Oh, Christmas tree (worm)! Oh, Christmas tree (worm)!

What are Christmas tree worms and where did they get their name? I’m more than happy to let you know that it would not be a good idea to decorate your house with Spirobranchus giganteus.

The Christmas tree worm got its name because the spiral plumes that radiate from its main body resemble that of our fir and spruce trees that adorn our living rooms in December. These spiral plumes (also viewed as tentacles) are used for feeding and breathing. The Christmas tree worm prefer to feast on phytoplankton floating in the water nearby.

They do not move once they find a spot and nestle into burrows below the coral reefs they call home.

The tentacles sway in the water surrounding the burrow, but if a predator is lurking … the Christmas tree worm will hide completely.

Christmas tree worms live worldwide among warm, tropical reefs and can be orange, yellow, blue, or white. They typically do not exceed  1 1/2 inches in length.

Image (c) marine-bio.org.

Simple coral bleaching teaching

There are some things that we want to stay white, such as snow and Kris Kringle’s beard. Coral reefs are not one of them. Unfortunately, The Nature Conservancy noted that 2011 was the most extensive coral reef bleaching event for the Florida Reef Tract since 2004. Scientists working on the Florida Keys Reef Resilience Program were not surprised due to the very hot summer of 2011.

What is coral bleaching?

As the National Ocean Service (a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) states, “When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.” For more information on the symbiotic relationships going on within a coral reef check out this video!

Image (c) wunderground.org

It’s as easy as A, B, Sea: Z is for Zooxanthellae

Zooxanthellae are the photosynthetic organism that live within coral reefs and supply the food to the reef building corals. They have a symbiotic relationship with the other protists but can also live an independent life. Enjoy this quick video about the process!

It’s as easy as A, B, Sea: G for Gorgonians

Gorgonians are a group of corals known as the ‘horny corals’. This is includes the sea whips, sea fans and sea feathers. They are similar to the soft corals because they all have eight-part symmetry. Most jewelry that is made from coral is made from the gorgonians. If you ask me though corals are too precious too wear.

How long do seastars live?

Seastars can live up to 35 years in the wild! It really depends on the species. Their wild habitat includes coral reefs, rocky coasts, sandy bottom, or even the deep sea of all the world’s oceans. There are approximately 1,800 different types of sea stars.

They have been known to live up to 10 years in aquariums.

More links on seastars:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/starfish.html

http://users.bigpond.net.au/je.st/starfish/index.html

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