“Sea”sons Greetings!

Many marine species have festive holiday names. Jingle Shells, Pinecone Fish, Red Drum, Marine Snow, and Christmas Tree Worms are just a few.

Pine Cone Fish - Photo Credit, Flickr user, Spencer Wright77

Pine Cone Fish – Photo Credit, Flickr user, Spencer Wright

Pinecone Fish get their name as result of their armored plates called scutes. The scutes have ridges which cause the fish to resemble a pinecone. Pinecone fish are native to warm waters of the Indoneasion and Western Pacific Oceans.

Pinecone fish feed on zooplankton which they attract using bioluminescent organs that are found on each side of their lower jaw. The organs form a symbiotic relationship with phosphorescent bacteria that live with the fish. The bioluminescence can be turned on and off by movement of the jaw.

Pinecone fish can be found in areas that have caves, ledges and rocky bottoms.



Christmas Tree Worms - Photo credit: Flickr user Todd Barrow

Christmas Tree Worms – Photo credit: Flickr user Todd Barrow

Christmas Tree Worms are Christmas tree shaped worms that form burrows corals. The tentacles, which form the tree-like structures are used for feeding on plankton and to breathe.  These plumed creatures are a type of polychaete worm.

Christmas tree worms come in many colors and can be found all over the world. They feed by using their feathery appendages, called radioles to capture phytoplankton that floats by the “feathers.”

Christmas tree worms are easily disturbed and will quickly vanish into their burrows as shadows or larger marine life pass by. They return quickly and continue with their sedentary lifestyles in the coral.




Red Drum - photo credit Florida Fish and Wildlife

Red Drum – photo credit Florida Fish and Wildlife

One of our local favorites, the Red Drum is named as result of the drumming sound with speciliazed muscels that rub against their air bladder. Click here now to  hear the sound.

Red drum feed on crabs, shrimp and small fish. They are bottom feeders, and sometime expose their tails to the surface of the water while they feed.  This is known as “tailing”.

Red drum or redfish can be found in shallow waters of bays and bayous. They have characteristic black spots on the tail fin; the number varies on each fish. They are a delicious fish when cooked and put up a good fight when caught.


Marine Snow - Photo credit: NOAA

Marine Snow – Photo credit: NOAA

Marine Snow gets its name as a result of the fluffy materials that resemble snow falling from the sky. Marine snow is decaying material from plants and animals that have died in the oceans. Marine snow may also include sand, fecal matter and inorganic dust.

Just like snowflakes, marine snow grows as it floats to the ocean depths. Marine snow is consumed by scavengers that live along the deep sea floor bottom. Check out the video below showing the beauty of marine snow.





Jingle Shells - Photo Credit, Chris Verlinde

Jingle Shells – Photo Credit, Chris Verlinde

Jingle Shells get their name as a result of their shells that when shaken together make a jingle like sound. Jingle shells can be found along the beaches of NW Florida. The shiny iridescent shell is strong and very attractive. Many shell collectors use the shells to make jewelry and wind chimes.

Jingle shells are bivalves and live attached to hard surfaces, just like oysters.

Jingle shells are filter feeders, meaning water is filtered through their gills for plankton.



References and More Information:







Diamonds in the Marsh

Diamonds in the Marsh

It is hard to say one turtle is more beautiful than another but this is one beautiful turtle!  The diamondback terrapin is the only brackish water turtle in the United  States. These turtles can be easily distinguished from other species by their light colored skin with dark spots, and their choice of habitat – salt marshes.

Ornate Diamondback Terrapin (photo: Dr. John Himes)

Terrapins inhabit creeks within marshes close to where they were born and rarely range from their natal home.  They require dry ground for nesting.  Terrapins spend their time basking in lagoons near the surface or on open mudflats at low tide.  They feed primarily on shellfish, preferring snails and bivalves, but will also feed on small crabs, shrimp, worms, fish, and occasionally vegetation.

The females are larger than the males and have shorter tails.  Mature females typically lay 6 to 10 eggs and will nest more than once in the same year.  Nesting begins in late April in our part of the country and females laying multiple clutches will do so every 16 days.  The sex of the offspring is determined by the nest temperature (warmer than 29˚C = females) so generally the eggs in the upper part of the nest are female.  Unlike sea turtles, female terrapins approach the nesting beach at high tide during daylight hours.  Most of the nests we find in Santa Rosa County are near salt bush (Baccharis sp.) but we have found them in open areas or near debris like driftwood.  They also differ from sea turtles in that young head away from open water preferring the plants of the marsh.  The heaviest predation is on the eggs and young.  The dominant nest raider is the raccoon.  Hatchlings are preyed upon by raccoons, otters, skunks, crows, and sea gulls; adults have few predators.


Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin (photo: Molly O’Connor)

Terrapin populations have declined over the last 150 years.  In the late 19th century it became very popular to eat them and the demand for the animal became an economic dynamo for many coastal fishermen.  Terrapin researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found a newspaper article from that time period that discussed a terrapin farm in Mobile County that had 25,000 terrapins; suggesting they were once very common.  With the increase in the popularity for food their numbers decreased, this caused an increase in price and a decline in their popularity.  The introduction of the crab trap in the 20th century became problematic for them.  Terrapins swim into traps and can not reach the surface to breathe.  In some states a “by-catch reduction device” or BRD is required on crab traps.  Studies of these in New Jersey and Florida showed they have no significant impact on the crab catch but do reduce the number of terrapins captured.  BRDs are not currently required in Florida as commercial traps are actively fished and bycatch removed when crabs are harvested.  “Derelict” crab traps are those that are not actively being fished, killing all sorts of aquatic life. Derelict crab trap removal events which removes this potential hazard to turtles and to blue crabs as well.

To learn more about Florida’s Recreational Blue Crab Regulations Click Here

We have been conducting a monitoring program assessing the status of Terrapins in the Panhandle since 2006 and have found at least one in every coastal county between Alabama and the Apalachicola River.  We have identified five nesting beaches and believe that one population has between 25-50 individuals within it (likely much lower numbers than historically found).  The marsh turtle status is certainly of concern for many biologists.

To learn more about terrapins and the crab trap removal program visit the following websites or call your local extension office. For more information on obtaining a bycatch reduction device (BRD) for your recreational crab traps contact Rick O’Connor, 850-475-5230.


Terrapins in a derelict crab trap (photo: Molly O’Connor)