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This is not a July 4th firework bursting in the air but a tiny feather-like leg of a sand flea (Acanthohaustorius sp.) collected from the beach sand of Chesapeake Bay. The 0.8 mm long pair of front legs forms a net to capture plankton before scooping them into the sand flea’s mouth. Sand fleas are an important part of the ecosystem of the bay since they are a source of protein for marine shorebirds. Sand fleas are amphipods (different feet), a type of crustacean that has different kinds of legs specialized for different functions, in contrast to the closely-related isopods (same feet) such as sea slaters, pill bugs and woodlice where each leg looks alike.
The appendage was stained with dyes to highlight the chitin in the exoskeleton and imaged with a confocal microscope.
Igor Siwanowicz, PhD, HHMI Janelia Farm Research Campus.