Reef Refuge

The tropics are not the only places in the world with true reefs. The bay is home to the world-renowned eastern or Atlantic oyster, once referred to as "Chesapeake white gold" as many made their fortunes on the collection, packing and international sale of this delicacy. As larva, an oyster is mobile and will search for a place to become attached to live out its remaining life. To ensure the best chance for survival, larvae seek the shell of another oyster to settle on - what better place to live than where another oyster is thriving! Over time, this leads to formation of dense oyster beds as generation after generation of oyster grow on one another. Other things attach to oysters too - sea whips, red beard sponge, barnacles, sea squirts, anemones, algae. Thus, a natural reef is formed. Larger animals come here for food while smaller animals find safety by escaping into the reef's interior.

The oyster reef at the Calvert Marine Museum was constructed from oyster shell recovered from local restaurants. These were paired with their original second half, then painstakingly glued into place in the exhibit to recreate the dense, three-dimensional replica of what an oyster reef really looks like in the wild. The aquarium is close to the ground for our smaller guests to easily come within inches of blennies guarding egg masses carefully deposited in the opened shells of an oyster that has died.

Look up to see how watermen once fished the oyster beds of the Chesapeake - tonging was nothing short of back-breaking!

Only a select few of these species are on exhibit at any time, though all are representative of Reef Refuge habitats.
American Oyster

American oyster

Scientific name: 
Crassostrea virginica

Habitat: Live in brackish and salty waters from 8 to 35 feet deep. Often concentrated on oyster bars, beds or rocks, which are located in waterways with firm bottom areas. Attach to one another, forming dense reefs that provide habitat for many fish and invertebrates.

Key characteristics for distinction: Two rough shells enclose a soft body. Right or top shell is flat. Left or bottom shell is cupped, with a purple muscle scar on the inside.

Coloration: vary in color from white to gray to tan

Feeding habits/specializations: Filter feeders, oysters feed on plankton by opening their shells and pumping water through their gills. This action traps particles of food.

Reproduction: Spawns in early summer when water temperatures rise. Adults release eggs and sperm into the water. Females can produce about 100 million eggs each year. After spawning, oysters are thin because they have used up their stored food reserves. Adults grow larger and stronger as the weather cools. In less than 24 hours, fertilized eggs develop into free-swimming larvae. Over the next two to three weeks, oyster larvae grow a "foot," which is used to crawl over and explore a surface before settling. Once larvae find a suitable surface to settle on, they secrete a cement-like substance, which fixes the left valve into place. Settled juvenile oysters are called "spat”. Many oysters change sex over the course of their lifetime. Most oysters less than one year old are male, while most older oysters are female.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 8 in

Predators: Prone to infection by parasites that cause the aquatic diseases MSX and Dermo. Crabs, starfish, and oyster drills (a predatory snail that can drill a hole through the hard shell of oysters and other clams or snails).

Importance to humans: Commercial value but has been declining due to overharvesting and disease.

Conservation status: not evaluated by IUCN but numbers were declining and efforts to maintain harvests have been implemented.

Fun fact: Oysters change sex over the course of their lifetime. Most oysters less than one year old are male, while most older oysters are female.


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American star drum

Scientific name: 
Stellifer lanceolatus

Habitat: Occurs usually over hard sandy mud bottoms in coastal waters to about 20 m depth. Also common in river estuaries.

Key characteristics for distinction:
 Body oblong and laterally compressed; 2nd anal spine thick and long; dorsal fin deeply notched; top of head slightly concave; mouth is oblique, terminal to subterminal; chin with 6 small pores, no barbels; preopercle margin serrated; caudal fin elongate and pointed; lateral line extends onto caudal fin.

 color silvery with a pinkish cast, fins yellowish

Feeding habits/specializations: 
Feeds mainly on small crustaceans.

no data

Maximum length
(in inches or feet): 8 in

no data

Importance to humans: 
Not marketed for human consumption; no fishing interest

Conservation status:
 not evaluated



Atlantic Croaker

Scientific name: 
Micropogonias undulates

Habitat: marine, brackish, demersal, max depth 100m. Adults found on mud, sand and shell bottoms. Juveniles found on shallow shoals.

Key characteristics for distinction: Chin with 3-5 pairs of barbells (small). Dorsal fin notched deeply with 10 spines in anterior and 1 spine and 26-30 soft rays in posterior portion. The upper dorsal side typically has many spots brassy in color that take on the appearance of wavy bars; this becomes less distinct in larger fish

Coloration: silvery-pink in color, silvery or brassy white belly, brown spots that form faint irregular stripes on back and dorsal fin *

Feeding habits/specializations: Bottom feeders; mollusks, small crustaceans, worms and at times small fish.

Reproduction: spawning can occur at age 2-3 in continental shelf waters from Summer to Winter. Migrate offshore to spawn. Late summer young travel to lower salinity and freshwater then travel back to high salinity with adults.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): maximum 1.8 feet, commonly 1.0 foot

Predators: striped bass, flounder, spotted seatrout, weakfish, bluefish

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: secure (croaker mature quickly helping to maintain a stable population)

Fun facts: Member of the drum family; able to make a loud drumming/croaking sound by vibrating the swim bladder using special muscles. Also called ‘hardheads’.


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Banded drum

Scientific name: 
Larimus fasciatus

Habitat: Occurs usually over mud and sandy mud bottoms in coastal waters to about 60 m depth, more rarely in estuaries.

Key characteristics for distinction: Body short and thick, laterally compressed; mouth oblique, 2nd anal spine thick; mouth supraterminal, lower jaw extending slightly past upper jaw; caudal fin rounded; lateral line extends onto caudal fin.

Coloration: color grayish with dark vertical bars on sides; fins with some yellow

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on small shrimps.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 10 in

Importance to humans: no fishing interest, used as bait; aquarium fish

Conservation status: not evaluated


Bay Barnacle

Barnacle spp.

Scientific name: 
Cirripedia spp.

Habitat: marine; tend to live in shallow and tidal waters, typically in erosive settings. They are encrusters, attaching themselves permanently to a hard substrate.

Key characteristics for distinction: Six overlapping shell plates, flat base, opening at the top has two valves that open and close like trap doors.

Coloration: Grayish-white

Feeding habits/specializations: Most are suspension feeders; they reach into the water column with modified legs; these feathery appendages beat rhythmically to draw plankton and detritus into the shell for consumption.

Reproduction: Spawn in mid- to late spring. Each barnacle has both male and female organs, but eggs must be fertilized by another barnacle. A sperm tube extends from one into a neighboring barnacle to fertilize eggs. Eggs released into water. Once larvae finally attach to a substrate, shell plates are developed and cover their entire body.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1 in diameter

Predators: Larvae eaten by young fish; flatworms are major predators of adults. Sponges, bryozoans and similar animals can grow on top of the barnacles and smother them. Shell protects against predators.

Importance to humans: Classified as fouling organism; can be a nuisance to major industries

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Barnacles grow by adding calcium carbonate to edges of shell plates. Interior of barnacle grows by shedding its exoskeleton. Well adapted to water loss with air tight shell.


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Channeled whelk

Scientific name: 
Busycotypus canaliculatus

Distribution: Channeled whelks range from Massachusetts through eastern Florida, and have been introduced into San Francisco Bay, California. 

Habitat: Channeled whelks prefer sandy, shallow, intertidal or subtidal areas, and can be common in these habitats.

Key characteristics for distinction: The shell aperture is located on the right side, i.e. the shell of this species is almost always dextral in coiling. Left-handed or sinistral specimens occur rarely. The shell is smooth and subpyriform (generally pear-shaped), with a large body whorl and a straight siphonal canal. Between the whorls there is a wide, deep channel at the suture, and there are often weak knobs at the shoulders of the whorls. Finely sculpted lines begin at the siphonal canal and revolve around the shell surface.

Coloration: The color of the shell is typically a buff gray to light tan.

Feeding habits/specializations: They tend to be nocturnal and are known to eat clams, other shellfish

Reproduction: In early fall, the male conch mates with the female by coupling. The female, later lays a yellow parchment-like string of egg cases in deep water, anchoring one end in the sand. The string consists of as many as 30 to 40 pouches, attached by common heavy central cord. Each pouch may contain up to 100 fertilized eggs in a jelly like material. The conch embryos are slow developing, the 1/8" long hatchlings begin crawling out of the pouches the following year in late spring.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 8 in

Predators: blue crab common predator

Importance to humans: sometimes used as food, shell collection.

Conservation status: Have been over fished in some areas.

Fun fact: previously known as Busycon canaliculatum



Common spider crab

Scientific name: 
Libinia emarginata

Distribution: Found from Nova Scotia to the western Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat: Inhabit the brackish and salty waters. Found on a variety of ocean, bay or harbor bottoms, from shallow water to depths exceeding 150 feet.

Key characteristics for distinction: triangle-shaped carapace (shell), tapered snout and short eyestalk, white, narrow claws that are slow and not very strong, features median row of nine low spines (which differentiate the creature from the six-spined spider crab)

Coloration: Khaki-colored

Feeding habits/specializations: Sluggish and unaggressive scavengers with poor eyesight. Sensitive tasting and sensing organs located on the tips of its walking legs allow common spider crab to identify food in the water or mud as it walk. Often feed on large starfish

Reproduction: Must molt to grow. When molting, common spider crab clings to top of eelgrass close to water's surface. Have been observed molting in large "pods" in the fall, hibernating in dense patches in the winter and mating in large groups in the spring Females close to releasing eggs are held behind male and aggressively protected. Young hatch from eggs that are bright orange-red when laid but turn brown during development, which takes about 25 days.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1 ft with legs outstretched, carapace 4 in front to back

Predators: Uses camouflage to hide from predators; also waves pincers over head in warning gesture when startled. Large fish, octopus and stingrays. Humans.

Importance to humans: food item

Conservation status: unranked

Fun fact: Called the “decorator crab” because its shell is often ornamented with various spines and tubercles, and clothed in algae, debris and small invertebrates held in place by hook-like hairs.




Scientific name: 
Tautogolabrus adspersus

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated; depth range 10 - 128 m. Inhabits shallow, inshore waters, living on or near the bottom, often congregating in masses around wharves, wrecks and submerged seaweed. During winter they become torpid and remain inshore under rocks in shallow water.

Key characteristics for distinction: They can be distinguished from the tautog by their pointed snouts. Small, slender fish that belongs to the wrasse family of fish. It is characterized by a single, long dorsal fin, with sharp spines forward and soft rays in the rear. The cunner has distinct iridescent blue streaks running from its mouth back to its gill cover, and it has large scales and tough skin with a vertically flattened body. Its flat-topped head has a pointed snout and a small mouth, generally exposing several of the sharp teeth. The cunner's tail fin is blunt with rounded corners. This species is closely related to and often incorrectly identified as a tautog, though the cunner is generally smaller, not as stout bodied, and has thinner lips than the tautog.

Coloration: Green gray with some blotching; can change color to blend in with the bottom. Electric blue streaks running from mouth back to gill cover.

Feeding habits/specializations: Cunners are aggressive omnivores as well as scavengers. They feed on barnacles, mollusks, shrimp, crabs, amphipods, small fish, and almost any other available food sources, including eelgrass.

Reproduction: The cunner spawns chiefly from late spring through early summer. The eggs are buoyant, transparent, 0.75 to 0.85 mm. in diameter, and they do not have an oil globule.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 15 in

Predators: larger fish, seabirds

Importance to humans: Not sought after as a gamefish; considered a pest to fishermen as they steal bait.

Conservation status: least concern

Fun fact: They can be confused with black sea bass and other grouper, as well as tautog, for their ability to change color.



Feather blenny

Scientific name: 
Hypsoblennius hentz

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Usually live among oyster reefs, but may also be found within eelgrass beds.

Key characteristics for distinction: Scaleless body. Long, continuous dorsal fins along the back. Feather blennies have two feathery, branching tentacles on the head.

Coloration: Olive green body with small, dark spots on the head. The body is covered with small, dark spots that sometimes form lines or bars.

Feeding habits/specializations: small mollusks and crustaceans

Reproduction: Spawn from early spring through August; females lay round amber colored eggs inside empty oyster shells; males aggressively guard eggs until they hatch.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 4 in

Predators: larger fish such as striped bass, bluefish, weakfish; hides from them within small crevices of oyster reefs.

Importance to humans: aquarium use only; not sought after as a commercial fish

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Secretive fish and solitary! Difficult to find but keep an eye out for open oyster shells that might have a blenny hiding out.


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Flat clawed hermit crab

Scientific name: 
Pagurus pollicaris

Distribution: Found mostly in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay, south of Tangier Sound. 

Habitat: They live on beaches, mud flats and shallow waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: Hermit crabs are small crustaceans that lack a shell and must “borrow” one from another animal such as a snail, periwinkle or oyster drill. Soft, coiled abdomen that fits tightly inside the “borrowed” shell. One claw is larger than the other. Two pairs of walking legs. Broad-clawed hermit crabs have a flat major claw with wart-like projections called tubercles.

Coloration: reddish brown

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats algae, detritus and other tiny particles.

Reproduction: Go through several stages before becoming adults. Eggs develop into tiny, free-swimming larvae called zoea. Zoea grow and molt several times before becoming megalops, which are still tiny but have a crustacean-like form. Megalops molt and grow into juveniles. Juveniles continue to molt and grow, eventually becoming adults. As hermit crabs grow, they find larger shells to “borrow”

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 4 in

Predators: Preyed upon by larger animals, including fish, blue crabs and large snails.

Importance to humans: importance as bioassay organism; pets

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: It is nearly impossible to pull a hermit crab out of its shell. Hermit crabs wrap their soft abdomen around the inside of the shell to firmly hold themselves in place.


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Florida stone crab

Scientific name: 
Menippe mercenaria

Distribution: West central part of Florida south to the Florida Keys and around the peninsula to east central Florida as well as parts of South and North Carolina.

Habitat: Variety of estuarine and nearshore habitats. Juveniles inhabit hiding places like crevices in and beneath rock, shells, etc. Adults live in burrows and can be found in seagrass beds or on rocky substrates.

Key characteristics for distinction: They have a smooth oval carapace and the legs are dark brown with distinct white bands. They have large powerful claws with black tips; a large crusher claw and a smaller pincher claw with numerous small teeth used for cutting.

Coloration: Adult Florida stone crabs are typically tan to light or medium gray with small uniform black spots on their body.

Feeding habits/specializations: Opportunistic carnivores, but will occasionally feed on plant material. Oysters, clams, barnacles, anemones, worms and other crabs. Powerful claws well adapted to crushing, tearing and ripping prey.

Reproduction: Mating only occurs when female has molted and shell is soft. This usually occurs September through November. Females store sperm received from males in special sacs for up to a year. Eggs fertilized internally but eventually deposited on female’s abdomen in external mass called a sponge. As many as 1 million eggs can be stored per sponge and several sponges can be produced in a single spawning season which usually occurs April through September.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 6 in carapace width

Predators: horse conch, grouper, sea turtles, cobia, octopuses and humans

Importance to humans: fisheries; ecological role – burrows provide habitat for variety of marine life.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: They have the ability to regenerate appendages if removed or damaged, but re-growth of claws rely on the joint that links the claw to the body.


Grass Shrimp

Grass shrimp spp.

Scientific name: 
Palaemonetes spp.

Habitat: Lives in shallow waters, often among bay grass beds.

Key characteristics for distinction: Segmented, nearly transparent body compressed on either side. Pointed serrated “horn” extending over the eyes. Claws on the first two pairs of walking legs.

Coloration: Nearly transparent body.

Feeding habits/specializations: Forages for worms, algae and tiny crustaceans.

Reproduction: Usually spawns in summer when water temperatures warm. Females must molt before mating. Female carries her eggs in a brood pouch visible through the shrimp’s transparent body. Eggs hatch into free-swimming larvae after 12-20 days.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 1.5 in

Predators: Small fish such as sunfish and killifish.

Importance to humans: Important ecological indicator of human impacts on estuaries and other bodies of water.

Conservation status: not evaluated


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Knobbed whelk

Scientific name: 
Busycon carica

Distribution: From Cape Cod, MA to northern Florida.

Habitat: The knobbed whelk lives in tidal estuarine watersand offshore in depths of up to 45.7 m (150 feet), although they are more commonly found in shallow shelf waters. In estuaries, they sometimes congregate on oyster reefs and clam beds as they feed on these and other marine bivalves.

Key characteristics for distinction: characterized by low knobs on the shoulder of the whorl with the aperture on the right side. Whelks grow by extending the shell around a central axis, producing turns, or whorls, as they evolve. The final whorl, and usually the largest, is the body whorl that terminates, providing the aperture into which the snail can withdraw. Whelks also have a separate hard, horny plate, called an operculum, which acts like a trap door when the snail withdraws into the shell. Sometimes called a “shoe,” the operculum is attached to the top of the living animal’s foot and is seldom found with empty whelk shells

Coloration: Aperture coloration ranges from light orange-yellow to brick red.

Feeding habits/specializations: Whelks are carnivorous gastropods that feed on bivalves such as hard clams, oysters and incongruous arks. Knobbed whelks use their shell’s lip to chip and pry the valves of their prey apart by holding it with its foot so that the ventral edges of the prey’s valves are under the outer lip of the whelk’s shell. Slow chipping continues until an opening occurs to allow the whelk to wedge its shell between the clam’s valves and then enter its foot to begin feeding. Since the feeding process results in damage to the shell, limited growth sometimes occurs in adults as energy is used to repair their shells.

Reproduction: Knobbed whelks lay egg strings twice a year, usually from September through October and April through May. Of the two egg-laying periods, fall appears to be the most productive.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 12 in

Importance to humans: shell collection, minor fisheries

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: State shell of New Jersey


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Lightning whelk

Scientific name: 
Busycon contrarium

Habitat: Sandy or muddy substrate of shallow embayments.

Key characteristics for distinction: Left-handed or sinistral shell.

Coloration: gray with a few vertical violet-brown streaks. The aperature of the adult shells can vary from white, pale yellow to orange or bright red.

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats mostly bivalves. Most often, these whelks eat clams--usually one a month. With its large foot, the whelk pries open the clam's shell. Then, with the clam shell held open by the edge of its own shell, the whelk sends its proboscis and toothed, tongue-like radula inside to rasp and eat the softer meat.

Reproduction: Busycon contrarium has separate sexes. Reproduction is internal and copulation occurs in late autumn to early winter. Females lay long strings of disc-shaped egg capsules that measure up to 86 cm in length and 3 cm wide in early spring. The string of eggs is anchored to the sand and the capsules break loose when the eggs hatch at the beginning of May.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 16 in

Importance to humans: used as food, shells collected

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: State shell of Texas. Juvenile shells have lightning bolt shaped stripes on the shell hence the common name lightning whelk.



Long wrist hermit crab

Scientific name: 
Pagurus longicarpus

Distribution: Found mostly in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay, south of Tangier Sound.

Habitat: They live on beaches, mud flats and shallow waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: Hermit crabs are small crustaceans that lack a shell and must “borrow” one from another animal such as a snail, periwinkle or oyster drill. Soft, coiled abdomen that fits tightly inside the “borrowed” shell. One claw is larger than the other. Two pairs of walking legs. Long-clawed hermit crabs have long, narrow claws. The hands of the claws have a darker stripe.

Coloration: variable from beige to off-white to green-grey to brown

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats algae, detritus and other tiny particles.

Reproduction: Go through several stages before becoming adults. Eggs develop into tiny, free-swimming larvae called zoea. Zoea grow and molt several times before becoming megalops, which are still tiny but have a crustacean-like form. Megalops molt and grow into juveniles. Juveniles continue to molt and grow, eventually becoming adults. As hermit crabs grow, they find larger shells to “borrow”

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 0.5 in

Predators: Preyed upon by larger animals, including fish, blue crabs and large snails.

Importance to humans: importance as bioassay organism; pets

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Always searching for a larger shell to “borrow,” a hermit crab will sometimes steal a shell from a smaller hermit crab.


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Longhorn sculpin

Scientific name: 
Myoxocephalus octodecemspinosus

Habitat: Commonly found in harbors and shallow coastal waters. Move to deeper water in winter.

Key characteristics for distinction: Their pectoral fins are smooth on the upper edge and webbed with sharp rays along the lower edge, a modification that makes them specialized for gripping the substrate. This adaptation helps the fish anchor in fast-flowing water.

Coloration: Varies in color with its surroundings. The ground tint of the back and sides ranges from dark olive to pale greenish-yellow, greenish-brown, or pale mouse color. As a rule it is marked with four irregular, obscure, dark crossbars, but these are often broken up into blotches and they may be indistinct. The coarseness of pattern often corresponds to that of the bottom, as does the degree of contrast between pale and dark; there often is an obscure yellowish band along the lower part of the sides, marking the transition from the dark upper parts to the pure white belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: feeds on crustaceans, mollusks, sea squirts, squids and fishes (herring, mackerel, smelt, sand lance and silversides). The longhorn is as useful a scavenger and equally voracious, gathering about wharves, sardine factories, and under lobster cars, always keeping to the bottom.

Reproduction: Adults attach their eggs near the base of a sponge to use as a spawning bed.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18 in

Importance to humans: sometimes used as bait but not usually fished

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Also called Toadfish.



Naked goby

Scientific name: 
Gobiosoma bosc

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Inhabit estuaries and weedy, protected coastal waters. Young are found in the same places as adults. Usually live among oyster reefs, but may also be found within eelgrass beds and around rocks and pilings. Naked gobies may bury themselves in bottom sediments in winter.

Key characteristics for distinction: Elongated body. Large mouth with large, closely set eyes on top of the head. Two separate dorsal fins. Fused pelvic fins that act as suction discs. Naked gobies are scaleless.

Coloration: Naked gobies are dark greenish-brown with 8-10 light bars running along the sides.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feed mainly on annelids and small crustaceans; also attracted to injured or dead oysters.

Reproduction: Spawn in May-November. Females lay bundles of small, amber-colored eggs inside of empty oyster shells. Males aggressively guard the eggs until they hatch. Free-swimming naked goby larvae may migrate upstream and school over oyster reefs before settling.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 2.3 in

Predators: Larger fish such as striped bass, bluefish and weakfish. Hide from predators within small crevices of oyster reefs.

Importance to humans: not a gamefish; aquarium use

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Gobies are small found mostly among oyster reefs.



Northern kingfish

Scientific name: 
Menticirrhus saxatilis

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Occurs usually in shallow coastal waters over sand to sandy mud bottoms. Common in the surf zone and in estuaries. Juveniles may enter tidal rivers and creeks of low salinity.

Key characteristics for distinction: Its upper jaw projects further than the lower and the snout overhangs the mouth. There is a small barbel on its fleshy lower lip. The dorsal fin is divided into two parts. The front part is triangular, short but tall with 10 spines, the third of which is the longest and is extended into a short filament. The other part of the dorsal fin is long and slightly tapered and has one spine and 24 to 27 soft rays. The pointed pectoral fins are quite large and the anal fin has 1 spine and 8 soft rays. The tailfin has a characteristic slightly concave upper lobe and a rounded lower lobe.

Coloration: Dark grey metallic sheen and paler grey below. Several diagonal bars dark in color which appear on the upper portion of the body; these bars run mostly towards the tail end of the body but one or two near the head slope the other direction. Fins are dark in color and tipped in white.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mainly on worms and crustaceans.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs from June until August in bays and sounds, young are unlikely to be found in the Gulf of Maine. Many males mature at 2 years, but few females mature until 3 years of age.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 18 in

Predators: other large fish

Importance to humans: fishing

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Unlike most members of its family, the northern kingfish has no air bladder, so the fish does not make the "croaking" sound that is characteristic of the family.


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Northern moon snail

Scientific name: 
Lunatia heros

Distribution: distribution ranges from Labrador to North Carolina

Habitat: usually found in inter-tidal plowing along, half-buried on beach flats or sub-tidal

Key characteristics for distinction: Has true gills beneath the shell. The shell of this species is globular. The operculum is large, ear-shaped in outline, and is corneus and somewhat transparent.

Coloration: range from gray to tan

Feeding habits/specializations: mollusks; use radula to drill hole into shell.

Reproduction: The sexes are separated, with eggs being fertilized internally. Eggs are laid in a “sand collar” secreted by the foot.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 7 in

Predators: sea gulls, other snails, rays, crabs

Importance to humans: food item

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: With the help of mucus, Northern Moonsnails use an enormous, gliding foot to plow through the sand. Their foot is expanded using internal sinuses that are filled with haemolymph.


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Oyster toadfish

Scientific name: 
Opsanus tau

Habitat: Marine; reef-associated. Largely inhabits inshore water on rocky bottoms and reefs, jetties and wrecks. Frequently occurs among litter and tolerates polluted water.

Key characteristics for distinction: Scaleless, flattened body. Fleshy flaps or “whiskers” on the cheeks and jaw. Big, bulging eyes on top of large flat head. Broad mouth with strong rounded teeth. Spiny dorsal fin.

Coloration: Olive-brown back with dark blotches; pale belly.

Feeding habits/specializations: Mostly small crabs/crustaceans. Also eats mollusks and small fish.

Reproduction: Spawning males make a distinctive “foghorn” call to attract a mate. Spawns April-October. Males nest in dark secluded location then call for female. Female lays sticky eggs on nest then leaves. Male protects eggs and keeps nest clean.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 17 in

Predators: May be eaten by sharks. Hides from predators within oyster reefs and rocky areas. Protects itself with strong jaws and spiny dorsal fin.

Importance to humans: Becoming important as an experimental fish because of its size and hardiness.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: An oyster toadfish will quickly take an angler's bait. But be wary of catching this fish — it has powerful, snapping jaws and sharp spines on the dorsal fin.



Red beard sponge

Scientific name: 
Microciona prolifera

Distribution: Northwestern Atlantic from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to at least South Carolina.

Habitat: lives on rocks, reefs, piers, pilings and other hard surfaces

Key characteristics for distinction: brightly colored sponge with thick, intertwining branches; small scattered pores

Coloration: varies in color from orange to bright red

Feeding habits/specializations: filter feeder; feeds by drawing water through pores into chambers. Beating, hair-like cilia capture food particles in the water. Unused water and waste products exit through another opening at the top of the sponge.

Reproduction: Reproduces sexually and asexually. Asexual takes place when branches are damage or broken off. The sponge fragments bud into new sponges. During sexual reproduction, eggs are fertilized within the sponge. Free swimming larvae eventually settle to the bottom where they find a hard surface to attach to.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 8 in tall, 12 in wide

Predators: sea slugs, sea stars and turtles

Importance to humans: provide important habitats for other creature

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Cannot survive if taken out of the water. Sponges provide important habitat for shrimp, worms, crabs and other small creatures.


White Anemone

Sea anemone spp.

Scientific name: 
Actinaria spp.

Habitat: inhabitants of rocky shores and coral reefs around the world; other species can be found at very low depths indeed. Most actinarians are sessile; that is, they live attached to rocks or other substrates and do not move, or move only very slowly by contractions of the pedal disk. A number of anemones burrow into sand, and a few can even swim short distances, by bending the column back and forth or by "flapping" their tentacles.

Key characteristics for distinction: Actinarians have generally column-shaped bodies with the mouth at one end, and the pedal disk -- a muscular organ for attachment to substrates -- at the other. The mouth is on a corresponding structure, the oral disk, which is ringed with rows of tentacles.

Coloration: varies depending on species.

Feeding habits/specializations: preys upon small fish and shrimps.

Reproduction: Actinarian anemones can reproduce either sexually or asexually, but they do not form true colonies with permanent tissue connections between members, unlike the superficially similar zoanthiniarian anemones.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): varies depending on species.

Predators: Highly toxic to fish, starfish and crustaceans so mostly protected but can be eaten if die for other reasons. Sea anemones defend themselves using toxins produced by nematocysts.

Importance to humans: Due to the different relationships various fish, etc make with these anemones, removal or exploitation could result in a negative impact on the ecology of an environment. They are beautiful showcase items for any aquarium but care should be taken in how they are obtained and cared for.

Conservation status: Aquarium fishing have affected numbers in the wild as they have been exploited.

Fun fact: In all, there are about 1000 species of sea anemone in the world's oceans. The cnidae that sting are called nematocysts. Each nematocyst contains a small vesicle filled with toxins (actinoporins), an inner filament, and an external sensory hair. A touch to the hair mechanically triggers a cell explosion—which launches a harpoon-like structure that attaches to organisms that trigger it, and injects a dose of venom in the flesh of the aggressor or prey. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling.


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Sea whip

Scientific name: 
Leptogorgia virgulata

Habitat: Grows on rocks, reefs, pilings, bulkheads and other hard surfaces from the low-tide line to deep waters.

Key characteristics for distinction: Long, slender, whip-like branches. Branches are covered with coral polyps, which look like tiny, white dots against the coral’s skeleton

Coloration: Varies in color from yellow, tan or orange to deep purple.

Feeding habits/specializations: Suspension feeder. Each polyp has eight feathery, saw-toothed tentacles that periodically emerge to sweep plankton and other tiny particles into the coral’s body.

Reproduction: Unlike other corals, whip coral reproduces sexually by external fertilization. After hatching, free-swimming larvae float in the water for 3-20 days. Larvae eventually settle to the bottom and search for a hard surface to attach themselves. After attaching, larvae morph into a form that more closely resembles adults

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 ft

Predators: mollusks like the sea slug; sea whip shrimp

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Leptogorgia virgulata uses chemical defenses to prevent algae, barnacles and bryozoans growing on the stalks. They are being researched for use as anti-fouling agents to prevent the growth of marine organisms on man-made structures.




Scientific name: 
Gobiesox strumosus

Habitat: Inhabits grassy and rocky shallow areas and around pilings. Usually lives among oyster reefs, but may also be found within eelgrass beds

Key characteristics for distinction: Frying pan shaped body. Large suction disk on underside of body formed by modified pelvic fins. Broad flat head with tiny eyes, strong teeth and fleshy lips

Coloration: Varies in color from pale grey to dark brown with mottled pattern. Dark band at base of rounded tail fin.

Feeding habits/specializations: Feeds mostly on bristle worms and small crustaceans such as amphipods and isopods

Reproduction: Spawns in April-August. The female lays a few hundred sticky, amber-colored eggs into an empty oyster shell. The male guards the eggs until they hatch.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 3 in

Predators: Brown speckled coloring allows it to blend in with oyster shells and bottom sediments. Hides from predators within small crevices of oyster reefs

Importance to humans: aquarium use

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Gets its name from its frying pan-shaped body.




Scientific name:
Leiostomus xanthurus

Habitat: shallow waters, often near pilings and jetties. Schools just below the water’s surface. Has been collected from all depths and bottom types. Juveniles often move into freshwater rivers.

Key characteristics for distinction: Deep notch in the dorsal fin. High, rounded back that slopes down to a small head. No teeth in the lower jaw. Forked tail fin.

Coloration: Bluish-gray body. A distinctive large, black spot near the gill opening. 12-15 dark, angled bars across the back. Brassy white belly. Pale fins

Feeding habits/specializations: bottom-feeder; bristle worms, mollusks, crustaceans, plant and animal detritus.

Reproduction: Spawns over the continental shelf from late September-March. After spawning, adults may stay offshore. Tiny larvae enter the Bay and move to freshwater shallows and tidal creeks, where they stay and grow throughout the summer.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 11-12 in

Predators: larger fish like red drum, bluefish, and striped bass

Importance to humans: fishing/commercial

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Also called Norfolk spot. Part of drum family which vibrates their swim bladder using special muscles to create a loud drumming or croaking sound.



Striped blenny

Scientific name: 
Chasmodes bosquianus

Habitat: Marine; brackish; demersal. Usually live among oyster reefs, but may also be found within eelgrass beds.

Key characteristics for distinction: Scaleless body. Long, continuous dorsal fins along the back. Striped blennies have lines that run along the sides: males are bright blue and females are pale green. Males also have a bright blue spot at the front of the dorsal fin and an orange band running along the fin’s entire length.

Coloration: Olive green body with small, dark spots on the head.

Feeding habits/specializations: small mollusks and crustaceans

Reproduction: Spawn from early spring through August; females lay round amber colored eggs inside empty oyster shells; males aggressively guard eggs until they hatch.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): 6 in

Predators: larger fish such as striped bass, bluefish, weakfish; hides from them within small crevices of oyster reefs.

Importance to humans: aquarium use only; not sought after as a commercial fish

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: Secretive fish and solitary! Difficult to find but keep an eye out for open oyster shells that might have a blenny hiding out.


Striped Hermit Crab

Striped hermit crab

Scientific name: 
Clibanarius vittatus

Distribution: It is found the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean. 

Habitat: It is more resistant to desiccation than many hermit crabs and is found in the intertidal zone as well as at depths down to about 22 metres (72 ft). It can be found on sand or mud, in seagrass meadows, on rock jetties, in oyster beds and in other inshore habitats.

Key characteristics for distinction: lives inside the empty shell of a gastropod mollusc. This protects its soft abdomen and normally only its head and limbs project through the aperture of the shell. The chelipeds (claw-bearing legs) and claws of Clibanarius vittatus are rather small, both the same size and covered in short bristles. When threatened, the animal retreats into the shell and the chelipeds block the aperture. The outside of the claws bear small blue tubercles.

Coloration: The body and legs are dark green or brown, faintly streaked with white and the legs have rather more distinct white or grey stripes.

Feeding habits/specializations: Eats algae, detritus and other tiny particles.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): occupy shells over 4 in

Predators: Preyed upon by larger animals, including fish, blue crabs and large snails.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun facts: The sea anemone, Calliactis tricolor, is often found attached to the shell that is occupied by Clibanarius vittatus. This seems to be a mutualistic arrangement in which the crab benefits from the fact that potential predators are deterred by the anemone's stinging cells while the anemone gains a greater access to food as the crab moves around.


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Scientific name: 
Urochordata spp.

Habitat: Most adult tunicates are sessile and are permanently attached to rocks or other hard surfaces on the ocean floor; others such as salps, doliolids and pyrosomes swim in the pelagic zone of the sea as adults.

Key characteristics for distinction: marine invertebrate. Their name derives from their unique outer covering or "tunic" which is formed from proteins and carbohydrates and acts as an exoskeleton. In some species it is thin, translucent and gelatinous while in others it is thick, tough and stiff. There are two openings in the body wall, the buccal siphon at the top through which water flows into the interior and the atrial siphon on the ventral side through which it is expelled.

Coloration: They come in a range of solid or translucent colors and may resemble seeds, grapes, peaches, barrels or bottles.Feeding habits/specializations: They are marine filter feeders with a water-filled, sac-like body structure and two tubular openings, known as siphons, through which they draw in and expel water. During their respiration and feeding they take in water through the incurrent (or inhalant) siphon and expel the filtered water through the excurrent (or exhalant) siphon.

Reproduction: Ascidians are almost all hermaphrodites and each has a single ovary and testis, either near the gut or on the body wall. In some solitary species, sperm and eggs are shed into the sea and the larvae are planktonic. In others, especially colonial species, sperm is released into the water and drawn into the atria of other individuals with the incoming water current. Fertilization takes place here and the eggs are brooded through their early developmental stages. Pyrosome colonies grow by budding off new zooids near the posterior end of the colony. Sexual reproduction starts within a zooid with an internally fertilized egg. This develops directly into an oozooid without any intervening larval form. Doliolids have a very complex life cycle that includes various zooids with different functions. The sexually reproducing members of the colony are known as gonozooids. Each one is hermaphrodite with the eggs being fertilized by sperm from another individual. The gonozooid is viviparous and at first the developing embryo feeds on its yolk sac before being released into the sea as a free-swimming, tadpole-like larva.

Maximum length (in inches or feet): depending on species – ranging from 0.04 in to 8 in

Predators: flatworms, sea stars, tritons. Some have defenses against predation such as camouflage, presence of sulfuric acid or unpalatable granules of calcium carbonate.

Importance to humans: Medical uses – potentially useful chemical compounds effective against various types of cancer. Some consumed as food around the world.

Conservation status: not evaluated

Fun fact: Some tunicates live as solitary individuals but others replicate by budding and become colonies, each unit being known as a zooid.