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DIVE DRY WITH DR. BILL #812: OH LOLLI LOLLI LOLLI... LOLYPOP

Discussion in 'California' started by drbill, May 14, 2019.

  1. drbill

    drbill The Lorax for the Kelp Forest Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Santa Catalina Island, CA
    22,334
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    Some of my readers think I write my columns with information stored in my gray matter from nearly 60 years of diving. Now I don't want to mislead anybody. I write them not so much to display my fairly decent knowledge of our ocean critters, but so I can actually learn more. My columns often require considerable research on my part and I enjoy learning as much as many of you enjoy reading the result.

    So I hope it won't come as a surprise, but I'm quite fallible at times. Occasionally I use the old scientific names that I first learned for a species and am not aware of more recent name changes. Sometimes I use "facts" from sources I've researched on college classmate Al Gore's Internet (who will be attending our 50th reunion in two weeks). I may misinterpret observations of an animal's behavior. However, I try.

    Recently I have been editing video footage from my 2013 trip to the Philippines. After I returned from that trip and did the initial edit on the footage from the 60 dives there, I realized that the 300 gigabytes of video was more than I wanted to tackle. However, now that cancer has forced me to confront my own mortality, I decided I wanted to try to do the final edits so I can create a BluRay of the incredible stuff I saw there.

    I had very little footage of marine algae and grasses. There are no giant kelp forests there and other macroalgae to record. A few weeks ago, I came across several video segments of what I assumed was an unusual marine alga from the Philippines. Then an image on the Internet made me realize I was way off base... on the other side of the biological spectrum in fact. My strange alga was a colony of relatives of the human species... a colonial tunicate!

    This Indo-Pacific critter is known as the lollypop tunicate (Nephtheis fascicularis, formerly known as Oxycorynia fascicularis). Other common names include grape tunicate, stalked tunicate, blue palm "coral" and blue pom pom "coral."Maybe if I had prescription lenses in my dive mask, I might have seen what it truly is. But then even my computer glasses didn't allow me to resolve it on the tiny screen while editing the footage! It took Google to reveal its true identity.

    Tunicates are also called sea squirts or ascidians. I wasn't kidding when I said that they are the invertebrates most closely related to Homo sapiens (whew, at least that scientific name hasn'r changed!). Their larvae have a nerve chord, making them members of the same phylum (Chordata) that you and I belong to. Well, sometimes I'm not so sure about you!

    The colony itself may grow up to a whopping five inches. It is blue-green in color with yellow and gray bands. The individual members of these colonies are known as zooids. Despite the greenish color, which threw me off initially, they do not photosynthesize. Instead they filter juicy plankton and organic matter out of the surrounding water. The name tunicate comes from the cellulose-covering or tunic that covers the individual zooids. As for sea squirt, they occasionally eject water from their siphons if disturbed.

    Apparently this species is popular in the aquarium trade. Many of the "hits" I got on Google led me to companies that sell them to aquarium supply stores. You can even buy them off E-Bay. However, I read that they are often difficult to maintain for several reasons. First, they require frequent feeding of plankton or other organic foods. They prefer to be out of direct sun or artificial light. On reefs they often are found under overhangs. In addition they rarely live past one year so must be replaced with some frequency.

    © 2019 Dr. Bill Bushing. For the entire archived set of over 800 "Dive Dry" columns, visit my website Star Thrower Educational Multimedia (S.T.E.M.) Home Page

    Image caption: Not a very appealing lollypop in my humble opinion!

    DDDB 812 lollypop tunicate sm.jpg
     

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