It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fishmas!
Jingle shells, jingle shells, jingle all the waaay, oh what fun it is to dive, in the oceans every daaay! With the holidays just around the corner, we’ve put together a little list of some festive critters to get you into the holiday spirit!
Christmas Tree worms
No baubles needed! These beautiful worms create a calcium carbonate tube which penetrates the corals they inhabit, where they can live for up to 40 years. Not just a pretty face, they’ve also been observed protecting their coral hosts from crown of thorns starfish, by pushing away the starfish’s feet! The presence of these worms has also been observed to help prevent total coral colony death and promote recovery, from impacts such as coral bleaching, predation, and overgrowth by turf algae. What a gift!
The cookie-cutter shark is named after the cookie-shaped wounds that it leaves on the bodies of its prey. The shark uses its lips to suction itself onto its prey, and once attached, spins its body to remove a plug of flesh using its serrated teeth. Not exactly the kind of cookies your grandma used to make! These teeth are replaced regularly, and when this happens, the sharks actually swallow the teeth to absorb the extra calcium! Milk and cookies anyone?
The pinecone fish also known as the (less festive, but still fun), pineapple fish, gets its name from its pale yellow to whitish colour, and black outlines on its scales. These scales form a network of spikes running down its sides, with CT scanning revealing that these spikes aren’t only on the outside, but that most of their skeleton is armour as well!
Snowflake Moray Eel
Each snowflake is beautiful, though you could say the snowflake moray eel is downright terrifying! Moray eels have two sets of jaws, yep, exactly like in the Alien films. The second set lie further down their throat, and come up and grab the prey from the main set of jaws, to drag it down their throat. So in a fraction of a second the prey is bitten twice and swallowed… No, I don’t want to kiss a moray under the mistletoe either!
The harp sponge gets its name as its basic structure, or ‘vane’, is shaped like a harp. Whilst it looks pretty innocent, it’s actually carnivorous! It traps small crustaceans that get swept within its branches by deep-sea currents, with little barbed hooks found on its limbs. Once it has caught something, the sponge covers it with a thin membrane before the digestion process begins.
Candy Cane Shrimp
Candy cane snapping shrimp have a symbiotic relationship with the Randall’s prawn goby, depending on each other for survival. The candy cane shrimp help the gobies dig and maintain the burrow that they share in the seafloor. In return, the small, and mostly blind, shrimp are protected by the goby. Even if the goby finds a mate, the shrimp will still inhabit the same burrow with the goby and its family. Now that’s extreme third-wheeling!
And finally… Marine Snow!
Okay, not actually an animal, marine snow is the term used for the continuous shower of mainly organic material, which falls through the water column to the sea floor. The ‘snowflakes’ are made up of decaying plant and animal matter, in addition to poop, sand, soot, and other organic dust. It provides food for many deep-sea creatures, and if not utilised can fall for weeks before reaching the ocean floor. Maybe not the best for making snowmen with?
From sweets to snow, there is so much festivity going on under the ocean surface! Though, with hindsight, all that we’ve really highlighted here is that a lot of marine species can be a bit defensive, have some interesting eating habits, and don’t know when they’ve overstayed their welcome… Maybe not the best dinner guests then, whatever holiday you celebrate!
Information collated from the Smithsonian Museum.