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Dante Fenolio

Dante Fenolio

Danté Fenolio grew up in the fog-shrouded redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. Banana Slugs, Pacific Giant Salamanders and Red Legged Frogs were a regular part of his daily childhood experience. His father and grandfather were avid outdoorsmen, imparting a love of nature in Danté that remains today. Field work in the tropics began at an early age and evolved into summer months that were spent in the Amazon Basin performing herpetological surveys. Fenolio earned a combined undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. He continued on and earned a Masters degree in Zoology from the University of Oklahoma, where he examined the population ecology of the Ozark Blind Cave Salamander. His concurrent involvement with the Subterranean Biodiversity Project gave him the opportunity to work in hundreds of caves across the Ozarks of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. Danté then earned a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Miami, Florida, involving amphibian conservation and taxonomy. After graduate school, Fenolio worked for the Atlanta Botanical Garden, helping to coordinate both local and international conservation efforts and developing captive breeding methods for critically endangered species. Perhaps the most significant project while with the Garden was the development of the Chilean Amphibian Conservation Center, in Santiago, Chile. The collaboration with the National Zoo of Chile works to develop captive assurance colonies of endangered Chilean amphibians and to monitor wild populations for emergent infectious disease – see . Danté now runs the Department of Conservation and Research for the San Antonio Zoo (San Antonio, Texas, USA) with active conservation work in the United States, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, China and Japan. Fenolio's research interests focus on the ecology of animals living in challenging environments such as subterranean ecosystems, deep water environments, and forest canopies.

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The eels and their relatives (Elopomorpha) have larval stages known as leptocephali (singular is leptocephalus). They can be leaf shaped (bottom of figure, top most whole body image) or they can be more elongate and eel like (bottom of figure, middle whole body image). The fishes that are related to true eels include the halosaurs and the ladyfishes (bottom of figure, bottom whole body image). Head shapes can be elongate and serpent-like or rounded (top images). We have been intensively surveying the leptocephali of the Gulf of Mexico during our cruises. I have about 50 species photographed so far.


A full body shot of the Orangeback Flying Squid (Sthenoteuthis pteropus). This species can jump out of the water and glide, just like flying fishes.


A deep water marine ostracod, (Gigantocypris sp.). Ostracods are related to crabs, shrimp, lobsters, etc. Both individuals are brooding eggs. The specialized eyes detect bioluminescence in the copepods that they hunt and eat.



Brought up some more Bobtail Squid (Heteroteuthis dagamensis) in a trawl. This is as big as they grow.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Juvenile-bobtail-squid.jpg b2ap3_thumbnail_bobtail-squid.jpg




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A Bobtail Squid (Heteroteuthis dagamensis)


Moonfish (Selene sp.)



Another immature shrimp from this morning's trawl...perhaps an Atlantic Coral Banded Shrimp?




So folks ask me all the time about the size of the deep water wildlife we see. Most are really small. One exception can be found with several species of dragonfish (this is Echiostoma barbatum). Pictured here is Katie Bowen with the dragonfish.



The Orangeback Flying Squid (Sthenoteuthis pteropus). This species can jump out of the water and glide, just like flying fishes.



A "Swallower" (Pseudoscopelus sp.) - they have greatly expandable stomach tissue and can eat fish twice their size. Also called a "Snaketooth."



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The Sargassum Triggerfish (Xanthichthys ringens)






A larval flatfish (Bothus sp.)



I Love me some squid (Abralia redfieldi)





Female anglerfish, larvae (Linophrynidae). Still has her jelly coat.






Leptocephalus (eel larvae)..and a cool species at that - the False Moray(Kaupichthys hyoproroides).



Happiness is shooting anglerfishes day in and day out. This is an odd one (Oneirodes carlsbergi). A close up of the esca (lure) is in the upper corner. The lure glows and attracts prey items. Only females grow to this size and have lures.




Another (Centrophryne spinulosa). Close op of the esca to the upper left....




Larval shrimp









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Crazy weather this morning....this right next to the ship.



The life and death of a waterspout.



Although the weather was crazy it didn't' stop us from pulling up some really cool animals like this larval shrimp.




And this Dragonfish (Photostomias guernei).



And this Joubin's squid (Joubiniteuthis portieri)



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A fish I have wanted to see for years (Inops murrayi). This deep water species is usually found between 1,460m and 3,500m. This is a juvenile we caught in the water column. Instead of functional eyes, what remains of photoreceptive tissue lies beneath bone in this species. The "eyes" have no lenses but can detect light.



We also captured a beautiful shrimp today. She is "in berry" or brooding eggs beneath her tail. The inset to the top left depicts the eggs beneath her tail. I am holding her to show size.






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Catch of yesterday morning...a lobster larvae.



Another encounter in the afternoon trawl. A Dragonfish (Idiacanthus fasciola). This Dragonfish is sexually dimorphic. Males don't get the barbel and bioluminescent bulb hanging off of their chins. They have short lives and last just long enough to breed. This is a female. Note the bioluminescent photophores on her sides. Those spots glow in the dark and most likely aid in recognition of same species individuals and even recognition between the sexes. The bulb at the end of her barbel glows and attracts her prey items.




A deep water fish (Scopelarchus analis) with upward facing eyes that are adapted to see faint light or to key in on bioluminescence.





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Yesterday morning we deployed our drone - an "autonomous underwater vehicle or AUV." The unit will move to various ocean depths across the next two weeks and collect water parameters. When we are ready for it, we will signal for it to stop and go to the surface. It will then start "pinging" using a GPS unit and we will locate and retrieve it.


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Heteropod snails by Mike Vecchione

                I am out here on the R/V Point Sur primarily to study cephalopods, the squids, octopods and their relatives. However, I have decided to write about a different group of very interesting animals. The swimming snails called heteropods are a group about which most people know nothing and nobody knows much. They are not closely related to the other, and somewhat better known, group of snails that spend their entire lives in the pelagic environment, the pteropods.

                Heteropods are active visual predators and, although most are small (planktonic), some can get quite large -- up to a half meter in length. I studied them many years ago and am now becoming reacquainted because we have been catching them regularly in our samples from the upper water layers. Three families exist, which seem to show a progression of evolution into pelagic life. Animals in the family with the smallest animals but most species have a coiled transparent shell into which they can withdraw their body and seal it off with a standard snail trap door, called an operculum. The shell has a keel on it, similar to what you might see on the bottom of a sailboat. The second family gets much larger but still has a keeled shell; for most species in this family the shell covers the guts like a hat. The third family loses the shell during transformation from the larval stage. They are streamlined and can swim quite fast. They should definitely be considered nekton rather than zooplankton.

                All heteropods have well developed, but peculiar, eyes. They have a narrow retina that the can rotate up and down. They probably form an image much the same way that the image forms on a TV screen, aggregating one line after another rather than the whole picture forming at once. Another characteristic of all heteropods is a single fin on the belly. They normally swim by undulating this fin. Additionally, the larger species can swim in rapid bursts by eel-like undulation of the entire body, which is shaped somewhat like a fish including a flattened tail. The bodies, especially in the larger species, are remarkably transparent except for the eyes (which have to catch light), the guts, and the organs of the mouth. Often when we are sorting our catch, the only way you can tell that there is a large heteropod is by the eyes, guts, and mouth.

                The mouth, located at the end of a trunk-like proboscis, has a structure characteristic of snails and most other molluscs, a tooth-covered tongue called a radula. This is used to grab and tear the heteropod's prey. The proboscis is why these animals are sometimes called "sea elephants". What they eat varies among the three families. The small species in the fully shelled family eat other snails, especially pteropods. They have a sucker at the base of the fin and use it to hold the shell of their prey. Not much is known about the natural prey of the other two families. It has been proposed that they eat a variety of prey, ranging from jellyfish to arrow worms, perhaps even including small fishes. Incidentally, the sucker is reduced in the other families and seems to be used to hold a sexual pair together during mating, so that the male can transfer a packet of sperm (spermatophore) to the female.

                We are finding that these active predatory snails are quite common out here, It will be interesting to figure out their importance in the pelagic ecosystem of the open Gulf of Mexico. 

Carinaria lamarcki is an example of heteropod from the family Carinariidae (top image).


A close-up of the shell of Carinaria lamarcki


An example from the another family of heteropod - the Pterotracheidae.  This is Pterotrachea coronata.


An example of the heteropod family Atlantidae.  This is Oxygyrus inflatus.


                For more imformation, see

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Seed shrimp are crustaceans (related to shrimp, crabs, and lobsters).  They belong to a group known as ostracods.  There are roughly 8,000 extant (living) species.  Ostracods have five paired appendages on their heads and one to three pairs ​of appendages on their bodies.  Another common name for the group is “mussel shrimp” because they have a two part, hinged shell (known as a carapace) that envelopes their bodies…like a clam or a mussel. 



Giant ostracods, Gigantocypris sp., are deep water seed shrimp.  Members of this genus appear to be among the largest of ostracods on earth, reaching a total size of 32mm diameter.  This one was the size of a green pea.  The eyes of these crustaceans (“nauplius eyes”) are divided into two lobes and have reflectors built in.  The eyes can detect bioluminescence from potential prey items, such as is produced by copepods.  Prey items include copepods, mysids, chaetognaths, medusae and other small invertebrates – even very small fish.  Gigantocypris store their eggs internally, in a brood pouch.  The eggs develop there until they hatch (as miniatures of the adults).  Juveniles are released into the pelagic environment.  This individual is brooding purple eggs inside its carapace.  Populations that have been studied are biased with 3 to 6 times more females than males.  Roughly five species have been described inhabiting all of the world’s major oceans.

More Soon!


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Wanted to share a few images from the last couple of days.  This Waryfish, Scopelosaurus smithi, has an impressive set of teeth.  This specimen came up in beautiful shape.


This is a Deepwater Flounder (Monolene sessilicauda).  It is in an immature phase and is still developing toward the adult stage.


I have always loved the group of deep water crustaceans which are sometimes referred to as "Blind Lobsters." These crustaceans pass through their immature stages in the water column. Once metamorphosis is complete, the animals descend further to live a life on the sea floor, often at abyssal depths.


More soon......

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 Working as a wildlife photographer on board a research ship provides endless opportunities.  What I think I enjoy the most is capturing the detail in a specimen.  For example, this beautiful Threadfin Dragonfish (Echiostoma barbatum) has an amazing pattern and texture to its skin.  The photophores (light producing organs) add to the pattern.  The detail of the barbel, with its glowing end, fascinates me.  I wanted to take the opportunity to share a series of images I took trying to highlight the detail of a dragonfish.


The red photophores (light producing organ) behind the eyes of the fish generate red light.  This is significant because most deep sea life can't see red light.  This fish makes red light and can see it.  Potential prey items are illuminated by the red light and don't know they have been spotted!


The feathery gills of the fish extend out from behind the gill cover (opercula).  The circular objects behind the opercula are photophores.  Dragonfishes may use photophores on their sides to recognize fishes of the same species, even the opposite sex, in the dark.


The barbell of the dragonfish has an end that glows in the dark.  Similar to anglerfishes, dragonfishes attract their prey using glowing lures.


The sides (or flanks) of dragonfishes are decorated with lines of photophores.  These light producing organs may convey important messages between members of the same species.


Even the tail end of the dragonfishes can be adorned with photophores.


Lots more to come but I wanted to share the detail of a particular fish today.  Working on this ship is really a wildlife photographers dream!


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Wanted to post a few quick images of the work going on in the labs.  Folks are busy!  Here is how it all starts...  The nets are opened at specific depths and there are multiple nets on the Mocness - so you can trawl different depths with the same trawl.  The work in the lab starts once a batch of deep sea life is brought in from a net.  The first job is sorting the catch by taxonomic group and then getting each group of organism to each specialist.



Fish identification


Crustacean identification.  After an ID is provided, further data/materials may be collected - such as a DNA or stable isotope sample.


DNA samples being collected from specimens.


Data is also collected for the physical conditions in which each trawl is made.


April keep everything organized and manages the master database.  Everything goes through April and is recorded.  


Sometimes a specimen is sent to the photographic lab for further documentation.


The photographic lab is located on the front deck of the ship.


This is the inside of the photolab.


The specimen is documented photographically and then returned to the main lab for preservation.


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The long drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Gulfport, Mississippi, gave me plenty of opportunity to think about the various deep sea creatures I hoped to see on this trip.  You could cut the excitement with a knife by the time I crossed the border from Louisiana to Mississippi.  Loading gear onto the Point Sur brought all of the anticipation to reality, and then we were off.  The seas have been calm and we made it to our first trawling station without incident.  Then we started to fish as the trawling nets disappeared into the depths.  A few hours later and the biologists on board, including me, were giddy – a net full of deep sea species was hauled on deck.  It always seems like Christmas morning when a net is hauled up; you really never know what you are going to get…and these first few trawls have not disappointed.  Cup after cup of great wildlife were handed to me.  One of my jobs is to photographically document our encounters, which included a beautiful Johnson’s Abyssal Seadevil, Melanocetus johnsonii.  These small predators have enormous teeth for snaring other small animals.  Anglerfishes are also known for the glowing lure that they use to hunt. The technical term for the lure on an anglerfish is an “esca,” the fishing pole that connects it to the anglerfish’s forehead is an “illicium.”  Anglerfishes are among my favorite fishes…hopefully more of these!


Another of my favorite groups of fishes, the dragonfishes, has made several appearances so far.  This Scaleless Blackdragon, Echiostoma barbatum, is a deep-water predator.  In contrast to anglerfishes, dragonfishes have a “fishing rod” hanging off of their chin with a lure attached.  The entire structure is known as a barbel. 


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