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Red Tide

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 46

Roll – Crimson Tide – Roll, may or may not be your favorite shout at College football games, but if you are a fisherman, sportsman, beachgoer or other visitors to coastal waters where the dreaded Red Tide occurs, it can certainly bring an unwanted experience.

Red tides occur worldwide in oceans, bays, intertidal zones, and are most commonly caused by the upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor caused by massive storms, though anthropogenic causes such as urban/agricultural runoff may also be a contributing factor. During these upwellings, certain species of phytoplankton and dinoflagellates can multiply rapidly. These organisms contain pigments that vary in color from brown to pink to red and discolor the water and hence the name Red Tide. In the gulf coast region of the United States, the most common species causing Red Tides is Karenia brevis, one of many different species of the genus Karenia found in the world’s oceans. The northeast coast of the United States experiences Red Tides caused by another species of dinoflagellate known as Alexandrium fundyense. The growth of these algal blooms depends on wind, temperature, nutrients, and salinity. Red Tides do not occur in freshwater ecosystems. The occurrence of Red Tides in some locations appears to be entirely natural and is a seasonal occurrence resulting from coastal upwelling and the movement of certain ocean currents.

Red tides are often associated with fish kills from the algal production of toxins such as brevotoxins and ichthyotoxins that are harmful to marine life. These toxins can build up in shellfish that are then eaten by other animals. Fish typically exhibit neurotoxin poisoning by swimming in irregular spasmodic motions followed by paralysis, difficulty breathing and death.

Brevetoxins are tasteless, odorless, and heat and acid stable. Thus, these toxins cannot be easily detected, nor can they be removed by food preparation procedures. Humans can be affected by the Red Tide by eating contaminated shellfish, breathing winds that have become aerosolized, and sometimes by skin contact. People who eat contaminated shellfish may suffer from severe gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms including vomiting, nausea, slurred speech. tingling lips, fingers or toes. Swimming among brevetoxins or inhaling brevetoxins dispersed in the air may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. People with respiratory illnesses such as asthma may experience these symptoms more severely.

The best way to avoid an unpleasant experience with Red Tides is to monitor reports from health agencies and heed public warnings. You should try to reduce exposure by avoiding winds blowing onshore, reducing time outside, and certainly keeping off the beach. You should use your home air conditioner less and use high quality small particulate matter-capture air filters. If you are driving, keep the vehicle air circulating within the cabin and avoid importing outside air.

Red Tides have been recorded for centuries and are here to stay. Learn more about what you can do to help prevent Red Tides and otherwise assist ocean health by becoming involved with Coastal/Oceanographic Organizations in your area.


https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/redtide.html, What is a red tide? August 6, 2018

https://www.cdc.gov/habs, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)-Associated Illness, June 19, 2018

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Illegal Tarantula Trade: Spookier than Halloween

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 45

As fall sets in and we prepare for Halloween, we tend to appreciate the spookier side of life more than we might in the spring when fluffy rabbits and chicks tend to decorate homes. One spooky creature which is next to impossible not to see on decorations this time of year is the tarantula. Perhaps the spookiest aspect of this creature though, which is not well known, is the rampant and illegal trade in tarantulas. This global problem has haunted many ecologists as they try to stop what has already caused damage to ecosystems around the world.

Although you were probably unaware that the illegal tarantula trade existed as of several minutes ago, it is part of the multi-billion black market industry in illegal wildlife trading. Some of the more well-known animals that are a part of this illegal trade include elephants and rhinos, but tarantulas have also been hit especially hard. Conservation biologist Sergio Henriques points to increased travel and cracks in legislation as the main sources of fueling the trade of tarantulas. Wanted for their beautiful coloring, these tarantulas often end up killed and encased in resin on a shelf. Tarantulas in the genus Brachypelma have been especially hard hit by this illegal trading due to their characteristic flame-colored spots and red knees.

So, if the tarantula population were to significantly decrease, would they truly be missed? First of all, although they are rather scary to look at, and tarantulas do carry venom, you are actually more likely to be affected by a bee sting than a tarantula bite. Moreover, tarantula venom has actually been very useful to researchers. Their venom has been extensively studied and we now know much more about pain and diseases such as epilepsy. Tarantulas are also extremely useful in agriculture, as they eat the insects and other pests that infest important crops. Additionally, tarantulas help out other organisms in their ecosystems, as the silk they spin is often used by hummingbirds to build their nests.

Unfortunately, the illegal tarantula trade is hardly a priority for law enforcement officers. With the abundance of crime in the world, trading in tarantulas seems rather insignificant. Even among scientists, tarantulas are less of a priority than the majestic elephant for example.

There are over 900 species of tarantulas, but according to Henriques, the conservation status of only 15 of these have ever been assessed leaving the status of over 99 percent of tarantulas in the wild completely unknown. Scientists who study these creatures have serious concerns for many of the species involved in illegal trading. Since females reproduce later in life, it is much harder for a population to bounce back when so many of its members are removed so suddenly. While not in the top ten of favorite pets, tarantulas are important for many reasons, and without our help and that of dedicated scientists, they could one day be gone.


Actman, Jani. “The illegal market for tarantulas is hairy business.” National Geographic. National Geographic. October 31, 2018. Web. November 1, 2018.

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Octopuses on Ecstasy Leads to Neurological Advances

Swamp Stomp

Volume 18 Issue 44

When you look at an octopus, it doesn’t appear to even remotely resemble a human. From its eight arms to its strange movements, it looks almost alien. In fact, though, it turns out that octopuses are very smart, social, and in many ways, not too different from humans. Gul Dolen, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Eric Edsinger, an octopus researcher at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, discovered this in a rather unique study involving octopus behavior and the drug ecstasy.

Ecstasy, or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine(MDMA), is found most often at parties. In humans, ecstasy causes a variety of reactions in the brain. Fear is reduced and empathy is induced, and the result is a feeling of overwhelming euphoria, often experienced at electronic dance music (EDM) festivals. When ecstasy enters the bloodstream, the molecules of the drug bind to a protein that regulates the flow of serotonin into and out of neurons. This causes a flood of serotonin, which is responsible for the change of behavior in humans. Interestingly, in octopuses, the drug reacts in the same way.

Hoping to discover more about how the brain controls social behaviors, Dr. Dolen dosed octopuses with ecstasy. Before the drug, the octopuses stayed mostly to themselves, ignoring the other octopuses in the tank and spending most of their time with a Star Wars figurine on the opposite end of the tank. But once the ecstasy was given, the octopuses let loose and enjoyed the company of their fellow octopuses. Some even displayed affection, hugging an overturned orchid pot that protected another octopus and showing off their mouths, another sign of affection.

A major takeaway from this experiment is that somehow, despite being separated by 500 million years of evolution, humans and octopuses share a portion of their brain chemistry. This may seem like a small accomplishment, but when our current conception of the brain is so small, this finding could result in huge advances. If we can understand more completely how the octopus brain functions, we may be able to more completely understand how the human brain functions. The list of neurological diseases is long, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s among others, and most do not have any known cure. Perhaps octopuses on ecstasy could be the key to finding these cures.


Klein, JoAnna. “On Ecstasy Octopuses Reached out for a Hug.” New York Times. New York Times. September 20, 2018. Web. October 21, 2018.