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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#632: S'Not What You Think It Is

Einstein is reported to have said "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Now my artistic skills are too meager to express the wonder of the mysteries of the Universe, but as a scientist every day I encounter things that are beyond my present ability to explain. However, these drive me to explore further and see if I can understand them whether it be the wonders of outer space, the behavior of a local marine critter or the "unpredictability" of human beings.

Each time I encounter a new species or a new behavior in King Neptune's realm, I spend time observing, filming and researching so I can better understand it. Places like the Philippines where I dive two years ago are a treasure chest of mystery since there are so many species there and many of them have not yet been scientifically described and named. However, sometimes I don't have to travel far to encounter mystery... it happens even in our own backyard. No, I'm not talking about those of the female persuasion; but they, too, are a mystery to this scientist!

For several years I've been noticing a strange yellow ribbon-like substance attached to our rocky reefs.. I had been calling it yellow sea snot because it looks like the phlegm that I get when I have a bad cold (well, at least with my lousy vision). I've never known what the stuff is. With my high definition camera I was able to detect what appeared to be tiny eggs embedded in the matrix. Finally I took a small sample of it and looked at it under two of my microscopes.

Now there was no question. There were lots of tiny yellowish-orange spheres embedded in the ribbon-like matrix. So I solved one part of the mystery... these were some critter's egg masses. My best guess as a highly edumacated scientist was that they came from a snail. I would have assumed one of the beautifully colored shell-less snails called nudibranchs was the culprit. However, nudibranchs are nowhere near common enough to have produced so many ribbons of eggs all over the reef.

Now that I had good macro and microscope images of this mysterious unknown, I posted about it on two local Internet dive boards, OCDivingNews and Divebums (San Diego). No one could identify it there, so I went to the biggest SCUBA-related board in the world, ScubaBoard, where I am a frequent poster. Still no firm identification of the egg mass.

Now, I'm reasonably familiar with the egg masses of many different snail species. I've written about the pumpkin seed like eggs of the Kellet whelk. I've seen the eggs of other gastropods out there during spring and summer: The strange egg collars of the moon snail, the spaghetti-like egg masses of the sea hares, the tiny yellow clusters of eggs produced by the gem murex, the roseate white spirals of some dorid nudibranchs and the dimpled white spheres produced by the likes of Spalding, Wilson and Titleist... oh, wait those were actually golf balls seen off the Blue Car Wreck dive site. I do wish more field guides included pictures not just of the snail and its shell, but of their eggs as well.

I may never got a proper ID on these eggs. Perhaps they will simply remain a mystery to me as long as I dive... unless I catch one of the critters in the act of laying them. I don't need to have every mystery solved. It is good to have mysteries in one's life. I don't fear the unknown, I approach it with wonder. You know what I mean... I wonder what the heck it is. But even if I solve this one, there will always be an inexplicable mystery in my life.. the female of the species! Thanks, ladies, for keeping my curiosity alive!

© 2015 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Yellow "snot" on the rocky reef; microscopic view of egg mass and individual eggs with tiny diatoms growing on them.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2014 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia