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Actinopharynx

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A histological section of a coral. Photo by JK Da Anoy. An email showed up in my inbox with the subject line "Data." This was the message I had been waiting for! I opened it immediately and followed the hyperlink. My screen lit up with an array of images - red and blue blobs on white backgrounds. They were histological sections from corals I had collected in Palau. In the center of each image, in bold black letters, was the word "Act."  I responded to my colleagues' email almost immediately. "What does 'Act' mean?" I wrote. JK answered me: "Actinopharynx."  And just like that, the image I had open on my laptop screen went from being a series of pink-ish blobs to a high-precision anatomical depiction of a coral polyp. I knew exactly what I was looking at - I was staring down the polyp's throat!  Invertebrates are such a fascinating group of animals to study because they have diverse, unexpected, sometimes wacky anatomies. All cni

Seen in Bonaire: part 5

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Growth bands from long-dead corals in the limestone in Washington Slagbaai National Park. A deepwater sea fan ( Iciligorgia schrammi ) at 60 m depth. It's not a great picture, but under that ledge were about 15 huge lionfish ( Pterois volitans ). They're invasive in the Caribbean but have been hunted down in the shallows, thanks to an army of ecologically-minded SCUBA divers. This lair was at about 55 m. A peacock flounder ( Bothus lunatus ) Octocorals in the shadow of two pilings under Bonaire's Salt Pier

Anchorman

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For as much as I love natural history , my husband feels the same about archaeology. His favorite dives are on historical shipwrecks, especially those with inner passages to be explored. He loves finding the engine room, seeing how the ship was run, and as a friend of ours jokes, "counting rivets." So when one of the employees at our dive resort mentioned there were some 19th-century anchors at 60 m (200 ft) deep at the southern end of the island, I knew we were in for a long, deep dive.  This species was really common at depth. I think it's the  feather black coral ( Plumapathes pennacea ). I got certified for trimix diving just a few months ago, and I must admit, I was pretty excited to put those skills to use again. We planned our profile, ran simulated scenarios, and requested our gas mixes from the tech shop. The weather was pretty good and the waves weren't too big, so we strapped on our tanks and headed down the slope.  I was enthralled. Not by the anchors - I

The molluscan fauna of Bonaire

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I absolutely adore natural history. A lot of people don't know what the term means, but I define it as the study of how organisms live - what do they eat, what eats them, where do they live, how long do they live, how do they reproduce, etc. It is the foundation on which all ecology stands. You would be shocked how poorly-studied natural history is for many species on Earth. We (that's the collective 'we' - all humanity) have mapped the functions of every single gene in fruit fly embryos, but we have no clue how most species on the planet feed themselves. It boggles the mind. Snail shells on the limestone in Bonaire So we're going to take a quick break from pretty coral reef photos from my vacation in Bonaire and talk about snails.  On a hike in Washington Slagbaai National Park, I noticed some shells on the ground. They were bleached white and nestled in little holes in the limestone foot path. I assumed they were dead, perhaps the last calcareous remnants of some

Seen in Bonaire: part 4

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An artichoke coral, Scolymia cubensis These giant orange sponges are ubiquitous on the reef - citron sponge, Agelas citrina A smooth flower coral, Eusmilia fastigiata A clubtip finger coral, Porites porites Banded coral shrimp ( Stenopus hispidus ) hiding under a coral head A Caribbean reef squid! Sepioteuthis sepioidea

Seen in Bonaire: part 3

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A whitestar sheet coral, Agaricia lamarcki A symmetrical star coral, Pseudodiploria strigosa A knobby cactus coral, Mycetophyllia aliciae A spotted moray eel, Gymnothorax moringa A bluestriped grunt, Haemulon sciurus

Washington Slagbaai National Park

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Kadushi cactus ( Cereus repandus ) At the midpoint of our dive trip, we opted for a dry day and explored Washington Slagbaai National Park, in the northern part of Bonaire. Our hike began on a red dirt trail through a cactus forest. For some reason, cacti on Bonaire grow as tall as trees, and their trunks are also woody. It feels like walking through a forest on some alternate planet where there are no trees, only cacti.  There was another type of cactus that reminded me of a sea urchin wearing a hat. The resemblance was incredibly striking - the cacti were small, round spike-balls that were mostly hollow on the inside. The "hat" part is called a Turk's Hat, but I'm not sure what it's for. Different cacti had differently sized hats.  A Turk's Hat cactus  ( Melocactus macracanthos ) We hiked through an area that was a former cattle ranch to a beach. I was utterly fascinated by the beach because it was on the east side of Bonaire. Most of the diving is on the we