Of all the things in the sea,
the flea is most beautiful to me.
Okay, so this little ditty wasn’t written by Staff Pick of the Month nominator David Perry, an interpretive specialist at the Vancouver Aquarium – but it could have been. After all, he chose the black-and-white sea flea (Chromopleustes oculatus) to highlight for the month of December.
For most people, the word “flea” conjures up some pretty ugly images: a small annoying insect and itchy, red bite marks. But the black-and-white sea flea is not a true flea at all.
It’s an amphipod, a type of small crustacean with many feet-like appendages. Although they are found in oceans around the world, these particular ones are found from British Columbia to California. At the Aquarium, they can be seen with the sunflower stars in the Treasure of the BC Coast gallery.
Amphipods can be tiny. We’re talking fit-on-the-top-of-a-pencil-eraser tiny. Their size is the primary reason why David chose to highlight this animal.
“They are small and very few people notice them. I always get excited when people do, so I can tell them what they are!”
David says the black-and-white sea flea resonates with him because it is a small but important animal. It’s like a sea recycler, munching away on dead and decaying matter like seaweed.
Despite its name, this amphipod has bright yellow zigzags on its little body. Like many types of animals, this colouration is thought to warn predators (such as sculpins, a type of fish) of its nasty taste.
The black-and-white sea flea is not the only amphipod at the Aquarium – head to the Underwater Arctic gallery to see the skeleton shrimp (Aeginina longicornis).
Watch the black-and-white sea fleas in action below.