Gone Fishing

posted by Sophia Tintori / on October 29th, 2010 / in Jellies, lab, molluscs

This video was taken by a submarine sent down into the ocean to collect deep sea animals. While you’re watching it, pretend you’re driving it remotely from a dark room that’s swaying back and forth, on a boat 600 meters above the submarine, and you’ve been watching marine snow fly by like stars for the last several hours.

One of the perks of working with jellyfish is going to sea to collect them. The Dunn lab occasionally gets the chance to join our friends from the Haddock lab, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), on a week-long excursion out into the Pacific Ocean.

About nine scientists from different labs, about five submarine pilots, and a full boat crew leave from Moss Landing aboard the Western Flyer. Once we reach deep water, we stop driving and drop the submarine into the ocean. The submarine that lives on this boat is called Doc Ricketts. It is about 7 feet tall, has propellors, cameras, lights, collecting buckets, spatulas, and measuring instruments. A crane lifts Doc Ricketts off the floor, the floor opens up to reveal the surface of the sea, and the machine is gently lowered into the water.

This is not the type of submarine that people can travel in. Rather, it has a 2.5 mile umbilical connecting it to the boat, where the pilots are driving it around remotely from the control room, while watching a live, high-definition video feed of what the submarine is seeing.

The control room is a dark little cave on the boat. If you are not driving, controlling the camera, or keeping records of the animals, you can sit in the back and watch the marine snow fly by on the screen as the boat rocks deeply back and forth. When someone spots a shadow that looks like an animal, they shout ‘stop!’ and the pilots drive closer to it. Sometimes it turns out to be a decaying blob of sea-lint, but with any luck it’s an intricate radiolarian, or an elusive vampire squid, or some other beautiful creature. After getting a couple of minutes of close-up footage, which is sometimes the only record of the animal as it exists in the wild, we will either collect it in one of the buckets on the submarine, or keep on flying.

By the end of the night, the pilots have brought the submarine back into the boat, hopefully with all 20 collecting buckets full of interesting animals in their native water. Every one lines up and passes the buckets into one of the labs on the ship, and begins sorting through them and looking for their animals. Amidst the excitement, renowned scientists can be heard saying things like ‘Look at this, have you ever seen anything so magenta in your life?’

Some folks will put their animals in the lab’s walk-in refrigerator (with lids, so they don’t slosh out of their bowls with the rocking of the boat) to look at another day. Some will stay up until the wee hours at their microscopes, processing the samples as quickly as they can while the boat speeds through the night to the next destination. In this photograph, Dr. Claudia Mills is gently taking a Paraphyllina out of one of the sampling buckets (from a depth of 2360 meters), so she can draw it and take notes before sunrise, when the submarine will be lowered into the water again.

All of these photographs were taken by Sophia Tintori during a research cruise last year, except the control room photograph, which was taken by Stefan Siebert on a cruise earlier this month. The video of the humbolt squid is also from this recent cruise and it provided graciously by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. All photos are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.

Perspective of a bird

posted by Sophia Tintori / on October 11th, 2010 / in Birds, optics

Male bower birds boast an architectural prowess, it is true. They also have a discerning eye when it comes to the color palette for their homes. It turns out that, if that weren’t enough, these birds also use forced perspective, arranging stones in their court in size order to create an optical illusion for the female who is shopping around for a mate.

This is a bower from the one of the avenue species of bower birds — those who build a long avenue out of sticks, with a court at the end made of stones, shells, bones and bits of colored plastic. The female stands outside the avenue (where the photographer was lying to take this picture) and looks through it to the male bower bird who is dancing around on the stones at the back. The funny thing about this picture is that to us the stones look like they are all a similar size, but they are actually arranged with the largest ones in the back, and the smallest ones in the front. If you switch the positions of the stones, as Endler, Endler and Door (Current Biology, 2010) did in this photograph…

… the males will move them back into the opposite size gradient within three days.

The males are creating variation of an Ames room, sort of like this one:

The trick in this picture is that the room is actually much deeper and taller on the left side, and so the leftmost suited guy looks really tiny, whereas the suit on the right is standing closer downstage, on the smaller side of the irregularly shaped room, which makes him look huge. One caveat of this illusion is that it only works if the viewer is standing at one particular point, but this is guaranteed of the female bower bird because she has to look down the long narrow avenue of twigs to see the court. One of the possible reasons the male bower bird creates this Ames court might be to make himself look bigger in the front of the court when compared to other objects placed in the back next to the bigger stones, like the suit on the right.

The bower photographs are from the research of Endler et al, which can be found in this paper from September. The Ames room photograph was grabbed from this blog. More on bower birds and female chosiness can be found in an earlier video of ours on picky females.

Know Your New England Bioluminescants

posted by Sophia Tintori / on September 27th, 2010 / in Arthropods, Comb Jellies, Dinoflagellates

Towards the end of the summer the waters around southern Rhode Island get quite sparkly at night. I’ve wondered for a while what exactly the sparkling things might be, but it wasn’t until recently that I remembered to bring a bucket with me and look at its contents in the light of day.

When I went out to the ocean a couple of weeks ago, I noticed three distinct sizes of glowing creatures; the tiny specks that make a cloud when you kick the water, the medium ones that look like a pair of triangles, and the big circular ones, that stay glowing for a second or two.

Steve Haddock, one of our friends at the bioluminesence lab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Insitute, helped characterize some of these organisms. Here’s what I found.

The larger circular ones are comb jellies.

We get a lot of comb jellies called Mnemiopsis around here. By the end of the summer there are sometimes so many that it feels like swimming in a giant bubble tea. This seems to be a very young Mnemiopsis, not quite mature yet. Comb jellies don’t have any stinging cells, and are not technically jellyfish– corals and anemones are more closely related to jellyfish than these creatures are, even though these look similar. For more about the psychedelic rainbow colors pulsing down the side of this animal, check out Brown undergrad Lee Stevens’ podcast on comb jellies.

According to Dr. Steve Haddock, bioluminesence correspondent, the smallest size of glowing thing is most probably a bunch of single celled organisms called dinoflagellates.

The last glowing group I found seems to be these copepods, a type of small crustacean.

The appendages at the very back of their bodies are long and thin, but move back and forth so fast that they look like little paddles. These thin appendages whipping around are probably what looked little triangles underwater.

These videos and photos were taken by Sophia Tintori, and released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. Thanks to Steve Haddock for his help. If you see jellies in the water, you should let Steve know at Jellywatch.org. Thanks to Mickey Zacchilli for helping with the video. If you enjoy watching the pulsating comb rows of a comb jelly, here is another clip for you.

Jellyfish Capsule Hotel

posted by Sophia Tintori / on September 11th, 2010 / in Arthropods, Jellies, Parasites, Siphonophores

These little pinkish crustaceans have set up house inside the muscular pulsating swimming parts of the colonial jellyfish, Nanomia. Out in the deep sea, there are few solid structures to call home, so living things will often take shelter in or on other animals.

Fish or bugs often hang around the tentacles of jellyfish because the jellies catch food there and are likely to drop pieces that can be salvaged. But these crustaceans are taking a different approach. They are living inside of swimming bells that are nowhere near where food is caught and eaten. These powerful little pods contract to push the colony through the water. The amphipods are likely to be taking refuge in the sturdy tissue, and feeding off the jellies flesh from the inside of the swimming bell.

Stefan Siebert, a post-doc in the Dunn lab, took this photograph of a Nanomia that he caught on a collecting trip in California. The gas-filled gland that keeps the colony afloat is hanging off the left side of the page. Three swimming bells for jet propulsion (with one amphipod crustacean in each) are seen in the middle. The part of the colony that feeds, reproduces, protects, and more, starts in the bottom right corner of the photograph. These amphipod crustaceans happen to be very similar to the ones we just made an animation about, that live on the fried egg jelly.

Here is a video from Casey Dunn of some other colonial jellyfish, to get a sense of how this close up photograph fits into the context of the whole colony, and to see how the swimming bells pulsate.

This photograph, by Stefan Siebert, is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.

CreatureCast – Siphonophore Snacks

posted by Sophia Tintori / on August 23rd, 2010 / in Jellies, Podcast, Siphonophores

Here’s a short episode featuring Trisha Towanda, of the fried-egg jelly story. If you’ve ever wondered what a siphonophore taste like, it’s spicy.

Puppetry and editing by Sophia Tintori, with slightly modified music by Anita. Sea snow from deep sea footage courtesy of Dr. Steve Haddock at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. This video is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.

What is a cell?

posted by Sophia Tintori / on August 16th, 2010 / in Multicellularity

A couple of months ago Casey Dunn talked about animals that don’t have every one of the qualities we use to define something as an individual, and how those animals make us re-evaluate our definition: A member of a colony can be a descendant of a free living individual, but unable to live and interact with the world without the other members of the colony, making itself hard to pin down as an individual or a part of an individual. Similarly, sometimes the qualities that we associate with a cell don’t always come together in a tidy package.

In the plasmodial slime mold pictured on a piece of bark above, the organism’s body is large and complex enough to look like it’s made of many types of cells, but it is actually made up of just one long branching space. It has many nuclei within its one labyrinthine cell, with no walls or membranes separating them. The organism even has certain parts that look very different from other parts; there is a mat on the ground made of thin winding filaments, and then there are fruiting bodies that grow straight up into the air. This seems just like cellular differentiation in other creatures, but it is all coming from one cell.

Vaucheria (pictured below), the alga that is eaten by Elysia the photosynthesizing sea slug, is a similar story. Long and filamentous, the body has no cell walls between the many nuclei inside of it. One might think that the cytoplasm is simply viscous enough that the cell’s insides can stay put relatively well without walls, but cytoplasm has actually been seen streaming up and down the filaments, which are long enough to be spanning different microenvironments.

The upper photograph is slime mold on a piece of bark, peeled off the trees of Providence by Nick Jourjine, and photographed by Sophia Tintori. A really wonderful comprehensive set of drawings of slime molds can be found here. The bottom photograph is Vaucheria, photographed with a confocal microscope by Asya Rahlin and Harmony Lu. The sample was unstained, and so the green and red represent artifically colored autofluorescence. Nick, Asya and Harmony are ungraduates at Brown, and these photographs resulted from some of their work for Casey Dunn and Gary Wessels seminar on the origins of multicelularity and the evolution of the germ line. All photographs are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.

CreatureCast – Corals & Coloniality

posted by Sophia Tintori / on August 9th, 2010 / in Podcast (Student Contribution)

Here is a new video podcast from Lee Stevens, a rising junior at Brown University. In this episode Lee takes a closer look at corals. Corals tend to be known as home to a dynamic menagerie of animals, bacteria and plants, but the coral itself is also a pulsating community in it’s own right.

This video was produced by Lee Stevens, with music by Transient. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.

CreatureCast- Jellyfish Theater

posted by Sophia Tintori / on July 16th, 2010 / in Arthropods, Jellies, Parasites, Podcast, Symbiosis

In the vast ocean, without walls and far from the floor,  jellyfish can become drifting islands of activity. Creatures from far and wide will congregate on them to act out the ups and downs of life and death. Jellyfish have symbiotic relationships with living things of all sizes, from fish and shrimp that feed off them or off the pieces of food left between their tentacles, to single-celled photosynthesizing organisms that take shelter inside the cytoplasm of the jellyfish’s cells.

In this video, Trisha Towanda talks about one particular jellyfish, the fried egg jelly, and some of the other creatures that hang around it. There are moon jellies that the fried egg jelly eats. These moon jellies have little parasitic crustaceans on them called amphipods, which jump to the fried egg jelly while the moon jelly is being eaten. There are also crabs that ride around on the fried egg jelly, that are parasitic in their youth, but then grow to be helpful symbionts by eating off the little amphipods. This sort of coming of age story, where a symbiont’s relationship changes over its lifespan is an unusual one. Trisha put the pieces together by staring at them for hours and days and weeks when she was in Erik Thuessen‘s lab at Evergreen State College.

Many thanks to Trisha Towanda, who is now stationed in the Seibel lab at the University of Rhode Island. This video was edited and animated by Sophia Tintori, with an original score by local pop hero Amil Byleckie. It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. Here is the paper Trisha wrote about the story.

Axolotls and the French Intervention

posted by Sophia Tintori / on July 15th, 2010 / in Uncategorized

Léon-Eugène Méhédin was a photo-journalist in the mid 1800s. After documenting the Crimean War, the Italian Campaign of Napoleon III, and taking pictures in Egypt and Nubia for a photographic encyclopedia, he traveled to Mexico with the French Expeditionary Forces. There he claims to have discovered the ruins of Xochicalco. He took papier machê molds and many photographs, all of which were reported to have been too artistic to be of any scientific value, and have never been seen since. Upon their return from Mexico, the French Expeditionary Forces brought 34 funny mexican salamander-like animals back to give to the Natural History Museum of Paris.

These animals, called axolotls, were first seen as a scientific oddity; they spend their whole lives looking like the larval state of a salamander, but they become sexually mature and can reproduce without metamorphosing into the adult form. In 1863, Méhédin gave 6 of these animals (and then one more, a few years later) to a local biologist named August Duméril, who started breeding them and enthusiastically sharing thousands of them with his colleagues all over Europe.

Since then axolotls have become one of developmental biology‘s model organisms, mostly because they are easy to raise, their embryos are large and transparent, and axolotls can regenerate their limbs and heart. In that same time, the original populations of wild axolotls, which live solely in the lakes in and near Mexico City, have dwindled to the point of near-extinction.  The vast majority of axolotls alive today are being bred in developmental biology labs across the globe. Most individuals can be traced back to two of those 7 axolotls from Méhédin in the 1860s.

Above is a video of a some axolotls captured by Stefan Siebert, a post-doc in the Dunn lab. It was edited by Sophia Tintori, and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. Thanks to Dr. Nadine Piekarski for telling us about their ancestry.

More Budding Jelly Babies

posted by Sophia Tintori / on July 1st, 2010 / in Development, Jellies, lab, lifecycles

We found more jellyfish being born in our lab this week!

Rebecca Helm, a Dunn lab graduate student, left a couple of bowls of salt water and hydroids out on the table overnight, instead of the refrigerator where they usually live at around 50 or 60 degrees fahrenheit. The next day she came in and found them doing this:

This particular animal is called Podocoryna carnea. Like most jellies and close relatives of jellies, it has a pretty elaborate life cycle. This one involves a free swimming jellyfish, and a larva that swims around then lands on the back of a hermit crab’s shell. Then the larva metamorphoses into a polyp, which buds more polyps, growing into a whole colony on the crab’s back. The colony is made up of lots of polyps that are all connected and share fluid through a web of tubes that circulate partially digested food. Some members of this colony will eventually bud new swimming jellyfish.

The video at the top is of one of the colonies we have growing in our lab. These polyps were given to us by friends, but they can also be collected from hermit crabs at the beach, then grafted onto slides. They seem to grow well on slides, and slides are much easier to take care of then crabs.

Some of the polyps in the video have pink balls growing around the top. These are the buds that will mature to become free-swimming jellyfish. If you look closely, you can see jellies of all stages of maturity growing, including some that are ready to break free. After they swim off they will continue growing. We’ll try to follow up on how that goes.

Video by Sophia Tintori, life cycle drawing by Perrin Ireland, both released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. Thanks to Diane Bridge and Neil Blackstone for the Podocoryna colonies. Check out this earlier post of the other polyps we saw budding jellyfish in our lab.