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Image Gallery: Small Sea Monsters

Glyceridae

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, about 17 miles off Sapelo Island, Georgia, is home to a variety of strange creatures. The Glyceridae, or bloodworms, are ferocious epi- and infaunal polychaetes that prey upon small invertebrates. They are errant burrowers that build galleries of interconnected tubes to aid in catching their prey.

Photis pugnator

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Photis pugnator is another tube-building amphipod that can be found at sediment depths of 26 cm. On the surface of the seafloor it is often found in association with algae, and a closely related species even uses discarded gastropod shells as its home.

Paracerceis caudata

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

This isopod is an epifaunal resident of Gray's Reef. Generally, it is found on the surface of sponges, rocks, and tunicates, with reproduction even taking place in these areas. For example, a related species sets up breeding territories inside of sponges (where it's difficult for predators to get to), and the female travels to the male's territory to lay her eggs.

Brachiopods

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Brachiopods, also referred to as lamp shells, are filter feeders found in the surface layers of the sediment (upper 2 cm). They bury themselves in the sand using a stalked portion of their body called a pedicle, and use their lophophore to extract small organic material from the water column.

Ophiuroidea

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Brittlestars, like urchins may be epi- or infaunal. They are important bioturbators, burrowing up to 12 cm, and as deposit feeders have important effects on sediment characteristics and the cycling of nutrients and chemical within the sediment.

Paramphinome sp. B

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Paramphinome sp. B is an undescribed fireworm from Gray's Reef that typically is found in rocky areas above the sediment, while only rarely below. Fireworms have acquired their name from the notosetae (bristle-like appendages on their bodies) that break off when touched, subsequently causing a painful skin reaction in the unsuspecting victim.

Bowmaniella portoricensis

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

This mysid shrimp generally resides a soft burrow in the upper few centimeters of sediment. It is a nocturnal filter and suspension feeder that may have a large impact on the structure of zooplankton communities from its selective feeding habits.

Renilla reniformis

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Renilla reniformis, or the sea pansy, is typically found on the surface of the seafloor, but can also occur up to 4 cm below the surface. It has bioluminescent properties as a result of some symbiotic zooxanthelle (it can glow in the dark!), and uses a mucus net to catch prey.

Cirratulidae

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Cirratulid polychaetes live either on the surface of the seafloor among rocks and crevices, or within tubes and burrows beneath the seafloor. They are brightly colored and have tentacle-like gills that are used for respiration.

Aspidosiphon muelleri

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

This species of sipunculid can found in a soft mucus burrow deep within the sediment, in discarded mollusc shells, and in rock crevices. It is typically a deposit feeder and a detritivore, using a feeding apparatus called an introvert to capture its prey.

Asteroidea

(Image credit: NOAA - Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary)

Sea stars may lead an epi- or infaunal lifestyle. Whichever, they are important ecosystem-level predators that have significant tropic effects within their community.