Susan Middleton

Susan Middleton: Spineless
May 23 – August 21, 2015
Reception: June 19, 5:00–8:00 p.m.
Art as a Voice: June 30, 7:30 p.m. at the San Juan Community Theater

Susan Middleton, Orange-rimmed flatworm.

Susan Middleton, Orange-rimmed flatworm

“Spineless” features fifty spellbinding photographs of marine invertebrates from the waters around the San Juan Islands by acclaimed San Francisco-based photographer Susan Middleton. These astoundingly detailed photographs provide us a window to the mysterious and surprising world of marine invertebrates, which represent more than 98 percent of the known animal species in the ocean. This body of work is the cumulative effort of seven years photographing and cataloging marine invertebrates while working as a Whitely Fellow at the University of Washington Marine Labs. The traveling exhibition celebrates her recent book Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, published in 2014 by Abrams and Chronicle Books.

Susan Middleton is an acclaimed photographer, author, and lecturer who specializes in portraiture of rare and endangered animals, plants, sites, and cultures. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009, for many years she was the Chair of the Department of Photography at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where she currently serves as research associate. Her photographs have been exhibited worldwide in fine art and natural history contexts and are represented in the permanent collections of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Gallery of Art and is the the author of Evidence of Evolution (Abrams) and co-author of several other books.

 

Here are a few images from the exhibition:

 

Graceful Decorator Crab tiltedGraceful Decorator Crab
Oregonia gracilis

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

One of the most decorated of decorator crabs, this species accessorizes with everything from red and green seaweed to small invertebrates such as sponges, sea squirts, and hydroids. It collects the organisms using the claws on its front pair of legs, clipping off bits and affixing them to tiny, Velcro-like hooks on its shell. Not merely a fashion statement, the decor covering the crab effectively obscures the animal from the view of potential predators. The animal itself, however, maintains a clear line of sight:

Its eyes are on long stalks that allow a view unobstructed by the overgrowth. Some species of decorator crab appear to select stinging or noxious organisms as cover, using them as deterrent as well as camouflage.

 

Giant Fleshy ScalewormGiant Fleshy Scaleworm
Hololepida magna

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

One of the longest scale worms known, this monster reaches lengths of 30 centimeters (12 inches) or more. And to other, smaller invertebrates, it may indeed be a monster, as many scale worms are predators (the diet of this species is uncertain). Oddly enough, the scale worm has hard jaws not at the front of its mouth but at the back of its throat, which can be turned inside out: When the throat is thus extended, its back is in front and the jaws are exposed. The jaws grasp the prey, and the throat reverts inside the body, pulling the food in with it. The giant fleshy scale worm is nocturnal and seldom seen during the day.

 

Hooded Nudibranch whiteHooded Nudibranch
Melibe leonina

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

In the world of tiny crustaceans, the hooded nudibranch is the great white shark, its tentacle-fringed hood the equivalent of a toothy pair of jaws. Here, we’re looking up into that maw, formed by a fantastically expanded face. In normal feeding position, the hooded nudibranch holds the hood up, face forward or down. To catch the small crustaceans on which it feeds, it either closes the opening, purse string–style, around an animal that has strayed inside, or it brings the hood down on top of the prey like a net trapping a butterfly. Once the prey is captured, the nudibranch squeezes the hood to force the animal into its mouth.

 

 

Opalescent Nudibranch Hermissenda crassicornis Taxon: opisthobranch nudibranch aeolid Length 4 cm (1.6 inches)

Opalescent Nudibranch
Hermissenda crassicornis

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

Numerous orange-tipped tentacles called cerata (singular: ceras) are scattered along the back of this nudibranch. One function of the cerata seems to be helping the animal escape predation. In a set of laboratory experiments, researchers placed the nudibranchs in a tank with northern kelp crabs (Pugettia producta): When a crab grasped a nudibranch’s ceras in its claw, the slug immediately cast off the entire appendage, detaching it at its base. The crab was left with a squirming tentacle while the nudibranch rapidly escaped, gecko-style. Within a few days, regeneration of the lost ceras began, and within several weeks, the limb was as good as new.

 

Stiff footed Sea CucumberStiff-Footed Sea Cucumber
Eupentacta quinquesemita

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

The mouths of almost all sea cucumbers are encircled by a ring of feeding tentacles, which they use to collect food particles either from rocks and sand or from the water column. This one eats plankton and is usually found under rocks with only the finely branched tentacles exposed. Like many cucumbers, the stiff-footed sea cucumber has a habit of periodically “eviscerating”: tossing out most of its insides (and even losing its tentacles), and then spending two to four weeks regenerating them all. One study conducted in British Columbia found that this habit is seasonal in this species, with the majority of individuals eviscerating during the fall. The researchers speculated that the process functions to purge the cucumbers of chemical wastes that accumulate during the summer feeding season.

 

Sea AngelSea Angel
Clione limacina

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

The wing-like extensions of this sea slug’s foot allow it to “fly” angelically, but this angel has a dark side: It preys voraciously (and exclusively) on a species of swimming snail, Limacina helina. In fact, the species name limacina refers to its prey animal. The sea angel’s mouth sits between the two short tentacles on its head. When the predator comes into contact with a swimming snail, it everts a set of six long appendages from the mouth, capturing the snail in their grip. Holding the shell tightly, it extracts the body and swallows it whole. Tiny, young sea angels rely on larval swimming snails for food, while adult angels consume adult prey.

 

Stubby SquidStubby Squid
Rossia pacifica

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

Susan captured this delightful animal in mid-stride as it “walked” along the aquarium floor in a movement typical of the species. Not in fact a squid, the stubby squid’s lifestyle Is very different from those streamlined swimmers: It’s found near the ocean bottom, buried in sand during the daytime and crawling on the surface at night. Its reason for hiding in the day may be to escape the notice of both predators and prey. While it sometimes buries itself completely, at other times the bobtail leaves its eyes and the tip of a waving tentacle exposed, suggestive of an animal luring in unsuspecting food items.

 

Black-Eyed SquidBlack-Eyed Squid
Gonatus onyx

Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, University of Washington
San Juan Island, Washington

Archival Pigment Print

Squids generally have a hands-off style of parenting: Mothers lay their fertilized eggs on the ocean floor or in floating masses and leave them to develop unattended. In 2000, biologists reported the first known case of a species with parental care: black-eyed squid females holding large, gelatinous masses of embryos in their arms. Adults of the species are normally found at 500 to 800 meters (1,600 to 2,600 feet) depth, but the brooding mothers were observed much deeper, at 1,500 to 2,500 meters (4,900 to 8,200 feet). Evidence suggests that a female carries the mass for up to nine months (during which time she can’t feed), moving inshore as hatching time approaches. Young members of the deepwater species, like this one collected right off a dock, are found in surface waters.