Exploring the tiny life in the Monterey harbor

Last week my roommate and I headed to the harbor here in Monterey, CA. We were on a mission to find some plankton, and we succeeded!

So much plankton to sift through!


Foldscoping in action. Keeping it classy with the pinky up 🙂

It was my first time using the foldscope on live animals so there was some troubleshooting involved (mainly, figuring out how to avoid crushing the animals on the slide). After I figured that part out, I found this great crustacean – we had no idea what it was! After googling around a bit I think it might be a copepod on its side. Any plankton experts out there? It looked red while it was swimming around in the water, so I was surprised to see how yellow it was up close. Love how detailed all of those appendages are! You can see why it was such a successful swimmer with all those moving parts.


My roommate had pulled up a kelp crab molt in her plankton net and it was covered in one of my favorite invertebrates in the world – the Caprellid, or skeleton shrimp!

Check out all those skeleton shrimp!

They are actually not shrimp but rather a different type of crustacean called an amphipod. They cling to seagrass, kelp, and apparently floating crab molts! I’ve always thought they moved just like those blow-up dancing guys at car dealerships.

A group of skeleton shrimp. Image from marinelife.about.com
The resemblance is uncanny. Image from flickriver.com






So I pulled one off and took a look!

An invert nerd (me) nerding out.

This time I made a bigger platform in order to avoid squishing the guy. And it worked out pretty well!IMG_5665

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Having never looked so closely, I was surprised to see the spine on its head. I believe that spine makes it a Caprellid californica. I got a great view of its gnathopods (feeding appendages). Google tells me that the last picture is its gills – I had no idea that’s what I was looking at! I also loved seeing its pigment up close. Next time I’ll spend more time setting up my lighting to get an even better look at the colors. What a neat look at one of my favorite little animals.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Wow. What an incredible post. Absolutely love the images of the Skeleton shrimp. I am surprised by the dark yellow coloration; and just how transparent it is. Compared to imaging many insects in terrestrial environment – marine animals often have the level of transparency that brings out so much detail in imaging.

    Also; as a tip – you might look at many posts that talk about mounting live animals inside a Foldscope.

    Just curious – what does a skeleton shrimp eat. It’s such a great camaflougue; the first time someone said – hey look – that’s a skeleton shrimp. I was “what are you talking about – I see nothing”.. But it was right in front of my eye. What a fun animal.


    1. CarrieB says:

      I’ll check out those posts about mounting – thanks for the tip! Yes, that transparency allows for some great foldscope pictures.

      Skeleton shrimp are opportunistic omnivores, so they’ll eat just about anything! They scrape microalgae off of the substrate they cling to, or filter feed by cleaning food off their antennae. Some species can also strike prey (such as the copepod I pictured!) by standing up and posing just like a praying mantis.

      And I agree – they hardly look like an animal when you first see them!


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