CreatureCast – Antarctic Krill Love Dance

posted by Sophia Tintori / on March 7th, 2011 / in Arthropods, lifecycles, Podcast, Science & Art

This is a really nice video that was published in the Journal of Plankton Research this past February, as a part of this article about krill.

Even though krill make up a large fraction of the living mass of the ocean (and are also the food for large charismatic sea mammals), many aspects of their biology is unknown, including the way they reproduce. Recently Dr. Kawaguchi and his colleagues filmed the process happening near the sea floor, which was surprising because krill are notorious for living their lives swimming around up higher in the water, far from the floor.

The footage that the researchers collected was a bit chaotic (above, left), and so they gave it to Lisa Roberts, an animator (and CreatureCast contributor), to illustrate the process. She traced the motions of the crustaceans from the videos, and also practiced the moves with some shrimp from the market (above, right).

The original video footage from the deep sea is also really nice to watch, and can be found here, at the Journal of Plankton Research website.

The animation at the top of the post, and the drawing at the bottom, were made by Lisa Roberts and released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share-Alike 3.0 license. The soundtrack to the animation is by Graeme Ewing.

How do krill grow?

posted by Lisa Roberts / on June 4th, 2010 / in Arthropods, Development, lifecycles, Podcast, Science & Art

Early last year, at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), I saw an unusual sight: the birth of a live Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba.
The newborn appeared on a video screen that projected the view of a camera poised over a petri dish. A tremulous form emerged from its egg with its legs beating furiously!
This event began a continuing conversation with krill research leader, So Kawaguchi.
Back in my Sydney studio, I worked with So’s words and images. He explained (by email) how krill grow, and sent me diagrams by John Kirkwood to work with. I also found data sets online of how krill appendages move (Uwe Kils). Piano music was improvised by an 11 year old friend, Sophie Green.
This is the first of some animations that I am making to more fully describe this elusive and most important creature.
Krill are central to the marine life food web. Their health is endangered as a result of oceans becoming more acidic (as carbon increasingly enters the atmosphere and then dissolves into the water).
A new research project at the AAD is to record changes in normal krill development in increasingly acid water. Next month (June 2010) I return to the AAD krill nursery to find out more about this research.
I will also record So Kawaguchi describe what he has identified as a circling krill mating dance. What a fine gesture of continuity!

This video is released by Lisa Roberts under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. More animations can be found at

Seeing the invisible

posted by Erwin Keustermans / on April 22nd, 2010 / in Science & Art

Although we prefer pictures to represent reality as it is, that is often not the case. Images are made using digital filtering, pseudo-colours and polarised light.  Scientific subjects are isolated, prepared, sliced and coated. So what is shown is often outside the range of immediate perception. But instead of mistrusting the pictures, we find that it adds an extra element of fascination. We trust scientific images to reveal the invisible.

Adam Fuss is a contemporary photographer whose pictures work within this range of conventions. In this photograph of what appears to be a snake on the surface of the water, we are allowed to see the underlying physics of the way the animal moves. The waves emanate elegantly from the points in the cycle that the snake places pressure on the water around it.

Pictures courtesy of Cheim and Read gallery, New York. On the topic of photography and science, last year the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art staged an exhibiton about the history of modern science and photography: “Brought to Light Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900“.There is a beautiful catalogue still in print.

Spicules and droplets

posted by Erwin Keustermans / on January 4th, 2010 / in Science & Art

When I was a kid and colour television was rare, people would shrug away the need for it saying that the only good reason for having a colour set would be marine documentaries.

But it’s not only the colours and optics that are different, also form and movement are part of the experience. Life in water is different in shape, structure and kinetics. Evolution in a marine environment makes creatures that are very different from ground- or air-bound life. Wentworth D’Arcy Thompson, a Victorian scientist, set out to demonstrate the mathematical and physical aspects of under water biological processes in his book “On Growth and Form” (1917). For marine life that would be gravity, pressure, scale, osmosis, and buoyancy.

I mention the book here because it is very readable, even for the layman, and even after more than 90 years. Without reading it I probably would not have realized why it is such a smart idea for the artist/filmmaker Saskia Olde Wolbers to use liquids. Olde Wolbers’ stories are told in voice-over while showing seemingly unrelated going-ons in submersed sets that are smaller than life-size. She fills these with – next to more recognizable props – fluids of different densities .  And that definitely makes for an uncanny visual experience.


But even without knowing the precise techniques used, you feel somehow that those are the particular optics and physics at work in this shot from her 2003 film “Interloper”.

Reading on Saskia Olde Wolbers can be found in Tyler Green’s art blog. An interview  about a video that relates to the Three Gorges dam. Olde Wolbers’ images at Maureen Paley Gallery. The image shown courtesy of Maureen Paley Gallery.

CreatureCast – Pattern Shifting Snails

posted by Sophia Tintori / on December 29th, 2009 / in molluscs, Podcast (Student Contribution), Science & Art

This is the fourth of four contributions from undergraduates in Casey Dunn’s Bio0041 Invertebrate Zoology class. This episode is inspired by the fascinating behavior of the flamingo tongue snail, Cyphoma gibbosum, which is described in further detail in Casey Dunn’s earlier post.

Video, music, and narration by Chris Vamos. This podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Deriviatives 3.0 United States License.

Pelagic plastic

posted by Erwin Keustermans / on November 30th, 2009 / in Science & Art

We have managed to create a huge memorial to human waste at a location that is remote from everyday human activity. In 2008 the predicted existence of a floating mass of pelagic plastic, a giant Garbage Patch, was confirmed in the stable waters of the North Atlantic gyre where plastic debris is accumulating over an area estimated to be twice the size of Texas.

Anna Hepler is a sculptor based in Portland, Maine. The subject of Hepler’s work is often the way a multitude of interlocked entities form a shape or a flock, spreading through space. On learning about the Garbage Patch, she incorporated it in a project for one of her first large scale installations. In January 2009 she spent a week together with eight assistants sowing together discarded plastic from a Portland recycling center. Once stitched together, the plastic nets formed a giant boat hull hanging from the walls and ceiling of the Center of Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport.


An extended article about the project can be found here. Also, Hepler will be recreating this piece in the Portland Museum of Art in 2010 under the title ‘The Great Haul’.

Marnix Everaert

posted by Erwin Keustermans / on October 15th, 2009 / in Science & Art

Many people are familiar with the dazzling plates of Haeckel’s “Kunstformen der Natur” ( Haeckel set a standard for further similar undertakings, and at the same time stood firmly in a long tradition of documenting the abundance of strange creatures in the natural world. From a spectator’s point of view, it was and still is not easy to know or to see which creatures are real and which are imaginary, for the layman to decide which details are observed and which are made up from stereotypes, preconceptions or simply for reasons of symmetry or convenience.

Marnix Everaert’s ( is a Belgian artist, a European expert on non-toxic printing techniques. His drawings remind the viewer of Haeckels pages.  Of course this is not the same encyclopaedic undertaking. There are differences of composition, for instance Everaert’s creatures are sometimes drawn on a common backdrop in a way that suggests that they share an imaginary space, while Haeckel’s items are often laid out on an empty page. Obviously Everaert is a contemporary artist and his style is looser than the standards that were set for 19th century illustrations, scientific or otherwise. Also, there seems to be more attention to structure than to detail, as if Everaert is taking elements from a repertory of geometric shapes that together constitute a generic type of creature. But for the viewer the question can be raised again: without more investigation or sound prior knowledge it is not possible to know what is real and what is imagined.


posted by Casey Dunn / on August 16th, 2009 / in Jellies, Science & Art


Eric Roettinger and Mattias Ormestad have launched to showcase some of their beautiful animal photographs. Both are postdocs in Mark Martindale’s lab at the University of Hawaii, where I also spent a couple years. In addition to presenting their photos, kahikai (which means “one ocean” in Hawaiian) will be serving as a repository for primary developmental biology data, such as in situ hybridization images. Eric also curates a set of photos he has taken of other subjects at

CreatureCast – Squid Iridescence

posted by Casey Dunn / on August 12th, 2009 / in molluscs, Podcast, Science & Art

We are pleased to present Episode 1 of CreatureCast, by Sophia Tintori. In this first video, Alison Sweeney talks about work that has been done in the Morse lab on Squid iridescence. Audio production and animations are by Sophia, who normally studies siphonophores in the Dunn lab. Music by  Lucky Dragons (here, and slowed down versions of this and this) and Sophia on the musical saw.

Creative Commons License
This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

(Episode 1 was replaced with a new slightly different cut on August 18, 2009. It is now higher resolution and includes a couple different musical tracks.)

Erwin Keustermans

posted by Casey Dunn / on July 26th, 2009 / in Science & Art

Erwin Keustermans wrote me a couple years ago with some questions about symmetry in animals, and how it relates to his beautiful illustrations. Since then I’ve regularly checked in on his work, and visitors to the lab often admire his postcards.


His illustrations remind me of the science I work on in a couple different ways. There is the tie-in to modular growth in colonial animals, like siphonophores. There is also the abstract likeness to graphs of gene similarity used to cluster genes in phylogenomic analyses.