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red Christmas tree worms look like spiral feathers

Have a Very Merry Ocean Holiday Season

As the marine biologist in the UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County office, I wanted to share some holiday-themed marine creatures that you might or might not have heard of.

Christmas trees

Let’s start with Christmas tree worms. These worms create a limestone tube that is attached to coral reefs. The worm lives inside the tube, but sticks its feeding “arm” out into the water to catch food particles. This “arm” is in the form of a spiral which is wide at the bottom and tapers towards the top. The arm can be very brightly-colored. It looks very much like a Christmas tree. But it will quickly disappear if it detects something large nearby!

a deep sea five-armed sea star

A deep-sea sea star

While on the theme of Christmas trees, the ocean is full of stars. Sea stars often have five arms, like the traditional Christmas tree topper. However, they are not always equal in size. If a sea star loses part of one arm, it will re-grow it, but that can take a bit of time. Some sea stars have more than five arms. Not surprisingly, the nine-arm sea star has nine. The sunflower star can have as many as 24 arms! There is even a cookie star (but I wouldn’t suggest trying to eat it…).

The sea angel is a swimming sea slug with angel-like wings

A sea angel

Perhaps you prefer an angel atop your Christmas tree. Never fear, the ocean has some choices for you. There are several species of angelfish, the angel shark and even a tiny swimming sea slug called a sea angel.

Other Holiday Decor

If candles are part of your holiday decorations, you might be relieved to know that the ocean contains candlefish. There is a decorator crab to help pull everything together, but watch out—it likes to stick items to its back as camouflage, so it might run away with your decorations! Jingle shells are sometimes used to make wind chimes, so they could provide some festive music as you wrap gifts.

Speaking of wrapping, you might want to locate a ribbon eel. You will have to travel to the Indo-Pacific to find one in the wild. Their coloration is quite striking!

If that’s not enough, check out the tinsel squirrelfish, snowflake moray eel, cookie cutter shark, pinecone fish and peppermint shrimp. Whatever your decorating style, I think you will find that the ocean has lots of animals that can match your holiday theme.

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