(September 16, 2016) --

Our monthly creature feature spotlights one of the marine animals you will find in Mobile Bay and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Many of the creatures we feature can be seen when you come to visit the Estuarium.

Each month we'll add a new creature to the list with the help of Estuarium Curator Brian Jones and Educator Mendel Graeber.





A nudibranch (a type of shell-less mollusk). It eats only certain sea sponges, making it nearly impossible to keep in captivity. After our divers collected it and brought it in, we photographed it and sent it back on the next dive trip to be released where it was caught.
Jellies are commonly portrayed in children's shows as shocking, but jellies don't shock. Jellies sting with tiny venomous barbs. Jellies also have the potential to sting after they are dead. However, moon jellies don't have particularly painful stings. Jellies don't sting because they're mad or scared; they aren't thinking creatures. They have a physical response when something, including humans, brushes against their stinging cells. Moon jellies (and most jellyfish) shrink proportionally in times of low food. Most animals that we are familiar with only get skinny, but don't change their overall body length.
The striped burrfish has spines that stay erect in contrast to their cousins the porcupine fish. The porcupine fish's spines only stand up when the fish inflates. While it may be interesting to see a burrfish or porcupine fish inflate, it's stressful to the animal. The burrfish and porcupine fish have to inflate their entire stomach to fill their abdominal cavity and stretch out their skin. It would be like a person swallowing 30 gallons of water in 5 seconds. The striped burrfish only has two teeth, one top and one bottom. Those teeth are wide and strong which enable the fish to crush crabs and small clams for dinner.
There are land hermit crabs and ocean hermit crabs. The hermit crabs you find at the beach are dependant on the water, and are not the same as those you find in a pet shop. Baby hermit crabs start with no shell. They have to find a tiny, empty snail shell to live in. Hermit crab bodies are mostly soft, so, they depend on empty shells for protection. Many hermit crabs go one more step and adorn their shell home with anemones, bryozoans, and sponges to aid in camouflage. As the hermit crab grows, it must find a larger shell to inhabit. We have a hermit crab in the Estuarium using a clear glass shell made by an expert glass blower.