Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! Hermit Crab!

Happy Halloween!

And Happy Halloween Crabday!
And Happy Halloween Hermit Crab Crabday!!!

Halloween Hermit Crab
Ciliopagurus strigatus

"Trick or Me! (Because I'm obviously a treat.)"

OK, I'll calm down. You see, Halloween is my favorite holiday by far. I love the costumes, the decorations, the spooky movies, the pumpkin-and-chocolate everything. So you can imagine how thrilling it was for me to find a Halloween crab! And a beautiful crab to boot!

"Even my tush is cute!"

We've already had a Crabday for hermit crabs in general, and a Crabday for the coconut crab (a shell-less hermit crab), but what makes the Halloween hermit crab special (aside from its name) are their orange and black legs. Those bold legs also differentiate the Halloween hermit crab from the other 3 species of hermits within the "Ciliopagurus strigatus complex".

claw coloration in the complex:
(A) Ciliopagurus strigatus, (B) C. tricolor,
(C) C. vakovako, and (D) galzini

What is a "Ciliopagurus strigatus complex?" It is a grouping of 4 species within the genus Ciliopagurus that are all very similar with the exception of their coloration. Normally, they might even be considered different variations of the same species, but they do, in fact, have enough genetic variation from one another to justify the different species names. In the aquarium world, they're still all commonly called Halloween hermit crabs though. Overall, the take away message that I got from this is, "Wow! The Halloween hermit crab has some purdy cousins!"

"Don't I know it!" - Halloween hermit crab

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween (and a relatively dry one for our East Coast readers)!

Complex reading:
Poupin, J., and M. C. Malay. 2009. Identification of a Ciliopagurus strigatus (Herbst, 1804) species-complex, with description of a new species from French Polynesia (Crustacea, Decapoda, Anomura, Diogenidae). Zoosystema 31: 209 - 232.

Friday, October 26, 2012

what a dip!

I went to a work party and had to come up with something quick to make. I remembered seeing this on Pinterest:

veggies and dip in their own edible cup (from here)

I picked up some bread, spinach and artichoke dip (I know, I know, I should've made my own, but I spent all last night sewing Ghostbusters patches onto multiple jumpsuits), and veggies, and created this:

veggie monsters! (the eyes are celery slices)
(these were the last 2, and pardon the photo - I just used my old phone)

THEN, I realized what a disservice I did to everyone, my veggie monsters included. I could have made them be veggie crabs and use a crab dip instead! Next time I will:

- buy a baguette or 2
- make this crab dip (maybe add 4-8 oz sour cream to make it a bit creamier)
- get some carrot chips, and cut a notch out of each of them
- get some broccoli crowns, and tear them apart

and make a veggie crab!

"Yar, I'll be a hit at any party!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Happy Mole Day!

Happy Mole Day! October 23rd is celebrated as "Mole Day" because of Avagadro's number:

6.02 x 1023

That number is how many molecules are in one mole of any substance, anywhere! For this special day (which is also my birthday), we're having a special Crabday:

Mole Crab
superfamily Hippoidea
here's lookin' at you, mole crab

I've got some celebrating to do, but I'd like to share 6.02 things about these crabs with you:

1. There are actually a few different species of mole crab, but they all live in the surf zone and filter food from the water as waves wash over them. That's like you sitting at the beach and waiting for a wave to bring you a cheeseburger!

"Here dinoflagellate, dinoflagellate, dinoflagellate!"

2. Because of where mole crabs live, they have to constantly shift their bodies in the sand (as it moves with each wave) and make hasty escapes within the sand when predators pass by. So they dig (hence their name), but they actually do it backwards.

mechanics of a mole crab: on the right is the "recovery stroke"
and the left shows movement (the M arrow) as it shuffles its thoracic legs

3. Mole crabs are also called sand crabs or even sand fleas, but don't mistake them with those nasty little amphipods. It's just gross and insulting.

you don't want to hurt this guy's feelings, now do you?

4. They are edible, and some people deep fry them shell and all (well, minus their telson). I'm not sure how I feel about popcorn mole crabs, but I won't say I'll never try it.

5. Aside from people, mole crabs also have to dodge sea birds and ghost crabs! And we all know how fast ghost crabs can be!
"AAHHHHH!" - mole crab
(a long-billed curlew with its quick snack)

6. You can go fishing with them! Apparently pompanos love the little guys: just hook 'em on to some line and go surf casting. Some say the orange eggs of female mole crabs are what attract the fish, but I'd say leave the ladies alone! (You can always tie a fly to mimic a female mole crab with a full clutch if you really want that orange burst.)

a momma mole crab with some wee babies
(I wonder if they hatched on October 23rd!?!?)

Happy Mole Day!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Halloween is coming!

I feel so behind on my Halloween preparations: I haven't started decorating my proton pack (guess what I'll be!), I only have 4 pumpkins and one spider hanging in my living room, and I don't know what to carve into my real pumpkin, which I don't even have yet. Phew!

Well, if you're like me, here's some crabby inspiration for the Halloween season:

"Crab or Treat!" - Jen

We saw an amazing crab costume here donned by UAF student Jen Stoutamore, plus other crab costumes for people here and here, babies here, and dogs here and here.

"I feel like the trick is on me." - beagle

You can also get costume inspiration from the zombie crab, yeti crab, decorator crab, halimeda crab, or boxer crab!

there's a new sheriff in town with this zombie crab
(bonus points to whoever knows which show I'm referencing here)

We saw some neat crab pumpkin templates here, plus you can download other nautical-themed templates here to make this bad boy:

 I love how the eyes are the only things fully cut out!

Need decor? Here's a king crab ball that you can assemble and hang in your home! It was originally designed for World Animal Day, but with a little colorful creativity it can be a Halloween ball too!

(this was inspired by Martha Stewart's spider web balls)

Alright! I'm ready to rock out some costume accessories, hang up some black and orange balls, dangle some spiders from my window, and carve up a pumpkin! Good luck with your Halloween preparations!

Friday, October 12, 2012

October opies

Oh man, I love October! From the changing leaves (which is the #1 thing I miss the most from Illinois [#2 is Lou Malnati's pizza]), to the pumpkin-flavored everything, to Halloween costumes, you just can't beat October!

these guys know what I'm talking about!
(OK, they're really celebrating the Aliwan Fiesta in the Philippines,
but I bet anyone could pull off that get-up for Halloween!)

Another exciting thing that comes with October is the snow crab fishery opening! The quota was decreased this year to 66.3 million pounds of crab from last year's nearly 90 million pounds. That's taking out about a quarter of the pounds from last year, but we have to remember that last year was an exciting one with a 64% raise in quota and the stock no longer declared overfished! So, while this year is going to be less profitable than last year for fishermen (and less tasty for snow crab munchers around the world), it will still be better than 2 years ago.

mature male biomass for commercial crab species caught
during the eastern Bering Sea trawl surveys

You may remember last year that I said we'd have to stay tuned to this fishery because of how variable the snow crab population can be any given year. In the graph above from a draft copy of this year's summer trawl survey, you can see how the snow crab biomass dipped down from 2011 to 2012, so the decrease in quota makes sense for this year's fishery: less mature males out there = less mature males to catch. Again, given the variable nature of the snow crab population, a decrease this year doesn't mean a decrease next year. With continued care of the fishery, it may very well increase, and at the very least be a healthy fishery for the following seasons! That will keep this kid happy:

and isn't that what fishery management is all about?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Travel With Crabs: India

This Travel With Crabs post takes us across the pond to India with my friends Pat Barry and Caroline Schulz. They experienced tons of amazing things while there (a wedding, monkeys, and baby goats!!!) but the creature that really caught my eye was this guy:

a busy ghost crab rollin' up a mud ball

Ghost crabs (Ocypode spp.) are pretty awesome little crabs that are super fast: they can move up to 100 body lengths per second. If I could move that fast (and used my height as my "body length") I would sprint by you at 386 miles/hour! Watch out Usain Bolt! So, intrigued by Pat's photo, I thought I'd ask him and Caroline a few questions about their trip overseas.

Me: What part of India did you visit? Where did you encounter your ghost crab?

Pat: We were in Bangalore for a wedding, but we took a weekend trip to the state of Kerala. We saw these crabs on the beach in Kollam. There were hundreds of them on the beach!

Caroline: Kollam Beach is a popular tourist destination in the winter, but we were there during the summer and the beach was mostly deserted except for what appeared to be locals or local tourists, and of course lots of dogs and trash. Monsoon season meant the seas were pretty rough and the wind was blowing, but the wildlife (crabs, dogs and birds) seemed to be enjoying the lack of visitors. The crabs ranged from tiny tiny like spiders to almost as big as my palm.

Those suckers are fast - how were you able to snap that shot?

The little ones are much faster than the large ones, most likely due to the fact that the larger ones have grown past the gape limit of most of the predators (birds). The one pictured was cleaning its burrow... it was more distracted by the tons of sand in its home than by us.

You spent some time on the water. What were those stick-crane-like structures all over? Were they for fishing, and if so, what were they targetting?

We actually got to take a houseboat from Kollum to Alleppey, so we got to see a lot of fishing boats. The crane-like structures are Chinese fishing nets. They are all along the coast. I think they were much more common in the past, but most coastal fisheries are (I assume) pretty depleted, so most people get on huge ocean boats. The Chinese fishing nets seem to be more of a tourist attraction than a means of commercial fish harvest. You can pay to have people pull them. From the few times I saw them pull the nets there wasn't much being caught. They do seem to be in prime nursery habitat which might account for all the baby sharks I saw in the markets.
fish market selection

I think the Chinese fishing nets that we saw in the backwaters are probably still used in small commercial fisheries, although the ones near Fort Kochi are definitely for show. One thing we noticed about the fishing nets is that they have lights on them which might attract fish to swim into the nets at night!

(It says here that many fishermen earn their livelihoods from Chinese fishing nets, so perhaps that includes fishermen entertaining tourists and those who sell to markets.)

What was the craziest thing you saw at that fish vendor? Other than fish, did they have any crabs or crustaceans?

Craziest thing at the fish vendor? Caroline made friends with a stray goat by petting it. It was super dirty and the people there don't even touch the stray goats. That was crazy.

Caroline gettin' crazy with a goat!
But who can blame her?!? Look at this little guy!
I'd take him home and name him Gevrik. 

There were some hella weird fish, but for me to say that doesn't mean much because I only know about fish that are from Alaska. Pat made me give my fine point Sharpie pen (most valuable possession in purse!) to the fishwallah so he could take pictures of the fish, but then the fishwallah got really into it and posed and grabbed a lot of fish and was a really good sport. I think I was most surprised by the baby sharks. They had lots of shrimp and crustaceans at the fish markets, and it seemed like those were popular with the Anglo tourists because all the fish vendors were like "prawns madame you buy we cook". It doesn't surprise me, because I feel like American tourists at least would be more comfortable picking up shrimp at a fish market than whole unidentified fish. Isn't shrimp the most consumed seafood by pound in the US? 

(You know it!)

At the wedding, did they serve any crabby dishes? 

At the wedding there wasn't a ton of fish or crab served. The family was from the North so the food was more reflective of their traditional dishes.

Pat's right about the wedding - they're North Indian and seafood isn't that common in North Indian cuisine. In South India, however, there's tons of seafood! The first time I was in India I ate some tiny delicious crab and I made a big mess. This time we didn't eat any crab, but we did have really good shrimp and fish. The seafood in South India is the bomb. We ate some really delicious fish dishes and some sort of weird fish dishes. I think the weirdest ones were when they'd fry steaks of really small fish and they weren't filleted or anything so they were SO FULL of bones and they were also kind of fried to the texture of a hockey puck.

 Caroline and Pat at the wedding

Anything else you'd like to share about your trip?

The number of boats that we saw cruising through the backwaters was amazing. Occasionally we would see a small operation (two people in what looked like a dug out canoe fishing a long gill net), but for the most part there were these massive boats coming and going. We didn't get to see them pull any of the nets, but the type of vessel that they were setting from was different than anything I have ever seen.

Yes, I agree, the fishing boats were really cool. Pat took about 1,000 photos of them. I definitely wonder about fisheries management in India - to what extent has overfishing changed the nature of the fisheries economy there? Do they export fish to other parts of the country? Are there big processors? We didn't see any - and they probably aren't industrial like the ones we have. The capital-labor ratios in India are a lot different. I definitely recommend a trip to India! Pat and I have to go back sometime because we didn't get to see enough! I love the food and Pat loved that the coffee in South India is like one-to-one sugar to coffee.

1 of the 1,000 pictures of the neat fishing boats

Thanks Pat and Caroline for sharing your trip and that awesome ghost crab picture with us!