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An International Adventure in Japan
Cnidarian Tree of Life Project
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Cnid ToL
Week 4, August 14-20
Wow, is it already week four? We may not have all that much other stuff to share over the next week or so. The Brazilians and Meg are heading to new localities in Chiba, just northeast of Tokyo, from August 16th to the 20th and will hopefully send periodic updates. The rest will try to get through slides, find a few more animals, and prepare all of the material to ship to the University of Kansas where it will be cataloged.

Before a brief recap of today's events, Cheryl volunteered the following comments about the Cnid ToL project and her science interests. We will include comments from other team members as they come in. If they come in?!?!!? :-)

An anemone at the station aquarium
Cheryl watching the jellies caught on the docks

The food is so good!

Highlights of the Cnid ToL Project, by Cheryl
What has been the highlight of the Cnidarian Tree of Life Project in Japan? Well, where should I start? I guess just being back in Japan doing jellyfish research is really what it is for me. Research is more than just going out jellyfish hunting by day or hanging lights off piers at night, and it’s even more than hours of sifting through bottles of plankton samples looking for medusae that are often less than a millimeter in diameter. By definition “research in Japan” comprises late nights singing karaoke and bathing in the onsen (hot springs); eating delicious Japanese meals with as many as 10 other Cnidarian researchers (one junior researcher); watching fireworks nightly on the beach across the water from our beach; not to mention soaking up the tranquility of the tatami rooms in which we sleep on our futons in the old wooden Japanese style houses we stay at various marine science laboratories in Japan. Finally, it has been a pleasure to meet, in person finally, one of the most well-known jellyfish researchers in Japan – Dr. Shin Kubota. I have learned a lot through working with him, as well as with the other Cnidarian specialists in our group!!! Oh wait, I could not end without saying that this amazing link has been vital in trying to make clear our goals to “non-cnidariaphiles” such as friends and family in Japan and back home (thanks Jen and Allen).

My interests are primarily in jellyfish behavior and ecology, but I have been learning a lot about systematics during this unique opportunity. I would like to continue working on courtship and reproduction in the cubomedusa Carybdea sivickisi and on fluorescence and the feeding behaviour of Olindias formosa. There are also many studies on ontogeny and gonad development of various cubomedusae that would provide clues to reproduction behaviors and the possibility of courtship in other cubozoans.

August 14
Today is a day of diving! Figuring out how to get 8 tanks and 2 BCs was no easy feat since we do not have any transportation here at the station. We went through many different diving plans before Hiro offered to drive us to the station's favorite place, Miss Ocean down the street. Had it not been for this generous offer, we might have gotten stuck renting from a dive shop next to the station, which sounds convenient, but they keep two dolphins in a very small enclosure as a tourist attraction. Need we say more? The people at Miss Ocean are SO nice and very helpful it is easy to see why everyone from the station works with them!

The group divided into three teams. Divers of the first group were successful in finding two new species. Meg found a large thalassianthid sea anemone (Thalassianthus sp.), which took a lot of effort to get out of the rocks. This is our first specimen in this family!

Allen found a new aglaopheniid hydroid that has yet to be identified to genus. No gonophores!

Meg and Allen getting ready for the first dive

Meg was hard at work searching for cnidarians when all of a sudden she noticed Allen with the camera. She just had to stop and pose!

Big Ooops


During dive two Meg dove with Luciana and Tim dove with Alvaro...hmmm they seemed to have paired up according to cnidarian interest.

Tim had a bit of trouble getting in. It must have been those huge waves. Despite the harsh entry (We won't tell you that Meg also stumbled...and these guys call themselves professionals.) they were all successful in obtaining more new organisms. This time the hydrozoan crew found a representative of a new family!

We are sad to report that neither Jen nor Cheryl will get dinner tonight. Cheryl's snorkle and Jen's plankton swim resulted in nothing new.

Carybdea sivickisi sleeping At about 9pm a group went to the floating docks to catch medusae. They caught several male and female Carybdea sivickisi. These were the kind that had not been seen in Shirahama for many decades.

Cheryl was super excited because these are the animals she has previously worked on in Japan. She wrote a beautiful paper documenting their courtship and mating behavior. Tomorrow she plans to mate a couple of medusae. As you can see from the picture (well it is kind of a close up, but that is sargassum), this jellyfish also likes to cling to sea weed. Cheryl and Allen have decided that jellyfish hidden among the leaves are the coolest jellyfish (to them).

Of course you already know, but . . . . medusae are the swimming, sexual forms of their respective species. During the typical life cycle of cubozoans, hydrozoans, and scyphozoans, there is a polyp phase that is attached to substrate. Hydrozoans show the greatest variation in life cycle traits, but if they produce medusae, they generally arise as a bud on the side of hydroids (A hydroid is a colony of hydrozoan polyps). Cubozoan polyps are solitary and metamorphose entirely into juvenile medusae. Scyphozoans have polyps that serially produce juvenile medusae (with a distinct form called an ephyra) at their oral ends.

To the right are pictures of Cladonema, the beautiful medusa and the tiny polyp of its hydroid. These might not be the same species -- they were collected in very different localities. Sometimes it is actually impossible to identify a hydrozoan to species without seeing a particular part of its life cycle. This is a case with this particular polyp; without having its medusa, it cannot be identified to the species level. But happily, genetic data taken from the polyp may allow us to know what species it came from.

The Beautiful Medusa of Cladonema

The Tiny Polyp of Cladonema

An octopus hidding in the rock Nope, we weren't able to collect anything new on our night dive. However, despite having a difficult time finding deep water (max. of 15 feet!), we did observe a number of cool animals. We saw plenty of octopuses, a lobster, a swarm of catfish, a sea lily with green tipped pinnules, sea hares, and so much more.
August 15
Today was a day of diversity. Everyone worked on something different. Besides the usual -- microscope viewing, taking photographs, making notes, researching, getting into the water, and eating -- the guys went to the aquarium to collect any new species lingering there and Meg used the GPS to figure out the coordinates of our various collection localities.

Below are Allen and Kato-san, the extremely helpful and knowledgeable aquarist. He was very patient with us. We walked around the inside of the aquarium noting which tanks contained pieces of fuzz that might be hydroids or scyphopolyps, and then when we got in the back, looking down on the various tanks, and everything looked rather different. We had to run out and back in to coordinate our search. And we had some success! We found a number of things that we had already obtained in situ around the lab, but we found a couple of species that were new for our list.

Alvaro Searching

Tim searching

Allen with Kato-san Aquarium Map
Jen ready to do a plankton swim

The dreaded safety hazards of the area

Jen's efforts were frustrated today. The plan was to do a plankton swim in a new locality at high tide that would hopefully result in getting something new. Stormy weather out at sea was causing too many crashing waves at this spot. Crashing waves are a challenge to get through on a normal swim, but definitely too challenging with a net tied to the body. Instead she went back to the north shore of the station intending to swim the channel. But darnit that was too risky too, not because of any sort of dangerous sea creature, but because of the jet skis. Since it is Obon holiday, even the weekdays are swarming with motorized vehicles. She did get in the water at a safe location but had no success in getting new jellies.
The things you learn about people after working with them for four weeks. Below is a list of interesting tidbits about various members. Again we have left names out to protect the innocent. Nope, Meg's not saying who either. Not Saying Who
  • Member S: Is known to have no cooking talent...however, that might change after this trip.
  • Member T: Still wears a diaper at night.
  • Member U: Has a talent performing toe puppetry and used to perform singing tellagrams.
  • Member V: His last name means "Mr. Wonderful" which describes him perfectly.
  • Member W: An ex judo practitioner with an interest in sumo wrestling.
  • Member X: Has yet to enjoy a Japanese hot spa!!!
  • Member Y: Loathes himself when he smells McFries and wants some.
  • Member Z: Finds everything about eggs - any kind of eggs - absolutely repulsive.
  • S flips a pancake
    Tonight's entertainment was jellyfish sex! You read correctly...reproduction here in Shirahama. Remember the Carybdea sivickisi that were caught? Well, the crowds gathered around while Cheryl put a male and female together. It took the introduction of a third jelly to get it going...there is nothing like a little competition...and voila, it happened. Alvaro got some wonderful shots.
    Courtship begins with a wedding dance. In a dimly lit room (that would be the lab room) with romantic music playing in the background (that would be the humming excitement of the waiting crowd) the female elegantly stretches out her tentacles as she swims around, the male chasing after her. He chooses one tentacle to grasp while he pulls her toward him. The pulsations between the two intensify as they move up and down and around inside the small wedding chamber (that would be the 500ml glass bottle they were in). The male prepares a beautiful orange strand of sperm (spermatophore) which he passess out through his mouth into the couple's entwined tentacles. Bidding adieu, he lets the female gracefully float away to the bottom. Finally alone, she cradles the beautiful orange pearl of future jellies and then savors the pearl as she ingests the pack of sperm. She then goes back up for more.

    An open question is where fertilization actually occurs. Cheryl will preserve a bunch of different specimens at various stages post copulation and make histological sections when she returns to Washington, DC.

    C. sivicksi Hooks Up C. sivickisi Mating
    August 16

    Tim, Alvaro, Meg, and Luciana are off on a new adventure for a couple of days. This is the first work Alvaro and Luciana will be doing away from Shirahama...their faces say it all! The group is taking a train to Chiba where they will be meeting up with Kensuke and Yakko. We will post email updates as we get them!

    Edwardsiids Before they left, Meg was kind enough to explain her research interests.

    Studying the Evolutionary History of Sea Anemones
    Sea anemones are really simple animals, in terms of the way they’re put together—they’re nothing more than a double sided sheet of tissue folded and extruded into a closed cylinder. Nonetheless, these animals are very diverse in terms of the kinds of environments they inhabit, the kinds of relationships they have with other animals, and the kinds of behavioral, physiological, and chemical processes they undertake. Because I want to understand WHY and HOW, this diversity arose, I am studying the evolutionary history of sea anemones.

    I am working with many colleagues to better understand how the major groups of anemones are related to one another, and have been collecting many different kinds of anemones so that we have specimens that can be studied using modern DNA analysis. I have also been focusing on a group of very small anemones, called edwardsiids, which live in sand and mud rather than attached to rocks. Edwardsiids have a long, skinny column, and live buried in the sediment. They look more like worms than like sea anemones!

    As you can imagine, searching for cnidarians can have its hazards. Every member of the team has had their confrontation with the nematocysts (stinging cells) that cnidarians possess. Allen had a run-in with a hydroid several days ago and his hand keeps looking worse.

    Barnacle-covered rocks have also posed a problem. Here you can see the wound Cheryl suffered after she scrambled out of the water to get away from a Jet Ski headed her way.

    Allen gets stung by a hydroid

    Cheryl gets scraped by a barnacle

    Hata-san! Shin Kubota hosted a wonderful day for those left in Shirahama. They jumped in his car and headed to the Nippon Travel Agency to get tickets for next week's trip to JAMSTEC, the premier oceanographic institution in Japan, and the Enoshima Aquarium. This agent (Hata-san) has helped us with many of our travel plans. He has been wonderful!
    Shin Kukbota then took the group to several Shirahama hotspots. These included a trip to this small, but specimen and photo-filled natural history museum.

    Nearby there was a pond where everyone looked for freshwater medusae, Craspedacusta sowerbyi, but were unsuccessful :-(. The group to which freshwater jellyfish belong (Limnomedusae) is one of Allen's main interests and so far they have encountered only one species.

    A Shirihama Natural History Museum

    Shin searching for jellies

    Forest Walk Next, the group drove up a canyon and stopped at a couple of beautiful places, including one with a wonderful waterfall.

    We drank some "natural" water that flowed from the mountain. Well, one of us might have faked it.

    One of the beautiful spots we stopped One of the beautiful spots we stopped
    At the art museum, we were given a private tour that was tremendously enriching. At its conclusion we were treated with green tea in the large tea cups that were the traditional style. Tea Cups
    Overlooking the Seto Marine Biological Laboratory

    Another Cool Sign -- Aliens?

    One member was a little too rambunctious inside the museum and had to be removed. Fortunately the museum is located on the highest spot in Shirahama and there was a tremendous view overlooking the Seto Marine Biological Laboratory.

    Though neither were aliens with helmets, tentacles, or horns, two members followed the advice of this sign and walked down a nice path leading to the resort hotels of Shirahama.

    After dinner, the work day ended with another excursion to the Shirahama docks to look for medusae. A number of new specimens of Caybdea sivickisi individuals were collected. These actually kept Cheryl from partaking in the end of day visit to the relaxing Shirahama onsen. We also caught several individuals of an interesting looking hydromedusa named Dipurena ophiogaster as well as a couple more scyphomedusae of the species Mastigias papua. Dipurena ophiogaster

    Mastigias papua

    August 17

    The "TO DO" list in Shirahama was long, but a number of items got completed. It is getting close to departure time and folks are getting a bit nervous about getting everything done in time. Jen scanned many of the slides from the floating docks and aquarium while Cheryl worked on sorting through last night's haul. Allen kept busy helping everyone, got more logistics completed, and prepared more specimens for shipment. The goal is to ship a number of boxes on the 19th.

    We had planned to do another plankton swim, but the oncoming storm has created waves too big to swim through.

    Turbulent waves in Shirahama
    How does Luciana see? Our collection plans were not the only ones spoiled by the weather. Luciana and Alvaro were prepared to dive, but the following email sent by Meg shows otherwise.

    We can't dive today or tomorrow (sea is really tremendous) but are hopeful that we can go on the 19th. Yakko and Kensuke got us housing at a nearby B and B, and we will book our return reservations for the 20th.

    So just for fun let's take a look at Luciana's foggy mask...how does she find so many cool things under these challenging conditions?

    After sundown the group went to the floating docks with Shin and his friend to try and collect more jellies for mating. There seemed to be many more males then females. Each sex was placed in a seperate bottle to ensure that no hanky panky was going on until they could be observed and photographed back at the lab. And since the storm is blowing a lot of water around, everyone was hopeful for something new to float in. A sivickisi swimming
    August 18

    Each time we collect specimens they have to be preserved. In most cases we have been able to get at least two individuals of the same species. When this happens, one specimen is placed in ethanol, which breaks apart the tissue but preserves the DNA. These specimens will be sequenced back in the States. The other specimen is preserved in formalin to be used as a morphological voucher. Most of the samples will be housed at Kansas University Museum of Natural History, though genetic samples will go both to Kansas (medusozoans) and Ohio State University (anthozoans).

    Tubes containing specimens preserved in alcohol
    Another very important aspect of the work has been to keep accurate written records of each species collected and the locality where it was collected.
    Packing the specimens for shipment is a big deal, especially with the numerous security restrictions placed on goods coming into the United States. It is a time consuming, but important task to get each specimen sealed so that inspection agents do not reject the package. First each tube is sealed with Parafilm, then placed inside a plastic bag, inside another plastic bag, inside a box with absorbant material and a plastic liner. A letter explaining the contents and collecting permission granted is also placed inside the box.
    August 19

    It was another grey, wet, and very warm day. The morning was spent finishing the packing and taking the goods to the Postal Office. It took a long time to get everything figured out, but eventually they were sent.

    The last couple of days has been wet!
    The Fish Market After a trip to the train station to purchase everyones departure train tickets (is our trip really coming to an end?), we took a trip to Tore Tore or the Fish Market for the cultural experience and to buy some goodies.

    We will try to give a better description and more pictures of this place soon. It is amazing.

    August 20

    Perhaps Shirahama will become sunny again??? Alvaro, Tim, Luciana, and Meg may find out as they arrive back in Shirahama sometime later today.

    But it is a changing of the guards because before they arrive Allen, Cheryl, Jen and LittlGuy take an early morning train out.

    Be advised, there may be a longer delay in the web updates over the next couple of days depending on Internet availability so stay tuned...

    We have not seen this view in days!
    Gonionemus Lurks In the meantime, here is a little amateur Cnido Haiku.

    Yakko stirs the sargassum
    Just one kiss, it hurts

    One yellow, one red
    Two names, but with just one form
    The genes will answer

    Flaunts her tentacles
    She accepts the milky pearl
    Good meal, babies too

    One sixteen AM
    Research brings spermatophore

    Male courts a female
    Spermatophore production
    Very precious pearl

    C. sivickisi Female
    Cnidarian Tree of Life Cnidarian tree
    The mythical thing we seek
    Lost among the leaves

    Life cycles vary
    Diversity of hydroids
    Endless Lovely forms

    Ephemeral medusa
    Jen the first to find
    Stenoscyphus Eumedusae
    Sarsia nipponica Drop into tidepool
    As the barnacles cut skin
    Finding Sarsia
    © 2006 -- All images copyright by Cheryl Ames, Allen Collins, Jennifer Collins, Meg Daly, Luciana Gusmao, Antonio Marques, and/or Alvaro Migotto and may not be copied or re-used without explicit permission.