Under Water Sounds Encourage Coral Settlement

Coral reefs are magnificent and magical places. They are called the rain forests of the sea because despite covering only 1% of the sea floor, 25% of all marine life depend on reefs at some point in their life. The building blocks for these vital reefs are tiny coral polyps – invertebrate animals that are part of the same group as jellyfish and anemones. The corals colonize, build on one another, and create a reef that works as one organism.

As we know, corals and the reefs they build are in trouble. Answering that call are scientists and volunteers worldwide. Their restoration efforts include research and coral farming, and now…playing healthy coral reef sounds under water.

It sounds crazy, but recent research has revealed that playing healthy coral reef sounds under water promoted recolonization on damaged reefs. The resettlement rate was 7 to 8 times higher on degraded reefs where the sounds were played.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts have recorded healthy reef sounds for almost a decade, and have discovered that healthy reefs have complex, unique soundscapes. These sounds include fish calls as well as shrimp snapping and crackling. These sounds are important to drifting coral larvae (the size of a grain of rice) and provide clues about whether to settle on a reef and metamorphose into adults. Once they settle, coral cannot move, so they literally have a once in a lifetime choice about where to select a good home.

The results are encouraging. Underwater speakers can broadcast sounds over a wide area, and can be used both in coral nurseries and on reefs to heal and regrow coral reefs worldwide.

Pigbutt Worm

The title of this post is not a typo or a joke. There really is a deep sea worm called a pigbutt worm. Not only that, but its Latin name, Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, means butt face. And while I haven’t spent any time looking at pig butts, this worms is apparently aptly named. Human nature being what it is, I had to find out more.

Photo Credit Casey Dunn

The pigbutt worm was discovered only a couple of decades ago because it lives at depths of 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) in the midnight zone. It is roughly the size of a hazelnut. Like other worms it is segmented, but it is not long. Instead, a couple of its segments are slightly inflated, giving it the rump-ish look. This allows it to float through the water in the ocean current.

This little creature is interesting not only in its name and appearance. It has a unique way to get food. To feed, it spew a cloud of sticky goo (scientifically called a mucus cloud) into the water that traps marine snow (drifting bits of organic matter) the worm will eat. I never cease to be amazed by the natural world!

Silky Anteater

Photo Credit – Rob Foster

From the Files of the Odd, Overlooked and Unappreciated, I present the silky anteater. At first glance, the silky anteater looks like a cross between a lemur and a sloth. But no, it’s a fuzzy anteater the size of a tennis ball. Their so interesting-looking they’re cute. The elusive nocturnal creatures live in the canopy layer of Central and South America’s rainforests.

In addition to likeness, silky anteaters do take after sloths in another way – they sleep a lot. Being an anteater, though, it also has a sticky, long, spaghetti noodle-like tongue perfectly designed to slurp up ants and termites (up to 8,000 in one day!). And since anteaters don’t have teeth, they just slurp and swallow. Yum!

When threatened, this little creature isn’t afraid to defend itself. A silky anteater will anchor itself to a branch with its tail (which is longer than its body) and stand up on two back legs to its full height of roughly 15 inches, then throw a punch. However, like sloths, the silky anteater’s best defense is staying hidden. When curled up, the silky anteater looks like the large seed pod of the Ceiba tree thanks to the anteater’s silky fur.

Their camouflage, and the fact that they rarely descend to the ground, make the silky anteater the least-studied anteater in the world. There are seven different species of this anteater, yet scientists recently discovered what they believe to be an eighth. And there may be more!

Photo credit: Mike Carlo/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

House finches tend to be overlooked and underappreciated. Perhaps it’s because they are so common. Or maybe it’s because they aren’t as flashy or gregarious as other birds. But have you ever heard them sing? While house finches are small birds, they sing rich, melodic song that floats across the neighborhood. I’m always so impressed how such a tiny thing can make such a big sound. They like to fly to a high perch and belt out a complex song for a LONG time. It took me years to realize that the magical sounds in my back yard were largely from finches.

Another reason I like finches? They are at the feeder day in and day out, 365 days a year. Okay, on the below zero days they stay hunkered wherever they hunker. But the rest of the time, the finches bring life to my yard even throughout the cold, dark winter. It’s the tiny finches and the chickadees who stick around. Small but mighty!

House finches were originally native to just the southwest. However, pet shop owners tried to sell them in New York (illegally). Apparently there wasn’t much of a demand for finches (poor overlooked and underappreciated birds!), so they were released in 1940. Being the hardy little creatures they are, they survived, bred, and thrived. Eventually they spread up and down the east coast, and westward until they met their western kin. They are now present across the continental US. They were even introduced to Oahu, and now thrive on all of the Hawaiian islands.

END NOTE: If you want to identify birds near you by their song or call, or by picture, try the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID app. My son once put his phone outside to record the songs of birds nearby – the app identified 19 different species! It’s also how I found out that finches have such an amazing song.