Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/89

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85
COLLECTING ON A CORAL REEF

tain. Its flesh is much prized for salad and has a distinct flavor of the nut.

Of the multitude of reef-inhabiting shells and their variety one can not even venture to speak. The natives use many of the smaller gasteropod shells in making necklaces. Often these little shells are strung alternately with red or yellow seeds. The many cowries attract attention, particularly a small white one with light-brown black-bordered ellipse which is the most abundant shell on the reefs. A large fluted shell, called by the Samoans faigua, is not uncommon, and its flesh is eaten raw by the natives. Many of the shells housed active little hermit crabs, and as we worked about the pools there was a continuous rapid scuttling about of these strangely tenanted houses.

Less familiar animals were the various marine worms, brilliantly colored nudibranchs and the unsavory looking fleshy masses of large pteropods. One of these salt-water worms looked almost exactly like the familiar fuzzy brown caterpillar of the Isabella moth that scurries about across our sidewalks and pathways in winter time. The most extraordinary, as well as the most famous, worm of the Samoan reefs is that curious creature called the palolo, which with a certain phase of the moon in November of each year appears in myriads in the shallow reef waters and is gathered with feverish haste by the natives as the choicest food of the whole year's finding. To be accurate, they are not the worms themselves which thus appear, but only certain parts of the worm body, the egg-producing parts, which break off from the rest of the worm, lying in crevices in the reef far below the water's surface. Mayer has recently described the similar habits of an Atlantic palolo common on the Dry Tortugas.

As for the "coral insects" themselves, they have been so often pictured and so much written about, that their graceful shapes and marvelous colors are familiar to all readers. As a matter of fact, we saw curiously little of live coral, and that which we saw was by no means brilliantly colored. The live zone of a coral reef is that part on its outer or seaward margin where the surf is always breaking and the water is pure and clean. The great mass of the reef is composed of dead coral, the shattered, crushed and compacted lime skeletons of millions of dead individuals, and this rock mass, this limestone ledge, is of dirty grayish or brownish white with no beauty of color at all.

Where we did see all the marvel of color and pattern that one must find on a tropic coral reef, or be sadly disappointed, was in the deeper, larger pools near the seaward edge of the reef. Imagine all the most brilliantly colored and strangely patterned tropic butterflies that you have ever seen pinned up in dead rows in museum cases alive and disporting themselves in clear water! You have before you then in your mind's eye no more extraordinary or beautiful sight than that actually