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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Big waves and "tulips"

Earlier today the waves reached almost 20 feet.  I went out in the late afternoon for a quick look and I'd guess they were ~15-16 feet high when I took this picture:


Sometimes interesting things wash up on the beach during big wave events, so I decided to go for a short walk on Salmon Creek Beach.  There were lots of gelatinous bits in the drift line, primarily parts of hydromedusae.  

But every now and then a small patch of orange caught my eye.  Some of these patches were paler than others.  Here are two examples, the first being fairly white and the second showing the orange coloration better.



Note that in the first picture, the mystery object is lying free on the sand, while in the second picture it appears to be attached to a hydroid (the slender branches sticking out at the top).

Also note that in both photos you can see that the object seems to be made up of many smaller parts (look for the tiny orange dots) embedded in a thin, soft matrix.  This made me wonder if it was an egg mass, so I decided to bring it back for a closer view under a microscope.

Here's the first view under higher magnification:


Indeed, each of those "dots" making up the larger object was a small slightly coiled structure with a prominent orange tip.

From another angle, the orange tip had a very tulip-like appearance:


Below is one more view of two of the orange "tulips":


At this point I'm going to have to admit to you that I'm stumped.  I don't know what this is!  My best guess is that it might be some sort of tunicate, or sea squirt (or a relative of a tunicate).  It's both interesting and frustrating not to know!

If you have any guesses about the identity of this animal, please contact me, as I'm intrigued and would love to hear other ideas about it!

1 comment:

Marie Nydam said...

The first photo doesn't look like an ascidian to me, but the second photo does. Best guess: The hydroid is attached to a solitary ascidian tunic (you can see the place where the ascidian attaches to the substrate, at the top of the photo). You can also see the two siphons, at the bottom of the photo. Siphon arrangement is consistent with a member of the genus Ascidia (zara or ceratodes). Tunic coloration makes me think Ascidia zara. The siphons are covered by a colonial ascidian, which is what you had under the scope. The tulips could be individual zooids. The colonial ascidian looks like an Aplidium - Aplidium californicum is common in the rocky subtidal. I love the blog!