Christmas is a season to celebrate, to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the sights and smells that accompany them.
With familiar shapes and colors glowing around us of red, green and white, what better way to commemorate than to have the assistance of our big blue backyard. Although you may not initially look there when you think of Christmas, the ocean is an area that is filled with the holiday spirit, if you take the time to notice.
You may not picture the typical moray eel while singing "Let It Snow," but the body of the snowflake moray eel may make you think again. White with black-and-gold speckles, each eel's body is as unique as individual snowflakes. This round-faced eel is mild in manner and can usually be found in shallow waters.
The snowflake moray eel is white with black and gold speckles. It has pebble like teeth, unlike the menacing sharp teeth of moray eels. Its teeth aid in hunting and crushing small invertebrates like crab and shrimp.
Maui Ocean Center photo
Instead of having menacing sharp teeth normally associated with moray eels, the snowflake moray has pebblelike teeth that help in hunting and crushing small invertebrates like crab and shrimp while also foraging for small fish.
Another vivid and swift animal is the Christmas wrasse. This aptly named fish is boldly colored with both red and blue-green markings, making a striking appearance on the reef. Within the wrasse family, males and females differ greatly, with males having the more attractive colors. There's even differences between juvenile and adult coloration.
Looking closely at some coral may cause an animal to quickly disappear, sometimes before you even know what you're looking at. The Christmas tree worm is a tube-dwelling worm commonly living within lobe coral. Their delicate gills, which are spiral and in the shape of a Christmas tree, are the only part of the animal you see and are used for both feeding and respiration. They quickly withdraw with any movement nearby, sealing themselves with a trap door covered with spines.
What is the most popular tree topper? The five-point star, guiding those far and near to gather. Speckled throughout the ocean floor and reef is the sea star, coming in all decorative shapes, sizes and colors. All are invertebrates, relatives to the sea urchins and sea cucumbers, and missing a brain and heart. They are mainly circulatory and nervous systems, moving around with many tube feet on the bottom. Their mouthes are also underneath them in the center, and to eat they actually evert, or turn out, their stomachs on a variety of animals to digest them.
As we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, don't forget to take the time to bring a friend or family member snorkeling or diving to enjoy nature's simple way of saying "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays."
* Larissa Treese is the head aquarist and beach cleanup coordinator at Maui Ocean Center. "Ka Mo'olelo Moana," or "the Ocean Story," is a monthly column submitted by the Maui Ocean Center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in Maalaea. For more information, call 270-7000.