Thursday, June 04, 2015
A Parallel Universe right under our noses.
It’s a scene of mass carnage at the Aquarium. Hundreds of animals being stalked, pursued and devoured by relentless predators. And it’s all happening nearly invisible to the naked eye. The feeding frenzy of the sand dollar.
Visitors to the Aquarium of the Pacific who take a look into the sand dollar exhibit mostly get a sense of a serene scene of small, almost monolithic creatures peacefully coexisting with all around them. Some lying flat and some standing like cookies wedged into the sand. Many guests assume that they were placed in that manner by an aquarist. Yet four times a day this seemingly placid exhibit is actually the scene of a feeding frenzy that rivals that of fishes and sharks. Its a frenzy that can only be seen when speeded up.
Aquarist JJ, who is responsible for the exhibit, alerted me to the sand dollar feeding frenzy. I set up a time-lapse camera while JJ released hundreds of tiny plankton, the main diet of the sand dollars, into the water. After an hour of recording the frenzy became clear in the video. Sand dollars rise up from the sand like some alien monster to assume their stalking and feeding stance ready to pluck the plankton from the water. Brittle stars move around the sand dollars like creepy spiders eager to join in on the frenzy. This aquarist had opened my eyes to a parallel universe occurring right under my nose. The sand dollars are highly mobile creatures that can move across, bury themselves and stand upright in the sand. They just do it very slowly.
Take a look at the video below. You may never look at these unassuming creature the same again. I know I won’t!
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