Who is this bizarre creature? Ft. The Candelabrum.

So bizzare and awesome looking.
  • Candelabrum fritchmanii 

What is that? No, really, what IS that? Animal, plant? Sea squirt? Sea cucumber? When observing this on the dock, and later uploading to iNat we had no idea what phylum to place it in. So “State of matter Life” was the initial placement. After some help, a blogpost and Mr. Nudibranch himself, Jeff Goddard chiming in we got an identification.

But before diving into this bizarre creature, I found it so neat that the sentiment of “What ARE you,” “What phylum does you belong to” was a shared experience by husband Trevor, Jeff Goddard marine research scientist, and Eric and Jackie Sones of the blog: Natural History of Bodega Head. In their own words, Jeff Goddard, Research Associate of UC Santa Barbara and Cal Academy of Science said “The first time I saw this animal, in the early 1990’s, it took me a few minutes to even place it in a phylum. A very strange animal indeed.” In Jackie’s words: “We found ourselves looking at a marine invertebrate that we couldn’t even place in a phylum at first.”

So what is this creature? Jeff commented on our iNat posting, which sums it up well:

“Gorgeous images of a very unusual, rarely observed hydroid. The polyp is very extensible and actively ensnares small crustaceans.”

Jeff would know since he, alongside Chad l. Hewitt first observed the species in 1991 along the coast of Oregon (Hewitt and Goddard 2002). This is why I love iNaturalist so much. For an aspiring naturalist and citizen scientist having one of the original describers of the species interact with our observation is beyond cool. It shows how attainable engaging in science is nowadays. Anyone can do it, and there are some great iNat stories of regular folks making an impact beyond a simple observation, but that’s for another post.

It would contract in on itself. I must of had made the weirdest face on the dock while observing it, it still perplexes me.

So really Chloe what is it?

It’s a hydroid! Hydroids of the phylum Cnidaria can be found in many forms, solitary or in colonies made of polyps (Britannica). What we see here is a hydroid in its stationary polyp state.  These little things hang somewhere dark, as they are light sensitive, such as  underneath a rock and extends itself into the water column where potential prey would flow by (Hewitt and Goddard 2002). The main column-like structure is a polyp covered with tentacles. The small ball-like structures at the base are reproductive structures, known as gonophores. Ball shaped, but not quite those kind of balls.

This hydroid, and other colonial polyps create these reproductive polyps which release medusae or planula larvae out into the environment (Brittanica). Jackie Sones post does a great job explaining the anatomy with pictures and drawings.

On the left side is an Opalescent Nudibranch for some size context.

The craziest thing about the Candelabrum after its unique structure and ability to baffle its observers is it’s predatory behavior. At the end of the main structure is a mouth. When prey is detected it will deploy nematocysts, then draw the prey in through quite violent contractions, which I observed with high eyebrows on the dock in Monterey. The prey is then engulfed and transferred down the polyp to be digested (Hewitt and Goddard 2002). How crazy! More details can be read about in Jackie’s second post, and the original paper, both linked below.

I hope to fine one again one day! Good luck for anyone else also on the hunt!

Click here for two short videos

A couple shots of other wildlife I observed that day. L to R: Caridean Shrimps, Carinate Dovesnail, Three-line Aeolid (2), Heath’s Dorid, & White-spotted Rose Anemone.

What I read and cited while researching:

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