Two weeks ago I asked readers to help me identify the little pink marine animals that washed up by the thousands on several Oahu beaches. Fifteen people responded, their e-mails containing a wide range of comments, suggestions and experiences.
The most inspiring story came from a Waialua resident, Lee, who wrote that when his wife and son emerged from the water there, a few of these living, wiggling creatures were stuck in their hair.
Most people would be slapping and shaking their heads to get rid of such crawlies, but not this family. They carefully removed the creatures, determined that they were the immature form of something, guessing slipper lobsters, and then returned them to the ocean to grow up.
Lee, who grew up in Maui, writes, "It concerns me when I see people spearing fishes that do not meet the standards in size. I wish that people would malama (take care of) the beaches and ocean."
The most intriguing e-mail regarding the pink things came from a UH biologist who specializes in land snails and wondered whether my critters might be pteropods.
Pteropods are free-swimming, offshore snails, about the size of a lentil, that propel themselves through the water with a flappy, wing-shaped foot. These snails’ common name, sea butterflies, offers a picture of their swimming style.
Pteropods rarely wash ashore in Hawaii, nor do they have legs at any stage of development. When I sent this biologist a close-up photo of the pink things, he wrote, "It’s clear you DON’T have mollusks. I’m afraid my only expertise in crustaceans concerns their relationship to melted butter, so I’ll pass on further guessing."
Another reader, who grew up in Kailua and never saw anything like these beached "shrimp," noticed that among them were tiny, royal blue shells. Those is another snail species called violet snails, or Janthina, which float offshore with Portuguese men-of-war and other floating species. These drifters are known as the wind drift community.
The funniest e-mail came from Cynthia, who writes that these little guys, which she calls head fish because they’re almost all head, are gray-brown when swimming. They’re easy to catch with her hands, she writes, which always impresses the kids.
That made me smile but her afterthought made me laugh. "You might see what the official name is for b— biters, not to be crude, but it’s what the guys call something that gets in their trunks and, yes, bites."
Another reader doesn’t say where he gets bitten, but concurs.
"When I’m out surfing, those pink things bite or pinch me, leaving a little red mark." This surfer smashes them with his fingers because if he just splashes them away, they swim back and bite him again.
On a similar note, an angler writes that he finds these pink crustaceans inside papio and omilu (jacks) at the base of the skull. Since the creatures also swim after him pretty aggressively, he thinks they might be parasites.
The rest of the e-mails suggested developing hermit, Kona and mole crabs (the latter also are called sand turtles in Hawaii). Megalops, the stage of crab development after zoea, was the most likely offering, but the species is still unknown.
The best suggestion for solving the mystery came from a Coconut Island biologist: "Looks like a major recruitment event that got pulled back to a sandy shore. Be interesting to check the rocky tide pool areas to see if there are juveniles that made it. They should look like tiny crabs."
I did that and found no new clues, but I’ll keep looking.
Thanks, everyone, for writing.
Susan Scott can be reached at www.susanscott.net.