Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is That a Fire Hose in Your Pocket, or Are You Just a Barnacle?

One of my favorite marine-related quotes is from the Peterson’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore, which states, “Most barnacles are hermaphroditic but indulge in cross fertilization.” It really makes you feel closer to the animals, don’t you think? I mean, who among us doesn’t enjoy indulging in cross-fertilization—or at least cross-something?

The barnacles above, although I spotted them on a beach in Florida, are not to be found in the Peterson’s Guide, because they’re native to the west coast of the Americas. They’re called pink acorn barnacles (Megabalanus coccopoma), and while they’re quite gorgeous to look at, they’re doing what most invasive introduced species do, which is to take over habitat and/or other resources from native species. So let’s hope that these particular barnacles aren’t indulging in too much cross-fertilization.

But let’s get back to the fun part of this discussion—that is, the sex lives of marine organisms—because it reminds me that I haven’t yet recommended either of two magnificent videos to you. The first is very fitting for this post; it’s called “Barnacles Tell No Lies,” and it was made by Randy Olson, who was a biologist before he decided to make movies. It’s a short, four-minute video about all that is good about barnacles, and it includes a jazz song. About barnacles. It may be worth pointing out that barnacles are completely stationary as adults. This means that, if they want to engage in some hanky-panky with those around them, they need to be able to reach those around them. This has led, through a long history of natural selection, to current-day barnacles being the most well-endowed (proportionately) of all species. Also, the members of most barnacle species are simultaneous hermaphrodites. Freud, eat your heart out! (If you really want to get a visual on this, here’s a link to a photo of a barnacle with itsfeeding appendages and its penis extended. When a barnacle isn’t indulging in anything, it keeps its penis folded up in a manner that’s been described as similar to a coiled hose or a folded accordion.)

[you wouldn't know it
to look at 'em, would you?]

The second great video—or series of videos—I should recommend are the “Green Porno” series made for the Sundance Channel (and available to watch on their site) by Isabella Rossellini. The actress dresses up like different (usually invertebrate) animals and acts out—with narration—their sex lives. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Isabella Rossellini in a male-bee costume exclaiming, “A female! SEX!!” (The only problem with this series is that the episode on “limpets” is WRONG, horribly wrong. The behaviors Rossellini describes are actually those of slipper-shell snails—rarely called slipper-shell limpets—which are in fact the snails I did my Ph.D. work on; they do behave pretty much as she describes, but they are not true limpets, and they don’t look anything like the “limpets” portrayed in the episode. So. Just to make that clear.)

And if anyone expresses any interest, I will be happy to spend a heartwarming holiday- or post-holiday-season blog entry on more details of the sex lives of marine creatures in general and the snails I studied in particular. In fact, I might write such an entry even if no one expresses any interest! I’m sure I will at some point in the future, so consider yourselves forewarned.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Yes. I'll vote for the sex lives of marine creatures. I'm still trying to understand how some seaweeds have sperms and eggs; and how come Beadlet anemones disgorge their young? That sea-world is bizarre! (Though if asked, these beings might think the same as us, except reckon we live very unadventurous lives in comparison.)


Anca said...

Yes, please, more sex lives of sea creatures! Ours are soooo boring by comparison.

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