Spotted Sea Hare

The Spotted Sea Hare (Aplysia dactylomela)

The Spotted Sea Hare is a large marine slug that is relatively common in Bermuda. It grows to about 15 cm (6 inches) in length. The leathery skin is light brown, tan or olive and covered by large and small black rings and fine black lines. Sea Hares have a very thin shell inside of their bodies. If disturbed a Sea Hare will squirt violet purple ink. The ink is harmless to humans (but it will stain), but is thought to be an irritant to fish and other potential predators.

Sea Hare releasing ink The Spotted Sea Hare can be found in tide pools along the rocky shore. It can also be found in shallow water on sandy or rocky bottoms with dense algae growth, and in seagrass beds. They feed on algae, mostly intertidal red algae.

Spotted Sea Hares are hermaphrodites, meaning they are both male and female at the same time, so they can mate with any other Sea Hare that comes along. They lay thin strings of jelly-like eggs along the rocky shore.

The Spotted Sea Hare in this video was found in a tide pool where it was using its nose (the two frilly parts on the front of its head) to search for red algae.

 

Great Egret

Great Egret (Ardea albus)

 Anyone who has visited the Spittal Pond Nature Reserve in the last month has probably noticed at least two large white birds around the pond. The Great Egret is a migrant species that frequently overwinters in Bermuda. Great Egrets are distinctive because of their size, they can reach up to 1 m (3 feet) tall; and the wing span may be twice this. Their snow white coloration is also distinctive. The Great Egret has a yellow bill and black legs and feet.

The birds can be seen feeding in wetland habitats like Spittal Pond and Seymour’s Pond where they catch lizards, small fish, and frogs and may even eat small rats. When the Egret is hunting it straightens its long neck and leans forward intently watching its target. It then darts forward to spear the prey with its sharp straight bill. If the bird is disturbed it will rise slowly into the air and fly away with its neck folded into its body and may make a ‘chuck chuck’ call.

Spanish Moss

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

 

Known locally as ‘Old Man’s Beard’, Spanish moss appears as masses of hanging feathery, silvery-green “threads”, often seen on old Bermuda cedars (Juniperus bermudiana).

This air-plant is part of the bromeliad family and not actually a moss. It is the most widely distributed member of the Bromeliaceae family, occurring throughout  tropical and subtropical America.

 

Spanish moss has no roots. Instead, the entire surface of the shoot is covered with highly specialized trichomes (scales) which absorb water and nutrients from the atmosphere. It is an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant) and hangs in festoons up to 30m long. However, the apparent length of the plants is due to numerous shorter individual plants, usually 15 to 25cm long, which overlap each other. It grows in a zigzagging pattern, and tangles around itself and its support. While it is not parasitic its weight may damage the branches of its host tree and can slow down tree growth by blocking sunlight.

 

Tillandsia usneoides reproduces both sexually and vegetatively. It flowers in the summer, often abundantly, although the tiny, pale yellow-green to blue, solitary flowers are inconspicuous. The flowers last about four days and have a pleasant, subtle fragrance, which attracts a variety of insect pollinators.

 

The fruits are tiny, cylindrical capsules, which split and release the seeds the following winter. Seed dispersal is aided by delicate hairs, 1 to 2 cm long, which act as a parachute. These hairs are covered with tiny barbs, which anchor in the cracks of rough bark or other sites. (Source: Kew Gardens)

 

It can also reproduce by fragments of the plant being blown by the wind or by birds using it for nesting material. Spanish moss may own its unusually extensive range largely to powerful hurricane winds.  Powerful hurricane winds may also have aided the spread of Spanish Moss throughout its extensive native range in the Americas.

 

 

USES

 

Epiphytic plants such as Tillandsia usneoides are very useful as bioindicators for air quality. Since these plants obtain their nutrients and water from the air, their tissues contain nearly the same levels of elements, including pollutants, as the atmosphere they grow in. Research has shown that Spanish moss is a particularly reliable indicator of metal pollutants in the air. (Source: Kew Gardens)

 

T. usneoides yields a tough, elastic fibre from the non-living vascular tissues of the stem. This fibre resembles black horse hair and was once of major economic importance. To obtain the fibre, festoons of the plants were harvested from trees using long poles (up to a tonne from one tree) and "cured" by burying the plant material in pits or trenches until the living, greenish tissues decayed and only the black vascular tissues remained.

The resulting fibre was used as stuffing material for upholstery in furniture, cars and mattresses; it was also used in ropes and floor mats. Manufacturers in Liverpool were using Spanish moss imported from America as mattress filling in the 1840s. It has now been largely replaced with synthetic fibre, but T. usneoides is occasionally used in arts and crafts, in upholstery and insulation. It is a popular garden mulch and is used in the florist industry to hold moisture at the base of flower arrangements. It is also used throughout Latin America as a Christmas ornament.

Native American tribes used T. usneoides for livestock feed, as a binding agent in clay bricks and plaster, and for kindling. Women wove the fibre into the fabric of their dresses. It was used in medicine for a range of purposes, and has many uses in contemporary herbal medicine in Latin America. For example, preparations of the plant are used on haemorrhoids, abscesses and tumours, and are taken orally for heart, liver and lung ailments. Research has shown that T. usneoides has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic activities, among others, that may support its use in herbal remedies. (Source: Kew Gardens)

 

Reference:

 

Most of the information above was found on the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens Royal Botanic Gardens Kew website at www.kew.org. Kew is a scientific institution, using its extensive collections of living and preserved plants to form an encyclopedia of knowledge about the plant kingdom.

Tiger Sharks

Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)

 

The tiger shark is one of the largest sharks in the ocean, capable of attaining a length of over 5 m (16 ft). This shark typically reaches maturity at lengths of 2 to 3 m (6.6 to 9.8 ft) and weighs around 385–635 kilograms (849–1,400 lb). Tiger sharks are ovoviviparous, which means the shark eggs are fertilized and carried within the mother. They are born in litters between 30 and 55 pups, while pregnancy last between 15 and 16 months.  At birth the pups are 20 to 30 inches (50-75 cm) and completely independent. Females mate once every three years.

Tiger sharks are seasonal visitors to the island, with the largest numbers found at Argus and Challenger banks between the months of July and October. The sharks move north for the summer and often east of Bermuda, some staying well out in open water.  In the winter the sharks move south towards the Bahamas or Caribbean for months in close association with island habitats.

Tiger sharks are found in tropical and sub-tropical waters and they usually hunt alone and feed primarily at night. This shark eats fish, seals, squid, birds, turtles, stingrays, sea snakes and they also eat other sharks. These beautiful sharks have special gill slit (spiracle) behind the eyes that provides oxygen flow directly to the eyes and brain. They also have really good eyesight and great sense of smell. Tiger sharks' skins can typically range from blue to light green with a white or light yellow underbelly. Dark spots and stripes are most visible in young sharks and fade as the shark matures. Its teeth are specialized to slice through flesh, bone, and other tough substances such as turtle shells. Like most sharks, however, its teeth are continually replaced by rows of new teeth.

The tiger shark is captured and killed for its fins, flesh, and liver. It is caught regularly in target and non-target fisheries. There is evidence of declines for several populations where they have been heavily fished, but in general they do not face a high risk of extinction. However, continued demand, especially for fins, may result in further declines in the future. Tiger sharks are considered a near threatened species due to excessive finning and fishing by humans according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While shark fin has very few nutrients, shark liver has a high concentration of vitamin A which is used in the production of vitamin oils. In addition, the tiger shark is captured and killed for its distinct skin, as well as by big game fishers.

 By Dept. Conservation Services Summer student Mr. Edwin Dill - thanks Edwin!

Purple Ocean Snail or Purple Sea Snail

 

Purple Ocean Snail (Janthina janthina)

 

The Purple Sea Snail or Purple Ocean Snail has a delicate shell that grows up to 3.5 cms (1.4 inches) across and is light purple on top and dark purple below. This remarkable mollusc has adapted to life on the open ocean. It spends its life hanging from a raft made of mucous bubbles filled with gas that the snail creates and carefully maintains. This life raft of bubbles keeps the snail at the sea surface where it hunts for food. It mainly eats other ocean drifters such as Portuguese-man-of-war jellyfish, Blue Ocean Slugs and Velella.

 The Janthina on its little raft of bubbles is carried wherever the wind or the ocean currents take it. Often after storms or when the wind has been consistently blowing on-shore for several days, rows of Purple Ocean Snails, Sargassum weed and other open ocean creatures can be found washed up on Bermuda’s beaches.

The closely related Pallid Janthina (Janthina pallida) is also rarely found in Bermuda. It is smaller, the shell is more highly domed and is a uniform lavender colour.

 

Janthina janthina shells are usually the size of a penny, but can grow up to twice that size. They are lavender on top and dark purple below.

Bermuda Fireworm

Bermuda Fireworm (Odontosyllis enopla)

The mating ritual of the Bermuda Fireworm (Odontosyllis enopla) or “glow worm” is the stuff of Bermudian legends. Many an apprehensive visitor has been dragged down to the seashore in the dark to witness the spectacle. The event happens every month in the summer on the third night after the full moon, beginning promptly 56 minutes after sunset.

The female worms appear first, swimming up from the bottom of muddy bays to make circles at the sea surface. The ladies begin to give off an intense green glow as they do this, like little marine fireflies.  All this glowing, while a magical spectacle for human observers, is designed to attract the attention of the male fireworms at the bottom of the bay.  Careful observers will see the small male worm shoot up to the surface to meet and mate with a circling female. Don’t blink or you will miss it!

Fireworms can be observed from the bridge at Ferry Reach Park, in Flatts Inlet and sometimes in Hamilton Harbour.  Both the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and Bermuda Zoological Society offer ‘glow worm cruises’, consult their websites for details.

Full moons for summer 2012:

June 4th, July 3rd, August 2nd, August 31st (blue moon), September 30th, October 29th

Sunset times can be found through the Bermuda Weather Service at this link.

 

Additional Fireworm Information:

  •  Bermuda’s Marine Life, by Wolfgang Sterrer. Page 72.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Poison ivy is native to Bermuda and Eastern North America. It is often found in parks and nature reserves, along roadsides, on small islands and in other wild places. It can even be found on the edge of marshes like Paget Marsh. It usually grows as a woody vine and can grow along the ground or around other trees. Occasionally poison ivy grows as a small shrub.

The leaves of poison ivy are made up of three smooth edged leaflets held on a reddish stem. Each leaflet can reach 4 inches in length. The veins are prominent in the leaf. Poison ivy produces clusters of small greenish white flowers in spring and summer, which are followed by clusters of small berries.

 

Poison ivy is famous for causing painful skin irritation and itchy rashes. The irritation develops when your skin comes in contact with Urushiol – an oil produced by the plant. The oil can be spread on your shoes, clothing and tools or by touching anything that has been in contact with the plant (including your dog!). If you suspect that you have been in contact with poison ivy contact your doctor or pharmacist. Be sure to wash your clothes and skin carefully to avoid spreading the oil. A dishwashing detergent designed for cleaning grease can be used.

Poison ivy can be controlled with Roundup herbicide. It should never be burned as the smoke can cause serious lung damage. Learn to identify it and avoid whenever possible as you explore this summer!

Printable Poison Ivy Identification Sheet [PDF]

Poison Ivy on Palmetto, Paget Marsh

Joseph's Coat

Joseph’s Coat (Poinsettia heterophylla)

 

Nothing puts you in the mood for Christmas quite like a red Poinsettia. At Christmas, and at other times of the year, you may see this little plant that resembles a Poinsettia while exploring Bermuda’s parks and nature reserves; you may even find it in your garden. Joseph’s Coat and Poinsettia are both members of the Euphorbia plant family. Joseph’s Coat is Native to Bermuda, as well as the Southern United States, West Indies and tropical America. It grows well in dry sandy soil and often appears as a weed in waste spaces and the edge of cultivated fields. Joseph’s Coat grows to about 2 ft high and flowers for most of the year. As with the more familiar Christmas Poinsettias, the red ‘petals’ on Joseph’s Coat are not actually flowers, but coloured leaves. The flowers appear in the centre of the red leaves and are small and inconspicuous.

 

Bats in Bermuda

 

Roosting Seminole Bat (L.seminolus) © BAMZ Image Collection Bats are mammals, just like dogs, cats and people. They are the only mammals in the world that can fly. Bats, like other mammals, have live babies which the mother feeds with milk. They are warm blooded and their bodies are covered with hair.

Bermuda has no native resident land mammals but four species of migratory North American bats visit occasionally: the Hoary Bat, Eastern Red Bat, Seminole Bat and Silver-haired Bat. These bats are usually found in Bermuda during their spring and fall migrations, from August to November and April to June. They are not thought to be resident here, just passing through.

Two other species of bat have also been recorded in Bermuda: the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) and the Eastern Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus). These last two species do not migrate south for the winter, instead they find a warm, dry place to hang up-side-down and hibernate (sleep for the winter). The single Big Brown Bat recorded in Bermuda arrived inside a shipping container in November 1989, so it was likely settling down to hibernate for the winter in the container before it was shipped. There have been several reported sightings of small bats in Bermuda which may have been the Eastern Pipistrelle, along with one that was brought to the Aquarium after being found roosting on a parked bike! [Wingate, 2005a]

Bats hunt for food between dusk and dawn, and go back to a favourite place to rest during the day (called roosting). The bats found in Bermuda are more likely to roost in trees than in caves. Bermuda does not have enough forest left to support a resident population of bats, and there is not sufficient food here to support many of them for long. All of the bats recorded in Bermuda eat insects, such as moths, flies, wasps, bees and crickets. They feed while flying around at night, so they produce sounds that bounce off flying insects and echo back to the bats, letting them know where the food is located. This is called echolocation.

 

The Hoary Bat is widespread in North America from Canada to Guatemala. This bat has long soft hairs on its back that are grey in young bats and brown in adults. The tips of the hairs are white, which gives it a frosted appearance and thus its name. The belly is darker brown, and there is also brown fur on the underside of the wings. Hoary Bats weigh 20-35 g (0.7-1.23 oz) and the average wingspan is 43 cm (16.9 inches). These bats are usually seen alone, but may join up with others to hunt. They are one of the only bats that make sounds while flying that humans can hear. 

Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)

Red Bats are found from southern Canada to Chile and Argentina. They migrate to warmer parts of their range in the winter. The Red Bat is a medium sized bat weighing about 7-13 g (0.25 – 0.46 oz), and ranges in colour from brick red to yellowish red, with white tips on the hairs. The red colour helps them to blend in with dead leaves and branches when they are roosting in trees. The female has a set of twins each year, and nurses them until they learn to fly at about 5 weeks of age.

 

This bat is found from southern Canada to the southern United States, mostly in temperate forests. Silver-Haired Bats are medium sized weighing 8-12g (0.28-0.42 oz), with a wingspan of 27-31cm (10.6 – 12.2 in). The Silver-Haired Bat usually has black fur with silvery white tips. They have 2 babies, which unlike human babies are born with most of their teeth. They are thought to live up to 12 years, and can be found on their own, in pairs or in small groups.

 

Seminole Bats are found in forests in the southern United States from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and eastern Texas. They weigh 7-14g, (0.25 – 0.49 oz) with a wingspan of 10.8-11.4 cm (4.25 – 4.49 in), and look similar to Red Bats. The fur is reddish brown with white hair tips and a white chest and throat. They produce an average of 3 young which is high for bats. The babies can fly at 3-4 weeks of age. The Seminole Bat is solitary and active all year round at dawn and dusk if the temperature is above 20 degrees C (68 F).

 

These bats are found in southern Canada, along the east coast of the United States and Mexico as far south as Honduras. They roost in trees, rock crevices and caves in the summer and hibernate in caves or mines in winter. This is a small bat weighing 4.6-7.9g (0.16 - 0.28oz) with a wingspan of 22-25 cm (8.7-9.8 in).  The hairs of its fur are dark at the base and the tip and yellowish brown in the middle. The Eastern Pipistrelle has a set of twins also, which is rare among bats. The babies grow their fur within a week and can fly after 3 weeks. They live 4-8 years. They begin hibernation between July and October and finish in early April. They hunt a variety of insects using echolocation, including beetles, flies, butterflies and bees.

 

The Big Brown Bat is found from southern Canada to northern South America and in the West Indies. It is a large bat weighing about 23 g (0.81oz or as much as 23 paper clips) with a wingspan of about 33 cm (13 inches). The fur on the back is darker than on the stomach. Usually the back is tan to dark brown and the underside is pinkish to olive. They can live up to 19 years in the wild. They hibernate in the winter in caves or buildings.

 

If you see a bat in Bermuda consider yourself lucky! Please report your sighting to the Natural History Museum at BAMZ. More information on Bermuda’s bats can be found in the following sources in the BAMZ library:

Van Gelder RG, Wingate DB. 1961. The taxonomy and status of bats in Bermuda. American Museum Novitiates 2029 : 1–9.

Wingate, D. B. 2005a. A new bat species for Bermuda. P. 42 in Bermuda Audubon Society. 50th anniversary 1954–2004 (A. Dobson, ed.). Bermuda Press, Hamilton, Bermuda.

Wingate, D. B. 2005b. First record of the eastern pipistrelle bat, Pipistrellus subflavus, from Bermuda. Critter Talk [Bermuda Zoological Society] 28:167.

 

Information References:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also see:

First winter record of Seminole Bat, by David Wingate in the Bermuda Audubon Society Newsletter, Vol. 18 #1. Fall 2007. http://www.audubon.bm/Newsletters_files/Vol.%2018%20No.1.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiny Lobster

Caribbean Spiny Lobster (Panulirus argus)

In Bermuda lobster season opens on September 1st, so it seems appropriate to dedicate our first ‘Species Spotlight’ to the Spiny Lobster. Spiny Lobsters are found from North Carolina to Brazil, and throughout the Caribbean. Bermuda is the northern-most extent of their range. The Spiny Lobster looks different from a New England Lobster as it does not have the giant claws that its American relative is famous for.

Spiny Lobsters, like other crustaceans, have their skeleton on the outside of their body - it is called an ‘exoskeleton’. They grow by molting their too-small skeleton and producing a new, larger one. The old skeleton cracks and the lobster climbs out, then puffs itself up with seawater and waits for its new larger skeleton to harden. Lobsters can also grow new legs or antennae if they lose one.

Lobsters keep growing as they get older, so the bigger a lobster is the older it is. Also the larger a female lobster gets the more eggs she will lay. The female lobster carries her orange eggs around under her tail until they are ready to hatch. For this reason, female lobsters have an extra pair of ‘swimming legs’ under their tail. In Bermuda, Spiny Lobsters mate from mid-April to mid-May. In June the female lobsters move to the edge of the reef platform and release their eggs. Each lobster releases nearly a million eggs, but only a few will survive to become adults.

The spines on the back of the head give the Spiny Lobster its name

The tiny eggs drift as plankton then hatch into spidery-looking baby lobsters. The babies drift and grow for about a year then settle in seagrass beds or mangrove roots to grow up. The settled babies look like small lobsters, and spend a year hiding in the vegetation, before moving out onto the reef to join the adults. Adult lobsters live in holes in the reef, under rocks or inside shipwrecks.

During the day lobsters hide in the reef with only their antennae poking out, but at night they come out and actively search for food. They aren’t picky and will eat whatever they come across. Lobsters eat small conchs, clams, snails and they will scavenge dead animals and fish. Adult lobsters are eaten by octopus, sharks, many kinds of fish, and people.

Spiny lobsters are known to migrate from shallow to deep water in the autumn by walking single-file in a long line across the reef platform. They keep together by touching the lobster in front with their antennae.

 For further information on lobster regulations see sections 16 and 21 of the Fisheries Regulations 2010. For information on obtaining a lobster diving licence please contact the Dept. of Environmental Protection.