Thursday, April 15, 2010

sea anemone

sea anemone, oregon coast aquarium

A big sea anemone at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. I don't recall the signage explaining what species of anemone it is, but I'm guessing it's probably a Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica), since it looks about right.

As a kid, and like many kids, I thought it was really cool to stick a finger in these guys and watch them fold up. As an adult, it surprises me a little that people still let their kids do this in these safety-paranoid times. I mean, when the anemone sticks to you and starts folding up, it's attempting to sting you and haul you in as lunch, it's just that (like most but not all anemones) it's unable to sting through human skin.

sea anemone, oregon coast aquarium

I have a gut feeling we're just waiting for someone's kid to get stung in a paper cut and have a one-in-a-million anaphylactic reaction to a sea anemone. Then there'll be a big media frenzy, and Important Safety Tips, and accusations of bad parenting, and that'll be that for playing in tidepools, yet another item on the ever-lengthening list of things people just shouldn't do anymore. Although I suppose the long-harrassed anemones and other tidepool fauna would breathe a sigh of relief -- if only they had actual brains or central nervous systems of any kind, or gills or lungs to breathe with, for that matter.

sea anemone, oregon coast aquarium

So -- generally speaking -- there's no real-world harm in letting a giant green anemone try to nibble on your finger, except maybe bad karma if you believe in that sort of thing (i.e. in some future life, it will be the human, and you the anemone, and you're minding your own business, just waiting for something tasty to wander by. Then it comes along, sticks its finger in you, then rips it away, and laughs cruelly at your attempt to eat it.) In any case, in other parts of the world it may not be such a fun idea to wander around teasing anemones. I haven't come across a single comprehensive list of anemones to avoid, but I've seen a few mentions of something called a "Hell's Fire Anemone" (Actinodendron plumosum) which is apparently bad news. Can't say too I'm disappointed those beasties live in the tropics and not here. There are undoubtedly others you're better off avoiding, too. This page has some general first aid tips on anemone stings if it comes to that.

A couple of pages about giant green anemones at Exploring Rocky Shores of Southern Oregon Coast and orange county nature. The latter points out that California has rather strict laws about never, ever touching any living organism on the coast. So while the anemone itself can't sting you, Officer Friendly's taser just might. The first link suggests that, rather than sticking your finger in the anemone, you bring along some raw fish or shrimp and actually feed the anemones instead of teasing them. I suppose if you really wanted to watch sea anemones in action (and traumatize your kids in the process) you could take it a step further and bring a bag of live feeder goldfish for them to sting and reel in. Not sure that would be legal, though, and there would undoubtedly be plenty of bad karma in it, if you believe in that sort of thing.

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