Meet the Animals: Under the Sea

Fishes

Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): Clownfish have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with sea anemones.  The stinging tentacles of the anemone protect the clownfish from predators.  Because of its mucus coating, the clownfish is immune to the anemone’s sting.  In return, the clownfish defends the anemone from predators that would nibble on its tentacles and acts as lure to draw other fishes in close for the anemone to eat.

Brown Banded Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum): The brownbanded bamboo shark inhabits  nearshore coral reefs, where it hunts for its favorite foods – crabs, shrimps, and small fishes – at night.  It can find these snacks even in the dark because of its barbels, whisker-like sensory organs that it uses to search through the sand.  Brownbanded bamboo sharks only grow to be about three feet long, and they are not a threat to humans.

Echinoderms

Green Brittle Star (Ophiarachna incrassate): Our green brittle sea star is one of the coolest critters in our collection.  Starfish have the power of regeneration, meaning that if they lose a limb, they can grow a new one.  Sea stars, however, take the power of regeneration to the extreme – the lost arm of a sea star can grow into a whole, new identical starfish!

Pencil Sea Urchin (Eucidaris tribuloides): Our pencil urchin may not look like a relative of our brittle star, but just like the sea star has five arms, our urchin has five teeth.  Despite looking prickly, pencil sea urchins aren’t dangerous to touch.  Their spines are thick and blunt, used for wedging the urchin in rock crevices, not for stabbing unsuspecting toes!

Arthropods

Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus): Horseshoe crabs are not crabs at all but are actually close relatives of scorpions and spiders.  This not-crab has 12 legs with a mouth in the center, 10 eyes, and blue blood.  Horseshoe crabs have been on this planet longer than dinosaurs – 300 million years, and they are an invaluable link in the Chesapeake Bay food web.  Horseshoe crabs crawl on shore from May-June in order to reproduce, and their eggs and larvae are important food for fishes, sea turtles, and migrating sea birds.

Striped Hermit Crab (Clibanarius vittatus): Hermit crabs have soft bodies with curly tails that they protect by wearing snail shells on their backs.  In order to better camouflage, this species of hermit crab has been known to attach sea anemones to its shell.  Just like sea anemones and clownfish, the crab and the anemone have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship: the anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the crab from predators, and the anemone gets a mobile home on which to live.

Black-Fingered Mud Crab (Panopeus herbstii): Black-fingered mud crabs are so-named for the black tips on their claws.  These crabs are a crucial element of Chesapeake Bay food webs because they eat marsh periwinkle snails.  Without mud crabs to keep their population in check, periwinkle snails could destroy wetland ecosystems by eating all the marsh grasses.

Spider Crab (Libinia emarginata): Spider crabs are also known as decorator crabs.  Their backs and legs are covered in soft algae that acts like velcro, and the crabs can stick pieces of shell and seaweed to themselves in order to camouflage.  Spider crabs aren’t just good at hiding; they’re good at seeking, too.  They may not very good eyesight, but spider crabs have tasting and sensing organs on the tips of their feet to help them find food.

Mollusks

Chesapeake Bay Clam (Mercenaria mercenaria): The Chesapeake Bay hard clam can be known by many different names – quahog, cherrystone, little neck, or chowder clam – depending on its size.  No matter their name or size, all clams of this species are filter feeders.  Their mouth is made up of a pair of siphons – one for sucking in food and one for expelling the water that comes in with that food.

Mud Snail (Tritia obsoleta): Mud snails may look like babies compared to larger whelks and conchs, but these tiny surf zone dwellers are fully grown.  They live on the beach where there is nearly constant wave action, and often these little snails are knocked onto their backs by the rushing water.  But that’s okay!  Mud snails can use their foot to grab the sand and flip themselves right side up.

Florida Horse Conch (Pleuroploca gigantean): Florida horse conchs are the second largest species of snail in the world.  This carnivorous snail can grow as long as 2 feet!  Its favorite snacks are clams and oysters, which it cracks open using its hard shell.  The Florida horse conch then uses its radula – a tongue like organ covered in tiny teeth – to lick out all the clam or oyster meat.

***Animals subject to change according to season and availability.  If there is a specific animal you would like to meet, let us know, and we will do our best to accommodate you!***

andrew@touchthesea.org          (703) 464-4763          Glen Echo Park Aquarium