DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #899: KEEPING THE KIDS CLOSE BY

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drbill

The Lorax for the Kelp Forest
Scuba Legend
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Santa Catalina Island, CA
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DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #899: KEEPING THE KIDS CLOSE BY

Back when I was a senior in high school I was trying to decide which college to go to. I had been accepted to Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Stanford and Michigan State (MSU). In fact Harvard had actively recruited me starting in my junior year. However, despite being valedictorian of my class, I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge and also wanted to be near my girlfriend of that time.

We put the names of the five colleges into a hat and I drew one out. It was MSU, Mom's alma mater and later that of my younger sister Judy. Dad seemed a bit hesitant about that saying he thought I should venture out further away from Chicago. I pulled a second name out of the hat and it was Harvard. The rest is history!

Although Dad wanted me to venture out (and Mom may have feared I'd bring my laundry home every other weekend), there are some species that like to keep the kids close to home. One that I discovered my first year on the island is the proliferating or brooding anemone, Epiactis prolifera. We found it on drifting kelp rafts that we sampled in my lab at Toyon and saw others while diving, usually attached to larger brown algae.

The specimens that I found were all orange to pink in color. Their base or column may have lines radiating out from it. Jensen et al. Beneath Pacific Tides indicates that some, believed to be of the same species, are greenish in color. That source says that the pinkish ones are usually found in high current habitats while the greenish ones live in eelgrass beds. The geographic range of this species is from SE Alaska to San Diego, so the individuals in our waters are near the southern end of their range.

This species gets its common names from the fact that it reproduces year-round and broods its young for several months with up to 40 kids present at a time. Certainly couldn't afford child care for that many! Young adults are female but later they become synchronous hermaphrodites with both sex organs in each individual. Although fertilization usually involves more than one anemone, they can also self-fertilize.

After a few months the youngsters decide to see the world and crawl away from the Mommy/Daddy. Since there is no planktonic larval stage, they can't travel far. Getting to Catalina or any of the other Channel Islands might be too difficult a trip... unless they attached to a drifting kelp raft to see the world. Finding individuals of this species on such rafts proved that they can hitch a ride out to our island paradise.

These anemones are too small (just over an inch or so) to capture large prey. It is believed they feed on small crustaceans. In turn, as members of The Mutual Eating Society, they are eaten by the nudibranch Aeolidia papillosa, the leather star Dermasterias imbricata and a few fish. I've never tried anemone... and doubt I ever will!

© 2021 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of over 900 "Dive Dry" columns, visit my website Star Thrower Educational Multimedia (S.T.E.M.) Home Page

Image caption: Two images of the brooding anemone taken on rocks in my lab tanks at the Catalina Island School (Toyon Bay) way back in the early 70s; its nudibranch and sea star predators.

DDDB 899 epiactis prolifera sm.jpg
 
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