10 Wildlife Species You May Not Know Exist in the Gulf of Mexico
By Ryan Fikes
The Gulf of Mexico is home to more than 15,420 species—from the coastal estuaries to the deep sea floor, the biodiversity of the Gulf is astonishing. To highlight this diversity we thought that it would be fun to introduce you to some of the not-so-common, and less recognizable species that reside in our big backyard. Here are our top 10…
1. Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)
We typically think of orcas living in colder climates, but about 500 orcas live in the Gulf of Mexico where they feed on tuna and even dolphins in the Gulf’s deep waters, typically far from land. It is believed that these “killer whales” also used to feed on Caribbean monk seals, which went extinct in the 1950s.
2. Atlantic Silver Hatchetfish (Argyropelecus aculeatus)
Also known as the “lovely hatchetfish,” this opportunistic feeder’s diet consists of everything from copepods to other fish. This fish traverses deep sea waters by making daily trips up and then back down the water column, but what makes this fish really cool is what it does in the Gulf’s dark, cold waters. It has a unique ability to bioluminesce via glowing photophores, a technique used to attract prey close enough to capture without expending too much energy.
3. Sea Hare (Aplysia sp.)
These graceful gliders might resemble an ordinary slug … until you see them soar through seagrass beds in coastal estuaries of the Gulf. You are most likely to catch a glimpse snorkeling around rocky intertidal habitats covered in marine algae, which they are known to feed on. When frightened or feel that they are being threatened, they emit a cloud of dark ink into the waters around them to deter and confuse predators.
4. Pancake Batfish (Halieutichthys aculeatus)
No, someone has not stepped on this poor fish, but rather this is the way it naturally occurs in the wild. This fish uses its foot-like fins, complete with an elbow, to push off the sea floor. Flapping its tail, it swiftly hops across the sand like a frog. This fish also sports a long nose that can project a lure to entice other critters closer to its mouth, thought they better be small, as this fish is only a couple of inches long.
5. Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Known as the ocean’s most ferocious predator, great whites occasionally pass through the Gulf but they are most likely to stay in its deeper, cooler waters. However, when the temperature in the Gulf plummets to 60 degrees or lower, the large sharks can move into coastal waters, usually 20 miles or more offshore. Just remember, if you catch one you must let it go, the species has been federally protected since 2004.
6. Bighead Searobin (Prionotus tribulus)
It’s a bird! It’s a fish! No, it’s a searobin! At least 12 species of searobins inhabit Gulf of Mexico waters. The bighead searobin is the largest, most common, and the only one to inhabit lakes and estuaries, as well as nearshore waters. Not only can these beautiful fish glide through the water with ease using their "wings", but they can also use the elongated rays of their pelvic fins to ‘walk’ on the bottom while searching for the worms and small shrimp that they eat, especially in sandy seagrass habitats.
7. Vampire Squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis)
Also known as the “Vampire Squid from Hell”, this living fossil has seen very little change since it first appeared on Earth more than 300 million years ago. Living more than half a mile deep in the Gulf’s dark waters, this cephalopod has unique defense mechanisms, including the ability to turn itself inside out. It also has bioluminescent points on its tentacles that give the appearance of false eyes, keeping predators away from the sensitive head region.
8. Sargassum Fish (Histrio histrio)
This strange-looking fish lives among a unique habitat, Sargassum seaweed, with which it blends in perfectly. The fish blends in perfectly on its floating habitat as it traverses the Gulf of Mexico, often ending up in the sheltered estuaries. The fish can also change color quite rapidly, from light to dark and back again. The sargassum fish is a voracious ambush predator that is a known cannibal. An anglerfish, it dangles its esca (similar to a fishing lure) to attract small fish, shrimps, and other invertebrates. It is able to dart forward to grab its prey by expelling water forcibly through its gill openings.
9. Lionfish (Pterois volitans)
The venomous lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, are highly invasive, rapid breeders, and opportunistic predators. Fishery scientists are concerned that lionfish, having no natural enemies, may adversely impact natural fish populations. Since 2000, lionfish have been observed primarily by scuba divers in reefs along the southeast coast of the U.S. and northern Caribbean, but recently the species has made its way all the way to the Texas coast.
10. Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
This native turtle has one of the largest ranges of all turtles in North America, stretching as far south as Florida Keys and as far north as Cape Cod, calling the brackish coastal swamps of the eastern and southern United States home. Terrapins look much like their freshwater relatives, but are well adapted to the near shore marine environment. They have several adaptations that allow them to survive in varying salinities, including skin largely impermeable to salt water and lachrymal salt glands used primarily when dehydrated.
This article was originally published on National Wildlife Federation’s blog, Wildlife Promise.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Danielle Nierenberg
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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By John Letzing
This past Wednesday, when some previously hard-hit countries were able to register daily COVID-19 infections in the single digits, the Navajo Nation – a 71,000 square-kilometer (27,000-square-mile) expanse of the western US – reported 54 new cases of what's referred to locally as "Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19."
The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
World Economic Forum
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World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.