Sea stars, Sea cucumbers, Sea urchins and more…

Invert Trivia: What group of invertebrate species shares these three distinctive features? 1) A body with five-part symmetry; 2) an internal skeleton made of calcium carbonate; and 3) a water vascular system of fluid-filled vessels that manifests to the outer surface as structures called tube feet. Stumped? Here’s a few more clues. This group of species are entirely marine, and they lack a head, heart, brain and eyes. They have separate sexes but it’s generally impossible to tell them apart based on their outward appearance. And, they can regenerate body parts.

These awesome creatures can only be echinoderms. In Greek, echino means spiny, and derma refers to skin, and these spiny-skinned creatures comprise sea urchins, sea cucumbers, feather stars, sea stars, and brittle stars. Echinoderms have an ancient lineage that dates back at least 600 million years. Today, at least 6,500 species are recognized within six living classes which are highlighted below.


Red spined (aka conical spined) sea star, Echinaster sentus juvenile

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All About Spotted Seatrout

spotted_trout_cropSpotted seatrout are a sought after fish species for both recreational and commercial fishermen in Florida. They are distributed along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to southern Florida and throughout the Gulf of Mexico to Carmen Island in the Lower Gulf of Campeche, Mexico. They are most common along the Gulf coast from the west coast of Florida to Texas.

Spotted seatrout are unique in that that their entire life is estuary dependent and they rarely migrate far from the estuaries where they were spawned. They can tolerate wide salinities and may be found in waters ranging from fresh to hyper saline.

In southwest Florida, spotted seatrout are generally found associated with vegetated areas, such as seagrass beds and mangroves, and in close proximity to deep areas for seeking refuge from extreme temperatures. In the northern Gulf where seagrass is sparse, spotted seatrout are found in and adjacent to marshes, over sand, mud, shell reefs, and around oil platforms.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Vibrio in Florida


Vibrio under a scope. Source: CDC

Two recent deaths in Florida have raised concern about the saltwater-dwelling bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus. MOST HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS ARE NOT AT RISK FOR V. vulnificus INFECTION, however, to ensure that your time on the water is safe and enjoyable, be aware of your risk and take steps to minimize becoming infected.

What are Vibrio?

The name Vibrio refers to a large and diverse group of marine bacteria. Most members are harmless, however, some strains produce harmful toxins and are capable of causing a disease known as “vibriosis.”

When and where are Vibrio found?

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Got a fish health question?

Two southern flounder. One with the typical white underside (right) and the other with almost full pigment on the right side. Looks like mother nature remembered at the last minute and shortchanged the head. Photo: Capt. Ralph Allen

Gulf flounder have a pigmented left (upper) side and a white right (under) side. In this photo both flounder are displayed on the right side. Looks like mother nature remembered the right side should be white at the last minute in the flounder on the left, and stopped painting just before reaching the head. Photo: Capt. Ralph Allen

Every so often I receive photos taken by anglers who have observed fish abnormalities while fishing. The typical question I get is, do you know what this is? If not, can you help me find someone who does? Regardless of whether or not I know the answer, my response is always the same; report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish Kill hotline. But the fish isn’t dead! It’s OK, FWC’s Fish Kill hotline is maintained by their Fish and Wildlife Health section (FWH), and that section is also interested in fish abnormalities.

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UF researchers ‘find Dory’ by developing methods to farm blue tang in captivity

52 day old Blue tang in captivity - University of Florida Photo by Tyler Jones

52 day old Blue tang in captivity – University of Florida Photo by Tyler Jones

Scientists at the University of Florida have found Dory! Ok, they didn’t really find her, but they did learn how to spawn and raise blue tang in captivity. Why is this important? After the movie Finding Nimo was released, demand for clown fish sky rocketed. Until scientists learned how to raise them in captivity, the demand was filled through collection in the wild. Scientists knew when Finding Dory was released, the same type of demand would be likely, so their efforts to successfully spawn and raise Dory began long before the movie début. By rearing these fish through aquaculture, demand can be met, without the need to harvest from wild sources. Below is a link to a great article about the process of “Finding Dory”.

Water quality weekly roundup!

A view from space, showing the massive bloom of algae, which looks like streaks of fluorescent paint across the surface of Lake Okeechobee. The color and physical appearance of this surface bloom is highly indicative of a toxin-producing species of cyanobacteria called Microcystis. Photo source: NASA Earth Observatory

A view from space, showing the massive bloom of algae, which looks like streaks of fluorescent paint across the surface of Lake Okeechobee. The color and physical appearance of this surface bloom is highly indicative of a toxin-producing species of cyanobacteria called Microcystis. Photo source: NASA Earth Observatory

Did you know? You can now report algae blooms through this easy to use, smart phone friendly website.

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Black Drum


Amy Withers with a nice Black Drum caught on a fly. Photo: Capt. Jay Withers

I’ve been seeing lots of black drum photos lately. Black drum are really cool fish that don’t ever seem to get very much attention. In fact, if you do a quick search on black drum, you just might get more search returns for red drum than black drum. So today I’m going to give these fish some love.

Black drum, Pogonias cromis occur from the Gulf of Maine to Florida, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and as far south as Argentina. Black drum are large fish that can reach sizes over 46 inches in length and 120 pounds. They are also long lived reaching ages of nearly 60 years on the Atlantic coast and about 45 on the Gulf coast. Black drum grow rapidly during their first 15 years of life and then slow after.

Coloration of black drum can change with age or habitat. Young black drum have 4-6 vertical black bars along their sides. These bars, which sometimes lead to them being confused with sheepshead, fade as the fish ages. Adults are silvery to black in color with a copper or brassy sheen. Black drum in bays and lagoons tend to be darker and often have a bronze upper surface with gray to white sides.

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It’s Cephalopod Week!

Octopus from South Florida - Photo USGS

Octopus from South Florida – Photo USGS

June 17-24, 2016 is Cephalopod Week. So exciting! No we don’t get to take the week off from work, it’s not a real holiday, but it is a way to raise awareness about and celebrate octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus. This year, Cephalopod Week, created by NPR’s Science Friday will celebrate its third year running.

Taxonomically, cephalopods are a kind of molluscan and therefore closely related to clams, oysters, and snails. Cephalopods live throughout the world’s oceans, from surface waters to depths of more than 4 miles. The name “cephalopod” means “head-foot,” which refers to the fact that their limbs are attached to their head.

Why celebrate cephalopods? They’re cool, that’s why!

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Southwest Florida Baitfish – Species Profiles

Pinfish - Image Credit NOAA

Pinfish – Image Credit NOAA

Pinfish, Lagodon rhomboides are a common baitfish, in the United States found along the coast from Massachusetts to Florida and from Bermuda throughout the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. Pinfish are important prey for many economically important fish, including grouper, snapper, spotted seatrout, red drum, snook, ladyfish, and flounder. Pinfish are very hardy and tolerate a wide range of temperatures (from 50 to 95 °F) and salinities from true freshwater to full saline ocean water.

Pinfish live up to 7 years and become sexual mature at 1 to 2 years of age, and 4.3 inches or larger, standard length (SL). Standard length is how scientists measure fish. It is from the head to the end of the fleshy part of the body…where the tail starts.

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Cobia Stripes

Cobia with prominent striping above and dull monocolor below - NOAA Images

Cobia with prominent striping above and dull striping below – NOAA Images

I’ve been seeing lots of cobia pictures lately. I’m acutely tuned into seeing them because cobia is still a bucket list fish for me. And of course this is the time of year when we see them and when anglers are catching them. Recently my friend Robert ask if I knew why some cobia have prominent stripes and others do not. He knows juveniles have darker stripes and as a fish ages the stripes fade. But Robert said if you look at angler photos, you could have two large cobia both the same size and one will be dull and the other with more prominent striping. That was what had him perplexed. And to be honest, I didn’t know the answer. But, I do now!

Before I answer the stripe question, let’s look at this beautiful fish. Cobia, Rachycentron canadum, gets its name from its 7-9 pointed dorsal spines; rhachis is Greek for spine and kentron mean pointed. The first description of cobia occurred in 1766 by a scientist Linnaes who classified it as Gasterosteus canadus, and not from a Canadian specimen as the species name canadus would suggest; his cobia came from the Carolinas. Interestingly, cobia was reclassified and renamed 19 times before its current scientific name was settled on.

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