Observation of the Week, 5/11/16

This Twin Fan Worm colony seen off of Portugal by jpsilva is our Observation of the Week!

When he was 7 or 8 years old, Joao Silva (@jpsilva) was asked what his favorite animal was. Instead of the standard “dog” or “horse,” he answered “Panorpa, it’s a sort of fly but looks like a scorpion.”

“Even then I was interested in what was uncommon, less known or for which I had less information,” Joao told me. He continued to look for animals in his spare time, and photograph them with his first camera, a Praktica MTL5B, and he’s “never stopped shooting since.” “I wanted to record my observations but I think mostly to show others things they probably had never seen or even heard about,” he says.

For the past 16 years his focus has been on marine invertebrates, especially nudibranchs. “I got interested in nudibranchs simply because I once found a couple while snorkeling but couldn't find information about them, it was not accessible to the general public, so I decided to fill that gap.” He’s now added nearly 4,000 observations to iNaturalist, most of them marine invertebrates, and also writes a blog about nudibranchs. Below is his photo of a Felimare fontandraui nudibranch.

“Nudibranchs surely are pretty but they're too ‘weird’ looking for most,” Joao says. “People have a hard time establishing a relation with a subject they cannot really ‘fit in.’” He’s found that fan worms often get many of those “cute”, "lovely” and “beautiful” sort of reactions, “so I think I took my first shots of these animals just because they helped to get the attention to then show the ‘more difficult subjects.’”

The “fan” of fan worms (order Sabellida) is actually an array of tentacles that the worm uses to extract food particles from the surrounding water. The worm itself is a polychaete that builds a tube around itself for protection. When they sense something approaching, most fan worms will quickly withdraw their plumes. Twin Fan Worms, like the ones Joao photographed, are less common in his area, and more “camera shy,” like these - only one worm remains out of its tube while six have gone into hiding. And they are usually more white than yellow, so the color of the colony in this observation caught his eye.

“I've contributed to other citizen science platforms in the past and even helped some get started but iNaturalist does seem the best to me right now,” says Joao. Its “knowledgeable participants” have helped him learn about polychaetes he thought he had identified years ago, and he mentions iNat user @leslieh as being particularly helpful with them. “It's the ‘real deal’ when it comes to citizen science in wildlife observations.”  

- by Tony Iwane


- While he says “I'm hardly the best person to give advice on underwater photography,” I was able to get some tips from Joao about taking photos of marine life. He suggests making sure animals, especially intertidal ones, are underwater when you photograph them. He also recommends using artificial white light when underwater, as it will bring out the colors of the subject much better. And finally he quotes famed photographer Robert Capa, who said “If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough.”

- You can check out Joao’s Flickr page here.

- Nice little video showing a fan worm emerging from its tube then retreating when it senses danger. Check out the little eyes!

- Diving enthusiast James Cameron used Christmas Tree Worms as inspiration for the shrinking “Helicoradian flowers” in Avatar. 

Posted by tiwane tiwane, May 11, 2016 19:15

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