Ask a Ocean Naturalist

Ask a Ocean Naturalist...
About Invertebrates!
Q: What are invertebrates?

A: Invertebrates are animals with no backbone. The invertebrate group encompasses a large and diverse array of animals, with over 90% of the world's species falling into this category. You are probably more familiar with invertebrates than you think; even in your own backyard you can find all kinds such as worms, slugs and insects. At the beach you might find crabs, sea stars, sea cucumbers, snails, shellfish, shrimps, coral, and more! The invertebrate group displays an enormous diversity in body shape and appearance, so that is why invertebrates look so different from each other and why we might think they look so strange!

Q: Are there any invertebrates at Maui Ocean Center?

A: There sure are. There are more invertebrates displayed at Maui Ocean Center than fish (considering that each coral head is actually a colony of small animals called 'polyps')! In our exhibits you will find a wide variety of invertebrates: lobsters, shellfish, sponges, crabs, octopus, squid, jellyfish, sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, corals, and more! For an up-close and personal experience with some invertebrates, come visit our Tide Pool exhibit. You can get your hands wet and see what some invertebrates actually feel like! We have sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins, available for you to gently handle and learn about hands-on. It is a great way to become more familiar with the strange world of invertebrate animals.

Q: What is the dominant type of invertebrate I will see at
Maui Ocean Center?

A: We have more corals on display than any other species of invertebrate: approximately 42 species! Most corals are communal animals - each polyp is very small and lives in such close proximity to other polyps that it can be hard to pick out one from another. Even though it might look like one big animal, it is actually many! Corals are also interesting because although they are classified as animals, they exhibit characteristics of plants and minerals too. The soft 'animal' part of coral is called a coral polyp. When you look at coral in the aquarium, the polyp is the soft colorful part. The coral's white skeleton is made up of the mineral calcium carbonate (blackboard chalk is made with calcium carbonate). It secretes this mineral right out of the ocean water! The 'plant' part of coral comes from symbiotic algae that live within the coral polyp. This type of algae (called zooxanthellae) uses photosynthesis to help feed the coral animal. Photosynthesis is a process that uses energy from the sun to produce food. In return, the coral polyp gives the algae a permanent place to live and access to sunlight near the ocean's surface.

Click here to send your questions!
Email to: eiberg@mauioceancenter.com