, Falmouth, MA
Saturday, June 10: Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston, MA
Saturday, August 26: Sandwich Town Marsh, Sandwich, MA

Freshwater Field Trips
Saturday, May 20: Lily Pond, Cohasset, MA
Saturday, June 3: Baldpate Pond, Georgetown, MA
Saturday, July 15: Ward's Pond, Brookline, MA
Saturday, September 9: Walden Pond, Concord, MA
Sunday, Sept. 17: Lily Pond, Cohasset, MA
Saturday, September 23: Hall's Pond, Brookline, MA

For Ages 8+
Horseshoe Crab Evening
Saturday, May 20: Malibu Beach, Dorchester, MA

Freshwater Bog Explore
Saturday, August 19: Ponkapog Bog, Milton, MA

***** MARCH CALENDAR **********************************************************
Saturday, March 4, Rocky Shore, Sandy Shore Preschool Class, 9:30 a.m.
Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a story, a hands-on
activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at live animals.
Program lasts one hour. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and

Saturday, March 4, Egypt's Unquenchable Thirst, 9:30 a.m-3:30 p.m.
Join us for a FREE day of exploring the Nile River and the issues
surrounding it. Speakers Farouk El-Baz, John M. Edmond, Linda Harrar and
Sandra Postel will give presentations on various topics. To find out more
or to attend, please contact Bonnie Davis at (617) 973-5223 or

Sunday, March 5, Rocky Shore, Sandy Shore Preschool Explorers Class, 9:30 a.m.
Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a story, a hands-on
activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at live animals.
Program lasts one hour. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and

Saturday, March 11, Turtle-Palooza, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
With help from WKLB 99.5 FM, we will celebrate a special day dedicated to
sea turtles and their river and pond cousins. Learn about threats to
turtles and New England Aquarium efforts to help them thrive in local ponds
and on exotic beaches. Sing "Happy Birthday" to Myrtle, our green sea
turtle, and watch her enjoy a special squid/lettuce cake. Play games, meet
turtles face-to-face, get a temporary tattoo and take home some goodies.
For a schedule of the day's events, visit Included with Aquarium

Wednesday, March 15, Dive Club Meeting, 6:30 p.m.
Dive Club meeting at New England Aquarium. Guests and new members always
welcome. Call (617) 973-0240 for details. Meeting Location: Conference

Friday, March 17, Children's Night at the Flower Show, 4:30-8 p.m.
Join New England Aquarium staff at the Flower Show to find out what's
growing at the New England Aquarium. Contact Rachel at
<> for more information.

Saturday, March 18, Celebrate St. Patrick's Day, 11:30 a.m-3:30 p.m.
We will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day with the Mayor in the lobby of
City Hall. In the children's area, explore our traveling tidepool and meet
Sammy, the Aquarium's seal mascot. Contact Rachel at <>
for more information.

Saturday, March 18, Rocky Shore, Sandy Shore Preschool Class, 9:30 a.m.
Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a story, a hands-on
activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at live animals.
Program lasts one hour. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and

Sunday, March 19, Rocky Shore, Sandy Shore Preschool Class, 9:30 a.m.
Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a story, a hands-on
activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at live animals.
Program lasts one hour. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and

Friday, March 24, Unforgettable Boston Premiere, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Unforgettable Boston, a new film about this great city premieres at the New
England Aquarium. Be among the first to see this Millennium Project film
that takes viewers to some favorite Boston landmarks. Regular adult
admission is $4, Aquarium members, children 3-11 and seniors receive
discount rates of $3.50 per person, and children under 3 are admitted free.
. Unforgettable Boston is showing continuously in the Exploration Center on
the first floor of the Boston Harbor Parking Garage across the plaza from
the Aquarium. For more information, call 1-800-296-7600.

Saturday, March 25, Fish of a Different Color Guided Tour, 9:15 a.m.
Red fish, blue fish, a school of swimming rainbows. Color is important for
fish. Check out our colorful fish and learn how colors, patterns and
camouflage help them survive. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and

***** SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE INFORMATION ***********************************
To subscribe to Seabits, either visit <>
OR send e-mail to <>. In the body of your email message
write "subscribe seabits" (without the quotes).

To unsubscribe to Seabits, send email to <>. In the body
of your email message write "unsubscribe seabits" (without the quotes).

***** CONTACT US **********************************************************
Questions and comments? Contact Jennifer Goebel at

***** THAT'S ALL FOLKS ****************************************************
Hope you enjoyed this issue. Next issue will bring tales of the strange and
exotic world of East African aquatic wildlife as we open our new Nyanja!
Africa's Inland Sea exhibit.
- Jen Goebel, Editor

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Aug 04 2001 - 10:40:15 EDT