Still under the sea, Echinoderm edition

Don’t worry, one of these days I will write about something land-based.  We are heading off for 2 days of driving to see some ruins.  We are going to Dougga, an ancient Roman city!

Here is Oceanus, god of the sea.  He’s older than Poseidon.  He has crab legs in his hair. And those sea nymphs are pretty awesome. It’s a mosaic from Dougga.

from the Bardo Museum in Tunis

from the Bardo Museum in Tunis

Meanwhile, back in the water, I am wondering: Sea urchins are small balls of prickles. Who could possibly be eating them?  Yet, if sea urchins don’t have predators, then why do they try and hide under bits of shell and seaweed?  Today I saw 5 little sea urchins all in a row (the interweb suggests the collective noun is a pickle of sea urchins), and they were all holding bits of shell over themselves like 1920’s bathers when the changing tent falls down. Why do they do that?

Sea urchins are in the family Echinodermata, along with sand dollars, sea stars and sea cucumbers.  They are so differently shaped it is hard to imagine they are related, but they all have rows of tube feet running along the sides of their bodies. And they have pentamerous radiation in common.Pentamerous radiation! their “arms” (and two rows of tube feet) come out from the central pole at 5  intervals!  Imagine all the arms of a starfish fuse together into a disc–that’s a sand dollar.  Stretch a sand dollar up into a ball, extend the bumps on the skin into spikes, and it’s an urchin. Squish the ball into a tube, and make the skin leathery and squishy, and it’s a sea cucumber.  Cool, eh?  I have loved them since I learned about them in first year biology.

I was trying to find a picture of a sea cucumber for you all, but I don’t know what kind it is.  I did find a photo that looks like the poo I have been seeing.  I’m including it as a link for the delicate among you. It’s from Indonesia, but you get the idea.  The person who took this photo, Ria Tan, is working towards environmental protection and nature education.  Follow the link below her photo to read about her network.

Also, I found this article by a SERIOUS echinoderm enthusiast.  It is about the importance of sea cucumber poop to the ecosystem. Please enjoy it.

So, if we were all on Survivor, here is what I would be able to catch to offer you to eat from our environment:

  • all the sea cucumber you could want (if it’s not a poisonous species.  But the producers would stop us before we killed ourselves, right?) I am concerned that I won’t like sea cucumber.
  • 1 crab (the others are in their hidey holes. I don’t know how to get them out)
  • sea urchin (after someone makes me some gloves so I don’t get prickled. Sea urchin prickles are prone to infection, don’t you know) I KNOW I don’t like urchin. It is my number one  hated food.  The tops.
  • uh, maybe some jellyfish in the shape of a lamp? Some jellyfish are edible, and I like jellyfish salad, though I have certainly never made one. I would need a sack for this job.
  • Dates! The dates are ready on the trees!  There are a few around.
  • Olives (if you don’t vote me off for 2 more months.  They’re not ready yet. Just because they are turning from green to black doesn’t mean they are ready.  In fact, they are horribly bitter and make one salivate overmuch)
  • shellfish.  There are some whelks and some limpets and stuff (when you google shells of Tunisia you get a pretty even mix of sea shells and gun shells, FYI)

PS, Stanford U says  people, starfish, parrotfish and gulls are predators for urchins (and sea otters, but that is only in North America, me thinks). The Monterey Bay Aquarium thinks that the decorations are for UV protection, to keep them from drying out, or to protect against predation.



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7 Responses to Still under the sea, Echinoderm edition

  1. Kate says:

    You’ll be very happy to know … In the ‘Edible’ Magazine of Monterey Bay, Summer 2014 there is a whole article about ‘Moon Jellyfish’, no scientific name included. In California, these jellyfish are about to burst onto the culinary scene … a little mint and lemon juice, slice into bite size pieces and and eat them like oysters.

    Remove tentacles first.
    Smooch to everyone


    • pattileake says:

      Hi, Kate! I hear you about fish. I occasionally like eating it, but never cooking it.

      The big jellies I am seeing are bigger than a bowling ball, and are a “hard” jelly that holds it shape out of the water. We saw a similar kind in North Carolina, called a cannonball jellly, and they were NC’s primary export to Asia for eating!
      Moon jellies are the pretty, transparent, non-stinging ones of the west coast. They have a pretty cloverleaf inside, which is their gonads.
      I guess it is wise to learn to eat jelly fish, since rising sea temperatures are causing enormous blooms in jellyfish populations.


  2. Kate says:

    I’ll send you a recipe for a South African date pudding – it is awesome. Leave it with me until tomorrow. It’s called ‘Tipsy Tart’ but you can leave the tipsy bit out …

    I won’t eat sea urchin or whelk
    but as we’re here for fish sakes, I’ll tell you
    that sea cucumber and moon jellyfish
    will not ever be allowed to land on my dish
    Never EVER

    I won’t quit my day job. But I cannot stand the smell of fish and can get past salmon and halibut but little else. Our Mother used to poach fish in MILK on the nights before school exams. Talk about a double dreadful coagulated whammy. MILK and SEAWATER – eghads.



    • pattileake says:

      We can’t find an alcoholic drink for love nor money here. We’ve heard it’s available, but can’t find it at the store. There just isn’t a culture of drinking in this muslim country. No risk of tipsy here!


  3. Susan says:

    I would not vote you off the island never ever. In fact you would be tops on my list of people to bring with me to a desert island because then I would be much more likely to *not* eat the poisonous things. And there would be excellent conversation. (If you ever get suddenly poofed onto a desert island, it is because I have found a genie in a bottle and made a wish. I’m dreadfully sorry, in advance.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • pattileake says:

      Thank you! Sorry to be picky here, but I have specifications for the island! I require some shade, as I am a person of pallor; and some fruit trees. Also, a bookshelf full of books. Hey! Let’s just borrow Nim’s Island! It would be perfect for us! Please add these details to the future wish?


  4. Susan says:

    Ah yes, one must remember to be detailed and specific when talking to magic entities of all sorts. (We learned this in Grade 3-ish by reading Half Magic, yes? 🙂


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