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Posts Tagged ‘echinoderms’

As much as we enjoy wildlife, it’s seldom that we have an opportunity to hold live specimens in our hands.  Most wild creatures want to put as much distance between us and them as possible, and that’s how it should be.   However, opportunities to get up close and personal with wildlife are possible along Nova Scotia’s seashore in the intertidal zone.  Marine animals such as crabs and starfish are easily caught and respond well to gentle handling.

The starfish at left was found in the salt marsh.  Its underside reveals gel-like feelers that glisten in the sunlight as they move.  Live, juicy starfish are enjoyed by seagulls who can spot them underwater clinging to rocks.

Though a bit more difficult to catch, live crabs are very animated and deeper in color than the dried ones found higher up the beach.  Up close they look like little aliens.  They too are eaten by seagulls.

To those who are willing to get really up close, offshore waters offer even more wonders.

Live sand dollars are nothing like the bone dry tests we may sometimes find on the beach.  Their five point star design is just barely discernible beneath their deep purple fur-like covering of cilia.  Beds of these can be found by scuba divers in the subtidal zone, a wonder hidden from the view of beachcombers.  Sand dollars are preyed upon by starfish, snails and skates.

After handling these delicate marine creatures, it’s best to quickly place them back where they were found as they are unable to survive out of the water for long.  Such close encounters should be kept as brief as possible, unless of course you’re a seagull looking for a meal.

I’m hungry Dolores. Should we get fast food or see what’s slow in the marsh?

Photo credits:  Julie Perry

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queen annes lace

Not all stars twinkle in the sky.  Some glisten on the shore or wink up at us from the grass beneath our feet.  Their shape is often best appreciated from above.  However, I drew the Queen Anne’s Lace flower, shown at top, from the perspective of an ant that might be looking up towards the sky from a position on the stem.

ALBell echinodermsStar shapes consist of five or more points radiating from a centre.

These star polygons are given different names depending on how many points they have.  For example, a pentagram has five points while an octagram has eight. 

Many of these star shapes hold spiritual significance.  Pentagrams are considered magical and often used in occult practices.  The Star of David and the Seal of Solomon are both hexagrams, star polygons with six points. 

On land, the variety of star shaped flowers is endless.  In the water, echinoderms are marine animals that reveal radial symmetry in some part of their design at the adult stage.  Sea urchins, sand dollars and starfish are echinoderms that often wash up on Nova Scotia’s shores. 

Sometimes, the star structure of the polygon is not as obvious, as is the case with the hexagonal chambers of bees.  Like other shapes in nature, such as the circle, the branch, the spiral and the meander, these tiny hexagons form exquisite patterns and are the building blocks for larger things, in this case, the honeycomb. 

Over the past five Saturdays, I’ve examined five different shapes found frequently in nature as a lead-in to a Summer Scavenger Hunt.  Next Saturday on June 20th, Midsummer’s Eve, I’ll provide final details of the hunt.  Wherever you make your home on the planet, whether you live in the city or in the country, I hope you’ll consider taking part.

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sprucecones

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky
~ Jimi Hendrix

purple starfishWith less than three weeks left to go before Midsummer’s Eve, spring is in full swing.  The days aren’t as warm as we’d like yet, but summer is on the doorstep.  The color purple caught my eye today on spruce cones along the Salt Marsh Trail.  It won’t be long before their light purple color will darken and eventually change to brown.  Right now, their hue contrasts nicely with the fresh light green of the new growth.  

Starfish can often be spotted from the first couple of bridges along the trail.  Today I was able to catch a glimpse of one with its arms stretched out evenly  in the water.  Live, local starfish have a purple cast that’s barely discernible on sun-dried specimens found along the seashore. 

violets

Following the lead of wild ones in the grass, the deeper purple tame violets have emerged in the flower bed.  Their brilliant color will fade with the summer’s heat. 

lupinsPurple lupins are a common sight along the side of the road and in gardens in Nova Scotia.   Though they’re also found in shades of pink and white, the purple ones seem to dominate.

Purple is a color associated with spirituality, mystery and royalty.  During different periods in history, its use in clothing has been restricted to either nobility or an elite class of individuals.  It can be created by a variety of methods using lichens, the roots of madder plants or murex shells, with the latter producing the most brilliant hue.  In painting, it was a favorite of Vincent Van Gogh who often juxtaposed it with yellow for maximum effect.

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Echinoderms
Echinoderms

The following article was written for the December 2008 issue of The Beacon:

 

At this time of year, it seems that stars are beginning to show up everywhere. They’re seen in ice crystals, holiday decorations, wrapping paper, nativity scenes, Christmas treetops and the sparkling eyes of children.  In local wildlife, the star shape can also be found on our beaches in the forms of Echinoderms, sea creatures that are distinguished by a 5-part radial symmetry:

 

A live Sea Urchin is covered with spines which hide the star shape that is only revealed upon its death, at which time the spines become dry and fall off.  These urchins are greatly enjoyed by seagulls at low tide.  Although they’re commonly found on the shore, I’ve also found urchin shells in the woods where they’ve been dropped from the sky by gulls hoping to crack them open on rocks.

 

Starfish are known for their amazing ability to grow back an appendage should it be lost.  There is an eye spot at the tip of each arm so that the Starfish can see ahead regardless of which arm is leading its direction.  The mouth is located beneath its central disc.  A carnivore, the Starfish will use its strong arms to open mussel or clam shells.  Once the shell is opened, the starfish pushes its stomach through its mouth right into the bivalve it is eating.

 

The Sand Dollars found on our local beaches are of the Sea Biscuit variety.  While living, they are covered with thousands of soft brown hairs.  These hairs fall off and the shell is bleached white by the sun once the Sand Dollar dies and is washed ashore.  Although the top of the Sand Dollar has a flower shape on it that looks like a Christmas Poinsettia, a look at its underside will reveal a delicate yet distinct 5-point star shape.

 

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