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Thursday, May 21, 2015

albus & cocoa

After field work today, Eric spotted a couple of nice nudibranchs.  It was a fun combination of species, named after two contrasting colors.

The first was a White Dendronotus (Dendronotus albus).  The standout feature of this species are the cerata (dorsal projections) on the back — "delicately branched" and tipped with white and orange. 

The second species was a Chocolate Cuthona (Cuthona cocoachroma).  Note that the centers of the cerata are chocolate brown.  The frosted white tips of the cerata are also distinctive.

Both of these nudibranchs were feeding on hydroids in tidepools in the low intertidal zone. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Towel, anyone?

We found a very large blade of red algae washed up on the beach a couple of days ago:

Although it might be hard to tell from the picture, this algae is known for its texture it's covered with small bumps or spines.  They're dense, which gives the seaweed a rough texture.  Because of this, someone came up with a distinctive name for it — Turkish Towel.  

This is Chondracanthus.  (My guess is Chondracanthus corymbiferus.)  However, Turkish Towel is often easier to remember!

This towel was so big (you might call it a bath sheet!), Eric thought he'd give it a try:

There are over 200 species of seaweeds in the Bodega Bay region.  I'll be trying to highlight more of them this year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fiery and flamboyant

One of the goals of this blog is to introduce you to animals that you might not be aware of.  Because of that, some of the species I've highlighted are inconspicuous, small, or hard to see.  That is not the case with this species.

Another goal of this blog is to record observations that are unusual.  This species falls into that category.

Meet the Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea) a flamboyant nudibranch that's much more common in southern California.  They have been found from the Galapagos Islands to British Columbia, but they're rare north of San Francisco.  And in fact, there are no records for Oregon, and there's only one record for Washington.  (Thanks to Jeff Goddard for this information.)

Below is a close-up of the anterior end, showing off the amazing colors: blue tentacles, red rhinophores (sense organs), orange cerata (projections on the back), purple body.

Here's a picture of the cerata.  Because they're in clusters and are of varying lengths, they remind me of flames.

Spanish Shawls are known for their swimming abilities.  To move among sites, or to escape predators, they swim with dramatic U-shaped undulations flexing one way and then the other, and repeating this over and over again.  I captured one sequence to give you a feel for this motion:

Eric spotted one individual (~5 cm long) at Pinnacle Gulch on 18 May 2015.  Then Jason discovered another small individual on 19 May 2015.  Because they're so rare in this region (this is the first time we've seen them in Bodega Bay), we also took some close-ups of the smaller one for documentation: 

It's hard to believe this very tropical-looking nudibranch found its way to northern California!

If you see any Spanish Shawls during your coastal adventures, I'd love to hear about it and it would be great to compile sightings in northern California.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Blue ribbon

Okay, do you remember the mystery photos from last night?

Some of you might have noticed in the Comments section that Matt won the prize he guessed correctly that these patches are dense concentrations of pelagic barnacle cyprids.  Recall that cyprids are the final larval stage that settles out of the plankton.  In this case, these are the cyprids of a pelagic gooseneck barnacle called Lepas sp. 

Here's a close-up of the cyprids under a microscope:

After settling on a floating substrate, the cyprids will undergo metamorphosis into juvenile barnacles.  A few of them had already done so:

I wanted to post these pictures on the blog because there have been amazing numbers of Lepas cyprids this year more than any other year since I've been observing floating objects washing ashore in Bodega Bay.  I've wondered if it could be related to the warm water temperatures last year, but we can't be certain.

What's perhaps even more fun, though, is that when I went to take these documentary pictures, I noticed a few other things among the cyprids!

At first I thought this was just a blue tentacle (perhaps from Velella)...but then it started moving...and then I noticed the eye spots at the anterior (front) end.  A tiny blue ribbon worm!  I'd never seen a blue ribbon worm before.

One time the ribbon worm left one patch of cyprids and crossed the great divide to another patch of cyprids.  If anyone has thoughts about the identity of this ribbon worm, I'd love to hear more.

When I was scanning the cyprids, I also noticed quite a few small light brown spots.  If you look very carefully, you'll see them in the lower left corner of the next photo, nestled among the cyprids:

When I zoomed in, I could see that these brown spots were moving, that they had dark eyespots, and that they might have some sort of paired structures forming on their heads (see small bumps in image below).

Although I'm uncertain, my best guess for these little brown blobs is that they could be very young pelagic nudibranchs (Fiona pinnata).  I've written about Fiona before (see post on 19 October 2012), but I've never seen one this small, hence my uncertainty.  What do you think?  Do you have a different guess?

The Sea Palm and Lepas cyprids reminded us of a valuable lesson it's always worth taking a closer look!

Sunday, May 17, 2015


I ran out of time tonight, but I'll leave you with a couple of mystery photos to ponder.  I'll post more photos and information about them tomorrow night.

We noticed these blue-gray patches on a few Sea Palms (Postelsia palmaeformis) that had drifted and then washed up on Salmon Creek Beach on 15 May 2015.

Can you guess what the patches are?

Here's another clue well, at least it's a close-up that reveals a little bit more:

Tune in tomorrow for the answer!

Friday, May 15, 2015


Now I think it's funny when I hear the local forecasts predicting "breezy conditions along the coast today."  Perhaps they need another term for 20 knot winds with 30 knot gusts?  ;)

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Gray Whales close to shore this afternoon, swimming north...

Only ~1400 miles to go!