Weird creature of the month – July

garden eel diving thailand

While scuba diving sandy sea beds you may come across what initially appears to be a colony of sea grass sprouting from the sea bottom, but as you get closer the grass begins to shrink and eventually disappear like it was never there to begin with. What you just witnessed was not a mirage, the effects of narcosis or your mind playing tricks on you, but simply one of the most interesting varieties of conger eels known as the Garden Eel.

Garden eels live in large groups in underwater sandbanks. Each eel has to make its own burrow that goes straight down into the sand. They dig these burrows with their tails using a gland in their tail which secretes a slime that makes the sand stick together. This technique ensures that the eels burrow does not collapse. The garden eel eats without leaving its burrow keeps its tail inside and sticks the rest of its body out. With its head exposed garden eels spend most of the day attempting to capture zooplankton that the current delivers them. When it gets scared, it takes its whole body into the burrow closing the burrow with a mucus plug to protect itself. This is the secret to the Garden Eels vanishing act, leaving no trace of the burrow as it retreats.

Did you know? The Garden Eel get its name from their practice of poking their heads from their burrows looking like they are growing as plants in a garden.

you can easily find garden eels at the Similan Islands

Weird creature of the month – June

Sea Angel diving krabi ao nang thailandSea Angel (gymnosomata)

Light reflects through tiny creatures fluttering their translucent wings. They seem to be flying, even thou they are in the blues of our seas. These beautiful organisms are the proof of the existence of angels, angels with horns. The angel-like appearance resembles that of their huge importance in ecosystem. They are a parts of the food chain serving as the food to fishes as well as whales. Their horns may symbolically remind of the “devilish” side of these angels as predators.

Sea angels are very small swimming sea slugs found around the world in arctic and tropic seas usually in the upper 0-20m of water. They belong to marine mollusks and are divided into six subgroups, with differences mostly due to a different geographical habitat. Sea angels lack the mollusks shell, which explains their scientific name: Gymnosomata (Greek: naked body).

Their body is gelatinous, like that of a jellyfish, and because of its shape, has been referred to being perfectly streamlined for swimming. Their gastropod has developed into a wing-or fin- like extensions, which allows them to perform a rowing or “flying” motion. Evolutionary adaptation on losing the shell and developing fins, unlike on other sea slugs, has given the sea angels the liberty of swimming freely in the oceans. Because of their unique swimming style and highly developed muscles and body shape, sea angels have been the subject to a wide variety of researches in the neurobiology of swimming.

Sea angels are carnivores and adapted in size and behavior to their main prey, sea butterflies or so called sea devils. They catch the butterflies with tentacles located in their mouth. Thus even the largest of sea angels grows only up to 5cm in size. They don’t have eyes, but instead use chemical detectors to find their prey. The chemical detectors are located in the head, looking like horns.

The Antarctic sea angel synthesizes a deterrent, which keeps the predators from eating them. Some other small sea animals use this unique benefit by carrying a sea angel around in order to protect themselves as well. The arctic sea angels have been reported to be found even in densities of 300 to a cubic meter, whereas southern areas densities don’t reach even close. Sea angels have both male and female reproductive organs. They fertilize internally and then release a mass of eggs to float freely until the eggs hatch.

Sea angels have been widely used as visual models in movies and cartoon characters because of their extraordinary looks. In Japan they even sell scientifically designed aquariums for those keeping the delicate arctic sea angels (Clionidae) as pets.

Weird creature of the month – May

The Blobfish is a deep sea fish which inhabits the deep waters off the coasts of mainland Australia and Tasmania, as well as the waters of New Zealand. In 2013 it was voted the Worlds Ugliest Animal. Blobfish live at depths between 600 and 1,200 meters.

They are near extinction however, are not easy to obtain and will die if the water pressure is too low. They live on the sea floor, which is eighty times denser than the water at sea level. Just getting down there is difficult for fish. Track up “Blobfish” on Google, and you will find very few pictures of a blobfish alive swimming in the sea.

The head of a Blobfish weighs a surprising 1/3 of its total body weight. The rest of the body descends into a short tail. Instead, the flesh of the blobfish is primarily a gelatinous mass with a density slightly less than water; this allows the fish to float above the sea floor without expending energy on swimming.

The reason Blobfish survive at such a low sea level is due to the gelatinous like flesh it has, which is just a little lighter than water. It helps it float and reduces the pressure on the Blobfish’ body. Since they don’t have any muscles, the flesh also helps them to move around. At the bottom of a sea, the Blobfish basically remains stationary throughout its life.

They rarely move unless food is found nearby, otherwise they will wait for prey to come close. Studies show the Blobfish diet consists mainly of urchins, molluscs, crabs, lobsters, and other slow-moving ocean bottom feeders. When something edible comes by, the Blobfish waits for it to come close. Even though Blobfish literally have to muscle, they are still able to open and close their mouth. It is currently unknown of how much they eat in an amount of time. A Blobfish barely moves at all when feeding. Where prey is scarce, some Blobfish will die simply of starvation.

They are now considered endangered because so many are accidentally caught in nets and die at a certain depth. They are also inedible by humans. There hasn’t been a record of one in approximately 5 years, so scientists aren’t sure of an accurate estimate of the species remaining.

Weird creature of the month – April

Flatworm diving thailand kon-tiki krabi ao nang

Flatworms, also called “planarians,” are found just about everywhere there is water. There are many different species of flatworms, some live here, in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand.

Some flatworms can be more than 10 m long, the longest one have been 30 m. They have no body cavity and no circulatory and respiratory organs. With no restriction in shape means the worms can grow flat which gives them their name.

This flattened shape allows oxygen and nutrients to pass through by diffusion. The digestive cavity has only one opening for both the intake of nutrients and removal of undigested wastes, which means that the food cannot be processed continuously.

Flatworms are one of the simplest animal groups with a basic central nervous system and eyes that can only see the difference between light and dark. Some worms lack eyes as they are completely parasitic living in or on another animal.

They are hermaphrodite which means they “choose” their gender during mating. This procedure is quite particular as flatworms use their “penis” to fight each other. The first one to penetrate the other will inject sperm and become male. For the flatworms, this contest is serious business. Mating is a fight because the worm that assumes the female role then must expend considerable energy caring for the developing eggs.

Weird Creature of the Month – March

Catfish diving khao sok thailand ao nang krabiThe fish get their name for their prominent barbels that resembles a cat’s whiskers. Despite their name, not all types have those prominent barbels. Catfish range in size and behavior from the longest and heaviest, Mekong giant catfish from South-east Asia, to species that eat dead material on the bottom. Even to a tiny parasitic species that lives in the amazon basin, and are known to swim up through the human urethra.

There are some types that are armor plated and some types that are naked. Neither of them have any scales.In some species; the mucus-covered skin is used in cutaneous respiration, where the fish breathes through its skin.

Catfish are nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night and sleep during the day. They therefore have highly developed senses. Most catfish are bottom feeders. In general, they are negatively buoyant, which means that they will usually sink rather than float due to a reduced gas bladder and a heavy, bony head.

Catfish have chemoreceptors across their entire bodies, which mean they “taste” anything they touch, and “smell” any chemicals in the water. Their barbels and chemoreceptors are more important in detecting food, since the eyes on catfish are generally small.

Catfish are of considerable commercial importance; many of the larger species are farmed or fished for food. Many of the smaller species are important in the aquarium hobby. However, these fish will bite and can damage objects in the aquarium. Due to both its aggressive and its predatory nature, this species should be kept alone.

Various species of catfish can be found inland or in coastal waters. They can inhabit freshwater or saltwater, many prefer shallow running water and some live underground. Some species inhabit caves.

Native to the Mekong area in Southeast Asia, with recorded sizes of up to 3.2 m and 300 kg, the Mekong giant catfish currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest freshwater fish.

Thai and Laos anglers consider it a “spirit fish,” bringing good luck to those who catch them. The Giant Catfish has long been a great delicacy. Some years ago, Bangkok restaurants had to order the catfish one year in advance, and a small bowl of tom yam pla buak was priced at a minimum of 150 baht.

This catfish is in danger of extinction due to overfishing, as well as the decrease in water quality due to development and upstream damming, the species no longer inhabits the majority of its original habitat. Fishing for the Mekong giant catfish is illegal in the wild in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, but the bans appear to be ineffective, and the fish continue to be caught in all three countries.

Since the 1980’s, the Thai Fisheries Department has run a breeding program, and many are now stocked in reservoirs and private lakes. These fish have been released in some of the largest lakes in Thailand. The flooded valley which is Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok is one of the last places, where you have the chance to see one alive in the wild.