Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Low Tide Fun!

Washington has been having extreme low tides recently, so we decided to venture out and see some wild life first hand. We went right out in Joshua's parents' backyard and oh the things we got to see!
Here is a giant pink sea star. He was missing one arm, but we wanted it to look nice for the picture. Don't worry, sea stars can regenerate their arms.
Next, we came across a field of sand dollars. I have never seen so many in my life! There must have been over a hundred in a 2 foot section of sand. This one had his spines moving like crazy (you can kind of see them glistening in the picture.) Joshua found this salad-loving oyster too. These are not native to this area - they were brought here from Japan. If you find a shell on the beach, don't keep it! The young oysters attach to the empty shells.
This collection of pieces tell a bit about a moon snail. They have shells like the one pictured and eat bivalves by drilling a hole in the shell. Check out the clam shell in the picture! The most interesting thing about a moon snail is the way it protects its eggs. It buries them in the sand and then secretes a glue-like substance in the sand around the eggs creating a protective collar. You can pick it up and hold it and it won't fall apart! Weird!

We saw more crabs on the beach than we could count, but this was the biggest out of the water. This is a red rock crab and they, like other crabs, molt when they outgrow their exoskeleton. Even the eyes and gills are left behind! Many people mistake the molts for dead crabs, but not any uahardwick.com readers!

And here we have a cool eel-like fish called a gunnel. I don't know much about these guys other than that they live in very shallow water and look like a cross between an eel and a worm.

As we got closer to the bridge, the sea life exploded! Here you can see about a half dozen ochre stars. This was the best shot we could get since most of the stars we saw were in a couple feet of water. There were tons of purple and orange ochre stars, and even a few blue mottled stars (those are the ones with the long arms that stay almost uniform in width.)

Here's an ochre star up close. Do you know how these guys eat? They use their tube feet to pry open shells like mussels and clams, then spit out their stomach and digest the creature in its own shell! Once it's all soupy, the star slurps everything back in. Even more strange, when sea stars die, they don't realize it. Their stomach comes out though and they figure out the bad news when they can no longer eat. Bizarre!

Don't these anemones look like slimy bell peppers? They hold water inside their bodies to keep from drying out during a low tide. That's why they squirt if you poke them. But don't do that! Then they will dry out and die. Don't be a sea creature killer. You can see some of the open anemones under the water as well as more stars. Funny they're so close - those purple stars like to eat anemones!

This is one of the posts of the Purdy bridge. It is just covered with these green anemones! They can actually clone themselves by splitting in half, which is why they all look so similar. If they were open you would see their beautiful pink tips. They feel sticky to the touch, which is actually a sting, but our skin is too tough for the sting to penetrate.

Last, but certainly not least, here is why the beach along this section is called the Spit - geoducks! Pronounced "gooey-duck", these clam-like creatures spit up to 3 feet of water! They can't fit this long neck (pictured) into their shell, so their best defense is to bury themselves in the sand. This neck of theirs can stretch up to 39" to the surface! Also very interesting. geoducks can live up to 160 years! Strange!

We had such a fun day exploring the outdoors, it was one of my favorite days ever! If you know me (at all) you know that I am an indoor girl and under normal circumstances, avoid wildlife at all costs. But you forget dear readers that I am now a zoo employee and spend many days monitoring the touch tanks which contain almost all of the above mentioned creatures. Knowledge of these strange critters had erased the fear and made me a fan of low tide days!


Tara said...

When I taught first grade, one of the books we read in reading groups was all about shellfish. I felt so good about myself when I realized I knew a lot of that stuff already! And good for you, Erin. I'm gearing up my own nature side for Costa Rica.

Anonymous said...

OK, my first thought was, "I can't believe Erin was within 10 feet of these things, especially that eel thingy." And my second thought was, "Where are they getting all of this information?" Now I know the answer to both! Thanks, Ms. Zoo employee! That was pretty interesting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that post, that's awesome! It's great to read your posts Erin. Your writing about Washington lets me reminisce. I mean, Atlanta's alright and all...but it's not the Northwest. Makes me homesick...alas, I get to reminisce through your new discovery of where Joshua and I grew up.

Jenna Hoskinson said...

That is so cool! I love this post. I kept thinking the whole time that the tone of the post sounded like you, Erin, but thinking, no, it must be Joshua that is posting all this love of sea creatures. But alas, I forgot about the zoo job. Too cool!!!

Erin said...

Washington Erin is a lot different than California Erin! I break into a sweat when it hits 62 degrees and I stay up until 11:00! (It's easy since the sun doesn't set until almost 10.) I walk to work (even in the rain) and I can keep flowers alive on my balcony!

Rachel said...

I too thought it was a Joshua post at first. I'm proud of you, Erin! See nature isn't that scary. Who knows, maybe before too long you'll be rollerblading to the zoo...

Jay said...

By the way, the pictures were awesome, too. That was a really cool post.. I'd never heard of a gooey duck before... Now I know what to call those spitty things on the beach!

Joshua said...

It's not only the geoduck's that spit on the beach!