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Critter of the Month Archives - 2007

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2007

December 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Spiny Pink Star
Pisaster brevispinus
Phylum Echinodermata

Other Names: Short spined Sea Star
Description: Five thick large arms, big hump in the middle. (I have seen a few 4 and 6 armed Spiny Pink Stars though, but those are unusual and probably due to miscalculations when regrowing a lost arm) ;)
Color: White-ish to Pink-ish. Usually if you look close and hold a light to it, you can see the pink coloration
Range: Alaska to California
Size: These can be pretty hefty sized, each arm being about a foot long.
Hangouts: Sandy, silty, soft bottomed areas usually
Depth: Intertidal to 300 ft., but more commonly found in the shallows
Behavior: Not much to do but sit there and act like a Sea Star.
ID Clues: Big, pink, look for the hump!
Comments: Look really close and you can see teeny pincers on its skin!

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

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November 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Young of Year, or Juvenile Rockfish
Sebastes who-knows-whatus
Family: Scorpionfish

Other Names: YOY (young of year)
Description: Teeny rockfish that are too young to display enough characteristics of the adult to distinguish what they will grow up to be.
Color: Almost anything
Range: Anywhere there are rockfish
Size: To 2in. (5 cm.)
Hangouts: Likes darker places under rocks and ledges on pilings and other structure. You'll often find them in kelp beds in the shallows.
Depth: Intertidal to 600 ft.
Behavior: Wary and shy. Will retreat when approached. Stealth may get you close enough for a photo.
ID Clues: They're small - they look like rockfish - and they're cute!
Comments: For REEF survey purposes, any of these that you see under about 5 cm in size should be marked on your survey form as Juvenile Rockfish.

- contributed by Mark Dixon, REEF Level 5

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October 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Coonstripe Shrimp
Pandalus danae
Family: Arthropod

Other Names: Dock shrimp, Dana's all shining shrimp.
Description: Rusty brown stripes,thin white lines and many small blue spots on a transluscent body.
Color: Ranges from light greenish brown to dark rusty red.
Range: Alaska to California
Size: To about 5 1/2 in. (14 cm.)
Hangouts: Likes darker places under rocks and ledges on pilings and other structure.
Depth: Intertidal to 600 ft.
Behavior: Wary and shy. Will retreat when approached. Stealth may get you close enough for a photo.
ID Clues: Look for the irregular reddish brown stripes on the abdomen.
Comments: You often notice these at night when you see their little eyes darting around the bottom.

- contributed by Mark Dixon, REEF Level 5

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September 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Striped Perch
Embiotoca lateralis
Family: Surf Perch

Other Names: Blue Seaperch or Surfperch
Description: Thin body with football shape.
Color: Copper to orange background with many blue iridescent blue stripes below lateral line.
Range: Alaska to Baja California
Size: To 15"
Hangouts: Wide range of habitat. In bays around piers. On coast over soft bottoms, and near rockyreefs and kelp beds
Depth: 10-70 ft.
Behavior: Wary and shy. Will retreat when approached. Stealth may get you close enough for a photo.
ID Clues: The beautiful irridescent stripes are very distinctive.
Comments: Usually you see in groups often with Pile Perch.

- contributed by Mark Dixon, REEF Level 5

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August 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

If you guessed Red Rock Crab, you're right!!
Cancer productus
Arthropod Phylum

Description: Red carapace and legs, with pincers tipped in black.
Color: Red. Juveniles can have a funky maze pattern on their shells.
Range: Alaska to Baja California
Size: Carapace width can reach about 8 inches
Hangouts: You'll find these in eelgrass areas, or rocky or soft bottoms.
Depth: Intertidal to about 300 ft.
Behavior: Very feisty and will put their claws up when you approach.
ID Clues: Look for the bright red color and the black tips to the large pincers. Their feistiness also will give you a big clue. These guys love to fight and have major attitudes!

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

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July 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Lewis's Moonsnail
Euspira lewisii
Mollusc Phylum

Description: Large rounded shell, almost always seen covered by its large foot.
Color: Shell is white, foot is light brown or cream colored.
Range: Alaska to Baja California
Size: Shell diameter can reach about 5 inches
Hangouts: Loves sandy bottoms, and will burrow under the sand and feed on clams.
Depth: Intertidal to over 150 ft.
Behavior: They don't do much when a diver approaches them. When disturbed however, they are capable of retracting their entire foot inside the shell, but doing so for long will cause them to suffocate, so they'd rather not have to do that.
Favorite snacks: Clams, clams, clams! They'll feed on unsuspecting clams by wrapping them up in their foot, then drilling a hole into the clam with a special tool called a Radula. The contents are then eaten. Yum!
Dinner for:
The Sunflower Star will go after Moosnails for a bite to eat.
ID Clues: There's really nothing else like this down there. Big, slow moving, rounded - you can't miss it!
Comments: They'll lay their eggs in a sand collar that has been mistaken for a broken piece of pottery or a lost tank boot by novice critterwatchers. The eggs are in a true SAND-wich, with the middle layer of the collar being eggs, surrounded by two layers on either side made of sand. The eggs hatch in 6 weeks, and May-June is peak Moonsnail season, so keep your eyes peeled!

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

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June 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Shiner Perch
Cymatogaster aggregata
Surf Perch Family

Description: Thin body with football shape.
Color: Light greenish above, silvery below with yellowish bars. Breeding males turn mostly black.
Range: Alaska to Baja California
Size: To 8" (20 cm).
Hangouts: In bays around piers. On coast over soft bottoms, and near reefs and kelp beds
Depth: 0-480 ft.
Behavior: Wary and shy. Will retreat when approached. Stealth may get you close enough for a photo. At night they sleep on the bottom - this is a great time to get a photo of them up close!
ID Clues: Very bright silver. Maybe where "Shiner" comes in?" Black spots on the scales form stripes on sides. Usually 2-3 yellowish bars.
Comments: I've seen these school in very large numbers.

- contributed by Georgia Arrow, REEF Level 5

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May 2007


photo © 2007 Georgia Arrow

Longfin Sculpin
Jordania zonope
Family: Sculpin-Cottidae

Other Names: Band-eye Sculpin
Description: Long, slender, tapering body. Usually six to eight saddles on back, distinctive pale bands on head form three dark bars under the eye
Color: Shades of yellow to greenish yellow, greenish brown, orange, reddish brown and brown; occasionally marked with red; often yellow to orange tail.
Range: Common to occasional southeast Alaska to central California.
Size: 2-5 inches, max 6 inches (15 cm).
Hangouts: Wide range of habitats from tides pools to rocky slopes, kelp beds, sheer rock faces and ledge overhangs
Depth: 0-130 feet (40m).
Behavior: Dart about the bottom, occasionally stopping to rest on pectoral fins; or may hang vertically on wall faces or upside-down, under overhangs. (like in the above picture!)
ID Clues: Three dark bands below eye. Slanting rows of fused, serrated scales along lower sides of body give washboard texture. Long spinous dorsal fin virtually equal in length to soft dorsal fin. Remember - "White Lines On Chin - Longfin Sculpin!"
Comments: Wary; darts away when approached. Species is territorial. Males guard egg masses.

- contributed by Georgia Arrow, REEF Level 5

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April 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Moon Jelly
Aurelia labiata
Cnidarian

Other Names: Saucer jelly, Sea jelly
Description: It has a transparent jelly-like bell with four horseshoe-shaped, pinkish reproductive organs that surround a square mouth. At each corner of the mouth a feeding tentacle hangs down into the water below. These are equipped with stinging cells (nematocysts) to capture small prey that are dragged inward towards the mouth. The outer edge of the bell also has tentacles, as well as eight special sensory organs that tell the jellyfish where it is in the water column.
Color: The bell is a translucent white and may be tinged with pink or lavender.
Range: Found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters.
Size: To 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter .
Hangouts: Near the surface in bays and areas of quiet water.
Depth: Surface to 50ft.
Behavior: It is capable of only limited motion; like other jellies it drifts with the current.
Biggest Enemy: A wide variety of fish and sea turtles feed on the jellies.

ID Clues:The 4 horseshoe-shaped reproductive organs are readily visible at the top center of the bell.
Comments: Moon jellies are very plentiful. However, plastic bags that end up in the ocean often look like jellies to animals that depend on these drifting creatures for food. Thousands of turtles and birds die each year after swallowing indigestible wads of plastic mistaken for jellies. You can help by picking up plastic on the beach and near storm drains.

- contributed by Mark Dixon , REEF Level 5

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March 2007


photo © 2007 Janna Nichols

Black Rockfish,
Sebastes Melanops

Scorpionfish
Famliy

Other Names: Sea Bass
Description: Back generally dark with lighter shades below lateral lines. Forehead profile is convex.
Color: Black with many shades of grey
Range: Alaska to northern Baja California
Size: To 25 in.
Hangouts: Wide range of habitat from kelp forests to rocky reefs. Most often found above or on rocky reefs suspended in schools.
Depth: Surface to 1200 ft.
Behavior: Quite wary but curious. If you approach slowly you may get fairly close.
Biggest Enemy: People.These types of fish are very susceptible to over-exploitation and are slow to recover.

ID Clues: Rear edge of anal fin is rounded. There are also large white blotches usually seen within a dark patch under the dorsal fin. Jaw is slightly projecting and extends to or slightly past the eye. Small knob on tip.
Comments: I've seen these at Neah Bay in large schools and they come right up to your mask! Rockfish are slow-growing and extremely long-lived. In Alaska black rockfish become sexually mature at about 6-8 years of age and have been aged to 49 years old in Southeast Alaska.

- contributed by Mark Dixon , REEF Level 5

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February 2007


Top View - photo© 2007 Janna Nichols


Side View - photo© 2007 Janna Nichols

Tube Dwelling Anemone
Pachycerianthus fimbriatus

Cnidarian Phylum

Other Names: Burrowing Anemone
Description: This animal lives in a tube that is buried in the sand/mud, but extends above the surface a few inches. Two sets of tentacles: one set is very long and thin, the other is short and frilly, near the mouth.
Color: Usually light brown, but can be very dark too.
Range: BC to Southern California
Size: Tentacle crown can be up to 12" in diameter!
Hangouts: Sandy, silty, muddy or shell strewn bottoms.
Depth: up to about 150 feet.
Behavior: They're anemones. They don't do much. Usually found in large fields, but occasionally you'll see one by itself.
Biggest Enemy: The Giant Nudibranch, Dendronotus iris, simply loves to munch on the Tube Dwelling Anemone, and can often be found in the neighborhood. Giant Nudi's find these anemones SO tasty, in fact, they will often lay their eggs on the column so that little Jr. will have something to eat when he hatches.
ID Clues: Thin column, spindly tentacles, often banded. (see top photo)
Comments: Ever seen a Giant Nudibranch eat one of these? It's an amazing sight! The sea slug actually pounces onto its prey in one very swift motion.

- contributed by Janna Nichols, REEF Level 5

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January 2007


photo© 2006 Janna Nichols

Cabezon
Scorpaenichthys marmoratus

Sculpin Family

Other Names: marbled sculpin
Description: Largest member of the cottid or sculpin family, the Cabezon is known for its stout body and large head. It has short cirrus (plant-like protrusions) near the tip of its snout and above the eyes.
Color: marbled earth tones, males usually display red shades while females are greenish. Can change color to blend in with surroundings.
Range: Alaska to Baja, California
Size: to 39’’, 30lbs or more!
Hangouts: Fish frequent subtidal habitats in or around rocky reef areas including jetties, isolated rocky reefs or pinnacles, and in shallow tide pools. Cabezon generally stay nearshore sitting in holes, on reefs, in pools, or on kelp blades beneath the canopy, but are not active swimmers. As the fish get older and larger they tend to migrate into deeper water.
Depth: up to 350 feet
Behavior: Cabezon usually let divers approach and rely on its camouflage to hide it, but may bolt when divers are in close proximity, then will usually circle back and lay near the same spot. Have been known to bash headon with divers who infringe upon their 'space' at Edmonds UW park north of Seattle.
Makin' babies: Spawning commences in late October, peaks in January and continues until March. Females lay eggs in relatively shallow, algae-free rocky surfaces, primarily in crevices and under rocks. Masses of the pale green or reddish-purple eggs are up to 18 in. in diameter and up to two to four inches thick. Males fertilize the eggs and then guard the nest during the 2-3 week period that the eggs mature.
Favorite Snacks: Adult fish eat crabs, small lobsters, mollusks (abalone, squid, octopi), small fish (including rockfishes), and fish eggs. Predators are rockfishes, larger cabezon, lingcod and other sculpins.
ID Clues: Notch in spinous dorsal fin after third or fourth spine, pronounced cirrus on head.
Comments: In Spanish cabezon means big-headed or stubborn, and, proportionally, the massive head is definitely the largest feature of this fish. Cabezon can age to a maximum of 17 yr for males and 16 yr for females and are not sexually mature until at least 3 years old
.

- contributed by Sarah Hillebrand, REEF Level 2

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