Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sea Anemone

Though they look quite plant-like, Sea Anemones are actually animals. Animals of the order Actiniaria to be exact. There are over 1,000 species, which come in various shapes and sizes, and live in every ocean on the planet. The largest and most colorful Anemones are found in coastal, tropical waters, but other species can be found in the deep oceans, and even off the frigid shores of Antarctica! Anemones are everywhere!

Deep Sea Anemone (Image Source)
All Sea Anemones are carnivores, and can range in size (depending on species) between a few millimeters and several feet! They are often radially symmetric with an adhesive foot (pedal disc) that keeps them stuck in place, though there are a handful of free floating species as well.

Sea Anemones also have a single mouth opening that is surrounded by tentacles. Their tentacles serve two purposes. The first is protection. You see, the slightest touch causes the tentacles to shoot out a neurotoxin-filled filament. This toxin paralyzes and then leads to the second purpose of the tentacles: feeding. The Anemone then uses them to push the paralyzed creature into their mouth opening. Interestingly, their mouth opening is the only orifice an Anemone has, so it also serves as the final stop in their digestive system.

Clownfish with Anemone (Image Source)
Sea Anemones reproduce in a variety of ways, dependent on the species. Some have both males and females, while other Anemones are hermaphroditic. Both sexual and asexual reproduction occur, with sexual taking place externally via the release of sperm and egg into the water. One method of asexual reproduction occurs by breaking off part of the pedal disc, which is then able to grow into new, small Anemones!

Anemones are famous for their symbiotic relationship with the ever so adorable Clownfish. Clownfish have a protective layer of mucus on their body that keeps them safe from Anemone venom. They are then able to hide safely within an Anemone's tentacles, and in return for protection, the Anemone receives bits of the Clwonfishes' meals.

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