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The 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition 

May 27, 2011

Like…totally tubular!

Most of the critters I’m working with during this expedition are so tiny that you need a microscope to examine them…sometimes even just to locate them!   There are lots of exceptions, however, and one of them involves a very cool critter called a chaetopterid worm that I encountered the other day. Since it was fairly big and impressive (colleagues actually stopped by to gawk at it in awe) and because these are such creepy-cool worms, I thought I’d share.
seagrass-basura
While working in a sandy seagrass area the other day, I dug up a large parchment (which is sand stuck together with mucus) tube about an inch in diameter that was sticking up out of the sandy sea bottom.
tube
Typically this type of tube houses a fanworm (a sabellid) with delicate fan-shaped radioles stretched into a sort of funnel-shaped plume like this:
sabellastarte
In sabellid fanworms each radiole has tiny hair-like structures called cirri used to filter small particles of food from the water to be carried to the mouth.   So considering the tube’s appearance, I was expecting a nice fat fanworm to emerge as I eagerly cut into my tube back at the lab, kind of like I was unwrapping some sort of creepy worm shaped gift.  This tube, however, was shaped more like a “U” buried under the sand and so I suspected that it might house something a bit different. And it did…a very large chaetopterid worm!
chaetopterid-whole-body
Chaetopterids are very specialized polychaetes (marine bristleworms) that live their lives confined in tubes. These worms have 3 distinct body regions: the head/anterior region is large and equipped with bristles and a set of palps used for sensory.  The middle of the body is made up of the darkened gut and highly modified lobes that pump back and forth like big flaps to provide a steady water current used in feeding.
ant-chaetop2
The tail/posterior region is more “normal-worm-looking”, meaning long with foot appendages called parapodia carrying bristles on either side of the body.

http://youtu.be/1rIZaPXP9YM

These worms feed using mucus nets which they string across the inside of their tubes to trap food particles by pumping water through their tubes to filter food onto the net.   Once it’s full of food they eat the whole deal and then proceed to make a new net. Other critters, such as smaller worms and crabs, often live alongside chaetopterids in their tubes as commensal animals which score free food scraps and shelter while living there.

Another cool thing about these worms is that even though they live rather clandestine lives hidden in tubes, they produce bioluminescence (they emit light!). What in the world they are doing with this light-producing capability?  Well, we don’t know for certain.  Studies have shown that when a chaetopterid is disturbed, it shoots a wave of glowing particles from its tube.  One idea is that this light surge alerts prospective predators that “I don’t taste particularly good”, or maybe the light bursts are used to freak out and evict some of the free-loading critters out their tubes if it starts getting too crowded in there.

Many polychaetes and other invertebrates emit light when disturbed, either for warning/predator avoidance or for communication with potential mates.   The yellow bands shown here on a nereid “pileworm” may be bioluminescent areas of the body used for signaling.
nereid-yellow-banding
Polychaete worm behavior and physiology is as extremely diverse as their morphology.  For such “sleeper” creatures that are unfamiliar to most regular folks, polychaete worms actually have alot going on!


Filed under: Academy,Diving,Philippines,Piotrowski,Shallow Water,Uncategorized — cpiotrowski @ 4:39 am

April 28, 2011

Getting a taste for marine discovery

At last, the vans are loaded with box after box of equipment, dozens of pieces of luggage, leaving just enough room for the dozen of us. As I write, we are on the highway south to Batangas at a slightly more snail-like pace than most of us would like, as eager as we are to get into the water for the first time.

in-the-van6

Bob questions the driver about his light foot on the throttle

The highway from Manila to Batangas has been greatly improved in recent years, but we seem not to be taking full advantage of that. However, given the tonage of stuff in the trucks, maybe this nudibranch-like speed is more appropriate than the usual way I drive on 280, the autobahn of San Mateo.

We have been joined by two students from the Marine Science Institute (MSI) at the University of the Philippines. Much to my personal delight, both of them have a passion for sea urchins, and I expect lots of happy conversations with them during our hunt for the wily echinoids that form the focus of my work here.

I am certainly not the first to make the observation that in order to keep on learning, you need to have students. Already, I am learning from Inggat and Bryan. They work with a species of sea urchin harvested (and in some places, cultured) here in the Philippines for food. Aficionados of sushi will recognize this as uni, and it is best explained as the roe of sea urchins. It is, judging by the nose-upturning of some, an acquired taste. But I love it.

The local Philippine species, Tripneustes gratilla, produces uni of high quality, sweet with only a hint of the marine to it, and a slightly nutty finish. One of my aims here is to taste-test as many species of urchin as I can to make a sort of admittedly subjective assessment of tropical urchin flavors. I kind of pride myself in thinking that I have eaten roe of more species of urchins than just about anyone else (hey, everyone needs to be proud of something).

tripneustes-gratilla2

Tripneustes gratilla, interesting to look at, and fun to eat

diadema-savignyi2

Diadema savignyi, with spines that demand respect

So I laid out this plan to my newfound MSI student colleagues, saying that I was particularly interested in trying Diadema, the long-spined black urchin that is so often the bane of unwary divers who very quickly get the point of that protective spine cover. I figured that I might be among the first to try eating this formidable living pincushion. As usual for me, I’m behind in the game. Bryan tells me that Diadema is even better than Tripneustes.

I can hardly wait.

R


Filed under: Mooi,Philippines,Shallow Water,Uncategorized — rmooi @ 8:08 am

April 27, 2011

Getting ready

Getting organized for an expedition takes literally a year of planning. Even when you arrive there are days of checking in with collaborators, securing the final permits that allow you to do research. Part of our team spent most of the day meeting with government officials, arranging final details with our collaborators at the University of the Philippines and securing the final permits necessary. Meanwhile, the rest of the team was at the Philippine National Museum unpacking the supplies we shipped in advance with great facilitation from the U.S. Embassy. The team also met with our other collaborators and with the Director of the Museum. Elliott mentioned that we needed to find a place where we could fill our emergency oxygen tanks for scuba diving. After asking several local divers who have been on trips with us previously, we located a source. Most business is transacted via text message so we texted Nathan who was incredibly helpful and we were trying to arrange how to drop off the oxygen tanks to get filled. We got the following text from Nathan: “Hi, Terry. You can just leave the tanks at our place any time. Just look for Rasty. He sleeps in the warehouse. I will look at the tanks when I get in around 10″. We were hoping to meet Rasty but found another source right where we are going to be diving. Life here is always filled with people bending over backwards to try to help and come up with creative solutions to solving problems. Rich and Terry


Filed under: Gosliner,Mooi,Philippines,Planning,Shallow Water,Uncategorized — rmooi @ 3:24 pm

April 20, 2011

First Blog Entry for the Hearst Expedition to the Philippines

The first wave of CAS researchers are leaving for the Philippines in only 4 days. Myself and a few others depart on May 7. In preparation for SCUBA diving, I have had to renew my Scientific Diving certification and satisfy CAS diving requirements. This includes a battery of medical tests, X-rays, a physical exam, refresher dives, and the DAN “Diving First Aid for Professional Divers” course  - Thanks to Elliott Jessup for holding the course here at CAS.

I am also assembling supplies for collecting, snorkeling, SCUBA, underwater photography, hiking and processing specimens.

-Simison post #1


Filed under: Academy,Philippines,Simison,Uncategorized — Brian Simison @ 4:34 pm

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