As a diver, have you ever been asked, “What is the coolest thing you have ever seen while diving?” I know I have. In most cases, you are quick to say a whale shark, or a school of dolphins, or maybe a sleeping sea turtle, but when you really think about it, the most extraordinary creatures are those that are tucked away and easily over looked.
Now I am not saying diving with a whale shark isn’t an incredible experience, some may argue it is life-altering, but while you swim alongside the largest fish species known to man, a little mantis shrimp is breaking the sound barrier by snapping their powerful claw together right beneath you. Don’t let their name fool you; mantis shrimp are not actually shrimp, but Stomatopods. Their ability to break the sound barrier isn’t even the coolest thing about these marine crustaceans; the amazement is in their eyes. Mantis shrimp possess 16 types of color receptive cones. To put this into visual perspective, humans only have three cones, in other words, the mantis shrimp see the world in such a way that we as humans will never get to experience. They actually hold the world record for the most complex visual system. If you ask me, that is pretty mind blowing.
While mantis shrimp do not fall into the “shrimp” category, Pederson cleaner shrimp do, and these little transparent dudes are another favorite. As their name infers, cleaner fish clean. They have a transparent body with purple spots and two pairs of white antennae, which attract an array of fish. Once the fish are close enough, this little guy will hop on and start doing what it does best; you guessed it, clean! Some fish, such as the parrot fish, will even let the cleaner shrimp clean their mouth. Where is the Pederson cleaner shrimp when we are spring cleaning?!
Talking about amazing vision, nudibranchs have horrible vision, compared to us. However they make up for it in many other ways. Nudibranch comes from the Latin, Nudus, meaning “naked” and the Greek brankhia, meaning “gills”. These beautiful soft bodied mollusks have amazing color patterns and silly forms and they only have a shell when they are young. Sadly they can’t see how amazing they are themselves, as they can’t see colors, they just see light and dark. Because of their bad vision, their senses are on high alert. There are over 3000 different species found so far and still many to disover.
Now, who doesn’t like to be reminded of Christmas year round, even under the water? Christmas tree worms, spirobranchus giganteus, have the shape of a little Christmas tree. They come in blue, yellow, orange and white and don’t get much bigger than about 1.5 inches. They are tube dwelling worms, which will retract when they feel threatened. You will then see their plumes reappear a minute later, slowly, testing the water before extending their plumes back all the way.
Now the next time someone asks the foreseeable question of “What is the coolest thing you have ever seen while diving?” stop yourself and think. It’s the small things in life that are the most incredible.