If you look carefully, you can find plenty of different kinds of creatures on your trip to the Jersey shore! In fact, you can find so many that I’ll be narrowing it down to talk about only five animals: minnows, fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, comb jellies and smooth dogfish. Coincidentally, they just happen to be my favorite.
First, minnows! I’m sure everyone has seen tons of these little guys swimming around your feet. A couple common ones are silversides and mummichogs. Silversides are found in schools and have a bright silver stripe down the side of their bodies. We actually have an exhibit of silversides at the aquarium, where you can see them school and change formation. The mummichogs can be found in muddy marshes, channels, and grass flats along coastal areas. They are euryhalide, which means they can adapt to a wide range of salinities. Their heartiness probably helped them to become the first fish in space!
#2 – Fiddler Crabs
These guys are found mostly in the muddy areas of marshes too. If you look down and see little tunnels in the mud, you’ll eventually see them crawl out to defend their burrows or hunt for food. The females have two equally sized claws, but the males have one regular sized claw and one HUGE claw that is about half of the weight of his only body. The males use this big claw to pick up the ladies. They wave the claw to make an acoustical signal.
#3 – Horseshoe Crabs
You’re probably thinking, “hey, another crab??” but technically they aren’t crustaceans at all! Horseshoe crabs belong to their own class, Merostomata. They even predate dinosaurs! If you see any on the beach during the day, it is most likely a horseshoe crab molt. But if you go out at night time, they look like little walking army helmets with a long tail. They use the long tail to flip themselves over not as a weapon. Horseshoe crabs are highly valued because of their blue blood. Medical researchers use it to test drugs and vaccines to make sure there is no bacterium contamination. To help increase the population, Adventure Aquarium’s senior biologist, Matt Ferroni has led the horseshoe crab head-start program. Baby horseshoe crabs were collected then raised in our holding systems and this year we released them back into their environment.
#4 – Comb Jellies
Comb jellies are one of my favorites finds in the ocean. Comb jellies or ctenophore are oval shaped and have comb like plates to help them swim through the water. They can expand their stomach to hold prey about half the size of their own body! If disturbed in a dark environment, some comb jellies give off a bright green luminescent flash.
#5 – Smooth Dogfish
And last but not least, smooth dogfish. They like shallow waters less than 60 feet deep. If you are a fisherman you probably have caught one at some point or another. They can get up to about 5 feet long. Dogfish are usually nocturnal and have pavement-like teeth. These crushing teeth help them open their favorite foods: crustaceans.
On your next trip to the shore, keep an eye out for these 5 common Jersey shore natives!
By: Sarah Stafford, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates