Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tunicate Week: Sea Tulips.

Back to tunicates. Tunicates are sessile chordates that make everything else go "WTF?" with their sheer bizarre lifestyles. They start as tadpole-like larvae, find a place to settle down, then, umm, reabsorb their primitive spinal chords and brains. They also use cellulose to build the advertised "tunic." In fact, if they didn't eat things and have larvae, we'd be darn sure tunicates were plants.

Apparently linked to Calvinism, somehow?

...weird plants that prove that Hell is probably underwater. Yep.

Those strange, stalky things are sea tulips. Like all tunicates, sea tulips are effectively spineless vertebrates, siphoning in plankton through one hole and pushing water out through the other.  If you wish to tiptoe through the sea tulips, head to the waters around Australia and New Zealand. Sea tulips are actually among the friendlier things there, so please watch out for the other toxic fauna instead.

Sea tulips are the largest individual tunicates out there. They can get up to a meter (roughly a yard for us Americans) long. It's worth noting, however, that some free-swimming tunicates can form longer chains. For something without a true spinal cord, a meter is still pretty impressive.

Clearly the easiest underwater photograph ever. Source.

Sea tulips are symbiotic with another strange, sessile animal: the sea sponge. Many sponges, including the symbiotes present on these tunicates, have predator deterrents - bad taste, poison, and so on. Remember that both sponges and sea tulips lack teeth, so chemical defense is the best bet for both of them. These sponges also provide a lovely array of colors for your viewing pleasure.

Indeed, that seems to be the main purpose of these things: They look really neat. They also lend some credence to the ancient idea that everything on land has a counterpart somewhere in the ocean. If nothing else, sea tulips make for a neat, living bit of undersea scenery that should really be used more often. Even the fields of the sea have strange, filter-feeding flowers.

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