LI Sound's Prettiest Creatures: A Gallery
Donning scuba gear, you don’t have to descend very far below the surface of Long Island Sound to discover some of its prettiest marine animals. In less than 20 feet, you can encounter large flower-like clusters of pink-hearted hydroids, swaying slowly back and forth in the current. Attached to rocks, shipwrecks or other hard surfaces by their long stems, the hydroids are armed with stinging cells like their close relatives, the corals, anemones, and jellyfish. Unlike jellyfish, however, their stinging cells can’t penetrate human skin. Their cells serve to incapacitate their prey – microscopic size plankton such as copepods. As you take the time to check out the pink-hearted hydroids, you might also spot the colorful red-gilled nudibranch, a shell-less snail that grazes on the hydroids. The one-inch long nudibranch is misnamed. The white-tipped, red projections rising from its back are not gills; they are part of its gut. As the creature feeds on the hydroids, it stores its prey’s stinging cells in its gut extensions. Should a predator then try to dine on the nudibranch, it might encounter a nasty sting. During the retreat of ice-age glaciers, huge boulders, like the one standing on the shore at Crane Neck Point (Smithtown Bay), were left behind some 20,000 years ago. Similar size rocks, scattered through Long Island Sound, are habitat for many other beautiful marine animals. Off Horton Point, a huge underwater boulder was host to a carpet of white anemones. Barely 1 1/2 inches high and a 1/2 inch wide, their mouth is surrounded by long tentacles. They capture their prey, small fish and plankton, with thin white threads of stinging cells. The anemones can shift position for short distances by lifting and spreading their base, marching along like an inchworm. The delicate, 2-inch tall lined anemones can be found nearly covering some of the rocks in the shallows of Anchor Beach, Milford, CT. Our largest and very common frilled anemone can be found throughout the Sound, attached to rocks, pilings, and wrecks. Topped by up to 1,000 white tentacles, its body varies in color from brown to yellow. It feeds on small fish and plankton. Dock pilings are also great sites to find colorful sea squirts (tunicates) and a couple of our feather duster (tube) worms. Though tiny in comparison to those found in tropical waters, on close-up, the tube worms are truly eye-catching. The Sound’s star tunicate, an introduced species, is also well worth looking for. A close-up image of these marine animals can be astonishing!