The Beacon

Blog Tags: Creature Feature

Creature Feature: Enter the (Leafy Sea)Dragon

Leafy and lovely: Meet the leafy seadragon   l   Photo: ©Ta-graphy

If you asked the artist Salvador Dali to dream up an ocean creature, he might have designed something very much like the leafy seadragon, one of the ocean’s most uniquely beautiful creatures. Covered in gossamer ruffled appendages, the characteristic tassels and frills that adorn the leafy seadragon’s head and body serve as spectacular camouflage, baffling both predators and prey, and make the seadragon all but invisible among seaweeds and kelp beds. 


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Creature Feature: Reef Lizardfish

This good-looking creature is a reef lizardfish. (Photo: Colby Bidwell) 

You won’t find land-dwelling lizards scampering about coral reefs, but you might do a double-take when you see the reef lizardfish. Also known as variegated lizardfish, these strange reef-dwellers look surprisingly like lizards. They’re found in coral reefs throughout Indonesia and along the coast of India and northern Australia.


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A Blue Whale’s Life Story Revealed Through Ear Wax

Blue whales are probably the largest animal that has ever lived. (Photo: NOAA Photo Library) 

Instead of our weekly Creature Feature, we’d like share an awesome new finding about one well-known ocean creature, the blue whale. Scientists discovered that earwax can reveal amazingly details about the life of whales, according to a study published last week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Creature Feature: Magnificent Frigatebird

Yes, that’s a bird, and yes, it’s supposed to look like that. (Photo: Mark Vance)

Magnificent frigatebirds aren’t the beauty queens of the bird world, but they do get points for bold style. These seabirds have a seven foot wingspan and an inflatable, bright-red throat sac under their bills that they used in elaborate courtship displays. Only the males have these sacs—female frigatebirds have a non-inflatable white neck, making them the only seabird species where the males and females look very different.


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Creature Feature: Loggerhead Sea Turtle

A loggerhead sea turtle. (Photo: Wendell Reed)

If you're a fan of sea turtles, you might have heard about the mighty loggerhead sea turtle. Growing 2 to 3 feet long and weighing in at a massive 165–350 pounds, loggerheads are heavier than many people. These reptiles are actually the second-largest marine turtle (only the leatherback is larger.) Named for their hefty heads, loggerheads are found in tropical and temperate waters around the world.


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Creature Feature: Lionfish

Up close and personal with a lionfish. (Photo: Kjeld Friis)

It’s venomous, voracious, and taking over reefs across the western Atlantic.

This strange-looking predator is a lionfish, a.k.a. Pterois volitans. Native to Indo-Pacific reefs, lionfish are anything but subtle. The large, striped spines protruding from their bodies are their main defense, filled with neurotoxic venom to deter predators. While the venom isn’t deadly to humans, running afoul of a lionfish isn’t fun—side effects include excruciating pain, headaches, difficulty breathing, and vomiting. Lesson learned: don’t mess with a lionfish. 


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Creature Feature: Meet the Fangtooth!

Fangtastic: Meet the incredible fangtooth l Photo: Citron

Like something out of your nightmares, the fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta, Anoplogaster brachycera) lurks in the darkest depths of the ocean. Wielding huge, saberlike teeth, the fangtooth has the largest teeth in the ocean relative to body size. The phrase “relative to body size” is important to remember here, however: the larger of the two species of fangtooth reaches a maximum length of just 6 inches, rendering these tiny balls of ferociousness harmless to humans.


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Creature Feature: Oarfish

©Pisces Sportsfishing

After a gigantic eyeball washed ashore in Ft. Lauderdale last week (likely belonging to a swordfish) this week the ocean reminded us again what mysteries lurk in the deep when a 15 foot oarfish washed up on the Baja Peninsula.

By oarfish standards, though, 15 feet is scrawny. This little known and poorly understood creature has been documented to reach 36 feet in length making it the longest bony fish known to man. Reports of specimens topping 50 feet in length are not uncommon, and the fish is a likely inspiration for tales of sea serpents in centuries past. Oarfish live in tropical and temperate waters worldwide at depths of up to 3,300 feet, drifting in open ocean currents and feeding on fish, crustaceans and squid, but they are almost never seen or caught alive and little is known about their behavior.

Residents of Cabo San Lucas who struggled but failed to save the fish, were shocked to find it swimming in their waters, as were a group of Navy Seals who came upon a 23 foot oarfish during training in Coronado, California in 1996 (below).

oarfish

©Wikimedia Commons

Apart from its length, oarfish are also notable for the brilliant red mane which crowns its head as well a dorsal fin that starts between its eyes and runs the length of its body.


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Creature Feature: Great White Shark

greatwhite

Great whites have earned a bad reputation, but they don't deserve it ©Discovery Channel

They’re the stars of Shark Week, one of the most iconic creatures in the ocean. But how well do you really know the great white shark?

White sharks are known by many names—great white, white pointer, Carcharodon carcharias, even white death. They’re the largest existing predatory fish in the ocean, and they’ve been around for about 16 million years. They’re found in coastal waters in all of the world’s major oceans.

The average great white measures in around 14 feet long (the females are generally a few feet longer than the males). An average individual weighs between 1,500 and 2,400 pounds. The largest white sharks ever measured came in around 20 feet long and weighed nearly 5,000 pounds.

All that size makes these sharks powerful predators. Their bite force is an estimated 1.8 tons—that’s 20 times the bite force of the average human! This powerful bite is coupled with multiple rows of sharp, serrated teeth that help the shark saw off pieces of fish.

Great whites also have an additional sense that allows them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of living animals. By searching for these tiny electromagnetic pulses and using their excellent sense of smell, sharks can seek out prey from miles away.

In the social structure of white sharks, females dominate males, and size matters. They resolve conflict through rituals and displays of power, and rarely attack one another. Some sharks have even shown behavior that appears playful!

Great whites have earned a bad reputation as ferocious man-eaters due to movies like Jaws and stories about rogue sharks attacking humans. Truth is, great whites aren’t all that interested in humans. They would rather eat a fish or a seal than a human. While a significant proportion of shark accidents around the world involve white sharks, most are not fatal. Great whites are curious sharks, and will give an unknown object a sample bite, then release it.

These powerful creatures may be at the top of the food chain, but their biggest predator is humans. Only a few hundred great whites are left in the population off the coasts of California and Mexico, and they’re not getting the protection they need. Sign today to help get great whites covered by the Endangered Species Act.


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Creature Feature: Seahorse

Camouflaging in coral ©Wikimedia Commons

Though you won’t see them saddled and ready to ride anytime soon, seahorses are pretty fascinating little sea creatures.

Named for their resemblance to the horses that we’re used to seeing on land, the seahorse is one of the slowest moving fish in the ocean. They swim upright, unlike their cousin the pipefish, and flutter their dorsal fin up to 30-40 times per second to move around (more like a hummingbird than a horse).

There are 47 distinct species of seahorses, and all are in the genus Hippocampus, which comes from the Ancient Greek for “sea monster.” You can find them in shallow waters throughout the world, especially in seagrass beds, coral reefs, and mangroves, where they can take cover and hide from bigger fish that might want to make a meal out of them.

Seahorses are fairly small, ranging from 0.6 to 14 inches. But the smallest of all are the pygmy seahorses. Scientists are continuing to discover new species of pygmy seahorse, but they’re tough to find because they camouflage themselves and live in or near coral, algae, or seaweed, where they blend so well that they’re nearly impossible to spot. They often use their tails to anchor themselves to a surface, then use their snouts to catch brine shrimp and other small crustaceans floating by.

One of the seahorse’s most unique characteristics is that males carry the fertilized eggs instead of females. The male seahorse has a brood pouch on his front side where the female deposits eggs during mating. He carries the eggs until they’re fully developed, then releases the tiny seahorses out into the ocean to fend for themselves. A single brood can contain up to 1,500 young!

Because seahorses are so elusive, we don’t know very much about their populations worldwide. But the coral reefs, seagrass beds, and other areas they call home are endangered by habitat depletion, pollution, and ocean acidification, which has made some species of seahorse vulnerable to extinction.


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