75. Invisible

This is the second of a handful of posts about the animals of Lembeh Strait, in Indonesia. (The first was this one.) The animal above is a transparent anemone shrimp, Ancylomenes holthuisi (although it used to have the lovelier genus name Periclimenes, and some guides still use it). During my time at Lembeh I became increasingly entranced by these animals, in large part because of their near-invisibility, but also for their behavior. This post will feature a couple of short videos of these animals, along with more photos.

This is also the first post on this site for a while, as I spent the last couple of months finishing a book that follows up Other Minds. With that manuscript sent off, I will return to writing more regularly here. Readership of this site – and of others like it, as I understand the situation – has dropped off markedly over the past year. This has been partly due to the victory of the shortest of short-form media, Twitter and Instagram, but I note also that books are doing quite well at the moment, and I am also seeing more long-form journalism. That is encouraging, even if the “blog,” the format between them, is entering history. Despite this, I have some ideas to work through and this is a good place for them. Today, though, not too many words. Here is a first video. I think this is Ancyclomenes venustus, the Graceful Anemone Shrimp.

The most interesting behaviors there are the shrimp-anemone interactions. The shrimp does a rapid sideways double-wave – something these animals do a lot. It settles back, and the anemone, for no obvious reason, soon starts to nudge, probe, and fuss with the shrimp. This is a reminder that the anemone is a pretty complicated animal, too, not merely a plant-like setting for the shrimp.

In the second video, the anemone is more relaxed. The shrimp does some feeding in the middle of a gentle anemone hug.

Laura Bagge, of the University of Florida, has peered more closely arthropod invisibility than most. She has a couple of papers that describe mechanisms that work along with overall transparency to further suppress the visibility of the animals. I am starting to work my way through them. Here is one, and here is a good popular piece. Another paper describes how exertion tends to make the animals cloudy, hence more visible. We might see a little of that in this photo:

A couple of entirely visible animals can conclude the Lembeh arthropod posts. I think this is a Zanzibar Whip Coral Shrimp.

And this crystalline beast peering over a soft coral is a Candy Crab.*


* Scientific names:

Zanzibar Whip Coral Shrimp: Dasycaris zanzibarica

Candy Crab: Hoplophrys oatesi.

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5 Responses to 75. Invisible

  1. Doug says:

    12 thumbs up for the long form blog with outgoing notifications to readers that something’s been posted. Facebook/Twitter/Instagram are way to twitchy for the kind of information you post. FB, especially, makes it difficult to find new posts that get buried in a complex feed. I appreciate that you post the way you do. If you decide you don’t want to maintain a blog, perhaps Quillette or Quanta Magazine might be options. In any case, thank you for putting this information out in public.

  2. Teresa says:

    Thanks for this! I’m glad I signed up for the notifications. I am reluctant to get deep into twitter and FB mostly brings me down, so it’s a “novel” (something old is new again!) experience to click and read something I am actually interested in and leaves me better informed (cloudy from exertion?? cool!). I love the photos but the videos really let you get to know the animal a little bit. “Hold me while I feed my face.” <— a clear illustration I am a product of the times and can't resist tweet-speaking your content inside your own blog.

  3. Dominic says:

    I am reminded of Wallace looking at the pristine waters in Amboyna –
    “the clearness of the water afforded me one of the most astonishing and beautiful sights I have ever beheld. The bottom was absolutely hidden by a continuous series of corals, sponges, actiniæ, and other marine productions, of magnificent dimensions, varied forms, and brilliant colours. … It was a sight to gaze at for hours, and no description can do justice to its surpassing beauty and interest.”

    Thanks for sharing this over the years, even if you do decide to draw a line. You kindly signed a copy of ‘Darwinian populations’ for me after the Imre Lakatos lecture in the LSE some years ago!

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