The Invertebrate Collections is one of the University Museum’s large collections of scientific zoological material. “Invertebrates” is a traditional grouping for animals without a backbone. At our museum, like in many other scientific collections, invertebrates is the remaining part of the animal kingdom when vertebrates, insects, spiders and millipedes (entomology) have been accounted for. Invertebrates therefore is a diverse group of very different animals with often spectacular ways of life in many types of environments. We still know very little about many species of invertebrates because they are difficult to study and identify. Many species are also still undiscovered. Scientific collections are fundamental sources of knowledge about our zoological diversity. On these pages we want to inform about the contents of the collections and about past and current activities.
Polycera quadrilineata (Norway) Photo: M. Malaquias
Phillidia ocellata (Mozambique) Photo: M. Malaquias
Chromodoris cf. quadricolor. Vamizi Island
Elysia subornata (Key Largo)
Chromodoris africana (Zavora, Inhambane). This species is part of a complex in need of revision where other “species” imaged here are also part of (e.g. Chromodoris hamiltoni, Hypselodoris regina, Chromodoris elisabethina)
This adventure started 26 years ago, when two Norwegian benthos researchers (Torleiv Brattegard from University of Bergen and Jon-Arne Sneli from the University in Trondheim) teamed up with three Icelandic benthos specialists (Jörundur Svavarsson and Guðmundur V. Helgasson from University of Iceland and Guðmundur Guðmundsson from the Natural History Museum of Iceland) to study the seas surrounding the volcanic home of the Nordic sages. 19 cruises and 13 years later – and not least lots of exciting scientific findings and results the BioICE program was finished.
But science never stops. New methods are developed and old methods are improved – and the samples that were stored in formalin during the BioICE project can not be used easily for any genetic studies. They are, however, very good for examinations of the morphology of the many invertebrate species that were collected, and they are still a source of much interesting science.
Participants of the IceAGE workshop. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)
The dream about samples that could be DNA-barcoded (and possibly examined further with molecular methods) lead to a new project being formed – IceAGE. A large inernational collaboration of scientists organised by researchers from the University of Hamburg (and still including researchers from both the University of Iceland and the University of Bergen) have been on two cruises (2011 and 2013) so far – and there is already lots of material to look at!
Ready to start the workshop! Photo: AH Tandberg
The beaver was here! Photo: AH Tandberg
Ed found the bison! Photo: AH Tandberg
What way should we take? Amphipodologists out of their natural habitat? Photo: AH Tandberg
This week many of the researchers connected with the IceAGE project have gathered in Spała in Poland – at a researchstation in woods that are rumoured to be inhabited by bison and beavers (we didn´t see any, but we have seen the results of the beavers work). Some of us have discussed theories and technical stuff for the papers and reports that are to come from the project, and then there are “the coolest gang” – the amphipodologists. 10 scientists of this special “species” have gathered in two small labs in the field-station, and we have sorted and identified amphipods into the wee hours.
Lauren and Anne-Nina hard at work. Photo: AH Tandberg
Wims microscope after a sample is done.. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)
Lauren after getting the identification right. Photo: AH Tandberg
Ed at work with a nice sample. Photo: AH Tandberg
Lauren examines the specimen while Anne-Nina and Tammy checks the literature. Photo: AH Tandberg
“the Anne-table” in the amphipod lab. Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)
It is both fun and educational to work together. Everybody have their special families they like best, and little tricks to identify the difficult taxa, and so there is always somebody to ask when you don´t find out what you are looking at. Between the stories about amphipod-friends and old times we have friendly fights about who can eat the most chocolate, and we build dreams about the perfect amphipodologist holiday. Every now and then somebody will say “come look at this amazing amphipod I have under my scope now!” – we have all been treated to species we have never seen before, but maybe read about. We also have a box of those special amphipods – the “possibly a new species”- tubes. When there is a nice sample to examine, you might hear one of the amphipodologist hum a happy song, and when the sample is all amphipods but no legs or antennae (this can happen to samples stored in ethanol – they become brittle) you might hear frustrated “hrmpfing” before the chocolate is raided.
A large amphipod comes out of the jar! Photo: Christian Bomholt (www.instagram.com/mcb_pictures)
Cleippides quadricuspis. Photo: AH Tandberg
Amphipods sorted and identified. Photo: AH Tandberg
Isopodologists (Martina and Jörundur) visiting the amphipodologists… Photo: AH Tandberg
The samples from IceAGE are all stored in ethanol. This is done to preserve the DNA for molecular studies – studies that can give us new and exciting results to questions we have thought about for a long time, and to questions we maybe didn´t even know we needed asking. We can test if what looks like the same species really is the same species, and we can find out more about the biogeography of the different species and communities.
The geographical area covered by IceAGE borders to the geographical area covered by NorAmph and NorBOL, and it makes great sense to collaborate. This summer we will start with comparing DNA-barcodes of amphipods from the family Eusiridae from IceAGE and NorAmph. They are as good a starting-point as any, and they are beautiful (Eusirus holmii was described in the norwegian blog last summer).
The field-station is ready for easter. Photo: AH Tandberg
The coolest easter-chickens in Spala. Photo: AH Tandberg
Easter-prepared coffee! Photo: AH Tandberg
Happy easter from all the amphiods and amphipodologists!
Brix S (2014) The IceAGE project – a follow up of BIOICE. Polish Polar Research 35, 1-10
Dauvin J−C, Alizier S, Weppe A, Guðmundsson G (2012) Diversity and zoogeography of Ice−
landic deep−sea Ampeliscidae (Crustacea: Amphipoda). Deep Sea Research Part I: 68: 12–23.
Svavarsson J (1994) Rannsóknir á hryggleysingjum botns umhverfis Ísland. Íslendingar og hafiđ.
Vísindafélag Íslendinga, Ráđstefnurit 4: 59–74.
Svavarsson J, Strömberg J−O, Brattegard T (1993) The deep−sea asellote (Isopoda,
Crustacea) fauna of the Northern Seas: species composition, distributional patterns and origin. Journal of Biogeography 20: 537–555.
It certainly does not take a great leap of imagination to get from these Isopoda collected by the MAREANO programme to various science fiction monsters!
click to embiggen!
I just completed photographing and tissue sampling 95 specimens that will be submitted for barcoding through NorBOL – we’ll send them to the CCDB-lab in Canada for sequencing, and upload the metadata and sequences in the BOLD database – fingers crossed for successful sequencing!
Untangling the diversity and evolution of Sea Hares
Aplysia parvula; Føllingen, Norway; Photo by Nils Aukan
Sampling and freezing at Askøy
Dr Carlo M. Cunha from the Metropolitan University of Santos in Brazil (Universidade Metropolitana de Santos), a world expert in the diversity and systematics of Anaspidea heterobranch gastropods, visited the Natural History Museum of Bergen for a month during January/February 2017 to study our scientific collection of these molluscs. The visit was funded by the University of Bergen´s Strategic Programme for International Research and Education (SPIRE).
The Museum holds a large amount of material from the Scandinavian region, but also from the Mediterranean, Macaronesia islands, Caribbean, and western Indian Ocean.
These marine molluscs commonly known by sea hares comprise around 90 currently known species and have long been of major interest to biologists because of their large and easily accessible nervous system, which form the basis of numerous neurophysiological works.
Preserved specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway
Dissected specimen of Aplysia punctata from Norway
However, the taxonomy of these molluscs and their evolution are still poorly understood. Dr Cunha is using a combination of molecular and morphological tools to learn more about the worldwide diversity of anaspideans and their phylogenetic relationships.
Dr Cunha visit to Bergen has already resulted in the revision and update of the taxonomy of our Anaspidea collection. The Norwegian species of anaspids were revised and redescribed in detail using electron microscopy and DNA barcoding performed in collaboration with Louise Lindblom (University Museum / Biodiversity Labs).
SEM-image of jaws of Phyllaplysia sp from Florida, USA
Additionally several other species from around the world were studied and will be integrated in ongoing taxonomic revisions. Keep tuned!
We’ve also had Lloyd visiting recently, you’ll find a post about that on the Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa blog: click here
A whale recently had to be put down by wildlife management after it had repeatedly beached itself on the island of Sotra outside of Bergen. It was found to be a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), a species with apparently no official previous records from Norway. The University Museum of Bergen therefore wished to include the whale skeleton in its collections (and future exhibitions, once the remodelling completes).
Arriving at Espegrend
The whale was transported to the Marine Biological Station of Espegrend, and a team of five people from the museum set to work collecting measurements of the whale, taking tissue samples for DNA-barcoding though the NorBOL-project, collecting ectoparasites, and doing photo-documentation.
We then began removing the blubber and muscle tissue off the whale so that the bones can be further treated (they contain a lot of oil which needs to be taken care of once the soft tissue has been removed), before the skeleton can be mounted for display.
Starting the work of removing blubber and muscles
Little did we know that what had so far been a local news matter would soon go viral…
Sadly, it became clear during the autopsy that the whale had been ingesting massive amounts of plastic – as much as 30 plastic bags, and many smaller pieces of plastic. The whale was emaciated, and we believe that the plastic had gathered in such an amount in its stomach that it had created a plug, stopping the digestive process.
The plastic in and from the whale stomach (photos: T. Lislevand, H.Glenner/C.Noever)
The images of all the plastic spread out on the ground became a potent reminder of the tragedies that marine pollution is creating, and has sparked a renewed debate on how we can limit the amount of micro- and macro-plastic that end up in nature.
The news of the whale’s stomach content became international news
What should the Cuvier’s beaked whale have been eating?
Occurring as solitary animals or in small pods, and preferring the deeper open waters, the Cuvier’s beaked whale is not an easy animal to study. We do know that the species have a more or less cosmopolitan distribution, and that it holds the world record for longest and deepest dive for any mammal: one was recorded diving down to 3000 meters.
What data we do have on the species diet comes from beached individuals, and suggests that the species may be a fairly omnivorous predator. From the limited number of Cuvier’s beaked whales that have been examined for stomach content, there are regional differences in the diet, but it seems to consist mainly of cephalopods (squid and octopuses), deep sea fish, and medium sized crustaceans (Santos og andre 2001).
Above are the suckers on the arm of a giant squid, Architeuthis. Below are scars on the skin of a sperm whale. Photo: E.Willassen
The cephalopods appear to be the dominant food source, but this interpretation may be influenced by the longevity of the hard parts of a cephalopod in the stomach.
The tough beaks of a cephalopod consist of chitin, and is used for tearing prey to pieces. Chitin is also found in the suckers of many cephalopods. The beaks can be used to identify the cephalod groups based on their size and shapes. Animals such as jellyfish would be much harder to document as part of the diet, as they would be digested much more rapidly and completely.
We don’t know how well resolved the information produced by the animal’s echo-location is, but it is conceivable that the plastic reflects signals in a way similar to the natural food of the whale, and is therefore “caught” and eaten.
Cephalopod beak, drawing by J.H. Emerton (from Wikimedia commons)
We did find some cephalopod beaks in between the plastic in the whale stomach – so far we have not had the time to attempt to identify these, but we will.
Amongst the plastic there are some cephalopod beaks (dark brown) and a bivalve shell (top left). Photo: C. Noever
The University Museum have extensive cephalopod collections, and long traditions for working with this group – from Dr. Jakob Johan Adolf Appellöf who began working here in 1890, to the material collected in the MAR-ECO project.
MAR-ECO workshop on cephalopoda
From the work of Santos et al 2001 we know that the following species are in the diet of European Curvier’s beaked whales, and are probably amongst the things our whale should have been eating:
Tewuthowenia megalops. Photo: Richard E. Young during MAR-ECO-cruise 2004.
Teuthowenia megalops is an odd squid that floats around in the open water with a propulsion system based on ammoniumchloride that the animal produces by digesting protein. The name “megalops” hints to the huge eyes, which also contain three light producing organs (chromatophores). The species seems to be common in deep water in the north Atlantic (Vecchione et al. 2008). For more information, see Wikipedia.
Mastigoteuthis agassizii was originally registered in whale stomachs as Mastigoteuthis schmidti, but from the work on the MAR-ECO project, three species of Mastigoteuthis were considered to all be M. agassizii. Some ambiguity remains about the species of this genus of oceanic squid with a broad distribution in the world’s oceans in depths ranging from 500 to 1000 meters. They have diurnal migration, and may be found hunting closer to the surface at night.
Taonius pavo seen ventrally (above) and dorsally. Illustration from Wikipedia.
This little squid is not very well known. It has been recorded from the Atlantic Ocean, but it may have a broader distribution. In this link you will find a video from the Bahamas at 850 m depth where the animal releases bio- luminescent “ink” to confuse a predator and escape.
Histioteuthis bonelli Photographed by Richard E.Young during the Mar-Eco-cruises in 2004
Histioteuthis bonelli, drawing by Ernst Haeckel.
Histioteuthis bonnellii has several names in English, one of which is “umbrella squid”. The name is due to the skirt-like membrane between the arms – when it splays its arms it resembles an umbrella. We don’t know much about the biology of H. bonellii, except that it has several close relatives in the world oceans, and that what has hitherto been considered one species (H. bonellii) may well turn out to be several species.
Todarodes sagittatus, the European flying squid, is one of the ten-armed cephalopods that may irregularly occur in schools along the Norwegian coast. T. sagittatus is subject to fisheries.
Vampyroteuthis infernalis – the vampire squid is a deep-sea squid with eight arms and a skirt-like mantle between its arms. It also has moveable wings on its body that it can use to manoeuvre with. The name “vampire squid” is not quite true – this is no blood sucker, but it traps organic material from the water masses using long, sticky threads. If threatened, it can invert the “skirt” over its head, resembling a hedgehog. It also has light producing organs towards the back of the body, and can create clouds of bioluminescence. Even with all these defences, it may end up in the stomach of a Cuvier’s beaked whale.
Pelagic crustaceans and deep sea fish are also amongst the recorded prey from Cuvier’s beaked whales. Amongst these we find the fairly large and shrimplike Gnathophausia, found within the order Lophogastrida, which has been studied extensively at the University of Bergen. We also found a bivalve shell in the stomach of our whale, which as far as we are aware of has not been recorded as part of their diet previously.
Plastic or food?
It may seem strange that the whale should ingest large amounts of plastic – why would it do that? If the whale primarily finds its pray by echolocation in the pitch black of the deep sea, it may well be that it is unable to differentiate between the reflected signal from a sheet of plastic, and that from one of its usual prey animals.
Unlike the sperm whales that hunt cephalopods in a similar way, the beaked does not have teeth to grab its pray. Instead they use a suction to ingest the food. Perhaps it is this feeding mode that becomes very unfortunate for the whales in a natural environment with an incredible amount of human garbage.
The lab is teeming with guest researchers these days, as we have these three lovely polychaetologists visiting to work on the MIWA (Marine Invertebrates of Western Africa)-material.
From the left we have Kate from Wales, Lloyd from Ghana, and Polina from Russia
Kate is working on the polychete family Magelonidae, and has written a blog post about her stay. Lloyd is working on the families Glyceridae and Goniadidae, and Polina is doing her MSc thesis on the Lumbrineridae. You can find short project descriptions of these (and many of our other) polychate projects here.
Makes sure to check by our MIWA-blog for more updates in the time to come!
Hyalinoecia tubicola from the North Sea (by K. Kongshavn).
Quill worms belong to the annelid family Onuphidae and are called like that because of their unique tubes. The tubes are secreted by their inhabitants and are very light and rigid, resembling a quill, the basal part of a bird’s feather used for writing. Quill worms are epibenthic creatures capable of crawling on the surface of the sea floor carrying their tubes along. Their anterior feet are modified, strengthened and enlarged, bearing thick and stout bristles. These anterior feet are used for locomotion.
Quill worms are widely distributed in the ocean inhabiting mostly slope depths down to 2000 m. Being large in body size (up to 10-20 cm long), they can be quite abundant in some areas. Meyer et al. (2016) reported Hyalinoecia artifex reaching up to 70 ind./m2 in the Baltimore Canyon at 400 m water depth. Another quill worm, H. tubicola, which is very common in Norwegian waters, reached up to 272 ind./m2 at 365 m offshore of Chesapeake Bay (Wigley & Emery 1967).
Quill worms are believed to be motile scavengers. Baited monster camera experiments performed at 2000 m deep site in Baja California demonstrated that Hyalinoecia worms can accumulate in hundreds of specimens five hours after the bait (rotten fish) has been deployed (Dayton & Hessler 1972). Myer et al. (2016) analyzed the stable isotope content in Hyalinoecia artifex tissues confirming its secondary consumer status. Their results supported earlier observations on the gut content of the same species by Gaston (1987) showing the presence of the remains of various benthic invertebrates.
Video 1. Quill worm Hyalinoecia tubicola moving inside its tube (by K. Kongshavn).
Video 2. Quill worm Hyalinoecia tubicola protruding from the tube opening. Three antennae and a pair of palps are seen on the head. The first two pairs of feet are enlarged and strengthened (by K. Kongshavn).
Dayton, P.K., Hessler, R.R., 1972. Role of biological disturbance in maintaining diversity in the deep sea. Deep-Sea Research 19: 199–208.
Meyer, K.S., Wagner, J.K.S., Ball, B., Turner, P.J., Young, C.M., Van Dover, C.L. 2016. Hyalinoecia artifex: Field notes on a charismatic and abundant epifaunal polychaete on the US Atlantic continental margin. Invertebrate Biology 135: 211–224. doi:10.1111/ivb.12132
Gaston, G.R. 1987. Benthic polychaeta of the Middle Atlantic Bight: feeding and distribution. Marine Ecology Progress Series 36: 251–262.
Wigley, R.L., Emery, K.O. 1967. Benthic animals, particularly Hyalinoecia (Annelida) and Ophiomusium (Echinodermata), in sea-bottom photographs from the continental slope. In: Deep-Sea Photography. Hersey JB, ed., pp. 235–250. John Hopkins Press, Baltimore.
Musculus discors hidden in Securiflustra securifrons. Photo: AHS Tandberg
At first glance, it can look like a seaweed. The depth, however, should start your alarm-bells for flora and point you towards fauna: the plantlike animal Securiflustra securifrons (Pallas, 1766) is a bryozoa – a collection of colonial filterfeeders less than 1 mm in size each. We are at 80-120 m depth in the cold Heleysundet – the sound between the two islands Spitsbergen and Barents Island in the eastern part of the Svalbard Archipelago. This is a sound famous among captains for its fast tidal streams, and the fast-flowing waters give the bryozoans a nice place to live. The colonies branch out to catch the most water-flow and the most food from the water.
Musculus discors. Photo: AHS Tandberg
Where the “branches” form we see what might look like small hairy balls – these are the bivalve Musculus discors (L., 1767). The hairy look comes from their byssus threads – they produce and then use these threads to attach to the Securiflustra (and being packed in the threads they might get some camouflage from them).
Moving inside the molluscs we might find not only one, but two species of amphipods. In our samples from Heleysundet 14% of the Musculus had the carnivorous amphipod Anonyx nugax Ohlin, 1895 inside, and an astonishing 3 out of 4 Musculus had amphipods of the species Metopa glacialis (Krøyer, 1842) inside. The system resembles a Russian doll – one species living inside another living inside yet another…
Anonyx affinis (large amphipod, upper left) and Metopa glacialis (small amphipod lower half og mussel) innside a Musculus discors. Photo: AHS Tandberg
What reason can a small crustacean have to live inside the quite closed off world of a bivalve? The bivalve filters water actively – it pumps water over its gills, and then transports food-particles such as phytoplankton down the gills towards its mouth. Non-desirable particles are normally packed into mucus and transported out of the bivalve. Now imagine liking to eat some of those particles the bivalve finds non-desirable, and being placed on the gills of said bivalve. No need to hunt for the food – it will be coming on the conveyor-belt the gills are – and all you need to do is to eat. The bivalve does not seem to be troubled by this co-habitant – it does not eat the same food as the bivalve.
Not only does Musculus discors provide Metopa glacialis with food, the mantle cavity provides a luxury-shelter where the amphipod can raise a family! Amphipods, together with isopods, cumaceans, tanaidaeans and quite a few mysicadeans keep their offspring in a brood-pouch from the fertilisation of the eggs to the medium sized juveniles crawl out into the real world. Living inside a bivalve allows Metopa glacials to extend its child-care to young life outside the brood-pouch. Our examinations of the bivalves from Heleysundet showed us adult Metopa in the middle of the bivalve, with several juveniles “strategically placed” inbetween the two layers of gills in each shell-half. Surrounded by food, safe from most predators! (Predation of Metopa glacialis might be the main objective for Anonyx affinis, the food-source of the lysianassid needs to be established. It might also be the nice and fatty mollusk.)
Adult male Metopa glacialis. Photo: F Pleijel
Adult (and “pregnant”) female Metopa glacialis. Photo: F Pleijel
Metopa glacialis innside a Musculus discors. Small arrows point to juveniles, large arrow to adult female. Photo: AHS Tandberg
Comparing with amphipods of the same size-range from the same areas, Metopa glacialis seems to have a safe life. Safe enough that they can manage to have several sets of offspring. We see that they don´t wait until´the first batch of kids are out of the “house” – we found one adult female with two size-groups of offspring and a fresh egg-filled brood-pouch! Each batch can be 20 offspring, so that would mean one pregnant mom and 40 kids in one small house!
Many people travel to visit family during the holidays. Even when we cherish the time with our loved ones, filling the house with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins might cramp everybodys style slightly. Not so with Metopa glacialis. Measuring the size of all inhabitants show us that the kids stay home until they are adult and can move out to their own home. So when you can´t sleep because your younger cousin plays on her gamer all night, or because your old aunt snores when you come into your shared room, think how much more difficult life could have been if you were an amphipod. Happy holidays!
PS: A slightly extended version in Norwegian (part of the TangloppeTorsdag blog) can be read here)
Just J (1983) Anonyx affinis (Crust., Amphipoda: Lysianassidae), commensal in the bivalve Musculus laevigatus, with notes on Metopa glacialis (Amphipoda: Stenothoidae). Astarte 12, 69-74
Tandberg AHS, Schander C, Pleijel F (2010) First record of the association between the amphipod Metopa alderii and the bivalve Musculus. Marine Biodiversity Records 3:e5 doi:10.1017/S1755267209991102
Tandberg AHS, Vader W, Berge J (2010) Studies on the association of Metopa glacialis (Amphipoda, Crustacea) and Musculus discors (Mollusca, Mytilidae). Polar Biology 33, 1407-1418
Vader W, Beehler CL (1983) Metopa glacialis (Amphipoda, Stenothoidae) in the Barents and Beaufort Seas, and its association with the lamellibranchs Musculus niger and M. discors s. l. Astarte 12:57–61