Flying Fish

Bonding with the Inverts
by Nicole Carlozo -- September 28th, 2011

This semester I’m getting up close and personal with some not-so-snugly marine animals. Don’t worry – they’re still loveable.

Last year’s workload at the Nicholas School was lacking in the science department, so this semester I decided to tackle Marine Invertebrate Zoology. Some people thought I was crazy for returning to my science roots, but what can I say? Maybe I’m just a scientist at heart.

And so I dove into the realm of metazoans, porifera (sponges), cnidarians, bilaterians, and other invertebrate groups. The first class of the semester covered cladistics and phylogenetic systematics. As I stared at the textbook, some unpleasant flashbacks from my Principles of Biology undergraduate course swam through my head. But even with a cladogram staring me in the face, I pushed forward.

Although the class isn’t lab intensive, we still spend quality time staring into microscopes. Last week we broke out our dissecting scopes to examine freshwater Platyhelminthes. I never thought the word “cute” would come out of my mouth in the same sentence as “worm,” but out it came nonetheless. I think it might have to do with their large cartoonish eyes.

I stared for a while as my planarian flatworm twisted and turned, using its diagonal muscles to twirl through the water column. One student, however, cried out that her worm was no longer whole. Professor Kirby-Smith chuckled and proclaimed “Fragmentation…a great strategy for taking over the world.” In fact, these organisms can reproduce asexually by breaking into fragments, which then grow into new individuals.

Despite the disconcerting idea of a worm takeover, I still find the planarians adorable. I’d even go as far as to classify many marine species as beautiful.

We haven’t caught any flatworms off the Duke dock or along the marsh, but our frequent excursions have resulted in hermit crabs, mud crabs, fiddler crabs, blue crabs, sea urchins, sea anemones, skeleton shrimp, grass shrimp, brittle stars, whip coral, sea squirts, and various sponges.

With 2 weeks of rain and not a patch of blue sky in sight, this week’s field excursion seemed doubtful. Instead, we piled into a few cars and headed for the North Carolina Pine Knoll Aquarium. Our task: list the invertebrates! We were surprised at what we found. Our list came to about 50 species as we counted corals, mollusks, jellies, and the like. The invertebrates were also up-front-and-center in the touch tank section.

Spiny Lobster
Spiny Lobster
The resident octopus, making an appearance before retreating.
The resident octopus, making an appearance before retreating.

Ctenophora, or comb jellies, are my favorite invertebrates thus far. They were plentiful in the Outer Banks this summer but, sadly, we saw none during our aquarium adventure. Instead, I’ll leave you with a cute otter pic and a short video of some touch pool fun! I know that otters aren’t invertebrates, but I couldn’t resist including them. And this from a girl who chose to take Marine Invertebrate Zoology over Marine Mammals…Male river otters at the NC Aquarium.

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