Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bobtail squidding

The other evening, I joined the HIMB Education program to hunt for bobtail squid.  Bobtail squid are not actually squid at all, but cuttlefish.  One of the big differences between squid and cuttlefish are the feeding tentacles that hang out of squid's mouths all the time, while cuttlefish keep their feeding tentacles tucked inside their mouths, shooting them out when necessary. Bobtail squid are adorable cuttlefish that look like little swimming dumplings.  

It was a beautiful evening on Coconut, perfect for bobtail squidding.  They bury themselves in the sand during the day and come out at night to feed, so all we had to do was wade around in the shallows and look for little swimming dumplings. Unfortunately, after an hour and a half, we still hadn't found one. But then, one of the interns, who was snorkeling in deeper water found two of the smallest bobtail squid I have ever seen! Adorable!

The most interesting thing about bobtail squid is their ability to counter-shade with the help of bacteria called Vibrio fisceri. The bacteria live in a light organ on the underside of the bobtail squid and they fluoresce in response to the brightness of the moon.  That way, if there is a predator under the bobtail squid, it looks up and instead of seeing the shadow of an animal blocking the light from the moon, the predator sees nothing. It's like an invisibility cloak for a bobtail squid. Pretty incredible symbiotic relationship. Yay science!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Corpse Flower

A few weeks ago, the corpse flower at the botanical gardens was blooming.  I was very excited and dragged Steven along to check it out with me.  Apparently, we JUST missed it! Bummer, but we got to see a few of the different stages and I took some photos.

First of all, the corpse flower, or Amorphophallus titanum (which to me sounds like it translates to "giant misshapen penis") is so called because when it blooms it reportedly smells like rotting flesh. Delicious! The smell attracts pollinators (only a few species of which we have in Hawaii), and then the corpse flower sort of crumples in on itself, only to bloom another seven years later. In the picture on the left, you can see me standing next to the flower that just bloomed. The spadix is the large fleshy spike in the middle of the flower. It has turned brown because it just bloomed, but usually it is pale green (like the one on the right). The leafy "flower" part around the spadix is called the spathe.  When the flower blooms, the spathe open up to about 3m in circumference.

The botanical garden had a few of the corpse flowers, so they opened one up to show what it looks like inside.  The little stalks are where the pollinators wriggle around to transfer pollen they pick up as the crawl into the spathe.

 Below is a picture of the bugs that typically pollinate these plants. The Carrion Beetles are really the most useful to the plants, but since we don't have those in Hawai'i, the botanical garden does the pollinating by hand. Sounds like a fun night! Albeit a bit stinky.

 There were also a selection of lovely orchids, some of which I photographed below.

And finally, a selection of some of the seeds from the garden. I love the variety!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Radio Show!

Last week, I was invited to participate in an AM Radio Show called All Things Marine. As this was my first appearance on the radio for science (I had a radio show in college--TEN YEARS AGO), I was both nervous and excited. Things began well, I had been sent questions to prep myself for the show and I had practiced my answers laboriously in the car on the way to the studio.

When I got there, we went into the studio and our hostess took our picture. You can see from the picture that I am already tense (my shoulders are practically touching my ears) to say nothing of the fact that the microphone is covering half of my face.  Dr. Ruth Gates spoke first about her incredible research into "Designer Reefs," or coral reef ecosystems that seem to be highly adaptable in response to climate change.  Then, Dr. Brian Glazer spoke about his work in the deep sea and the loss of their incredibly expensive ROV (remotely operated vehicle).  During the whole time they were speaking, I was continually rehearsing my responses to the questions I was prepared to answer. Of course, as soon as it was time for my interview--our hostess began with a question that was NOT on my list of prepared questions! While it was a perfectly acceptable question--"tell us about your research," it was not what I was expecting! Thus, sending me into a spiral of jerky, inarticulate, confused answers for the next ten minutes! The worst moment was when she asked me to explain the genetics I was doing.  I froze. All possible explanations ran through my mind: do I talk about Mendelian inheritance? What do people know about? How do I explain genetics in 30 seconds or less? Ahhh! I settled on sex chromosomes. I thought most people are familiar with X and Y sex chromosomes and so I could try to explain it in that context. However, instead of a fully coherent explanation of sex chromosomes, I just said...."SEX".... And then nothing.... Radio silence.... Until I was able to recover and begin making words come out of my mouth. But during the rest of the show, I was hyper aware that I had just said the word SEX and just the word SEX very awkwardly, followed by what felt like an eternity of silence. Needless to say, this was not my proudest radio moment.  I'm not sure I even really remember what followed. I could listen to the podcast, but I have one of those terrible afflictions where listening to the sound of my own voice makes me nauseated, so I think I'll skip it. You are welcome to listen, if you are so inclined. The podcast can be found here, although as of today (5-27-14) it does not seem to be up yet.  I am told it will be available soon, though. 

More posts to come. I am in hyper-procrastination mode...

Friday, May 16, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Illustrated Guide to a PhD

This is a good little infographic on what a PhD is.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

An interesting infographic on the fate of Biology PhD students. I suppose I am in for ? number of years in a post doc and very little chance of a faculty job.  Lots to look forward to!  Well, actually, as long as I get a job, I'll be happy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ocean Heroine

(No, the title of this blog is not a reference to a new found opiate from the seas, in case you were confused.)

I know I have been neglecting my blog these days, a fact made more tragic because I haven't informed the world that I MET SILVIA EARLE! She is a personal hero, an ocean advocate, an adventuress and a scholar.  Dr. Earle was here in Hawaii to participate as a judge at our annual Tester Symposium where students can present their current research.  I was privileged to have dinner with her and fellow grad students on the first night of the symposium. She gave an excellent talk encouraging everyone to remember to harness our childlike curiosity about the world.  It's true that was why I originally got into science.  I remember being excited to learn about strange esoteric creatures and the journey of their evolution or the mechanisms that make the digestion of pitcher plants work or how discus fish feed their babies with the mucus on their skin.  All aspects of science and the planet and the universe are fascinating, but sometimes I forget that when I am bogged down in one particular vein of my research.  Dr. Earle is certainly inspirational and I am so grateful to have met her.

If that weren't enough of a treat, I also presented at the symposium and won an award! I talked to everyone about octopus mating behavior, showed a couple of kinky videos, and presented some results (albeit statistically boring results). Silvia Earle even asked me a question! I was pretty thrilled.  You may notice a small pink box in my hand. This was a "special" award they gave only to me of pink fuzzy handcuffs! Glad to know my research brings out a sense of humor in our group of scientists. All in all it was a lovely experience and a nice break from writing. Things have been rough these days in the dissertation write up.  I realized however that the PhD process seems more an exercise in perseverance than intelligence. And I will persevere-- I do have Finnish blood in me, after all--SISU!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Must Watch

Slow Life from Daniel Stoupin on Vimeo.

This incredible time-lapse shows some of the oceans invertebrates in a light you may not have seen before. It's quite magical to see the polyps as they evert out of the coral, or the undulation of the tentacles on the anemones. Enjoy--FULL SCREEN!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Starfish disease

This is a fascinating story. I will be very interested to see what it turns out to be.  Haven't seen anything like it in Hawaii yet, thankfully.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Algae in Art

Beautiful photographs of diatoms arranged under a microscope. More here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Beginnings

It only seems fitting to follow up a post entitled "end of an era" with one about "new beginnings." As of yesterday, I have moved from the sunset to the sunrise (from the west to the east, if it was unclear). This morning, after my first night in my new place, I went on the "Pillbox" hike in Lanikai to watch the sunrise. The so-called pillboxes are bunkers left over from World War II, where soldiers would sit and watch the coastline.  What a fantastic view they had! I was slightly embarrassed that I have lived in Hawai'i for this long and haven't done this hike.  Now it is only three blocks from me, so I may try to do the sunrise hike a few times a week.  Hike might be a generous word, it's really more a spirited fifteen minute jaunt.

Below is one of the bunkers at the top of the ridge.  There were a few other people there to watch the sunrise as well.  It didn't feel crowded though. There was a very friendly vibe about the whole experience.

It was a lovely way to start the day. And then, when I got to Coconut, I was welcomed by a broad stingray coasting along the sand under the pier.  There are a lot of them in Kaneohe Bay since the area serves as a nursery for several elasmobranch species. They eat small crustaceans that they dig out from the sand.  I love the way they glide sleepily across the seafloor. Their fins undulating fluidly at their sides. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

End of an era

Today marks the official day that I no longer have an octopus tank on Coconut Island.  I've just cleaned it out and it will soon belong to someone new! I heard a rumor there will be fish in there, maybe even as soon as this afternoon.  Exciting new research is happening all the time.

Cleaning it out was not as trivial as I may have made it sound. Over the years, I have cleaned it periodically, but a substantial number of organisms made that tank their home.  There were sea cucumbers, tunicates (sea squirts), snails, worms, corraline algae, barnacles, and even clams! It took me several days to carefully pick through the detritus to make sure I had rescued all the live animals from the tank (or at least as many as was humanly possible).

This little resident of the tank is a juvenile warty sea cucumber. They are ADORABLE when they are juveniles, with their beautiful yellowy-green coloration dotted with small black papillae, but when they grow up--BAM, ugly brown warty blob!  Below you can see an adult (the picture was taken by a very talented fellow researcher from Coconut Island).  

Although, perhaps I am being too harsh. I'm sure it is very attractive to other warty sea cucumbers... As long as it doesn't spew out its sticky bluish-white cuvierian tubules.  Wow, I just read the wikipedia article on cuvierian tubules, check this out--"When stressed, the sea cucumber faces away from the attacker and contracts its body wall muscles sharply. This causes the wall of the cloaca to tear and the anus to gape and the free ends of some of the tubes to be ejected. Water from the respiratory tree is forced into these tubules causing a rapid expansion and they elongate by up to twenty times their original length. They have great tensile strength and become sticky when they encounter any object. "

The tearing cloaca and gaping anus certainly paints a picture...

Aaaaand, moving on to a more pleasant image-

This little guy is a flame file clam. They can "swim" around the tank by squirting water out of their siphon. But, in general, they like to make a little nest for themselves among algae and rocks where they can sit and filter feed away from predators.  All of those stringy orange things around the outside are special tentacles that help it feed, but they can also drop off when then are threatened. I tried not to disturb these guys too much when I transferred them to the ocean, but inevitably, I got a few tentacles on me. I tried to read about whether they can regenerate their tentacles, but wasn't able to find any literature on that. They all seemed to find a new little nook to scurry into pretty quickly though, so I think they will survive.

One of the things I had in my octopus tank forever was an oversized rubber ducky.  I had originally thought to throw it away, but one of the shark researchers quickly rescued it and put it in among the sharks. Here it is in it's new home. Yay shark-duck love! Oh, wait, that sounds wrong...  Well, shark-duck friendship anyway. 

And now, the tank is clean, free of critters and ready to be home to someone new. Certainly the end of an era for me. Four years of octopus wrangling coming to an end, but many more months of writing still await me... Off to work!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Letters from Heather

Whenever I go out of town, I try to make scientific artwork for my boyfriend while I am gone.   I put them in envelopes and he can open them each day like an extreme nerd version of an advents calendar.  The first time I just did some random invertebrates that I liked. The second time, I tried to get more creative and did parasite life cycles. This most recent time, I decided to do various penis morphologies.  My parents thought they looked like children's book illustrations, perhaps that is my next career move?

I thought I had posted the parasite life cycle drawings before, but couldn't find them, so I'll put those up too.

Very interesting article about physiological changes that happen universally in response to mood. These are just self reported feelings though, I'd be interested to see body scans as well to see if there were correlations.