Diatoms n’ Cukes

Meghan

I have to say that any chance to play in mud is a chance I will take, much to the despair of my mother. When I was a kid I had these little worm/millipede pets called “Dookies” (Phylum Dookiepodia described by me just now). They lived inside an old diaper wipe box and we never, ever figured out what dookies ate (despite many attempts at food preference experiments). Dookie smell, with its rich aroma and roasted bouquet, is still with me to this day, and whenever I smell it I’m 4 years old again, searching for Dookies in the back yard. Is it any surprise that I like going to mudflats to collect worms and things in gook?

Who knows, maybe Dookiepodia live there.

What I wasn’t expecting to see was the film of brown gook on the sand (actually filmy and gooky when you put your finger through it). They were diatoms! Probably pennate as they were benthic and these ones were associated with the sediment itself (rather than settling out of the water because of the tide going out). What I did notice was that the diatoms were patchy, with spots around little raised bumps in the sand that had no diatoms for about a centimeter and then the gooky diatom carpet was back in full force.

This confused me–what was going on here? Why was this happening? I learned this from Moose, who learned it from a grad student, who learned it from Megan at the labs–INTERSTITIAL BABY SEA CUKES!

Finally I used the bait pump and pulled up one of the little guys in the flesh. White, vaguely spikey, tuboid with a thick end and then a skinny end, probably not more than 3 cm, tops. It’s not one of the creatures where you see it and instantly think to yourself, “Yea, that’s a cuke, definitely.” More like, “Wow, that’s a messed up looking polychaete.” To be honest, it looked a little like a tiny, albino Arenicola.

It’s interesting to me that these little cucumbers appear so similar to worms living in the same habitat, but it makes sense because they’re dealing with the same environmental constraints.

All in all, despite the relative absence of Dookies (Rock 2009), still a great trip out.

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