Today my Pisaster ochraceus larvae are 10 days old. Although they seemed to be developing slowly, compared to the urchins that I’m more used to, in the past several days they have changed quite a bit. They’ve also been growing quickly, which makes me think that they’re off to a strong start. Of course, there’s still a lot of time for things to go wrong, as they have another couple of months in the plankton. However, at this point in time I feel optimistic about their chances.
In the dish under the dissecting scope they swim around like bizarre space ships. All the bits of detritus in the water add to the effect. The only thing missing is the sound effects.
The magnification of my dissecting scope goes up to 40X. To see any details of anatomy I have to use the compound microscope, through which I can see this, under 100X magnification:
Aside from the dramatic increase in overall size (almost 1 mm long now!), the larva’s body has gotten a lot more complicated. For one thing, the animal’s marginal ciliated band, which propels the larva through the water, has started becoming more elongate and elaborate. In this view the larva is lying on its back, and I have focused on the plane of its ventral surface. The left and right coeloms are in the plane of the dorsal surface, and thus are not really in focus. You should still be able to see how long they have gotten, though. Eventually they will fuse anteriorly to form a single cavity. The stomach of the larva has a nice green-golden color due to the food it has been eating. It makes perfect sense, as we are feeding them a cocktail of green algae and a diatom-like golden alga.
The larvae are very flexible and can be quite animated when they’re swimming around. They bend, scrunch up, and swallow food cells. They have already gotten so big that they take up much of the field of view under the microscope, even at the lowest magnification. Watch some larval gymnastics:
Part of the reason that I wanted to spawn Pisaster and raise the larvae this summer is that I want to put together a series of pen-and-ink drawings of the developmental stages. I did the same for the bat star Patiria miniata several years ago, but the Pisaster larvae will have longer and more elaborate arms when they mature; capturing these in drawings will be a challenge for me. I also hope to include the juveniles in this set of drawings. With that goal in mind, I’ve been sketching the larvae every few days, just to get some practice under my hand and remind myself what it feels like to draw. I’ve missed it!
For whatever reason, I really like how this sketch turned out. It’s not pretty, but it does truly represent what I saw under the microscope. I’m going to have to work on depicting three-dimensional structures on a two-dimensional page, which will take some practice. Fortunately I have several weeks to brush up on my skills!