Tree Map update and budding siphonophores

Thanks everyone for your phenomenal response to the treemap that I posted for the 300,000 classifications post. It’s really neat to be able to see how different users have classified more, or less over time. Of course, if you are one of the top classifiers, it’s fun to see your name up there!

At the suggestion of Lee Henderson, MD (wow! cool to see people from all professions and walks of life on Plankton Portal), I made an updated treemap with classifications from the past month. If there’s interest in periodic updates in this manner, let me know in the comments and I can post one of these up every couple weeks. But I don’t want to make it too much of a competition. Actually, it probably is a giant competition. So compete away!



Top 10 classifiers from the past month:
1. yshish
2. AnnaThema
3. phf13
4. Siiw
5. aplincoln
6. scopedriver
7. RachaelB
8. kredman
9. isadora paradijsvogel
10. ssushi

Thanks everyone!


On another note, our star moderator yshish emailed me today with a few questions about some cool siphonophores she found on PP. (side note: yshish has the BEST image collections on Talk. I regularly will be able to find specific images or taxa that I’m looking for by going through her collections.) Anyway, check out this series of images: 51d1bee33ae74008a405a4db 51d1be363ae74008a4033c72 51d1be3f3ae74008a40382ff

You might remember that we featured the top image in a previous Fantastic Finds Friday (FFF) post. Now we bring it back because of the other two images that were found (the last one found 1 hr ago). These images found three months apart might be the same organism but in neighboring frames. We can’t tell right away, but once we go back into the raw data, we will be able to pull out the locations and times of these three images to check.

Now, the interesting question posed here is — is this siphonophore budding? Are these siphonophores asexually reproducing as we imaged it? And the answer — yes! absolutely! (I addressed this question earlier in a Talk post but now’s the time to feature it in the blogs!) All the little round bells that you see on the tentacles are small siphonophores developing from the gonozooids (reproductive ‘organs’) that will eventually be released and form free-swimming “eudoxids.” When they are released, these eudoxids will develop and then be capable of sexual reproduction. Weird, right? But wait, there’s more.

These eudoxids then develop little reproductive organs along its stem. Instead of eudoxids functionally male or female, they actually develop male and female reproductive parts – eggs and sperm – alternating between the two, sometimes regularly, sometimes irregularly. That way, they can ensure that the eggs are fertilized and can develop into larvae, then post-larvae, then adults.

The open ocean is a vast place, and animals have developed vastly different strategies for how to ensure the continuation of their species, whether it is in spawning aggregations (e.g. Grouper fish spawning in the Caribbean – and larvaceans also apparently form spawning aggregations) or being hermaphroditic (like Ctenophores and some fish), and being able to asexually bud and reproduce sexually. These siphonophores have adopted the strategy of being both hermaphroditic AND able to reproduce sexually and asexually.

This is the best diagram I’ve found to describe the life history of a Calycophoran siphonophore (all of the ‘rocketship’ and ‘two-cup’ siphonophores). This one is from C. Carre and D. Carre (1991).



300,000! THANK YOU!

Whoa! We reached 300,000 classifications today! I saw the classification number creep up there earlier this week but didn’t get a chance to write a blog post about pushing the classifications up to 300,000. But YOU DID IT!

Who are the folks who made 300,000 classifications? To explain this we made a treemap to show the number of classifications that each person has made. We borrowed this idea from Margaret Kosmala of Snapshot Serengeti and Philip Brohan of Old Weather, who have created similar graphics for their projects.

In this graphic, each box represents one user, except for the users who were not logged in (those were all grouped together). We have over 2600 registered users on this site! And the size of the box reflects the number of classifications. Can you find yourself in this graphic?Usertreemap

What you’ll see here is that unlike some other projects (e.g. Snapshot Serengeti), our top 2-3 classifiers have done many more classifications than all the non-logged-in users combined! It’s interesting to us — because while Plankton might not have a very broad appeal to the general public, there are some people — YOU — who love this project so much that they dedicate a lot of time to it. You help carry this project along, and in the process, you become our ambassadors to your schools, communities, and cities. It’s quite amazing.

To that end, I’d like to thank our top 10 citizen scientists:

1. yshish *
2. elizabeth *
3. Siiw *
4. CindyLou
5. phf13
6. lynb
7. charcinders
8. VBear
9. mlmuniz
10. starburst42

Our next 10 top classifiers are: Ingolme, Valraukar, Jurel, KarenLK, cnorvalk, lekape, scopedriver, SandersClan, Rebecca_W, and localwormguy. Those whose names are marked with an asterisk (*) also help moderate the discussion boards – give a round of applause to them!

For our top classifiers and everyone who has participated in Plankton Portal, we thank you! Our friendly mascot, Solmaris, is offering free hugs:


We hope that you all have enjoyed your time on this site – we have certainly enjoyed interacting with all of you on the discussion boards! It’s been very fun getting people all around the world involved in this project. Here’s to 300,000 more!


P.S. Also a huge congratulations to Zooniverse for being awarded a $1.8 million Google Global Impacts Award!

FFF special behavior

Hello everyone. We have a special “behavior” Fantastic Finds Friday (FFF) today! These frames were selected from your posts to illustrate the power of the human eye to detect rare and unusual phenomena. The frames selected here may not be the most beautiful you have seen so far, but the story behind them is fascinating and could not be told without the help of our citizen scientists.

Here is great shot of a larvacean (also known as an appendicularian) getting spooked by the movement of ISIIS. Larvaceans are known to escape from their mucous house if threatened by a predator. Unfortunately the house can’t be used again, and they will start secreting a new house once the threat is passed.


Arrow worms (chaetognath) are voracious predators capable of engulfing prey as big as their own body. In these images, you can see an arrow worm catching a larvacean and the other grasping what appears to be a copepod. Their mouths resemble a crown of spikes ready to impale any unlucky prey. Chaetognaths also prey on fish larvae.

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These two medusae just snagged a larvacean house. Accident or deliberate attempt to feed on these poor guys? The long trailing tentacles act like a sticky fishing net that retracts to bring in the catch of the day.

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These Solmaris seem to be reaching for something (one tentacle pointed opposite to the others). Solmaris have been seen feeding on other jellies – even large siphonophores! They swim with their tentacles forward to maximize the chances of catching a prey. they then move the item to their mouth with one tentacle (like an arm almost).

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No, these are really two different frames! Amazing consistency in posture isn’t it? And look at these two tentacles reaching out – sensing their environment? Hoping to encounter a tasty prey item? If we detect enough of these organisms, we could try to investigate at which time or location they behave this way. This could be a really interesting project!

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So if you see something interesting like these example or suspect some interaction is at play in one of the frame use the hashtag #behavior. Remember to mark frames you want considered for future Fantastic Finds Friday posts with #FFF. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Fantastic Find Friday Take 3!

Hey plankton hunters!  Welcome to our 3rd round of Fantastic Find Friday here at Plankton Portal.  There have been so many awesome finds on the site and we picked 5 this week for you to check out.  If you see something really neat on the portal than tag it with #FFF so we can check it out for use on the blog.  Here we go!

Physonect Siphonophore— #Sipho #Corncob


This is a stunning capture of a physonect siphonophore who seems to be waving hello to ISIIS as she passes by.  Like all siphonophores, this guy here is a colonial organism comprised of many individual animals or ‘zooids.’  Each zooid is specialized and distinct, but work together so closely that they more resemble a single organism than a colony of animals.  On display here are the branching tentacles used for foraging and the swimming bells that resemble a corncob.  This one is a stunner!

Lobate Ctenophore — #Lobate


This is a really neat capture of a lobate ctenophore (Ocyropsis maculata), showing off the feature that gives this guy his name.  In this image you can see clearly the internal structure and the striated texture of his muscular, gelatinous body.  Lobate ctenophores swim lobes forwards by beating the ciliated comb rows situated on the opposite (aboral) end.  The one depicted here would be swimming towards us and to the left.  I wonder if larvacean is on the menu?

Chaetognath — #Arrowworm


Looks like an arrow shot by some undersea archer, right?  Arrow worms, or chaetognaths, are carnivorous marine worms belonging to the Phylum Chaetognatha.  They are notoriously ferocious predators that hunt other plankton with the help of hooked ‘grasping spines’ that flank the mouth.  Chaetognaths have fins for propulsion and steering—you can see all of them really well in this capture!  While these fins superficially resemble those of a fish, they are not related evolutionary and are structurally very different.

Calycophoran Siphonophore — #Rocketship #Triangle


I bet NASA would get a lot more funding if they built space shuttles that looked like this!  This beautiful capture of a siphonophore really looks to me like some sci-fi monster a (horrified) astronomer might see in a telescope!  Don’t worry though, this guy is just a couple of cm’s long and probably couldn’t hurt you if he tried.  Just like the physonect siphonophore above, this guy is a colonial organism and would therefore be more appropriately referred to as guys.  The tail, or stem, on display here contains two developmental stages of siphonophore simultaneously—both the medusa and polyp stages.  Unlike most cnidarians that alternate between these stages generationally, this guy chooses to have them coexist within the same colony.  If you look closely you can see them bickering over who is the prettiest!

Calanoid Copepod — #Copepod


This copepod is making a heart with his antennae! Do you think he might be in love?  There is some 13,000 species of copepod in the world and they are a crucial component of plankton communities and global ecology in general.  It has been suggested that copepods may comprise the largest animal biomass on the planet! Many species of marine life, large and small, rely on these guys as their main food source, including whales and seabirds.  Looks like this guy here is a lover not a fighter!

Looking forward to next time !

Why do we need Citizen Science?

In many fields of science, new technology is leading to unprecedented data production. This, in turn, requires extensive analysis with minimal sub-sampling to detect as much detail as possible. In biological oceanography, imaging systems have become more useful with increasing computer speed and storage capabilities, and image data address some of the fundamental problems with traditional sampling methods that are destructive to fragile organisms (i.e., jellyfish and marine snow). On a given tow with our system, the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), we produce approximately 400,000 images in 7 hours with many different species across a range of sizes present in each image (500 μm to 13 cm). This is an incredible amount of information that would take years for one person to fully analyze. When we are out at sea, we typically sample for WEEKS and come back to land with millions of images. Computer algorithms can perform basic tasks of extracting specimens that look similar, but human brains are extremely adept at interpreting an organism in 3D and providing context in the image data that a computer cannot. The amazing abilities of people to recognize patterns that computer algorithms may see as unimportant cannot be underestimated.

Shrimp photograph taken from under a microscope

Shrimp photograph taken from under a microscope (photo credit: Cedric Guigand)

Another reason we are using Citizen Science is so that you, the citizen scientist, can participate in the process of discovery. After all, most oceanographic research is funded at least in part by taxpayer money, and these novel plankton images combined with Citizen Science are a great way to engage those who fund the research. We think it is far more effective to cultivate interest in science through the discovery process itself, rather than the production of jargon-filled reports and papers only understood by other oceanographers (don’t worry, those will come later). In addition, this online format provides an opportunity for us to educate people about life in the oceans, potentially inspiring the next generation of ocean scientists. With Citizen Science, there is the potential for new discoveries arising from simply allowing many people to look at the images.

This larva of a deep water shrimp was captured in the Gulf Stream near South Florida (Photo credit: Cedric Guigand)

This larva of a deep water shrimp was captured in the Gulf Stream near South Florida (photo credit: Cedric Guigand)

We believe our research with ISIIS is particularly applicable to Citizen Science and the process of discovery because this new imaging technology provides a huge amount of data and a unique glimpse into ocean life. I have spent the last 5 years of my graduate school career at the University of Miami examining hundreds of thousands of plankton images, and every time I flip through the images, I always have the feeling that I could see something that no human has ever seen before. I try to instill this sense of wonder and hope for discovery in all people that work with the images, because when you see something interesting, like an elaborate siphonophore or a dense patch of copepods, you are likely the first person to see that species in its natural environment. When we get enough eyes on these images and discussions facilitated through the Plankton Portal website, the sky’s the limit for the discoveries that can be made with Citizen Science!

Why use images to study plankton?

Although ocean science has made many great advances, many biological processes are still poorly understood. In the sciences generally, a common theme is using new technology to examine patterns on smaller, more fundamental scales (e.g., DNA technology in biology, nanoparticle physics), with the goal of revealing underlying mechanisms. Plankton imaging is a method to examine patterns of organisms on a smaller scale, giving insight into how these organisms live and interact with each other. In addition, many planktonic animals are fragile and easily destroyed by plankton nets: the traditional tool to study plankton distributions. These plankton nets also suffer from the problem of having to sample over large portions of the water column, so an oceanographer might use a single net to capture copepods and shrimps and assume that these organisms co-occur if they appear in the same sample. However, it is entirely possible that the organisms are confined to discrete thin layers that do not overlap spatially. An imaging system can distinguish between these two scenarios, while a plankton net cannot. Images also provide information about the natural orientation of plankton, which can allow us to make predictions about their movement and feeding strategies.

 The bongo net is a traditional tool of biological oceanographers but is biased toward plankton with a hard exoskeleton (crustaceans) (Image source: NOAA Cruise DE 10-09 Report).

The bongo net is a traditional tool of biological oceanographers but is biased toward plankton with a hard exoskeleton (crustaceans) (Image source: NOAA Cruise DE 10-09 Report).

When we think about the future of our planet, climate change and predicting its effects are of great concern. In order to make meaningful predictions about a system, you need to create a mathematical model. One of the most important aspects of any model is the initial conditions and baseline variability. For many planktonic animals, especially jellyfish, we do not know their abundance, variation, or how they interact within the oceanic food web, which is all crucial information for predicting the future of our oceans under climate change conditions. Using an imaging system like ISIIS can lead to better population estimates of many different plankton types, and this information can complement many types of oceanographic studies. Fine-scale data can improve estimates of feeding and encounter rates for planktonic organisms, which is critical to our understanding of the oceanic food web.

A colony of salps such as this one would be destroyed or broken up into individuals if sampled with a net system. The in situ image in this situation gives information on the asexual budding of this fast reproducing phytoplankton grazer.

A colony of salps such as this one would be destroyed or broken up into individuals if sampled with a net system. The in situ image in this situation gives information on the asexual budding of this fast reproducing phytoplankton grazer.

When compared to plankton samples preserved in ethanol or formalin, image data provide distinct advantages in data processing and collaboration. For one, oceanographers can tackle age old questions like what are the biological and physical drivers of plankton aggregations and dispersal, and how do plankton aggregations impact the populations of wild fish, a multi-billion dollar global industry? The ‘digitization’ of biological data improves the ability to share data, fostering collaboration among ocean scientists with differing expertise. Having these images available on the internet (through a database server) increases the accessibility of biological oceanography to students, teachers, and the public. It is our hope to one day have these images available to the public, so everyone can gain an appreciation for the diversity of life in the ocean and perhaps use them to supplement science classes. The Zooniverse and Citizen Science is a great start to achieving these goals of making ocean science more “open access,” and we are so appreciative of your help!