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Below The Surface

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sea Stars and Gametes

NOTE: This blog was written by Caitlin Elizabeth Furlong Blake, a History Major working toward a Certificate in Museum Studies from Connecticut College. She lives in Milton, VT and has been connected to ECHO as a member, intern or volunteer since she was 9 years old. She will be interning at ECHO through December 2013.

A sea star releases gametes at ECHO
photo: C. Blake

As an Education Intern at ECHO, I spend a lot of time at the Champlain Sea Tank where there are animals that represent the kind one would have found over 13,000-15,000 years ago when Lake Champlain was a salt sea.  Animals in the Champlain Sea Tank include sea anemones, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs and sea stars among others.

While at the sea tank it’s pretty easy to notice if something different is going on with the animals inside. Occasionally I'll notice that a sea anemone has moved from its usual spot or that a hermit crab has switched shells. A few weeks ago I noticed something really amazing with one of the sea stars! It was shooting out little strands of, for lack of a better term, goo.  I was intrigued and immediately collected a sample and looked at it under a microscope- curious about what it might be. As it turned out, the sea star was releasing gametes!

I was lucky enough to catch a little video while at the tank.
Click here to view the video: http://youtu.be/wzx_NiE2Rm4

In big, science-y terms, gametes are mature male or female germ cells usually possessing a haploid chromosome set and capable of initiating formation of a new diploid individual by fusion with a gamete of the opposite sex. Whoa, that’s a mouthful. In simple terms, gametes are the reproductive cells of a living thing- in humans you might know them as sperm or eggs. Our sea star was trying to make baby sea stars! How would this create a baby sea star? Well, when two sea stars want to make a baby sea star, they release gametes (sperm or eggs) into the water. By chance, if a sperm and egg meet they might create a baby sea star.

The next time you’re at ECHO, observe all of our amazing animals and ask about their behaviors. You never know what you’ll see and our animal ambassadors are always up to something!


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