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Under the Sea

Meet Our Critters!


Our programs and talks are full of information as well as awesome live sea creatures!  We take more animals to schools, parties, festivals and special events than anyone else.  Check out some of our critters.  Click on the picture for a close-up.

Invertebrates
   Porifera - Sponges
   Cnidarians - Jellies, hydroids and corals
   Arthropods - Crabs, insects, etc.
   Molluscs - Clams, snails, squid etc.
   Echinoderms - Sea Urchins, Starfishes, Sea Cucumbers
   Tunicates - Sea squirts
Vertebrates
   Fishes

Porifera - The Sponges
This phylum contains about 5000 species of simple animals that lack distinct organs, have skeletons of spongin, calcium carbonate spicules, silica spicules or a combination of spongin and silica spicules.  They filter feed on plankton but recently a species was discovered near France, that engulfs shrimp!

Red Beard Sponge Microciona prolifera - a right red to orange colored branching sponge found in the Chesapeake Bay.

Cnidaria - The Stinging Animals
These jellylike critters capture their food by stinging it with harpoons and injecting a venom (a few exceptions exist).  Examples include jellyfish, anemones, hydroids, and corals.

anemonelv2.jpg (107541 bytes)Sea Anemone Anthopleura krebsi - These flowers of the sea are animals related to jellyfish.  Their tentacles have stinging cells that are used for defense and offense.

Sea Whip Coral Leptogorgia virgulata - a soft branching coral that can be orange, purple, or yellow.

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Arthropods 
This huge phylum includes insects, arachnids, and crustaceans to name just a few.  There are well over one million species in this phylum.

hsclv2.jpg (86479 bytes)Atlantic Horseshoe Crab Limulus polyphemus - A large, prehistoric arthropod that is more like a spider than a crab!  They have blue blood that is used in medical testing and a pointy tail that was used as a spear tip by native Americans.  We have four that were collected in DE, and two more that were donated by a High school in Stafford Co., VA.

Grass Shrimp Palaemontes pugio - This small type of shrimp is often found hiding in grasses, hence the name.  Like other shrimp, they have a spine that sticks out over their eyes, called rostrum, for protection.

Ivory Barnacle Ballanus ebuneus - Barnacles are small animals that sit on their head and eat microscopic food with their curled feet.  They are most commonly recognized by their volcano-shaped shell.

spidercrabfacelv2.jpg (71655 bytes)Spider Crab Libinia emarginata - A HUGE crab that many think is a spider, except that it has ten legs instead of eight.  We have four spider crabs that were collected off VA Bch.

bluecrablv2.jpg (74680 bytes)Blue Crab Callinectes sapidus  - A very aggressive species that is heavily fished in the Chesapeake Bay.  We have one jimmy as well as a few related species - Callinectes similis and a few Portunus.

similus2-1.jpg (96340 bytes)Atlantic Blue Crab Callinectes similis - Looks very similar to the edible blue crab but rarely grows to more than 5" across the shell (the record for C. sapidus is 10 1/2"!)

Purse Crab Persephona punctata - These small, sand dwelling crabs get their name from the fact that they can fold down their abdomen which looks like a purse-like pocket.

Mud Crab Panopeus duorarum - Mud Crabs are very small crabs which only grow to about 1-2” across.  They hide by burying in the mud or hiding under rocks or logs underwater.  Ours were most collected in VA Bch.

stonecrablv2.jpg (97416 bytes)Stone Crab Menippe mercenaria - This little girl was donated by the Owens Science Center in MD back in April 2001.  Her shell will eventually reach eight inches across!

hermitcrablv2.jpg (83531 bytes)Striped Hermit Crab Clibanarius vittatus - A hermit that tends to be found in moon snail shells.  We have at least four that were collected in VA Bch.

Broad Clawed or Flat Clawed Hermit Crab Pagurus pollicaris - A hermit that has very flat claws that they use like a door to close their soft body inside of a snail shell they borrow.

Long-claw Hermit Crab Pagurus longicarpus - These guys don't get too large but they sure can walk fast!  We have at least four that were collected in VA Bch.

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Molluscs
This large phylum includes snails, clams, oysters, chitons, squids and octopi.  They are characterized by their mantle, a unique organ to this group, that in most cases, secretes the shell.  There are over 100,000 species of Molluscs in the world!

Knobbed Whelk Busycon carica - The largest snail found in the Chesapeake Bay. Most are collected thirteen miles off VA Beach at the light tower.  The specimen pictured has whelk eggs in front of it, referred to as a mermaid's necklace.

channelwhlk2.jpg (76306 bytes)Channeled Whelk Busycotypus canaliculatus - A large snail that eats soft clams.  We currently have one that has been with us for over 3 years.

Veined Rappa Whelk Rapana venosa - This type of snail is actually from Japan.  recently it has been appearing in the Chesapeake Bay, threatening the native species of snails like the Knobbed and Channeled Whelk.  

horseconchlv2.jpg (17161 bytes)Florida Horse Conch Pleuroploca gigantea - The second largest snail species in the world, growing 2' in length.  These carnivorous snails have orange skin!  Perfect for Halloween!

crownconchlv2.jpg (83184 bytes)Crown Conch Melongena corona - A 3" snail found all over the West coast of Florida, preying upon oysters.  This one has algae growing on its shell.  It is not normally green!

Tulip Snail Fasciolaria tulipa - The one we have is a true tulip - they have purple skin!  Other tulip snails include the horse conch (orange skin) and the banded tulip snail (red skin).

Lightning Whelk Busycon contrarium - We have had one lightning whelk for at least 4 years.  These guys get huge - about 16" in length when fully grown!

Mud Snail Ilyanassa obsoleta - Tons of these small, black snails seek out dead critters in the Chesapeake Bay, devouring them quickly.  They only grow to 1/2".

olive1-1.jpg (63644 bytes)Lettered Olive Snail Oliva sayana - Our lettered olive snail has been with Under the Sea since the very beginning - way back in 1995!  He spends most of his time buried in the sand.

clamlv2.jpg (98781 bytes)Hard or Quahog Clam -Mercenaria mercenaria - These clams are often eaten by people.  They are also called littleneck, cherrystone or chowder clams.  Native Americans used the purple and white parts of the shell as wampum (money).

Mahogany or Black Quahog Clam Arctica islandica - A small clam found in the New England area.

American Oyster Crassostrea virginica - Oysters settle on top of other oysters, cementing their shells together, eventually forming an oyster reef.  Today, the Chesapeake Bay is nearly devoid of oysters, containing only an estimated 1% of its historic numbers.  This is due to decreasing water quality, over-fishing, and diseases.

Blue Mussel Mytilus edulis - A bivalve that is popular to eat!  They produce byssal threads that help them hang onto rocks and other blue mussels, thus avoiding getting tossed up on the beach.

Blood Arc Anadara ovalis - A bivalve with hemoglobin. 

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Echinoderms or Spiny Skinned Critters

Echinoderms are characterized by their spiny skin and pentagonal body designs.  Although they appear to have radial symmetry, it is secondarily developed.

Common or Hairy Sea Cucumber Thyone briareus - A Chesapeake Bay inhabitant that likes to burrow in the sand.  We have observed one inflating its body with water, looking a lot like a fuzzy rock.

seaurchinlv2.jpg (84378 bytes)Purple Sea Urchin Arbacia punctulata - A Mid-Atlantic species with sharp, 1"-2" spines similar to toothpicks.

pencilurchinlv2.jpg (100989 bytes)Pencil Spine Sea Urchin Eucidaris tribuloides - A tropical species that is not dangerous to touch.  Its spines are thick and blunt, used to wedge the urchin in rocky crevices. 

keyhole2.jpg (51642 bytes)Sand Dollar or Keyhole Urchin -Mellita quinquiesperforata - Keyhole Urchins are not true sand dollars, but they are actually flattened cousins of sea urchins.  Keyhole urchins get their name from the opening, or keyhole, near the center of their shell.

forbeslv2.jpg (100912 bytes)Forbes Common Sea Star Asterias forbesi - Found off the VA/MD coast around mussel beds.  This is a good look at its underside. 

organgecstarlv2.jpg (129487 bytes)Brown Spiny or Orange Sided Sea Star Echinaster spinulosus - a tropical species of sea star.

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Tunicates
These animals are chordates but not vertebrates!  They develop a notochord but not vertebrae. 

Sea Squirt Molgula manhattensis - A tunicate that filters out plankton for dinner.

Vertebrates
These animals have a vertebral column that protects the notocord.  There are five major groups: Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, Fishes, and Mammals.

mummichoglv2.jpg (67582 bytes)Mummichog - Fundulus heteroclitus - Found all around the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay, its name is native American for "going in crowds".

seahorse3-1.jpg (87524 bytes)Lined Sea Horse Hippocampus erectus - One of ~34 species of sea horses, these fish grow to 6" long.  They are voracious eaters since all sea horses lack a stomach!  Our sea stable currently holds six from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

oystertoadlv2.jpg (77470 bytes)Oyster Toad Fish Opsanu tau - This fish may not be pretty to us, but to another oyster toad, he's gorgeous!  They are ambush feeders that live among the oyster reefs and bottom structures.

eellv2.jpg (68576 bytes)American Eel Anguilla rostrata - A catadromous fish (born in the ocean but lives in fresh water).  These slimy fish grow to 2-5 feet long.  We currently have three that travel with us.

skilletlv2.jpg (95947 bytes)Skilletfish Gobiesox strumosus - Found hanging out around oyster reefs, these little fish have a lot of character.  Their pectoral fins are modified into a suction cup so they can latch onto their surroundings.

nakedgoby2.jpg (68715 bytes)Naked Goby Gobiosoma bosci - Named for their lack of scales.  Found in the Chesapeake Bay around oysters and grasses.

Feather Blenny Hypsoblennius hentz - Named for the feather-like appendages that stick out of the top of their head, these small fish are usually found in the same areas as Skillet fish.  They are aggressive little guys that may remind you of a bull dog!

catfish2.jpg (109338 bytes)Catfish Belle siegfried - A very loveable species but rare.  This one was spotted at Halloween in Kathy's house, swimming around.

yellowraylv2.jpg (69968 bytes)Yellow Stingray Urolophus jamaicensis - A small tropical species that can travel to parties as well as schools.  It is happiest when buried.

Clearnose Skate Raja eglanteria - This large ray is often caught by fishermen.  Its tail is lined with sharp thorns, but lacks a long stinger characteristic of it's relatives, the stingrays.

flounderlv-1.jpg (72274 bytes)Summer Flounder Paralichtys dentatus - Growing to about three feet, these fish are a prized food fish.  The one we currently have was donated to us by Dr. Bill Hall of the University of Delaware.

hogchoakerlv2.jpg (89785 bytes)Hogchoker Chrysiptera cyanea - Another flatfish that is basically a small flounder.  More properly it is a type of sole.  During the colonial days, pig farmers would try to feed this by catch to their animals, resulting in its now common name.

 

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