With Christmas just around the corner, visions of candy canes and Christmas ornaments may be dancing in our heads. A holiday mood must have prevailed when certain sea creatures were named, or perhaps the creatures themselves conjured images synonymous with this special time of year.
The Christmas tree worm (kio in Hawaiian) is another marine species that comes to mind at this time of year. Bearing little resemblance to an actual Christmas tree, the kio consists of a worm hiding in a rigid tube at the end of which protrudes two spiral-shaped fans of tentacles used to capture food. The waving tentacles can be orange, yellow, blue or tan in color. When threatened, the worm withdraws its tentacles and seals the opening so nothing can get to it. This critter is often found living on lobe coral and is believed to protect the coral from predation by the voracious crown of thorns sea star.
Christmas-colored stars include the green linckia that, despite its name, comes in other colors as well, in addition to the red velvet star. Cushion stars can be reddish or almost golden in color. When small, they often look like Christmas cookies. Sea stars may have spines, knobs, bristles, or a smooth-feeling texture. Most can regenerate an arm if they lose one. Some species simply detach an arm to regenerate a new star from the arm itself or even split apart to make new stars.
As we rush around shopping for gifts to celebrate the season, we might want to consider that one of the best gifts we could give our children would be to take care of our oceans so that these and other amazing ocean critters can survive to delight, inform, and sustain future generations. Happy Holidays!
Pam Daoust is a Contributing Writer for Maui Ocean Center. Ka Mo’olelo Moana, or “the Ocean Story,” is a monthly column submitted by Maui Ocean Center staff members and contributing writers. Originally published in The Maui News on Sunday, December 6, 2015