I have always had a fascination with the development of new life, especially the embryo stage. As a child, I had an egg incubator that I tried (and failed) to incubate quail and chicken eggs in. I find the desire to see life beginning inside an egg is still persistent in my psyche, so it is exciting to find marine animals with eggs.
One of my favorite finds this year was a half coconut shell that had several dozen cuttlefish eggs inside. I was able to see through the egg to the developing embryo within. These embryos still have a week or more to go before they will hatch. The egg is about a half an inch in diameter, or about the size of a marble. These guys have a pretty roomy house!
Many marine animals carry their eggs with them. The male banded pipefish carries the eggs on the outside of his belly. These eggs are very close to hatching, and some have already hatched. You can see their eyes and tails in the closeup image.
Some fish are mouth breeders, and incubate the eggs in their mouth. The cardinal fish is a good example of this, and it is the male who carries the eggs. If you observe the fish for a while, you will see him roll the eggs around in his mouth to aerate them, sometimes nearly spitting them out.
Crabs also carry their eggs with them inside their carapace.
Isopods, such as skeleton shrimp carry eggs inside a membrane along their belly. Again, it is the male that carries the eggs. The fascinating thing about these babies is that after they hatch, they crawl all over their dad and stay on his body until they are half grown. The image below is of a newly hatched litter. They are clustered tight around the abdomen of the parent, and you can just barely see a few heads peeking up above the crowd.
These young ones have been growing for a few days and have ventured out onto all their parent’s appendages.
Nudibranch eggs are laid in a beautiful spiral or ribbon. Some nudibranchs eat the eggs of other nudibranchs, and that is what is happening in the image below.
Anemone fish care for their eggs in a nest near the anemone they live on, just like in the movie, “Finding Nemo.” It is the male that takes the most responsibility and he will aerate the eggs with his fins, and blow on them with his mouth. Sometimes, he will test the integrity of each egg by gently pressing it with his mouth.
This little critter is some kind of mantis shrimp, although a very tiny one. We found it laying on the sand with its eggs before it.
Some animals lay their eggs inside an egg case, like, lots of eggs within an egg shell. These eggs were deposited by a large brown cowrie (a type of snail) and are freshly laid.
As the eggs develop, they turn darker. The egg case eventually breaks down, and the newly hatched cowries float off into the water column until they settle on the substrate.
It is amazing how diverse the egg universe is, and equally amazing how parents do or do not care for their young. Personally, I think it would be cool to be a skeleton shrimp and crawl all over my parent until my teenage years.
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