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Marine Life of Californias Rocky Shores Image 19
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Marine Life of California's Rocky Shores (Image 19)

June 28, 2010
Marine Life of California's Rocky Shores (Image 19) A California mussel (Mytilus californianus) showing the exceptionally strong byssal threads used to attach them to rocks. Each of the byssal threads are laid down individually by the animal's soft and flexible foot, which protrudes from between the two shells at high tide until it touches a solid surface. A special liquid is secreted inside that runs down a groove in this foot and out the end. This liquid is like super glue and hardens as a small pad at the bottom attached to the surface. As the mussel withdraws its foot, the liquid continues to harden, producing a strong thread attached to the inside of the animal's body. Numerous byssal threads are laid down by each mussel to keep it attached. When they are young, mussels can loosen their threads and move about a bit, but when they are older, most of them stay put. M. californianus live in the High Tide Zone starting at about five feet above sea level (see "More about this Series" below, to learn more about the zones). These mussels dominate where the rocky shorelines are exposed to waves around Santa Barbara, Calif. The mussel does not do well above this height, unless in a protected crack, as it is too dry. [Image 19 in a series. See Image 20.] More about this Series This series of images examines the various marine life that can be found in the different sea levels, or zones, of the rocky shores of the California coast. The images were photographed by Genevieve (Genny) Anderson of the Biological Sciences Department, Santa Barbara City College, as part of her ongoing research on the subject. Rocky shores provide a stable substrate for plant and animal life or organisms, as opposed to sandy beaches where the substrate (sand) is constantly moving. When the tide goes out then the influences of the air and weather (sun, rain, snow) begin to play important roles--more with the higher zones. At any tide level on a rocky shore, a pool of water--called tidepools--can be left with the receding tide. These pools provide welcome ocean water for marine life left high and dry with a receding tide. The pools highest in the intertidal may become very hot due to the sun which may not be comfortable for some species. The pools closest to the low tide have the least influence from the air and weather and thus the greatest variety of marine life. These tidepools often mirror what is actually subtidal (below the lowest low tide, as opposed to intertidal which is between the tides). As the water goes down, most of the ocean creatures go out with it, but some can't move and are left on rocks. These creatures must be adapted to withstand not only the dryness of their area, but waves, storms, wind and rain. It is their ability to withstand dryness, and their interactions with each other (eating, being eaten, competing for space, and reproducing) that determine who dominates within the rocky intertidal areas. In examining the marine life of the exposed rocky surfaces of California's shores, it is easiest to look at these rocky surfaces where they live in "zones." Above five feet, the surface is covered only by the highest high tide and thus dry three-quarters of the day. This is called the "Splash" Zone. Then, between five feet and two and a half feet, the surface is covered alternately by both high tides so it is dry between the high tides--about half a day. This band is called the "High Tide" Zone. Between sea level and two and a half feet the rocks are only left dry at the low, low tide. This area is thus dry only a quarter of each average day and called the "Mid Tide" Zone. Then there is what we call the "Low Tide" Zone, the area below sea level that is exposed for only a few hours every few weeks at special "minus" tides (remember, zero sea level is the average of the low, low tides). To learn more about Genevieve (Genny) Anderson's research on marine life along California's rocky shores, visit her Web page, "California Tidepools (Rocky Shores)." Anderson, who has been a teacher of Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography at Santa Barbara City College for over thirty years, has other interesting lesson plans and lecture material available on her Web site, Here.


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