Our friends Lisa and Alex came in from the dark, electrified. They had just walked a bowl of post-dinner lobster shells down to the low-tide line to dump them into the water. With every step they had seen the rock weed beneath their feet flash as if filled with fireflies.
So began an amazing experience for Pamelia, me and three of our guests.
We stumbled through the darkness and down a short hill (some of us sliding down a slippery rock face on our butts) to the low-tide zone. And then: Wow. Imagine if every piece of seaweed were wired with dozens—or hundreds—of tiny white lights that popped on whenever you put your foot down. That was what we witnessed. Some of us walked out farther and saw the same spectacle when we stepped in the water. Sometimes the flashes looked like shooting stars or flying sparks. We wished every kid in the world could have been with us to experience this thrilling display of science and nature.
We were watching the phenomenon of bioluminiscence—a light-emitting chemical reaction produced by many forms of sea life for any number of purposes, from defense to communication to mate-attracting. In our case, we were seeing tiny marine plants called phytoplankton, which are an essential link in the ocean food chain. Their blinks of bioluminescence are thought to unsettle potential predators.
Pamelia and I had never before seen bioluminescence in our low-tide zone, but then again, we had rarely walked there in total darkness. Two of the College of the Atlantic graduates and Naturalist's Notebook team members who live with us said they had learned in their marine studies that the conditions at this time of year in this section of the Maine coast are conducive to bioluminescence displays. With that in mind, we'll have to return to the water's edge over the next few nights to see if the sparks are still flying.
Looked What Washed Ashore The Maine coastline has been filled with cool surprises lately. The other day a Notebook friend from Seal Harbor e-mailed us the photo below with a note: "Sarah and I came upon this ocean creature on the beach! About 2ft long! What do you suppose it is!!????"
I passed the query along to one of the sharpest naturalists we know, Lynn Havsall, who had just returned from giving a butterfly lecture in Vermont. Lynn (who loves solving mysteries like this) said it was a bit hard to tell from the small photo but that "I think what your friends found is a bouquet of squid eggs [http://njscuba.net/zzz_uw/mohawk_squid_eggs.jpg].
"They are laid in clusters and look like white sausages filled with tiny eggs—baby squidlets! The Atlantic squid found around here is loligo pealei [http://www.freewebs.com/andrej_gajic/Marine%20Biology/Loligo%20Opalescens.jpg]. They recently have been seen in tide pools in Blue Hill and photographed by my friend Leslie Clapp.
"Here's some info: http://www.fao.org/fishery/species/2714/en. I love how this article calls the egg clusters 'sea mops,' for that is exactly what the photo you sent looks like!"
Squid are relatively plentiful in the Gulf of Maine, and I've read that they have been unusually abundant near the coast lately. There is a theory that the 50-ton male sperm whale found dead (of as yet undetermined causes) in the waters off Mount Desert Island a couple of weeks ago might have been following a large school of squid close to shore.
Many types of squid display bioluminescence, by the way.
The Banjo Player
A rainy Maine morning brought this two-inch-long amphibian onto our stone walkway. It's a species known as a green frog. Some green frogs have more green on them, I guess you could include Kermit in that group. If you live near wetlands you may have heard the song of this lovable leaper, which sounds like the plucking of a banjo string.
Click below to hear that familiar sound:
This Morning's Notebook To-Do List (Partial)
1. Finish (finally) unpacking from the London Olympics (currently down to just paperwork).
2. Pull out paintbrushes, primer, drills and screwdrivers and start creating a prototype for the 13.7-billion-year interactive outdoor installation we're making with Eli, Virginia and Julie for the TEDx conference at Bates College in October.
3. Try to minimize interruptions for Pamelia as she continues her tireless (and amazing) design work on some of our Big Plans for 2013 and beyond.
4. Make sure Eli and Virginia bring leftover varietal honeys from our Sweet 16 tournament to the Notebook for sampling by the Honey Man. This connoisseur visits us every year and is as passionate and knowledgeable about honey as a sommelier is about wine. He still speaks rapturously about the pumpkin-blossom honey he tasted at the Notebook last year.
5. Check for bear scat. Two nights ago Eli and Virginia were walking Bashi in the driveway at our house when they heard a crash in the woods and (with a flashlight) saw our newest outdoor regular, a small black bear, climbing down from a tree.
6. Prepare to (at last) get back to those of you who have inquired about purchasing signed, never-before-available prints of naturalist Bernd Heinrich's illustrations, which are on display through mid-October at the Notebook.
7. Print out the forms to apply for Russian visas for an early November SI trip to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic world press briefing.
8. Continue planning a late September family getaway (a belated 60th-anniversary gift to my parents) to Britain. Our Notebook-related stops will include the Glasgow Science Centre, Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, the Natural History Museum in London and some good sites for watching birds. The blog will report on our discoveries.
9. Get outside.
Giving the Birds Their Due As past visitors to The Naturalist's Notebook know, we are home to the Natural League. We have a homemade, Green Monster-like standings board that shows the current standings of the nine major league baseball teams with names taken from the world of nature, such as Tigers and Marlins.
This summer, because we needed room for a display on Olympian naturalists, I benched the Natural League standings board. That move left a recent visitor highly disappointed. He is fan of the Baltimore Orioles, who have languished near the bottom of the Natural League since its inception in 2009. I feel it is only fair to share with you all today's standings in the Natural League, even if they aren't displayed on our board:
1-BALTIMORE ORIOLES (76-60)
2-Tampa Rays (75-62)
3-St. Louis Cardinals (74-63)
4-Detroit Tigers (73-63)
5-Arizona Diamondbacks (68-70)
6-Toronto Blue Jays (61-75)
7-Miami Marlins (60-77)
8-Colorado Rockies (56-79)
9-Chicago Cubs (51-85)
1) How much salt is in the average human body?
a) a pinch
b) a tablespoon
c) enough to fill two salt shakers
2) What is the name for that crown-like, five-pointed star on top of a blueberry?