What are the nubby little things on pilings near the beach?

Most likely, acorn barnacles.


Let me guess, they look like tiny volcanoes? And they hurt if you rub up against them?barnacles1
That is the outer shell made of calcium. They put this protective layer up when they are not under water.
When it is hide tide the acorn barnacle opens up the volcanoes structure and extends tiny little legs (cirri) all about to gather food circulating in the ocean water.
If you have digested this correctly, you now know the acorn barnacle finds a suitable spot once it is “an adult” and stays there for THE REST OF THEIR LIFE. gulp.

Image (c) uksafari.com.

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Are laughing gulls really funny?

NO! Not at all.

Laughing gulls, or Larus atricilla, are quite aggressive. These birds travel up and down the coasts seagulland never have to stray far inland. They are extremely confident and spend their days foraging food from overly-relaxed beach goers. They will easily push larger birds, for instance, a pelican, right out of the way in order to grab the goodies.

These birds do have a black cap of feathers, but, it changes to white in the off breeding season.

Image (c) FreeFoto.com.

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Why is the ocean blue?

blueMy immediate answer is that the ocean had a rough day at the office.

A lot of people think it is because of the reflection of the sky, but, that is missing an important part of the puzzle. If you think about it the ocean is not really blue everywhere, is it?

What needs to be said is that sunlight particles may be reflected by the surface of the water, but, some may not. The sun contains all colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Yellow and red are absorbed immediately within the surface of the water leaving the green and blue to our naked eye.

What does this have to do with the fact that the ocean isn’t blue everywhere? Well, that all depends on what is in the oceans too. Different things absorb the sunlight differently. If the ocean floor is bare, the ocean appears crystalline blue. If there is a lot of plant life (phytoplankton, other plants or organic materials) it will generally appear greener.

But we’ve only scratched the surface here. Check back often at beachchairscientist.com for more insight about your favorite beach discoveries.

Image (c) of FreeFoto.com.

More reasons why I love the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab…

As I mentioned before, the horseshoe crab is a rather frightening looking creature, however quite the opposite is true, they are the steadfast, strong member of the ocean community. This animal, not only is a vital part of the Atlantic coast food chain, but has remained rather unchanged since before the time of the dinosaurs!

An animal that has been in existence since before the dinosaurs is quite impressive and the main reason I have gotten my 4 year old nephew to learn and love saying the scientific name for the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab, Limulus polyphemus. The “polly-femus” part always cracks him up.

But, seriously, they have remained relatively unchanged and evolved little in 260 million years!

How have they managed this impressive feat?

First of all, it is very difficult for predators to get overturn their tough curved shell and get into the crux of their underbelly!

Secondly, they can go a year without food!

Lastly, they are adaptable and can endure the harshest conditions (temperature and ocean salt levels)!

But we’ve only scratched the surface here. Check back often at beachchairscientist.com for more insight about your favorite beach discoveries.

What eats sea urchins?

Sea Urchin (Diadematidae) (20 cm)

Image by CybersamX via Flickr

The spines of the sea urchins are there for protection but that doesn’t stop the sea urchin from having enemies. 

For instance, sea gulls love to grab them at low tide at pick away at them high upon the rocks. Crabs have a feast with the urchins by picking away at their spine to get to the inside flesh. Also, urchins that are found along the ocean floor are preyed upon by rays, sharks, seals, and even otters.

But we’ve only scratched the surface here. Check back often at www.beachchairscientist.com for more insight about your favorite beach discoveries.

How do you know the difference between a male and female blue crab?

You must be brave enough to pinch the body of the blue crab from behind and lift it upside down (It hurts a lot if they pinch you!).

Male blue crabs have a distinct shape like a pencil – or the Washington Monument – in the center of their bellies. Female blue crabs, on the other hand, have a shape like the Capitol.

http://treadoutdoors.blogspot.com/2012/10/my-husband-gave-me-crabs.html

http://treadoutdoors.blogspot.com/2012/10/my-husband-gave-me-crabs.html

 

 

What are those sand flea thingees and why do they follow me home?

I have two answers for you here – Mole Crabs or Sand Hoppers.

Mole Crabs:

Unfortunately, not all crabs are as interesting in appearance or function as the great Atlantic Horseshoe Crab, but the mole crab has some merit.

Mole Crabs, or one type of sand fleas thingees, are properly referred to as Emerita analoga. A pretty dignified, but boring sounding Latin name – rather appropriate for the critters too.

Here is why:

  • They look like tiny lobsters, but are more closely linked to hermit crabs.
  • At low tide they are quite the efficient tunnelers and use their back legs to dig down to six inches and wait for the next high tide.

Sand Hoppers:

These little guys truly are harmless. Sand hoppers, or the other type of sand flea thingees, are properly referred to as Orchestia. They are most often found in clumps of rotting seaweed – which they eat. They resemble small shrimp and are about a half an inch long and “hop” by using their tails and last three sets of legs.

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So what’s up with that sand stuck between my toes?

Sand is basically the tiny particles eroded from the mountains or rock formation closest to the beach you are standing on as well as some other bits and pieces. The three main ingredients common to all the beaches are: quartz, old shell parts, and decayed materials from the sea and land.

I saw the most interesting image of sand gradients going from really dark to really light as one traveled from Maine to Florida. Which makes sense since the chemical make up of those mountain ranges and the biological life in each of those areas is unique.

Someone did ask me if sand was a natural exfoliates our skins – and the answer is basically, yes. There are a lot of natural exfoliates out there and sand is one – in the sense that it helps to remove dead skin cells, like sponges you see for sale. Maybe not the most comfortable – but, certainly one of the most accessible if you get a burn (once mixed with water – it really cools you off, but looks gross).

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What are the tiny colorful clams you find under the sand when digging?

These tiny colorful clams are commonly known as coquina clams.

Did you see them wriggle under the sand? They use a muscled foot to dig a burrow and hide from their enemies: crabs, sea stars, and snails. They can feed themselves with the muscle coming out of the other end, called a siphon. The siphon basically just sucks in the “vitamins” of the sea for the clam to grow on.

Clams grow very fast in the summer and fairly slow in the winter. You can tell the age of a clam by counting the darker rings. The softer rings are the slow growth of winter. Think how your hair grows longer and faster in the summer.

Did you know that colorful coquina clams are the sign of a healthy beach? Check the video posted here!

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What are jellyfish?

It was another great weekend on the beach for my family and everyone had new and exciting Beach Chair Scientist questions. The best part about being a Beach Chair Scientist is clarifying misconceptions, so I am going to start with the question that seemed to garner the most discussion this weekend “What are jellyfish?”.

Jellyfish, contrary to their popular common name, are not fish at all! As a matter of fact, neither are starfish. Popular nicknames to avoid this misconception can be to call them jellies or seastars.

Jellies are basically giant plankton. Plankton is anything (living) that is free-floating. It can be a plant (known as phytoplankton) or an animal (known as zooplankton). Jellies are zooplankton. Floating is easy for them. They are over 90% percent water. People are approximately 70% water.  Jellies are in the family Cnidaria (the c is silent). Also in this group are sea anemones and coral.

What do jellies, sea anemones, and coral all have in common?

1. One giant cavity for all digestion
2. Stinging cells (known as nemotacysts)
3. Tentacles
4. Radial symmetry (no matter how you slice it, you will have 2 halves)

Jellies are essentially a giant mouth with intestines surrounded by a skeleton. They have a nerve-net surrounding their transparent skeleton. The nerve-net in some species extends towards the tentacles. Not all jellies have painful toxins in their tentacles.

What do you do if you are infected with a toxin tentacle?

1. Wash with soap and water
2. Apply alcohol, or meat tenderizer and Vaseline
3. Apply ice and contact a doctor

Image (c) pdphoto.org

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