Photo: The Battle of the Sea Anemones

(Credit: Western Washington University)

At the Royal BC Museum, my family was looking at a live exhibit of ocean creatures. They were all small organism, ranging from shellfish to starfish. As we began to point interesting species out to each other, the lady who was in charge of the exhibit took the time to tell me the story of The Battle of the Sea Anemones. Leaning over the tank, looking at the single anemone, I envisioned her words coming to life...

"A lone sea anemone left its colony, tired of the large population and constant fights. It traveled for days and nights, crawling along the sea floor as only anemones can. Finally, the sea anemone found the solitude it was seeking."

At this point, the woman told us a few facts about the sea anemone in question, known as Anthopleura elegantissima. She said that it was a very special type of sea anemone. It could produce genetically identical copies of itself through binary fission! ...

"The lone sea anemone settled in for a long life in his new home, having nothing to do but eat, sleep, and grow. One day, the sea anemone woke to find that there was another anemone right next to it! (they looked strangely alike...) Each day, more and more sea anemones popped up until the colony stretched all the way back to the edge of the group that the lone anemone had left! This is where the trouble began."

The woman explained to us that as a defence against larger predators, almost all sea anemones were equipped with tiny poisonous harpoons. But this special anemone could also wield a club in territorial disputes! The "clubs" were also covered in tiny nematocysts that sting as much as their tentacles...

"The colonies each wanted to have more space, so they began to fight over the sea bed they were on. The lone anemone's new colony waved their clubs and spears in the water, and the older colony began to form a line in the sand to protect their part of the ocean floor. As both colonies picked up their spears and clubs, they prepared for battle. Unfortunately, there is never a true winner in any war. Everyone loses. Anemones from both colonies were injured and killed, drifting away in the tides if they came loose from the sea floor, until there were almost no anemones left. The remaining anemones spread out as far as they could, declaring that they wanted to be alone. Until they woke to find that another anemone was right next to them, and new colonies grew and grew until there was no room left and a new battle would begin..."
Author photo

By Kallyn DeGrace

Nova Scotia

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1 Comment

Jul 25, 2012
2:23 PM

I like this sea anemone story very much. It is a good metaphor for our own ever-expanding human population and our smothering of other life-forms.

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