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Slip beneath the water and dive down to almost any reef in the tropical waters of the eastern Indian Ocean or western Pacific and you will see them. Bright splashes of color - yellow, red, orange, tan and green. Flowers in the coral garden, decorating the tops and sides of the coral bommies. And around these flowers, like butterflies, schools of rainbow-hued reef fish dance in the sunlight. The illusion is almost perfect. But the flowers are not flowers at all, they are feather star crinoids, animals whose closest relatives include the starfish, brittle stars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Members of the phylum called echinoderms. A close look into crevices within the reef would reveal even more crinoids.
Say the word parasite and what comes to mind for most people are creatures like ticks or leeches, animals that almost no one would use the word beautiful to describe. And the very way in which a parasite exists, living on or in the body of another animal and slowly feeding on animal is hardly an idyllic mental image. But in the ocean there are a multitude of small shells, many of them less than 25mm in length, that live as parasites on other marine animals. Many of these small shells are quite colorful. Beautiful to our eyes. And many also show exquisite evolutionary adaptations to the animal they live on.
The Hunt for the Hairy Frogfish
I'd been at Kungkungan Bay Resort for three days and it was show-and-tell night. After dinner they set up the slide projector and turned down the lights. Denise Tackett led off, showing a selection of pictures she and her husband Larry had shot during several years as the resident photo pros at KBR. On any other night, the Tackett's slides would have received rave reviews.