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A New Species of Flapjack Octopus (photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute)

A New Species of Flapjack Octopus (photo by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute)

Happy news from the ocean depths: marine biologists have discovered an endearingly cute deep sea octopus in the cold deep ocean waters off the continental shelf of California. The newfound octopus is about the size of a fist and looks a lot like the ghosts from Pac-man. The creatures’ default color seems to be a rich orange-pink. It has big soulful black eyes and little fins atop its head which look like cartoon cat ears.

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Stephanie Bush, an octopus scientist (!!!) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has spent nearly a year studying the new octopus which she classifies as belonging to the “flapjack” octopuses (a family of animals which sound like they merit additional attention from Ferrebeekeeper). The genus of the octopus is thus pre-established as “Opisthoteuthis” but she is toying with “adorabilis” as a species name (which sounds like a wise choice in the internet era).

So far very little is known about these cute mollusks which live in coastal Pacific waters at depths between 200 and 600 meters. Every one of the dozen specimens thus far found has been female. According to Bush, “They spend most of their time on the bottom, sitting on the sediment, but they need to move around to find food, [&] mates.” I am curious what the male octopuses are like. I presume they are pink and adorable as well, but sexual dimorphism is not unknown among cephalopods. Also, how widespread are these animals? Do they live beyond the California coast?

We need to know so much more. Dr. Bush needs to get back to work, and we are definitely going to need more pictures!

There is Nothing Suspicious About These Glowing Treats in the ocean Depths (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, oil on panel)

There is Nothing Suspicious About These Glowing Treats in the ocean Depths (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, oil on panel)

Through the dark and improbable marketing magic of the Big Baking industry, today is National Donut Day (or possibly “National Doughnut Day” depending on how classical your tastes in pastry spelling are).  Donuts are sweet snacks usually made of deep-fried flour dough.  The traditional doughnut is ring shaped, probably because that is a very efficient way to make and evenly fry such a pastry (if the cake was a sphere or a disk, there would be uncooked dough in the middle), however there are also rod-shaped doughnuts, crème filled donuts, crullers, bearclaws, and heavens only knows what else!  Donuts have a creation myth wherein a magnificent Dutch sea captain who loved pastries was piloting his galleon through a towering storm.  The mariner was unwilling to let his ship sink and his crew perish, but he was equally unwilling to forgo the pleasure of fried pastries for even one moment, so he stuck the donuts on the ship’s wheel so he could devour them as he faced off against Poseidon.  I say this is a myth because it seems likely that donuts predate the Dutch.  They were probably invented by Sumerians in equally trying but now unknown circumstances.  It’s still a great story though!  I have heard that law enforcement officers have their own secret donut creation myths, but, since I am not a policeman these sacred traditions have never been vouchsafed to me.  Maybe if you ask any of our friends in blue about this, you should be very circumspect…

Not pictured: storm, donuts, fat heroic captain...

Not pictured: storm, donuts, fat heroic captain…

Ferrebeekeeper has an immoderate fascination with toruses which stems from a peculiar combination of aesthetic, mathematical, and mystical factors.  In my personal world of symbolism, the universe itself is a torus (it seems like it might well really be a torus, but our understanding of such matters is incomplete).  The most familiar torus here on our Newtonian scale is the humble–but delicious & multitudinously variable—donut!  So I paint lots of symbolic microcosmic paintings of donuts.  I was amassing a whole wall of them, but I started to sell some so that I don’t have to live on the streets.  Maybe they will be worth a bunch of money someday…. You could do me a huge favor and say exactly that to the art world professionals whom you meet in your life!

...or if you happen to have an art gallery, contact me directly and we'll work something out forthwith!

…or if YOU happen to have an art gallery, contact me directly and we’ll work something out forthwith!

I have already put up photos of some of these doughnut paintings on this blog here and here (to say nothing of the painting of a toroid honey bundt cake which serves to represent the entire blog).  In celebration of National Donut Day, here are two more Wayne Ferrebee original oil paintings (well, digital photographs of the same).  The painting at the top is grandiloquently titled “There is Nothing Suspicious About these Glowing Treats in the Ocean Depths.”  Three magnificent sugary donuts glowing within drift among the happy denizens of the deep ocean.  A friendly anglerfish proffers a funny lure, while a near-eastern ewer drifts toward the ocean bottom.  A glass squid with orange dots scuttles past the scene. In the murky background a passing shadow resolves into another friendly creature of some sort. A cynical & world-wary viewer might interpret the work as some sort of warning about impossible things that are too good to be true, but the enlightened art-lover recognizes it as an evocation of benthic wonders!

Cell Donut (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, oil on panel)

Cell Donut (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, oil on panel)

The second donut painting here is a very tiny painting (4 inches by 4 inches–so smaller than the image onscreen) which concerns the micro-world beneath us.  It is appropriately titled “Cell Donut.”  Against a dark magenta background, a courtly mummer performs some sort of dance/pantomime for a paramecium and a clutch of glowing eggs (or possibly cells).  A diagrammatic cell is in the lower right corner with all the color and complexity of a future city.

I took a course in cell-biology one and in the first moments, as the biochemist started writing out the molecular processes of respiration, it hit me that the drama at a cellular level is, if anything, more intense and complicated than the goings on at our familiar human-size frame of reference.  “Cell Donut” is meant to remind us that the real rewards and perils are within us already–for in the microsphere within our bodies, billions of cells are fighting, metabolizing, reproducing, and recycling with maddening vigor and ceaseless action.  Also the tiny donut in the middle of the painting is a classic plain donut…an ideal symbol for national Donut Day (as opposed to some of my other dozens of donut paintings, which can often be quite baroque, phantasmagorical, or strange…or are just straight-up bagels!)

I hope you enjoy these paintings, and I also hope you manage to drop by the bakers to enjoy a well-deserved donut or two!

Note: No matter what I do, or how I try, I cannot get these paintings to display properly!  It is obvious that Word Press hates me and hates my artwork, despite the fact that I have essentially been working for them for free for half a decade.  I’m afraid you’ll have to click on the paintings in order for them not to appear all hideously cropped and mutilated as they look above. [sotto voce] mutter mutter…should have chosen “Blogger”…mutter, curse… “never “Fresh Pressed”… grumble grumble.

Tripod Fish (Bathypterois grallator)

Tripod Fish (Bathypterois grallator)

I promised more weird fish this year, and here is a fish which amply delivers on this promise.  This is a tripod fish (Bathypterois grallator), an eyeless wonder of the deep ocean plains.  The fish spends most of its time standing completely motionless on its elongated fins which reach up to a meter (three feet) off the seafloor.  It mostly copies the feeding habits of sessile invertebrates such as sea anemones and barnacles and feeds on tiny creatures which bump into its elongated (and highly sensitive) front and top fins.  It walks extremely slowly along the ocean bottom on these high fins with its mouth facing into the deep currents.

Tripod_fish

Despite its sedentary preferences and circumscribed lifestyle, the tripod fish has not given up its brain or its ability to swim.   If and when the fish decides to swim, its stilt like fins deflate and become flexible.  Scientists have not pinpointed the exact mechanism for this transformation, but erectile tissues are not unknown in the animal world. Speaking of which…

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Mating is difficult in the abyssal zone (as any Tinder user could readily aver) so the tripod fish is a true hermaphrodite possessing both male and female reproductive organs.  If two tripod fish chance to meet, they mate together in all sorts of crazy troubling ways, however, if the fish never finds a partner it produces both sperm and eggs and mates with itself!

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The Congo River is the world’s second largest river by volume of water discharged (which seems like the most worthwhile measure of a river). Portions of its watershed are both north and south of the equator—which ensures that some part will always be experiencing a rainy season. The Congo River flows through the world’s second largest rainforest, and, as you would expect, the waterway teems with exquisite animals of multitudinous variety. There are aquatic mammals, many different sorts of crocodilians, turtles, frogs, snakes, mollusks, insects, crustaceans, and there are fish fish fish! The piscine variety is staggering: stingrays, carp, cichlids, pufferfish, African tetras, and the highly predatory giant tigerfish. There are also some bizarre blind deep water fish—because the Congo is the world’s deepest river (with depths of at least 220 m (720 ft)).

A few Congo River Fish

A few Congo River Fish

Ferrebeekeeper has always been devoted to catfish which thrive everywhere other than the deep ocean or the arctic. Indeed there are all sorts of catfish in the Congo River—particularly squeakers (AKA upside-down catfish). However, as a special treat, let’s take a break from catfish and talk about an entirely different fish—the freshwater elephant fish (the Mormyridae family from the order Osteoglossiformes). According to the World Wildlife Fund, Elephant fish are the dominant fish fauna in the Congo River. And they are downright strange in so many ways.

Campylomormyrus rhynchophorus

Campylomormyrus rhynchophorus

As you might surmise, elephant fishes earned their common name from their long trunk-like mouths (although this feature is certainly not universal among the 200 plus different varieties). Different species vary greatly in size: the smallest elephant fish are only 5 cm (2 inch) when they reach adulthood whereas the largest grow to 1.9 meters (4.5 feet) in length. Like the electrical catfish and ghost knife fish of the Amazon, the elephant fish have electroreceptive sensory organs. These generate an electrical field and “read” the field so the fish can sense the world (and especially other living things) very clearly even in the murkiest waters and in complete darkness.

 (Image: Carl Hopkin)

(Image: Carl Hopkin)

Elephant fish are extremely intelligent fish with a greatly enlarged cerebellum. In fact the fish have a brain body ratio which is approximately the same as humans (although it seems that they use much of their mental power to operate their electrical sensory organs and interpret the electrical data). In humans, the cerebellum controls movement, motor control, and language so it is speculated that elephant fish may have greater abilities to communicate with each other than we currently understand.

Campylomormyrus alces (from aquaria2.ru)

Campylomormyrus alces (from aquaria2.ru)

Oh, also the elephant fish (and their closest relatives the African knife fish) are unique in that their sperm lack flagellums. Of all vertebrates—from turkey to megabat to axolotl–these strange African fish are the only chordates not to have motile sperm. I wish I could tell you more about that business, but I cannot (and researching it on Google has not made me happier or wiser).

 

Genyomyrus donnyi (George Albert Boulenger)

Genyomyrus donnyi (George Albert Boulenger)

I have tried to show some elephant fish which are endemic to the Congo River, but, alas, I am not an ichthyologist (although that might have been a good career choice) so I may have messed up. Hopefully these photos at least provide some small overview of this incredible family. Humankind needs to learn more about these splendid clever African fish which are so prevalent in the turbid waters of the great tropical river.

Mormyrops anguilloides

Mormyrops anguilloides

Adult female Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). Photo by Robin Baird.

Adult female Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). Photo by Robin Baird.

There are entire species of large mammals living today on Earth which have never been seen alive by humans.  Even though they can grow larger than elephants, their numbers and habits are unknown.  We might not even know all extant species in the family.  These mystery mammals are the beaked whales (family Ziphiidae) masters of deep ocean diving.  The family is comprised of at least 21 different species, only 3 of which are well known (thanks to whale hunting in previous centuries). Beaked whales are poorly understood because they are rarely on the surface of the ocean where we can observe them.  They are capable of diving more than 1,899 meters (6,230 feet) and can stay underwater for almost an hour and a half.  Beaked whales live in the black–down among the underwater seamounts, canyons, and abyssal plains.  We only know them from the examination of dead specimens: indeed, for some species of beaked whales that is quite literally true and they have only been seen when dead.

Small Beaked Whales (an illustration by Brett Jarrett)

Small Beaked Whales (an illustration by Brett Jarrett)

Beaked whales grow to sizes of 4 to 13 metres (13 to 43 ft) depending on the species.  They are sexually dimorphic—the males are a different size than the females.  Additionally male whales have prominent domed foreheads and a pair of fighting teeth for dueling and sexual display (these teeth do not fully develop in females).  Beaked whales feed on squid, and, to a lesser extent, fishes and invertebrates which they capture from the ocean bottom by means of suction.  In order to produce this suction effect, the whales have highly nimble tongues and throat grooves.

The most distinctive features of beaked whales (save perhaps from their rostral “beaks”) are the body features which allow them to dive so deeply and then hunt in the dark crushing waters.   The lungs of beaked whales collapse at a certain pressure—most likely as a way to minimize the dangers of nitrogen transfer. Their livers and spleens are huge in order to deal with the dangerous metabolic bi-products of prolonged periods when they are unable to breathe.  Additionally, their blood and muscle tissue is capable of capturing and storing substantially greater quantities of oxygen than the tissue of other mammals.  Beaked whales can pull their pectoral flippers into grooves which run along the sides of their bodies and thus become more streamlined.

Sowerby's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)

Sowerby’s Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon bidens)

In order to find their way in the deep ocean, the whales rely on sophisticated acoustic echo-location organs.  Lips behind the blowhole produce high pitched vibrations which bounce off of prey and obstacles.  Echoes from these vibrations are then picked up and focused into the whales’ sensory organs by special fat deposits and bone structures.   Unfortunately this method of echolocation seems to make beaked whales extremely sensitive to sonar.  Resurfacing whales are unable to avoid the amplified sound waves and can suffer injuries to their sensory organs (or even to their large delicate livers).  Additionally, it is theorized that Beaked whales may try to resurface too quickly to avoid sonar and therefore risk decompression sickness.

(Photo: credit Nan Hauser & Hoyt Peckham, CCRC)

(Photo: credit Nan Hauser & Hoyt Peckham, CCRC)

Humankind has also been fishing ever deeper waters as fish stocks crash—which involves the whales in by-catch issues.  Hopefully we will learn more about this family of enigmatic divers (and become more responsible stewards of the ocean) so that the beaked whales do not vanish before we even get to know them.

Sowerby's Beaked Whale original 2

Caput Mortuum Violet

One of the most useful colors in an artist’s palette is one of the last colors anyone else would think.  Only its spooky name would incline your attention towards it.  Caput mortuum, which means dead head or death head, is made of haematite–iron oxide (in fact there are several extremely similar colors made of the same pigment but with slightly different hues and names–particularly mars violet and Indian red—but we will stick to talking about caput mortuum because that’s the variation I use). This unpromising rust color possesses a protean mutability–it could be red, brown, orange, or violet depending on the context.  Although it can stand on its own as a focus of attention, caput mortuum is very easy to paint into a network of subtle shadows:  many painters use it for shadowed flesh or as land cast in darkness (after all a person’s flesh and the red clay of a landscape both take their ruddiness from iron).

Wife of a Donator (Petrus Christus, 1450, oil on panel)

Wife of a Donator (Petrus Christus, 1450)

Though not a flashy color, caput mortuum has a dignity and a beauty to it.  In the middle ages and Renaissance, painters used it to paint the robes and clothing of eminent monastic religious figures and of patrons & donors (ie the people actually paying for the painting).  Oftentimes when looking at a religious painting, a viewer will notice that Jesus, Mary, and Saint Peter–resplendent in gold, white, blue, and red—are joined by an unknown pair of merchants wearing caput mortuum.  These two often have the most realistic and beautifully painted faces in the painting–it is difficult to say what Jesus really looked like but even the most money grubbing burgher knows his own face!

Portrait of a Female Donor (Jan Provost, 1505)

Although there is something somber about the deep color of caput mortuum, its name does not come from an obvious association with blood and corpses.  In addition to meaning “dead head” the Latin phrase also means “worthless remains” and it was used by alchemists to describe the inert residue left over from a chemical reaction.  Apparently this by-product was often a rusty violet color.  Alchemists used a (very) stylized skull to denote the oxidized left-overs.

Caput Mortuum Alchemy Symbol

However it’s more evocative to imagine the pigment being named after a death’s head.  The concept lends art a much needed touch of operatic dark magic.

Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull and Hour-Glass (Phillip de Champaigne, c. 1671)

Stauroteuthis syrtensis (photo by David Shale and Claire Nouvian)

One of the reasons I chose mollusks as a topic is to illustrate how diverse life on our own planet is. The mollusks are an insanely heterogeneous phylum of creatures and they have been successful around the globe for the last 540 million years (at least). Even today in the ultracompetitive Holocene world, mollusks thrive just about everywhere.  To illustrate this point I am showcasing the enigmatic deep water octopus Stauroteuthis, of which two species are currently known.  These octopuses are only found more than 700 meters underwater in the Atlantic Ocean.  Although they are most common around 2 kilometers beneath the surface the creatures have been spotted as far as 4 kilometers down.  The Stauroteuthids are small benthopelagic octopuses (they are free-swimming but live in close proximity to the ocean floor).

(photo by David Shale)

The Tree of Life Web Project gives us the following overview of Stauroteuthid morphology:

Stauroteuthids are peculiar, gelatinous cirrates with a mantle opening that forms a complete tube around the funnel. They also have peculiar gills and internal shells and a large web that is nearly equally developed between all arms. When observed from submersibles, this octopod commonly has its arms and web formed into a bell-shape (bell-shape posture). Sometimes when the octopod is disturbed, it will inflate the web and draw the arms together at their tips to form a “balloon” with the arms and web (balloon posture). These postures are thought to be involved in feeding and/or defense.

That is nearly all we know about them—it is difficult to study creatures which live 2 kilometers underwater. However I have left out the most exciting fact: the Stauroteuthids are bioluminescent.  Certain muscle cells around the suckers have been replaced with photophores which allow the Stauroteuthid octopuses to light up their eight legs like plane runways.  The purpose of this luminescence is unknown but it is believed to be for predatory purposes (the lights are thought to direct prey to the octopus’ beak). Possibly the lights also help the octopuses to find and communicate with mates.

Bioluminescent Suckers (photo by ORCA)


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