Nature and Science
Author: Fredy Brauchli
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Latitude: 9.1673 / N 9° 10.038'
Longitude: 123.246002 / E 123° 14.76'
Tiny and Inconspicuous
Divers with a “macro view” are able to spot a lot of tiny creatures. Feather stars, whip corals, spiral wire corals and others are home to these bizarre animals.
This report wants to document tiny animals living in symbiosis to recommend these creatures as new study objects for experienced divers. Often enough, divers are so fascinated by the variety of colors and shapes of corals, feather stars etc. that they do not even think about observing the underwater world closely. This is unfortunate since the almost hidden symbiosis partnerships in particular offer interesting discoveries and observations. As a supplement to previously posted documents we will present herein the symbiosis with particular hosts.
Tiny Creatures on Whip Corals and Wire Corals
The most widely known organisms of “parasites” on whip and wire corals are the Wire Coral Shrimps. In addition, macro photographers will find other, lesser known but even more interesting forms of symbiosis. The first example is the whip coral goby, which measures barely 20 mm (0.78 inch). Their home is the Indo-Pacific where they match their color perfectly to their coral hosts. To the disappointment of underwater photographers, they are able to quickly change their location when danger is imminent.
Its appearance makes the 2.5 cm (1 inch) large Spider Crab (Xenocarcinus tuberculatus) one of the most bizarre animals found on wire corals and whip corals.
Shy Tenants on Bubble Corals
As their name suggests, the Bubble Coral Shrimps live exclusively on this stone coral organism. These delicate and mostly transparent shrimps sit inside the bubble-like polyps, which are turned inside out during the day.
The crab known by its popular name Orangutan Crab is found mostly but not exclusively on bubble corals. It can be distinguished easily from other crabs by its long hair and fiery red eyes. Both bubble coral dwellers are not more than 2 cm (0.78 inch) long and will hide away in the secure crevices of the coral if they feel threatened.
Feather Stars – Popular Hosts
Several species find a secure habitat in the middle of the often very colorful feather stars. All these creatures have another common characteristic: They can adapt their color to their home and use this mechanism as an effective protection from enemies. The tiny Commensal Shrimp living on the arms of Feather and Hair Stars as well as the Feather Star Squat Lobster can only be spotted if the diver is able to observe patiently. Both species pilfer the plankton nutriments caught by the feather stars.
But you can see more than just shrimps and crabs amid the feather stars. In the Pacific Ocean you will find the 4 cm (2 inches) long Feather Star Sucking Fish. Once the feather star retracts its arms the sucking fish – usually living in pairs – will hide underneath.
The Armored or Harlequin Ghostpipefish, which also like to live inside the feather star or soft corals, are real masters of camouflage. They typically swim headfirst and cannot easily be spotted.
Like Flowers on Soft Corals
The tiny little dwellers found in the popular colorful soft corals are particularly interesting. Only 1.5 cm (0.6 inch) long, the Candy Spider Crabs (Dendronephthya crab) are almost invisible in their habitat. The reason is that they feed off the tentacles of the soft corals, take on their color and thus are perfectly adapted to their habitat. Once spotted, however, it is easy to observe a spider crab at your leisure. They move very slowly making it an easy target for underwater photographers. Only adjusting the focus requires some practice due to their tiny size. The result, however, makes up for the tedious task.