Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Echinoblog Travelog: Japan: the things I will miss.... Pt. 5 (final)

Just got back from Japan and the 15 hour flight just wiped me out... so today is pictures!
 See-through starfish! (Anseropoda petaloides)
Matching Socks!
Sweets! but not chocolate or the usual western types...
Nakano Broadway...
 and some of its unique and interesting goods... (cleared and stained fish skeletons for sale)
KAIJU! Ultrakaiju Gomora! (and other Japanese science fiction)
Starfish Kaiju (weird deep-sea starfish!, this one, Hymenaster is about a foot across)
FOOD! Ramen and gyoza!  (mm... tempura not pictured)
And special mention to KABOBS! After a long day of running around Tokyo? These are surprisingly satisfying....

and of course, big expensive toy robots! (shown here is Big Dai X)

Until next time Tokyo! 

P.S. These are surprisingly accurate....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Echinoblog Travelog! Pt. 4 Stories from Tsukuba & Japan!

Travel is about experiences. Here are some of mine.... Starfish and not....

1. Starfish Story! 
Found this cool disk from the starfish Plazaster borealis the other day.  I am somewhat obsessed with this starfish (see this blog). It goes by the common name "tako hitode" aka the "octopus starfish" and we know next to nothing about it.  Sadly, this specimen was found without arms. Probably something that happened when it was collected....

Cool thing about this and the specimen lot it was found in?? Collected in 1932.  This species of starfish was originally described in 1938. That means, this specimen was actually collected SIX years before the species was actually described by Dr. Tohru Uchida.
 Here's what the animal looks like in its natural state. Almost 40 arms! But they disarticulate pretty easily.

2. Starfish-Worm Story!
The other day, I encountered this: polynoid polychaete worms which live commensally on the starfish Solaster borealis! STILL attached and living to their "host".

To give you some perspective, here is what the animal looks like in situ (from the North American side of the Pacific). 
This image from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute! 
And here is a close up of the worms living inside the mouth and tube foot grooves of the starfish...
With this Japanese Solaster borealis, we are seeing the relationship among some relatively deep-sea species but this type of relationship is also seen on several North American species of Solaster, such as this one from a shallow-water Washington species.

Where better to live/feed than on the "top dog" starfish predator like Solaster?  (or any starfish for that matter!)

3. Tunicate Food Story!
Travelling to foreign lands and new places means trying new foods and dishes that you don't normally get to try when you are at home. Sometimes, these dishes can be quite exotic.

Case in point: after a presentation at the University of Tokyo, I was treated to some hospitality including the opportunity to try hoya aka raw sea squirt or tunicate! 
I wrote a post about exotic invertebrates eaten around the world here. Here is a picture of what hoya looks like alive.
What does it taste like? Hm. An acquired taste certainly. Kind of sour and medicine-like is probably the most polite way to put it... Not one of my favorites but glad that I tried it!

4. Bathroom Story!
This one is a simple lesson in keeping track of different kinds of plumbing! Behold my bathrooom set up!

The shower is nozzle connected to the sink faucet. Very efficient. There's a shunt switch that routes water either to the faucet OR to the shower head. The shower head is used in the bathtub, where it can drain. But it is stored on the wall up there over the sink.

Sometimes you forget that the shunt switch is turned to "shower" instead of "sink" AND you have replaced the shower head on the wall.

Looking to brush your teeth and BOOM!  That was messy. 

5. EARTH Story! 
So I'm workin' one night, when "I-san" a worker in the lab, who speaks only a little english, gets up and starts saying "oscillate" ????  Odd.  

So, I get up and he's pointing to the mini-fridge shaped air vent sitting above my seat (above). Big, but held up by big metal struts. It is ROCKING back and forth. The rest of the lab, the floor seems perfectly stationary.  "Ground is shaking because of Earth moving" He says. My eyes open wide, as I grasp what he is saying and realize, "Oh crap, we're having an earthquake!"  

It was a 5.1... and I very nearly ignored it. Yow. 
Info for the quake can be found here. 

There's a HUGE Diversity  of starfishes in Japan...
Whew! I'm winding down the trip to Tsukuba/Tokyo and the National Museum of Nature and Science!  I'm finding a HUGE diversity of sea stars in the collections. When I arrived, there was an estimated 200 species in Japan. When I leave, this number will be significantly higher!  Many of them will be from deep-sea habitats.

Hopefully, this trip will only be Part One!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Echinoderm & The Invertebrate Zoology Toys of Japan! Echinoblog Travelog Pt. 3

Japan is known for some of the biggest and most successful and widely known toys throughout the world. Giant robots! Godzilla! Pokemon! Sailor Moon! Hello Kitty!  For whatever reason, when you think about toys, Japan comes to mind.

During my travels, it's also become apparent how the interests of the people reflect on the diversity of toys that are available to everyone, from casually interested kid to hardcore collector.

Japan amazingly produces several toys of different species from not only the deep-sea but also from "deep time" with many fossils and so on. What makes these so amazing to me is that they were even made!  

Although some the plushies might have been made for a specific show, most were made for the general populace as either collectibles or items that interest the consumer.

To me, THAT is a huge message. There's folks in Japan who buy these because they think these creatures are interesting! You can even buy deep-sea biology books at 7-11 in Japan! 

1. Enypniastes! Take for example, the swimming deep-sea sea cucumber Enyniastes. You can read about this and other swimming sea cucumbers here
This amazing species is captured as a tiny highly detailed replica, known as a gashapon. They are obtained from specific gashapon machines, but these days most folks just buy them individually at special shops throught the "hobby" distrcts of Japan, such as Akihabara or at Nakano Broadway. 

These are highly detailed, come with a stand and are about 1-2 cm tall. 
Somewhat more specialized is the plushy Enypniastes obtained via the gift shop at the National Museum of Nature & Science! These are larger as you can see below...
2. Sea Pigs! Yup. they got em'... Remember my original post here??  Deep-sea sea cucumbers with legs that for some reason combine cute and creepy!
No fewer than TWO brands of sea pig gashapon (again, small highly detailed plastic models of Scotoplanes globosa)                 
This cool plush toy from the gift shop at the National Museum of Nature & Science in Tokyo!
3. We've all heard/seen of the famous Japanese giant plush Bathynomus/giant isopod toy! 
and yes, it is indeed soft and cuddly! Perfect for those cold nights when your teddy bears and undependable stuffed mammals have run out on you! 
BUT what about the Giant Bathynomus-inspired designer vinyl action figure! Stands a good 10 inches tall with ray-gun!
Made by and for collectors, I've seen diferent sizes and color variations of this toy...
 ranging from 60 to $600.00! Some of them even glow in the dark! 

Plush toys are gaining momentum, there's even a set of Paleozoic invertebrate plushies!!
    The National Museum of Nature and Science of Tokyo had a fun set of Paleozoic invertebrates made into plushies!  Here's a carpoid! (Paleozoic echinoderm) But there was a whole Cambrian set which I'm not showing here...
4. But the BIGGEST THING? small toys.  Also known as gashapon!  As mentioned earlier, tiny little 2-6 cm replicas of the real thing. Part of different sets following various themes for collectors..

For example, highly detailed Paleozoic invertebrates! Eurypterids and trilobites! (carpoids & others are also available).

Ammonoids! and more!
You want crabs and other crustaceans?  YOU GOT IT! Anatomically accurate tiny plastic replicas of different crab families! Calappids! Portunids! Leucotheids! There's actually a second set with various lobsters and so forth...
 You want NUDIBRANCHS? Done.
And of course there's a lot of your requisite whale, deep-sea fish, jellies and so on.. But here's a pretty cool commemorative set!  Remember back when they had FIRST footage of the living deep-sea giant squid Architeuthis?? 

Yup, a commemorative and official (by the NMNS), Architeuthis squid gashapon set! With sperm whales and everything!