Hand-fed Gooseneck barnacle

By Nicole Webster

I have below what we believe to be the first footage of someone hand feeding a Pollicipes polymerusThese gooseneck barnacles are found only in high flow areas, and feed differently than your average acorn barnacles. Rather than swat the water for prey with their legs, they let the water to the work for them, holding out their legs, and let the tide wash in their food. They eat larger pieces (as you can see below), and here appear to actually grab it.

These videos were taken by my lab mate Tomonari Kaji, a postdoc who’s looking at the development and plasticity of barnacle leg segments, and how they change leg length in different environments.

Moving Barnacles

Windy ride

By  Nicole Webster

I want to share this obscure paper with you:

J. E. Moriarty, J. A. Sachs and K. Jones. 2008. Directional Locomotion in a Turtle barnacle, Chelonibia testudinaria, on Green Turtles, Chelonia mydas. Marine Turtle Newsletter 119.

I’m going to give you the punchline first: They found evidence of barnacles moving!

Now that I’ve got your attention, lets start with some basic introduction. Chelonibia testudinaria is a species of barnacle that lives specifically on the backs of sea turtles. It is part of an entire superfamily of barnacles (Coronuloidea) that are obligate epibionts, meaning they only live on other living organisms. Members of this group live on everything from whales, manatees, crabs, molluscs, and turtles. This is how these barnacles get to travel the world!

Chelonibia patula on a Blue crab Credit: Cirriphilia (Wikipedia)

Chelonibia patula on a Blue crab Credit: Cirriphilia (Wikipedia)

To date, no one has shown any significant harm these barnacles do to their hosts (nor benefit), and this is considered a commensal, not parasitic relationship. In contrast, there is evidence that they may preferentially settle in wounds (ouch!). I imagine this might relate to chemosensory settlement cues that would be strongest at an open wound. It is thought the main advantages to the barnacles are dispersal, and predator evasion (what sea star or snail will climb on the turtle just to eat them?)


Moving sessile organisms

In general, sessile organisms (like barnacles), are considered sessile for a reason. They don’t move as adults. The larvae settle out of the plankton based on certain cues (many are poorly understood at best) on what they hope is a good spot, and then metamorphose, binding themselves to a location for their entire life. This extends to coral, barnacles, sponges, mussels, tunicates, tube worms, bryozoans, and anemones.

This isn’t 100%. Life is full of exceptions. A big one is anemones. Some of the swim (Stomphia), but even less spectacular anemones have the ability to crawl slowly.

This would be of great advantage to a sessile organism. I was with a tour group last week, and someone asked why all the anemones were in pits and crevasses. At first I thought it might just be differential survival, but no, I’m pretty sure those anemones would move to the more sheltered locations all by themselves.

I have not heard of coral, sponges, tunicates, or tube worms moving once settled, but mussels (at least when they are small) can move about as well. They use byssal threads to attach to the substrate, and can move by progressively moving where their byssal threads attach. This is separate from their ability to crawl using their foot.

Barnacles is new, and very exciting (to me at least) as an addition to the list of sessile organisms that are not so sessile!

So what about this paper then?

It is known that filter feeding organisms do best in areas of high flow: more units of water pass by, carrying more food. On a turtle, this would be the front edge or dorsal ridge on the shell. It was previously known that barnacles are more common on these regions of a turtle carapace, but this was thought to be due to cyprid (the barnacle larva stage that settles and metamorphoses) movement and differential survival.

This paper was a casual case of observation. The authors were studying Green Turtles, Chelonia mydas in florida, and noticed that the barnacles were in different locations on the same individual. It doesn’t say so in the paper, but I imagine the reaction was more along the lines of: “What? That can’t be right, check again!”, in the paper this is stated as: “Casual inspection of the photographs indicated that the barnacles were moving on the carapace of these turtles over a period of months. To investigate this, we assembled a series of photographs for each of the three turtles.”

All in all they had 8 barnacles on  turtles that moved. Most moved anteriorly and medially (towards the middle and front), as you would expect based on where the highest flow is.

Green turtle bearing the gray locomotion trail of a relocated Chelonibia testudinaria. Moriarty et al 2008.

Green turtle bearing the gray locomotion trail of a relocated Chelonibia testudinaria. Moriarty et al. 2008.

How fast? Average rates varied from 1.4 mm – 0.27 mm/day! Seems kinda slow, I know, but definetly faster than 0. They even leave a trail on the shell, so you could see part of their track.

The authors raise an interesting point: the ideal settling location is in high flow, and its difficult to settle there for the same reason. If you are capable of moving after you have settled, that gets the best of both worlds. A low flow settling location to get properly attached, followed by a migration to an ideal feeding spot.

Unlike many barnacles, C. testudinaria does not have a base plate, making moving a bit easier. The authors suggest they move by creating tension in the leading edge of the shell, causing it to move forward with growth increments of the shell.

To be fair, some barnacles are capable of rotating in place, or getting pushed by growing neighbours, and the settling cyprid larvae can migrate, but this is the first evidence of large scale adult barnacle motion.

Also, there are only three turtles, and less than a dozen barnacles in this study, so some caution is warranted, but I believe the pictures speak for themselves. This paper is available free online here, so take a look for yourself.

Extra bonus paper

I love phylogenies, I admit it. So there’s a cool side note to this story. Zardus et al. 2014 just threw a big wrench into our understanding of these turtle barnacles. Previously there were 5 species of Chelonibia, each with a specific range of hosts (different sea turtle species, as well as some crustaceans and manatees), and associated morphologies. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of this paper, but the conclusion is that there are only two species of Chelonibia, and all that host specific morphology is simply phenotypic plasticity! One is Chelonibia caretta which is specific to a few types of sea turtle, but all the others are being grouped together as morpho-types of C. testudinaria.  (Why can’t I hear you whooping in excitement?).

Putting these papers together, does this mean the barnacles on manatees can move too? What about whale barnacles? The soft tissue embedding seems to me unlikely to allow migration, but who knows? I’m pretty sure there’d be no reason barnacles on crabs couldn’t wander about…

There are so many cool things out there just waiting for you to notice them! Take your time, and don’t brush off anomalies.


J. E. Moriarty, J. A. Sachs and K. Jones. 2008. Directional Locomotion in a Turtle barnacle, Chelonibia testudinaria, on Green Turtles, Chelonia mydasMarine Turtle Newsletter 119:1-4

J. D. Zardus, D. T. Lake, M. G. Frick and P. D. Rawson. 2014. Deconstructing an assemblage of “turtle” barnacles: species assignments and fickle fidelity in Chelonibia. Marine Biology 161:45-59

Climate change and the 5 stages of grief

by Amanda Kahn

In 1969, Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross outlined 5 stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying to help people cope with grief from the loss of a loved one or news of their own terminal illness.  Psychologists later noted “that this emotional cycle was not exclusive just to the terminally ill, but also other people who were affected by bad news, such as losing their jobs or otherwise being negatively affected by change” (changingminds.org).

How does this tie in to climate change or other new, major ideas and why might it be helpful to keep these 5 stages in mind?  Well, when I thought about my own thought progression, the changing perspectives of the scientific community, and then how the media and public see climate change, I realized that we’ve been walking through the 5 stages of grief, also called the Kübler-Ross Grief cycle.  Quotations below all come from a great summary of the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle from changingminds.org.

There are 5 major stages that vary between being active or passive (with a few extras sometimes thrown in, as seen in the diagram below).  During active stages, a person is likely to do something/be pushed into action (whether correct or misdirected).  During passive stages, a person usually is stuck/unable to act as needed.  The five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Kubler-Ross grief cycle

The Kubler-Ross extended grief cycle. Credit: ChangingMinds.org


Consensus about climate change

Public perception versus actual consensus in the scientific community regarding climate change. Credit: SkepticalScience.com

The first stage is a transitional stage of shock followed quickly by denial, where people pretend that no news has been given.  “They effectively close their eyes to any evidence and pretend that nothing has happened.”  When I first read about climate change, I thought the projections must be overestimates, and that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to stay on a dangerous trajectory.  Some of the general public and news media seem stuck in this denial phase, preferring to stir up controversy or conflict where there is none in the scientific community.  Take note: this is a brilliant strategy for preventing or avoiding change since denial is one of the passive phases–no one acts if they can find a nugget of doubt that says that they do not have to.  This is why gas companies, for example, might be interested in expressing doubts about climate change.

Contributions to climate change

Bar graph showing % contribution of humans versus natural sources to climate change over the past 50-65 years. Different colors of bars indicate different climate models run. Credit: SkepticalScience.com


Denial eventually transitions to anger and frustration.  A person might try to blame anyone or anything for the change, except for him/herself.  I was frustrated and blamed everything that emitted greenhouse gases–industries, cows, cars, volcanoes–but couldn’t think clearly about how I fit into things.  Interestingly, the anger and denial stages can cycle back and forth, getting stuck in a loop.

Human contributions to climate change

Predicted human contributions to climate change in 2020 and 2100. Credit: NASA/GISS


After getting over anger, a person begins to realize that the inevitable is happening.  They begin “seeking ways to avoid having the bad thing happen. Bargaining is thus a vain expression of hope that the bad news is reversible.”


This phase is easy to get stuck into.  “The inevitability of the news eventually…sinks in and the person reluctantly accepts that it is going to happen…In this deep depression, they see only a horrible end with nothing beyond it. In turning in towards themselves, they turn away from any solution and any help that others can give them.”  “In this phase, the person may now be blaming themselves as they take responsibility for their action where something has gone wrong.”  In 2008, I attended the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Currents Symposium.  At that time, climate change was just coalescing into a well accepted theory within my field’s small pocket of the scientific community, and the conference was filled with depressing reports and projections of what was to come.  Looking back, I felt that the scientific community was in that state of depression.


“Acceptance is typically visible by people taking ownership both for themselves and their actions. They start to do things and take note of the results, and then changing their actions in response. They will appear increasingly happier and more content as they find their way forward.”  By 2010, the research presented at the same symposium was different.  The focus of the research changed, even though the projections and ideas about climate change had not. Instead of doom-and-gloom predictions, there were people presenting research on carbon-neutral energy, technology to sequester carbon into building materials, and adaptive ways to lessen our contributions to, and the impacts of, climate change.  It was a call to action–research was being done to figure out how to live on our changing planet and to temper human impacts.  This is the most effective, active phase of the grief cycle and is where everyone needs to be: willing to change, find creative ways to lessen our impact, and accept responsibility in a human role in the situation.

My acceptance phase was similar to the views at the symposium.  I was depressed about it until I accepted that it’s inevitable given what we’ve already emitted, but it doesn’t have to be something I can do nothing about.  The climate is changing and carbon emissions from humans are responsible, but it’s possible to change what emissions are being put out. the way we emit, and the research and technological energy we put into dealing with it.  When media and the general public move from the passive phases of denial and depression into the active phase of acceptance, we’ll become the responsive, adaptable, innovative problem-solvers we need to be to live in a changing world.

Where do you fall in this cycle?  Have you experienced this same progression of thoughts, either relating to climate change or some other concept or idea?  Write them in the comments below.

Please remember that this was a thought exercise based on my personal observations and experiences.  This isn’t the post or the place to argue the validity of climate science–it is about the thought progression of people accepting a new idea that was at one time controversial.

Sandy Mussel beds II

Windy ride

By  Nicole Webster
I was back at Ross this Spring, and am here to update you on the state of the mussel bed on the beach. Short form: It’s still there! (last year’s post)

Overview of the bed, facing the point. Credit: N Webster

Overview of the bed, facing the point. Credit: N Webster


Close up of the mussels. They are about 5cm in length. Credit N. Webster

Close up of the mussels. They are about 5cm in length. Credit N. Webster

The mussels are big enough, I could believe they are the same as last year’s, and if so, must have survived the winter storms without a good anchor due to the very protective nature of the beach.

New face of BMSC

By Nicole Webster

Some of you more social-networky types may have notices a few changes. This is the first step in a huge rebranding project! The information and quotes below were given to me by Heather Alexander, who is the project manager. The opinions stated below are my own.


The BMSC brand is broader than its visual identity, more than a signature or symbol. Our brand is the intangible sum of the our attributes: its name, values, offerings, people, its history and reputation and the way it is experienced and promoted. “

I think the idea is to show off to others what the BMSC is, and give it a facelift at the same time.


  • Well a big reason is the loss of NSERC funding, which has been a big blow to the station. The idea is to create a fresh image, promoting the station to its member universities, as well as to possible funding sources, and hopefully keeping things running.
    • A big part of this campaign will be to change the way our  five member universities (UVic, SFU, UBC, UofA, UofC) look at the BMSC. “[T]o raise the profile of BMSC and show that BMSC is a valued asset, and to give a sense of ownership to the home universities.” Before I arrived, I though if BMSC a ‘field station’, an offshoot of the biology department for research or some undergrad courses. This is becoming less true, and the BMSC wants to remind/inform the universities of that, “to engage the member universities in the idea that BMSC is a branch of their campus, with facilities useful to many departments.” BMSC has started making inroad into other areas of research, offering popular non-biology courses in archaeology, ethonobotany, science for non science majors, and science film making and journalism. The same sort of outreach has been going on at the research level, with social scientists staying on station and engineers coming to use the gigantic flume for fluid dynamics studies
  • A second reason is discontinuity. The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre used to be the Bamfield Marine Station, and not everything was changed to reflect the new name (eg. www.bms.bc.ca, rather than the new www.bamfieldmsc.com [Both links still work]). The starfish logo is no always the same colour or shape, and is thus not standardized.
  • A third reason is opportunity: “Mark Doherty, owner of Massif, a PR/Design firm from Vancouver, and a part time resident of Bamfield, has offered the services of his company at a greatly reduced rate.”


We have already seen some changes on the internet. There have been updates to twitter, facebook, youtube, google+, and linkedin, and the main webpage.

They have also created a single BMSC alumni facebook group, as a single place to make updates available to past students, and a place where all of us can interact, rather than in our separate cohorts (eg. summer 2012, fall 2013…).

The merchandise is being updated, with the first order already arrived, reflecting the new logo and colour scheme.

Mock up of the new merchandise. Don't fret, they have hoodies too! (and T-shirts, sweat pants, toques, travel mugs...)

Mock up of the new merchandise. Don’t fret, they have hoodies too! (and T-shirts, sweat pants, toques, travel mugs…)

Changes are ongoing, and most are superficial to date, creating a uniform scheme to the BMSC web presence, as well as in brochures, buisiness cards, headers, signage at the station… However, I’m quite excited for the major update to the webpage that is forthcoming, updating information, and (hopefully) making the site more usable.


As always, change is scary. I like the idea of bringing things into line, and especially the idea of better advertising to the member universities. Not only to increase enrollment but to hopefully increase funding and appreciation by the administrations.

There’s two new taglines (anyone know what the old one was, if it exists?):

‘Immerse yourself’
‘Your oceanside campus’

The first is clever and cute, the second seems more practical, and aimed directly at the universities, rather than students/clients.

I really don’t like the new logo. I see that it is stylish, and fresh, and its still got a starfish, but its all soft edges and texture. I understand that a new logo is expected with a revamp, but I love the simplicity of the coil-y starfish. If I were in charge (but I’m not, and I have no idea of the behind-doors situation), I would have made the font and colour changes, but left the starfish – a continuity to the past, a commitment to not too much change from what we love, nor a focus on appearance over substance.

One version of old logo, simple.

One version of old logo.

New logo.

New logo.










I do like the picture heavy content. The beauty of BMSC and Barkley sound are a major part of its success. I would note that both of these images are biologically impossible with water going only halfway up, but I like the style.

Google+ header

Google+ header.

Facebook header

Facebook header

I’m also very excited to arrive in Bamfield, and see what practical changes (if any) will be made to the station itself and how it is run. I hope this will make the difference.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Footer of website and letterhead.

Footer of website and letterhead.



Slow life- Coral, sponges, and echinoderm time lapse

I just came across this mind-blowingly beautiful time lapse work of some slow organisms. Take a look (on a big screen at full size and resolution):

This was done by Daniel Stoupin. You can learn about how he made this video, or check out his other amazing work on his blog or website.

Fractals with R, Part 5: Sierpinski Carpet with ggplot2

Figure 1. Sierpinski Carpet

Figure 1. Sierpinski Carpet.

By Allan Roberts

This post uses the graphics package ggplot2 (Wickham, 2009) to illustrate a new method of making an image of the Sierpiński Carpet, which was featured in a previous post (Fractals with R, Part 2: the Sierpiński Carpet). The method used to make the matrix representing the fractal is the same; again, the algorithm is essential the same as the described in described in Weisstein (2012), but implemented in R. In this post, I have used the graphics package ggplot2 to display the image. The ggplot2 layer “geom_tile” produces output much like the function “image” in the base graphics package. View ports made with the “grid” package are used to make the four panels of the plot shown in figure 1; one of the advantages of ggplot2 is that it makes it relatively easy to work with the grid package in this way. Because the function “ggplot” takes a data frame as an argument,  some extra work was required to turn the matrix representing an iteration of the fractal into a data frame with X and Y columns for the positions of cells, and an indicator column I to represent the colour of the cell. Running the script provided below requires that you have the “ggplot2” package installed; if you have an internet connection, this can be done by entering install.packages(“ggplot2”) on the R command line. (The grid library should come already installed with the basic installation of R.)


H. Wickham. ggplot2: elegant graphics for data analysis. Springer New York, 2009.

Weisstein, Eric W. “Sierpiński Carpet.” From MathWorld– A Wolfram Wed Resource Accessed Oct. 22, 2012: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/SierpinskiCarpet.html

R Script

#Written by Allan Roberts, Feb 2014
SierpinskiCarpet <- function(k){
Iterate <- function(M){
A <- cbind(M,M,M);
B <- cbind(M,0*M,M);
M <- as.matrix(1)
for (i in 1:k) M <- Iterate(M);
n <- dim(M)[1]
X <- numeric(n)
Y <- numeric(n)
I <- numeric(n)
for (i in 1:n) for (j in 1:n){
X[i + (j-1)*n] <- i;
Y[i + (j-1)*n] <- j;
I[i + (j-1)*n] <- M[i,j];
DATA <- data.frame(X,Y,I)
p <- ggplot(DATA,aes(x=X,y=Y,fill=I))
p <- p + geom_tile() + theme_bw() + scale_fill_gradient(high=rgb(0,0,0),low=rgb(1,1,1))
p <-p+ theme(legend.position=0) + theme(panel.grid = element_blank())
p <- p+ theme(axis.text = element_blank()) + theme(axis.ticks = element_blank())
p <- p+ theme(axis.title = element_blank()) + theme(panel.border = element_blank());
A <- viewport(0.25,0.75,0.45,0.45)
B <- viewport(0.75,0.75,0.45,0.45)
C <- viewport(0.25,0.25,0.45,0.45)
D <- viewport(0.75,0.25,0.45,0.45)

Ucluelet Aquarium grand re-opening March 15

by Amanda Kahn

The Ucluelet Aquarium, across Barkley Sound from Bamfield, is re-opening its doors for another summer season on Saturday, March 15 at 12 noon.  The aquarium displays local marine life of the Pacific Northwest with the distinction of being one of the few “catch-and-release” aquaria in the world.  Admission on opening day is by donation.

The aquarium will be open on Saturday from 12 PM until 5 PM, then will begin regular hours of 10 AM to 5 PM until the summer (when they will stay open until 6 PM).  Check their website for current hours and rates.

Touch tanks at the Ucluelet Aquarium

Touch tanks at the Ucluelet Aquarium. Credit: Ucluelet Aquarium Society.

Sensory organ discovered in sponges helps them respond to their environment despite having no nervous system

by Amanda Kahn

Sponges are animals, but they do not have the features we’re used to seeing when we think of animals: no gut, no head or tail, no nerves, and no stomachs or other organs.  And yet despite not having a nervous system, sponges are able to respond to their environment by changing the canal sizes in their filter-feeding system, in an action called the “inflation-contraction response.”  It’s basically akin to what we do when we sneeze.  This was observed in the mid-1900’s, but scientists have only been able to speculate what could be helping the sponges sense and coordinate various cells in their body when there are no nerves or sensory organs observed.  Danielle Ludeman, one of the authors here at the Madreporite, has just published an article describing the sensory organ that she and her coauthors, Nathan Farrar, Ana Riesgo, Jordi Paps, and Sally Leys, discovered in many different species of sponges: primary cilia used to detect changes in water flow.  Check out the time-lapse video below to see how responsive sponges are to irritants (in this case sediments) in the water.

Danielle tested if those cilia are used to detect changes in water flow by using drugs that target and knock out the cilia.  When the cilia were knocked out or knocked down, the “sneeze” response couldn’t be initiated.  If cilia were permitted to grow back following treatment, the “sneeze” response could be initiated.  In our kidneys, primary cilia are used to detect water flow.  The structure of the paired cilia Danielle found aligns well with those of primary cilia in other animals, further supporting that these are sensory cilia that allow the sponges to detect their environment.

The cilia line the osculum, the chimney-like opening of the sponge.  If that osculum is removed, the sponge also is not able to initiate a sneeze response.  This led Danielle and co-authors to determine that the osculum can be thought of as a sensory organ, and not just a giant chimney.

Figure 4 from Ludeman et al. 2014

The “sneeze” response is shown by an increase in canal diameter followed by a rapid decrease (the black lines in the graphs). Various drugs that affect the cilia also affected that inflation/contraction. Source: Ludeman et al. (2014).

Why does this matter to us, and how does it apply to evolutionary theory?  Sponges are one of the earliest branches off of the animal tree of life (the Metazoa).  While they are animals, their distant relation to us and to all other animals (collectively called the Eumetazoa) means they diverged from whatever last common ancestor the Metazoa shared and evolved into something quite different and independent of what other animals have evolved into.  This isn’t unique–every animal phylum is very different from every other.  What is unique is their placement at the base of our collective “family tree.”  If a sponge shares a feature that we also have, it’s likely that the proto-animal–the last common ancestor that all animals shared–had that feature as well.  It brings us a little bit closer toward understanding how we evolved from single-celled organisms to the multicellular, fantastically complex and coordinated animals we are today.

Still think sponges are boring?
(Hint: they are, but only in one way that word is defined!).


Ludeman, D.A., N. Farrar, A. Riesgo, J. Paps, and S.P. Leys (2014).  Evolutionary origins of sensation in metazoans: evidence for a new sensory organ in sponges.  BMC Evolutionary Biology, 14(3).  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-3.

To learn more about sponges and research on the origin of animal body plans, check out the Leys lab website.