Sunday, November 27, 2011

You are what you eat – the colour version

A flamingo from a local butterfly garden
Every kid knows that a flamingo is pink because of what it eats. They filter water through their beak to catch brine shrimp and algae. The beta carotene in their food is converted to the pink pigments in their feathers, without this pigment source the bird would be white. Unfortunately, flamingos aren't found on my Pacific island except in captivity. But, we do have critters using the same pigment trick.

Recently, I met up with the local Natural History Society (I'm a member) for a beach seine at night because that was when the best low tide was this time of year. Based on the wind storms recently, we were lucky the wind had dropped off and it wasn't raining. The surf was manageable with the net for people wearing hip-waders and dry-suits – so not me as I don't own either. Two people took the net out into the surf. The first seine was over sand resulting in hardly any fish. So, the net was taken out and hauled in a second time over eelgrass. All sorts of interesting intertidal creatures were pulled up.

Everyone gathered around to check out the fishes, crabs and shrimps. The fish catch included: walleye pollock, English sole, stary flounder, sharpnose sculpin, sailfin sculpin, sandlance, roselip sculpin, tubesnout, high cockscomb, a type surf perch, Pacific spiny lumpsucker (the cutest fish ever) and a penpoint gunnel. Each type was put into a clear ziplock bag along with plenty of water and passed around. By holding the bags up to my headlamp, I got a good look at each critter.

The penpoint gunnel intrigued me because it was neon green – a tropical water colour in our temperate zone. A picture can be found here, the fish looks like an eel, but isn't. This guy hangs around in eelgrass or sea lettuce beds waiting to ambush little crustaceans and mollusks. The bright green colour of the one we found would allow it to blend in almost perfectly (they also come in other colours to match other seaweeds). Like the flamingo, the penpoint gunnel gets it's colour through what it eats. The green comes from the sea lettuce.

Few of the fish and invertebrates were held on to for a local museum's tide pool, the rest were released. As we packed up our gear, another beach seine group arrived. In the darkness, all we could see of them was dark shapes and headlamps – it was like looking at ourselves a couple hours in the past.
As a tangent, my trips to the beach seem to coincide with when my rubber boots are muddy. Once again they are clean.

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