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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Butterfly Fish

The butterflyfish are a group of conspicuous tropical marine fish of the family Chaetodontidae. Found mostly on the reefs of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, butterflyfish are fairly small, most from 12 to 22 cm in length. The largest species, the lined butterflyfish, Chaetodon lineolatus, grows to 30 cm. There are approximately 127 species in eleven genera. They should not be confused with the freshwater butterflyfish of the family Pantodontidae.

Butterflyfish are named for their brightly coloured and strikingly patterned bodies in shades of black, white, blue, red, orange and yellow (though some species are dull in colour). Many have eyespots on their flanks and dark bands across their eyes, not unlike the patterns seen on butterfly wings. Their deep, laterally compressed bodies are easily noticed through the profusion of reef life, leading most to believe the conspicuous coloration of butterflyfish is intended for interspecies communication. Butterflyfish have uninterrupted dorsal fins with tail fins that may be rounded or truncated, but are never forked.

The family name Chaetodontidae derives from the Greek words chaite meaning "hair" and odontos meaning "tooth." This is an allusion to the rows of brush-like teeth found in their small, protrusile mouths. Butterflyfish closely resemble the angelfish of the family Pomacanthidae but are distinguished from the latter by their lack of preopercle spines (part of the gill covers).

Their coloration also makes butterflyfish popular in the aquaria hobby. However, most species feed on coral polyps (corallivores) and sea anemones; this poses a problem in most reef tanks where a delicate balance is to be maintained. Species kept in the hobby are therefore the few generalists and specialist zooplankton feeders.

Generally diurnal and frequenting shallow waters of less than 18 m (some species found to 180 m), butterflyfish stick to particular home ranges. The corallivores are especially territorial, forming mated pairs and staking claim to their own head of coral. Contrastingly, the zooplankton feeders will form large conspecific groups. By night butterflyfish hide amongst the crevices of the reef and exhibit markedly different coloration than they do by day.

Butterflyfish are pelagic spawners; that is, they release many buoyant eggs into the water which then become part of the plankton, floating with the currents until hatching. The fry go through what is known as a tholichthys stage, wherein the body of the postlarval fish is covered in large bony plates extending from the head. This curious armoured stage is seen in only one other family of fish; the Scatophagidae (scats). The fish lose their bony plates as they mature.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Corals are marine animals from the class Anthozoa and exist as small sea anemone-like polyps, typically in colonies of many identical individuals. The group includes the important reef builders that are found in tropical oceans, which secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.

A coral "head", commonly perceived to be a single organism, is actually formed of thousands of individual but genetically identical polyps, each polyp only a few millimeters in diameter. Over thousands of generations, the polyps lay down a skeleton that is characteristic of their species. A head of coral grows by asexual reproduction of the individual polyps. Corals also breed sexually by spawning, with corals of the same species releasing gametes simultaneously over a period of one to several nights around a full moon.

Although corals can catch plankton using stinging cells on their tentacles, these animals obtain most of their nutrients from symbiotic unicellular algae called zooxanthellae. Consequently, most corals depend on sunlight and grow in clear and shallow water, typically at depths shallower than 60 m (200 ft). These corals can be major contributors to the physical structure of the coral reefs that develop in tropical and subtropical waters, such as the enormous Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Other corals do not have associated algae and can live in much deeper water, such as in the Atlantic, with the cold-water genus Lophelia surviving as deep as 3000 m. Corals have also been found off the coast of Washington State and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

Although corals first appeared in the Cambrian period, some 542 million years ago, fossils are extremely rare until the Ordovician period, 100 million years later, when Rugose and Tabulate corals became widespread.

Tabulate corals occur in the limestones and calcareous shales of the Ordovician and Silurian periods, and often form low cushions or branching masses alongside Rugose corals. Their numbers began to decline during the middle of the Silurian period and they finally became extinct at the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago. The skeletons of Tabulate corals are composed of a form of calcium carbonate known as calcite.

Rugose corals became dominant by the middle of the Silurian period, and became extinct early in the Triassic period. The Rugose corals existed in solitary and colonial forms, and like the Tabulate corals their skeletons are also composed of calcite.

The Scleractinian corals filled the niche vacated by the extinct Rugose and Tabulate corals. Their fossils may be found in small numbers in rocks from the Triassic period, and become relatively common in rocks from the Jurassic and later periods. The skeletons of Scleractinian corals are composed of a form of calcium carbonate known as aragonite. Although they are geologically younger than the Tabulate and Rugose corals, their aragonitic skeleton is less readily preserved, and their fossil record is less complete.

At certain times in the geological past corals were very abundant, just as modern corals are in the warm clear tropical waters of certain parts of the world today. Like modern corals their ancestors built reefs, some of which now lie as great structures in sedimentary rocks.

These ancient reefs are not composed entirely of corals. Algae, sponges, and the remains of many echinoids, brachiopods, bivalves, gastropods, and trilobites that lived on the reefs are preserved within them. This makes some corals useful index fossils, enabling geologists to date the age the rocks in which they are found.

Corals are not restricted to reefs, and many solitary corals may be found in rocks where reefs are not present, such as Cyclocyathus which occurs in England's Gault clay formation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Jellyfishes (also called jellies or sea jellies as they are not true fish) are animals that belong to Phylum Cnidaria, included in the class Scyphozoa. The name "jellyfish" is also sometimes used for the related classes of medusae (Hydrozoa) and box jellyfish (Cubozoa). Almost all jellyfish live in the seas and though they lack true organ structures they feature specialized tissues. The adult forms of these creatures are composed of 95-99% water. All species are found in each of the world's oceans, with a few species living in fresh water. Most jellyfish are passive drifters that feed on small fish and zooplankton that become caught in their tentacles. Jellyfish have an incomplete digestive system, meaning that the same orifice is used for both food intake and waste expulsion. They are Coelenterates which means "hollow gut", and are made up of a layer of epidermis, gastrodermis, and a thin jelly-like layer called mesoglea that separates the epidermis from the gastrodermis.

JellyfishThe jellyfish have two major body forms throughout their life. The first form is called the polyp stage and is characterized by a either a non-moving (sessile) stalk that catches food drifting by or a similar form that is free-floating. Their mouth and tentacles are located anteriorly, facing upwards. The second form looks like a saucer is called the medusa stage and is characterized by a round (radially symmetric) dome-shape body plan with food catching tentacles hanging down. It is this form which is most able to respond to and interact with its environment and is also the form most people are familiar with.

During the polyp stage, jellyfish do not have males or females, thus only asexual reproduction occurs. This happens in two ways: (1) budding, to produce other polyps; and (2) strobilating, to produce medusae. During budding, the egg or planula of the jellyfish attaches itself to a hard surface where it grows into its polyp form called scyphistoma. The scyphistoma then asexually produce many ephyra that look like round jagged disks and becomes a strobila. Then the ephyras detach themselves from the strobila and become mature free living medusae. At this stage is when they can reproduce sexually. The male will release their sperms into the water where the eggs will be fertilized.

Like all other cnidarians, jellyfish have stinging cells called cnidocytes which contains the stinging nematocysts on their tentacles. Whenever a prey comes in contact with a tentacle, hundreds to thousands of nematocysts fire one or another type of "hook and line" into the prey's direction. These stinging cells are thus able to latch onto the prey and the tentacles bring the prey item into their large "mouth" for digestion.These cells are activated by a simple but precise nervous system called a nerve net which is located in the epidermis of the jellyfish. Impulses to these nerve cells are sent from the nerve rings that have collected information from the environment of the jellyfish through the rhopalial lappet, which is located around the animal's body.

Jellyfish also have "eyes" or ocelli that cannot form images, but are sensitive to light. Jellyfish do not have a specialized digestive system, excretory system, respiratory system, and circulatory system. They are able to digest with the help of the gastrodermis that lines the gastrovascular cavity, where nutrients from their food is absorbed. They do not need a respiratory system since their skin is thin enough that oxygen can easily diffuse in and out of their bodies. They do not have a brain, a heart, a central nervous system, a skeletal system and also no bones and no blood. Jellyfish move using a hydrostatic skeleton that controls the water pouch in their body to manipulate their movements.

Most jellyfish are not dangerous to humans but a few are highly toxic, such as the Cyanea capillata. Contrary to popular belief, the menacingly infamous Portuguese Man O' War (Physalia) isn't actually a jellyfish, but a colony of hydrozoan polyps.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura, which typically have a very short projecting "tail" (Greek: brachy = short, ura = tail), or where the reduced abdomen is entirely hidden under the thorax. They are generally covered with a thick exoskeleton, and are armed with a single pair of chelae (claws). Crabs are found in all of the world's oceans; there are also many freshwater and terrestrial crabs, particularly in tropical regions. Crabs vary in size from the pea crab, only a few millimetres wide, to the Japanese spider crab, with a leg span of up to 4 m

True crabs have five pairs of legs, the first of which are modified into a pair of claws and are not used for locomotion. In all but a few crabs (for example, Raninoida), the abdomen is folded under the cephalothorax in the adult stage. The mouthparts of crabs are covered by flattened maxillipeds, and the front of the carapace does not form a long rostrum . The gills of crabs are formed of flattened plates ("phyllobranchiate"), resembling those of shrimp, but of a different structure .They can also be the size of a pea, or even smaller.

Most crabs show clear sexual dimorphism and so can be easily sexed. The abdomen, which is held recurved under the thorax, is narrow in males. In females, however, the abdomen retains a greater number of pleopods and is considerably wider . This relates to the carrying of the fertilised eggs by the female crabs (as seen in all pleocyemates). In those species in which no such dimorphism is found, the position of the gonopores must be used instead. In females, these are on the third pereiopod, or nearby on the sternum in higher crabs; in males, the gonopores are at the base of the fifth pereiopods or, in higher crabs, on the sternum nearby.

Crabs are omnivores, feeding primarily on algae , and taking any other food, including molluscs, worms, other crustaceans, fungi, bacteria and detritus, depending on their availability and the crab species. For many crabs, a mixed diet of plant and animal matter results in the fastest growth and greatest fitness.

Crabs make up 20% of all marine crustaceans caught and farmed worldwide, with over 1½ million tonnes being consumed annually. Of that total, one species accounts for one fifth: Portunus trituberculatus. Other important taxa include Portunus pelagicus, several species in the genus Chionoecetes, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), Charybdis spp., Cancer pagurus, the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) and Scylla serrata, each of which provides more than 20,000 tonnes annually.

The infraorder Brachyura contains about 70 families, as many as the remainder of the Decapoda . The evolution of crabs is characterised by an increasing robustness of the body, and a reduction in the abdomen. Although other groups have also undergone similar processes of carcinisation, it is most advanced in crabs. The telson is no longer functional in crabs, and the uropods are absent, having probably evolved into small devices for holding the reduced abdomen tight against the sternum.

In most decapods, the gonopores (sexual openings) are found on the legs. However, since crabs use the first two pairs of pleopods (abdominal appendages) for sperm transfer, this arrangement has changed. As the male abdomen evolved into a narrower shape, the gonopores have moved towards the midline, away from the legs, and onto the sternum. A similar change occurred, independently, with the female gonopores. The movement of the female gonopore to the sternum defines the clade Eubrachyura, and the later change in the position of the male gonopore defines the Thoracotremata. It is still a subject of debate whether those crabs where the female, but not male, gonopores are situated on the sternum form a monophyletic group.

The earliest unambiguous crab fossils date from the Jurassic, although the Carboniferous Imocaris, known only from its carapace is thought to be a primitive crab. The radiation of crabs in the Cretaceous and afterwards may be linked either to the break-up of Gondwana or to the concurrent radiation of bony fish, the main predators of crabs.

About 850 species of crab are freshwater or (semi-)terrestrial species; they are found throughout the world's tropical and semi-tropical regions. They were previously thought to be a closely related group, but are now believed to represent at least two distinct lineages, one in the Old World and one in the New World

Several other groups of animals are either called crabs or have the term "crab" in their names. These include hermit crabs, porcelain crabs and king crabs, which, despite superficial similarities to true crabs, belong to the Anomura. The UK Food Standards Agency allows king crabs to be sold as "crab" , but this practice is not followed outside the food industry. Others, such as horseshoe crabs are much more distantly related. Anomuran "crabs" can be distinguished from true crabs by counting the legs. In Anomura, the last pair of pereiopods (walking legs) is hidden inside the carapace, so only four pairs are visible (counting the claws), whereas uninjured true crabs generally have five visible pairs (in the family Hexapodidae, the last pair of pereiopods is vestigial.