Baby Sand Dollars Clone Themselves When They Sense Danger

Posted on March 19, 2008  Comments (1)

Baby sand dollars clone themselves when they sense danger

The odds of growing up aren’t good for baby sand dollars. Smaller than the head of a pin, the larvae drift in the ocean — easy prey for anything with a mouth.

But a University of Washington graduate student has discovered the tiny animal has a surprising survival strategy: Faced with the threat of being gobbled up, it makes like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies and clones itself. The resulting “mini-me” may escape hungry fish because it is even teenier than the original — and harder to see.

“If you are eaten, but the smaller version of you survives, you’re still a winner from an evolutionary standpoint,” said Dawn Vaughn.

Familiar inhabitants of Washington’s subtidal zone, sand dollars start life though the chance encounter of sperm and egg, simultaneously released into the water by mature adults. The larvae free-float for about six weeks before metamorphosing into miniature sand dollars that settle in colonies and eventually grow to full size.

The white shells that wash up on the beach are the creatures’ external skeletons. Living sand dollars are covered with velvety, purple spines used to grab food particles. Vaughn knew many other marine invertebrates shift their shape to avoid being eaten. Colonial animals called bryozoans grow spikes when voracious sea slugs crawl across them. Barnacles take on a bent posture to repel snails. Vaughn’s own previous research showed periwinkle larvae narrow their shell openings to keep out marauding crab larvae.

One Response to “Baby Sand Dollars Clone Themselves When They Sense Danger”

  1. Curious Cat Science Blog » Octopus Juggling Fellow Aquarium Occupants
    November 27th, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

    “Otto is constantly craving for attention and always comes up with new stunts…”

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