You are what you eat, part the first

Remember those little urchins I brought into the world back in January? Well, they’re doing well, for the most part. About a month ago I took about 250 of them, measured them, and divided them into three feeding treatments:  one group I left on the coralline rocks they all cut their teeth on, one group is eating the green alga Ulva, and the third group is eating the kelp Macrocystis pyrifera. My plan is to keep the groups on these foods and monitor growth and survival.

After one month it appears that mortality and growth are not related. I have lost more urchins from the Macrocystis treatment than from the other two, and yet those that have survived this far have grown quite a bit. A month of the experiment gives me exactly two data points, which may over time indicate the beginning of a trend but for now are entirely meaningless. I’ll have to wait at least another month to see if what’s happening now continues.

However, I also took pictures of the urchins, and some of them are getting so pretty! I’m curious to see if the two macroalgal diets (Macrocystis and Ulva) affect the color of the urchins as they grow. Of course, color is very subjective and I can’t duplicate the exact lighting conditions when I take microscope pictures of different subjects, so at this point they all look the same no matter which food they’ve been eating.

Juvenile Strongylocentrotus purpuratus feeding on Macrocystis pyrifera, age 167 days. 6 July 2015. © Allison J. Gong

Juvenile Strongylocentrotus purpuratus feeding on the kelp Macrocystis pyrifera, age 167 days. Major mark on scale bar indicates 1 cm. 6 July 2015.
© Allison J. Gong

and

Juvenile Strongylocentrotus purpuratus feeding on the green alga Ulva sp., age 167 days. 6 July 2015. © Allison J. Gong

Juvenile Strongylocentrotus purpuratus feeding on the green alga Ulva sp., age 167 days. 6 July 2015.
© Allison J. Gong

My most colorful urchin at the moment is a little guy from the Ulva food treatment. Its test diameter is only about 4 mm, but its color is very vibrant:

Juvenile Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, age 167 days. 6 July 2015. © Allison J. Gong

Juvenile Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, age 167 days. 6 July 2015.
© Allison J. Gong

In addition to the five distinct reddish-purple bands on the body, I like that this urchin has so much color on its spines. This individual looks like it may skip the green stage that urchins of this species go through and go straight to purple.

Aren’t these animals beautiful?

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