20 reasons oysters are awesome

O-Y-S-T-E-R! Happy National Oyster Day! There needs to be much love for the oyster. These creatures are delicious, sustainable, and help the environment. Maybe we need more than just one day to celebrate this bivalve? If you don’t believe me, here are over 20 reasons oysters are awesome:

  1. Oysters spawn during the summer months and therefore tend not to be as tasty. This is the epitomes of the old wives’ tale on why “you shouldn’t eat oysters in months that don’t end in ‘R’.”
  2. Another reason this adage has prevailed is that oysters are much better when cold and do not taste that good when in the heat.
  3. Oysters can change their sex. They can produce both semen and eggs.
  4. Oysters have been known to live up to twenty years in captivity.
  5. When oyster larvae attach to a hard material, a vital part of their life cycle, they’re called “spat.” Two to three years later they are considered adults.OystersLifeCycle
  6. The habitat of the Eastern American oyster (Crassostrea virginica) extend from Canada to Argentina.
  7. Even though there are countless (and delicious) varieties of oysters there are only five species. These species are the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), Kumamoto oyster, European flat oyster, American (i.e., Eastern) oyster, and the Olympia oyster. The shells of the five species are truly what sets these species apart (other than the geographic region they are most often found). The American is pretty familiar with its large size and comma shaped shell. The Olympians have a small, round, pale shell with lustrous coloring. The Kumamotos have a round, pale shell as well but not as much of a smooth shell. The European flat has fine ridges around its large, straight shell, and the Pacific are small with wavy shells. In fact, the same type of oyster can taste different contingent on where it was raised.IMG_7313
  8. Sometimes a bacteria that commonly grows along coastal environments where oysters are found known as Vibrio vulnificus can infect the oysters. This would leave to that “bad oyster” that might make you sick.
  9. One very common misunderstanding of the oyster is that they are an aphrodisiac. However, it’s really just their significant amount of zinc. Zinc is a mineral that will boost your energy and therefore can boost your sex drive. Other benefits of zinc are that skin will improve and make your bones stronger.
  10. Oysters also have immense amounts of omega-3-fatty acids which can sharpen your memory, lower levels of depression and heart disease, as well as a host of other benefits.
  11. Oysters also have lots of vitamin A, C, D and B-12.
  12. Even though Boticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” has Aphrodite rising from the sea on a scallop shell legend has it that the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, emerged from the sea in an oyster shell.
  13. In the 17th century, New York City was covered in oyster beds and were very much enjoyed by the native Lenape Indians. Eventually, by the 19th century, the oysters were so plentiful that raw oysters could be purchased from the street vendors. There was even oyster saloons with all sorts of methods for consuming oysters.
  14. Most pearls found in jewelry are from clams and mussels – not oysters. Although, there are also actual pearl oysters which are from a different family of bivalves.
  15. Oyster mushrooms and black salsify, also called “vegetable oyster”, actually taste like oysters.
  16. Oysters are a crucial member to the aquatic communities. Not only do they gobble up lots of algae (think of your back bay becoming a dirty fish tank without them), but they are crucial as natural filter feeders. Oysters filter approximately 30 to 50 gallons of water a day removing excess nutrients and allowing shrimp, clams, crabs, and snails to flourish. The cleaner water also enables more seagrass to grow creating more habitat for fish.
  17. Oysters grow on top of one another as an oyster reef. These huge substrates are imperative for soil erosion and shoreline stabilization.Oyster_human_impact_diagram_SM_noaa
  18. If you bring home oysters for your next bake be sure to recycle the shells close to home. The shells of the oysters are extremely rich in calcium and can help balance the pH of the soil as well as add nutrients to your garden. Fertilizer fresh from the sea!
  19. Oyster farms, unlike other types of fish farming, can greatly enhance the health of nearby waterways. Not only do they tend to munch on pollution (yes, they’ve been known to help out Big Oil), but if the oyster were to escape it isn’t in danger of becoming an exotic species.
  20. While it’s all well and good that farmed oysters can do a lot to help water quality … natural oysters reefs are just as vital. Unfortunately, 85% of the global oyster reef population has been lost.
  21. In the Chesapeake Bay an estimated 2,600 acres of oyster beds are lost each year because of runoff and silt. On the Pacific coast invasive crabs and snails are destroying natural oyster beds.
  22. Not only are oyster reefs vanishing, but the ones that remain are just not as strong due to ocean acidification (i.e., climate change for the sea).
  23. There are many organizations along the Atlantic coast that are looking for volunteers to help adopt and raise oysters. If you don’t live on the water volunteers are still urged to build oyster reef substrates or oysters mats.

Resources: Food Republic, NOAA – Cheasapeake Bay Office, Organic Life, Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Marine Mammal Monday: Elephant seals

elephantseals_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about elephant seals today!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

Marine Mammal Monday: Test your knowledge of state symbols

Can you match the state with the marine mammal "symbol"?

Can you match the state with the marine mammal “symbol”?

Download the pdf here. I’ll post the answers next Monday. First person to comment with the correct answers (here or on Facebook) I’ll send a copy of the Smithsonian’s Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (Flexibound).

Also, if I’ve missed a state with a marine mammal “symbol”, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

Marine Mammal Monday: Walruses

walruses_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about walruses today!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

15 facts about the Portuguese man-of-war that’ll have you saying “Didya know…?”

I won’t say it has anything to do with us … oh, wait … yes, I will. The ocean is getting warmer because of climate change. One effect of this would be that many animals that pretty much only preferred the luxurious tropical waters of the south Atlantic now find the Mid-Atlantic waters great! Oh, fun. Except in the case of the man-of-war this summer. That’s got a lot of folks sketched out and seems to be putting a damper on beach days. Well, at least there’s the opportunity to learn something new … because that’s what summer’s all about, right? Here is a list of fifteen surprising facts about the man-of-war (Number twelve is shockingly cool!):

  1. The man-of-war is not a jellyfish. They’re a siphonophore, a single animal made of a colonial of organisms working together (e.g., coral colony).
  2. The man-of-war is made up of four polyps. The top one is a brilliantly purple, blue, or pink gas-filled float. When the top polyp (i.e., “sail”) is filled with gas it looks like the 18th century Portuguese war ship at full mast.
  3. The top polyp is like an umbrella for the others polyps that are bunched under it. One is made up tentacles full of stinging cells (i.e., nematocysts). They’re used to catch prey such as smaller fish, plankton, and crustaceans.
  4. The tentacles with the stinging cells can get to be 165 feet (that’s longer than a blue whale!) long, but are more on average about 50 feet.
  5. Man-of-war are asexual. That’s right … not a man or a woman! One polyp is responsible for all that action. If you’re counting, that’s three of the four polyps. Can you guess what the fourth is responsible for? Digestion.
  6. The gas that the man-of-war is filled with is Argon. That’s number 18 on the atomic table.
  7. The man-of-war (or, man-o-war) is also sometimes called the bluebottle.
  8. People have died from trying to swim into shore after getting stung by them. However, the sting itself will most likely not kill a human.
  9. Man-of-war that have washed up to shore can still sting you. I was stung by one in Florida. While it was incredibly painful at the time, I lived to tell about it. Here is a “How Not to Get Stung” list.
  10. Man-of-war tend to travel together (up to 1000!) and drift in the wind or current (Note: They do not swim and therefore do not migrate). However, they’ll deflate if there is a threat at the surface of the sea.
  11. The eight centimeter fish Nomeus gronovii is immune to the man-of-war’s stinging cells and lives among its tentacles.
  12. The blanket octopus is also immune to them and not only eats them but also reuses the tentacles to help in hunting other animals. Check out a video of that action here.
  13. The fossil records for the man-of-war go back 600 million years.
  14. South Florida-based fine art photographer Aaron Ansarov was featured in National Geographic for his beautiful images of the man-of-war. Check them out … I am still speechless!
  15. There is a Man-O-War Cay in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas. I’ve been to nearby Guana Cay several times, so I am quite grateful that over at Rolling Harbour the beautiful place has been described just as I remember.

man-of-war_beachchairscientist-imagewikipedia

Psst … Can someone help me out with the plural of man-of-war? Is it men-of-war or man-of-wars?

Five surprising facts about sharks

Why are we so enamored with sharks? Why are we glued to the television in the summer during the last hours of daylight to watch fish on TV rather than playing a final game of wiffle ball or pick-up basketball? Does it have something to do with the fact that there are over 400 different types of sharks and always something new to learn? Anyway you slice it, these cartilaginous fish are pretty cool. Here are five surprising facts about sharks that will certainly get you excited to learn more and watch this year’s (hopefully) new and improved Shark Week. What is your favorite fact about sharks?

Shark Week will air from July 5-12 on the Discovery Channel

Shark Week will air from July 5-12 on the Discovery Channel

 

Osprey platforms: Foundations that helped a comeback

For more pictures from the osprey banding trip check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/sets/72157654936373085

For more pictures from the osprey banding trip check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/sets/72157654936373085

Those huge platforms along the causeways are there for a very important reason. Osprey build their nests on them. They’ll also build their nests on any open platform free from predators and near shallow water. But, the man-made platforms have really help to bring back populations of osprey after their sharp decline in numbers due to DDT.  Each year the huge raptors, also known as “fish hawks” because 99.9% of their diet is fish, wait until after the water thaws to build a nest. Since the winter was so long this year along the Mid-Atlantic many of the birds just made their nests in March/April. With an incubation period of just over a month and the young needing just about two months before they take off from the nest it was a perfect time to follow along with Greg Kearns of Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, as he banded juvenile osprey (don’t worry, he has a permit for this kind of thing).

Osprey are banded at a young age to help determine their migration patterns, life expectancy, as well as reasons for mortality. The band that is placed on the young is very light weight and has not hindered their ability to catch food. I am incredibly grateful for his time and dedication to his efforts in conservation and education. Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your knowledge with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association late last month. Here are some more interesting facts learned along the way:

  • As with all birds of prey these birds have very sharp talons. But, the osprey have a reverse talon making it easy for them to grasp their prey with two toes in the front and two from behind.
  • The male usually scopes out the spot for the nest to be built several days before the arrival of the female.
  • Osprey are asynchronous incubators and do not hatch all at once. The female typically lay four eggs but usually one two survive. While they do share food distributed by their mother the oldest one dominates.
  • The hunts for food for the mother and young and before he returns to the nest with food he’ll eat about one-third of the fish. Hunting for fish does burn a lot of calories after all. The mother and young will eat the rest of the fish, but seem to not favor the gut of the fish. The adults generally need about 300 grams of fish per day.
  • There is a 40-50% chance of survival for the young. The average age of an osprey is 8-10 years old. The oldest tracked osprey was found to be 33 years old.
  • Their nests are made of sticks from the surrounding marsh plants, as well as animal hide or even litter such as plastic bags.
  • Young osprey have orange eyes that turn brown as they get older.

If you live near shallow water and want to build a platform there are several plans available here: http://www.osprey-watch.org/learn-about-osprey/build-an-osprey-nest/.

To watch a pair of osprey raising their young during this nesting season from the comfort of your own screen check out the Patuxent River Park’s Osprey Cam here:  http://www.pgparks.com/Things_To_Do/Nature/Patuxent_River_Park.htm.

Marine Mammal Monday: Whales & dolphins

whales_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about whales and dolphins today!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

Marine Mammal Monday: Sea lions

sealions_beachchairscientist

Please feel free to share with your friends and family where you learned something new about sea lions today!

Also, ask away! If you have a question about something you found on the beach or just something you’re curious about just send an email to info@beachchairscientist.com or tweet us!

Squid’s “Passing Cloud” camouflage technique mimicked in artificial skin

passingCloud

Cuttlefish illustrating the “Passing Cloud” pattern. Image (c) “Hiding the Squid! Official”.

Are we one step closer to an invisibility cloak?

Researchers at the University of Bristol have demonstrated how to create artificial skin that can mimic the squid. The squid, as well as other cephalopods like the octopus and cuttlefish, can blend into their surroundings to hide from predators or sneak up on prey.  The squid’s “Passing Cloud” camouflage technique (i.e.,  bands of color spread as waves across the skin) was simulated in the experiment. According to the researchers the implications are more than just avoiding your landlord, they noted that “It could also be used for signaling purposes, for example search and rescue operations when people who are in danger need to stand out”. More patterns are being studied in the future as well.