Evacuation

Sidney, Maine

Here’s a riddle: If you lived in your backpack with only your head and your feet sticking out, would you poop in your backpack?

Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. You’d move your anus and poop out of your shoulder, of course. Just like the snail did.

All mollusks – the squids, the octopi, the clams, the snails – can trace their family tree back to a common ancestor. We hypothesize that this ancestor looks like HAM (Hypothetical Ancestral Mollusca). This mollusk was snail-like with shallow conical shell. The wide opening of the shell allowed its alimentary system (the tube that starts with your mouth and ends at your other end) to be distributed how it is in many animals: mouth at one end and anus at the other.

Picture
HAM – Hypothetical Ancestral Mollusca. Courtesy of http://ramdigestivesystem.weebly.com/mollusca.html

Then Nature grabbed the shell of the snail and twisted it into an ice cream with a harder-than-candy shell (a process called torsion). As a result the opening through which everything happened (eating, pooping, crawling) got smaller. As the shell twisted, so too did its alimentary canal. The anus still needed to exit out the same, now smaller opening (because you don’t want to poop in your own backpack). The arrangement made the anus and mouth next door neighbors. If you’re looking for the anus of snail, look behind his head or just over his ‘shoulder’.

Torsion in the snail. Courtesy of: Internet. Thanks Internet!

Maybe you’re having a hard time visualizing all of this. Or maybe you’re stuck in your backpack still trying to solve the riddle. Either way, I have more visual aids courtesy of an amber snail I found doing his business right there along the side of the road in Maine (such shameless little molluscs). You’ll notice his business is large proportional to the size of his body (far larger, proportionally, than anything any of your friends have bragged about).

Amber snail. Indisposed.
Amber snail. Indisposed.

Now that we know where the anus is, what about the snail’s breathing hole? Land snails have primitive lungs and breathe through a pneumatophore, his ‘nostril’. Real estate is tight so the snail’s ‘nostril’ is near the anus. In the picture below, the hole just above the, ahem, business, is his pneumatophore (follow the arrow). And no, I doubt he held his breath the entire time. He’s outdoors. It’s well-ventilated.

Amber snail pooping (1) - Arrow
Someone get the spray!

Amber snails have a relatively large aperture (opening) to their shells so they don’t evacuate on their heads, but many land snails do.

Middle-school jokes and nicknames begin in…no, onto more science!.

How about the penis! Behind the head. Vagina? Often next to the penis. Where else would you put it? Yeah, many snails, including the amber snail, are hermaphrodites. I used ‘he’ in the post because that’s the trouble with pronouns.

If you’re interested in your own alimentary canal and it’s adventures, then you should read GULP by Mary Roach. It’s a rootin’ tootin’ good time!

Fleeing the scene
Fleeing the scene

It’s good to have friends to lean on: how salt hay gets its licks.

The Great Marsh,
Northeast Massachusetts

It’s August and that means the marsh is a sea of cow licks. In a previous post, I’ve written about how cow licks happen. The short version is this: the salt hay grass (Spartina patens) has weak ankles and when it gets pushed around by the bullying tides it leans on its neighbor.

Cow Licks, Sweeney Creek, Ipswich, Massachusetts (9)

Cow Licks, Sweeney Creek, Ipswich, Massachusetts (8)

A garland of molluskan ova

Noank, Connecticut (last month)

I reached into the water and pulled out a garlands of seaweed and snail eggs. Looking like small Chinese lanterns, scores of mudsnail egg cases lined the surface of the seaweed. The egglayer? The mudsnail Nassarius obsoletus (formerly Ilyanassa obsoleta). These snails live in soft-bottoms but have to lay their eggs on ‘hard’ surfaces. The very few rocks are often overgrazed by crabs and other snails, so a leafy stem or brown algae makes a fine place to leave a molluskan brood.

Nassarius obsoletus (Ilyanassa obsoleta) eggs, Noank, Connecticut (2)

Nassarius obsoletus (Ilyanassa obsoleta) eggs, Noank, Connecticut (5)

Nassarius obsoletus (Ilyanassa obsoleta) eggs, Noank, Connecticut (4)

Dogwhelk, mudsnail, Nassarius obsoletus, (=Ilyanassa obsoleta). Rowley, Massachusetts
Dogwhelk, mudsnail, Nassarius obsoletus, (=Ilyanassa obsoleta). Rowley, Massachusetts

I’m a rock. I promise. Please don’t eat me.

Noank, Connecticut

Spider crab, Libinia emarginata, Noank, Connecticut (4)
I’m a rock. I promise. Please don’t eat me.

I’m watching a rock shaggy with algae and mud and debris. I’m watching it eat. I’m watching it move. I’m watching it freeze solid when I slip my hand in the water. I look carefully through the water and pick out 6 more rocks that are not rocks. The cove is littered with rocks, both of ones that eat and ones that don’t. The rocks that eat are decorator crabs. This one is Libinia emarginata.

A decorator crab wouldn’t be get caught dead without wearing the ocean’s latest fashion. Actually, yes it would. Decoration for this crab not about fashion but survival. The more it looks like that rock or that coral or that plant over there the more it can rest easy that it won’t be on someone’s dinner plate. It just can’t help that it looks fabulous. All the time. This is a crab of confidence. One must be confident if it’s your clothes that determine whether you eat or get eaten. How might fashion be shaped if we judged outfits based on whether or not the model got scarfed up by a predator at the end of the runway? A new ‘reality’ show? (I’ll leave it to you to come up with a clever title for this new reality show. Go ahead, whisper you clever little gem to me.)

Libinia emarginata (5)

Decorator crabs are found in variety of habitats including kelps, estuaries, and corals and use whatever’s available to be en vogue. It is a major fashion faux pas to show up to a new event in a new habitat wearing old clothes. A crab placed in a new habitat will shed its old outfit and immediately use local materials to blend in (even an aquarium full of pearls and lace – see video below; called a ‘dresser crab’ by the British). A bit of shaggy algae here, a dab of lace there.

The decorator crab I’ve been watching is also known as a spider crab. All decorator crabs are spider crabs, but not all spiders are decorators. This family brags not only the most fashionable crabs, but also the largest – the 12-foot Japanese spider crab, Macrocheira kaempferi. This crab is not a decorator crab. Perhaps when you’re more leg than body and can stretch up to a second story window (if you’re on your crab tippy toes), then you are either not worried about being someone’s dinner or perhaps you don’t think you’d make a convincing plant.

Japanese spider crab, Image courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

The Wedding Marsh

Bouquet. Photo courtesy of  Danita Jo Photography, http://www.danitajo.com/
Bouquet. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography

Over the past 13 years, the Great Marsh of New England has seen me through my many life stages; each with its own metamorphic beauty. I tread its muds as a larval scientist (graduate student), a haphazard juvenile (post-doc) and now the metamorphosis complete as I have emerged as a full-fledged professor (though this is a stage I am still growing into). So it was this kind and lush friend that I sought this weekend for one of my most important transitions: from wandering vagrant to husband.

This weekend I married my sweetie, Ali Gould. It was a sweet and perfect affair. On a dock on the Rowley River. My best friend since kindergarten, Duley Crabbe (his influence on my decision to be a marine biologist has been strong!!!), officiated. Two friends, Danita Jo and Chris, witnessed. As did a male and female swordtail fish (who were part of the Ceremony of the Fish). All as the tides flowed, the Spartina swelled, and the mummichogs meandered.

The wedding party. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
The wedding party. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography

Words spoken captured the love and the beauty of the day, as did the images. Today I have no science today. No metaphors. Just excitement.

And pictures. All photos courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. If you want beautiful, professional, and perfect pictures for your event, contact her! She books quickly! We were lucky to have her.

And if you’re looking for a perfect place for a small wedding, the beauty of the marsh is unimpeachable.

I rarely talk about my personal life in such a wide-open format such as blog, but there are times when your megaphone isn’t big enough (though I may elevate myself a bit here. While you, my blog-followers, are enthusiastic you make but a small congregation in a country church). And for those of you paying attention, yes, we are engaged in secondary production (translation: we are expecting a new research assistant in July!).

Thank you for your love and support!

The bride prepares. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
The bride prepares. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Rope. It was a knot-ical wedding.
Rope. It was a knot-ical wedding. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Pun courtesy of the groom.
The officiant and the groom  want you to know that we know what you're up to. And we approve. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography.
The officiant and the groom want you to know that we know what you’re up to. And after thoughtful consideration we approve. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
 Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography

Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Hey fishies! Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photograhpy
Hey fishies! Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
The chapel. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
The chapel. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Handsome courtesy of the jaunty hat.
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Handsome courtesy of the jaunty hat.
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Marriage courtesy of the marsh (and the state of Massachusetts if you want to be technical about it).
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Marriage courtesy of the marsh (and the state of Massachusetts if you want to be technical about it).
American Gothic. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
American Gothic. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Afterwards we made some calls. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
After the wedding we made some calls. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
We made new friends. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Goat courtesy of Tendercrop Farm
We made new friends. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Goat courtesy of Tendercrop Farm
We recreated Reservoir Dogs,. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Awesomeness courtesy of studs.
We recreated Reservoir Dogs,. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Awesomeness courtesy of studs.
I defended her honor. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photograhpy
I defended her honor. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography.
We found some junk and took our picture with it. Thanks Newburyport! Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
We found some junk and took our picture with it. Thanks Newburyport! Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
We had beers. Well, I had beers. She thinks I'm hilarious with beers. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
We had beers. Well, I had beers. She thinks I’m hilarious with beers. Or maybe it’s the beers that make me think that way. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Huck Finn and his bride. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Then it was back to the marsh for Huck Finn and his bride. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography. Joy courtesy of my beautiful wife. 
And took another obligatory computer wallpaper shot. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography
That’s right, we could be in the next picture frame you buy. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photography 
And off into the sunset we go. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo Photograhpy
And off into the sunset we go. Or were supposed to. Too bad someone got the stupid boat stuck. Photo courtesy of Danita Jo PhotographyStuck boat courtesy of low tide. 

The dance of the dragonfly and the pickerel

A chain pickerel, courtesy of Wikipedia

Ames Nowell Park, Abington, Massachusetts

I long hunted a spot to read and found it behind a bush where sat a splintered picnic table that was missing the part defined it as a table – its top. Its benches were still serviceable and supported my substantial 140 lb weight. Artifacts on the ground – an Atlas condom wrapper (its unfurled content laying in the water next to a rock so that it looked like the rock was sticking out its sickly pallid tongue), a Baja Blast Mountain Dew can, leg grabbing fishing line, and some brand of electronic cigarette – let me know that I was not the only other person to find this the perfect spot for whatever was in mind. My mind was on reading and quiet.

Repeatedly the water splashes on the edge of the lily pads. I assume the splash is from a pickerel – a small green torpedo that lurks under lily-pad leaves perpetually looking skyward for a snack. A fisherman who casts a floating lure near the edge of lily pads may be rewarded with the excitement of catching such a torpedo. With no pole, I fish with my eyes. A dragonfly lands on a small piece of floating plant. A second later the still water erupts. As the water stills the dragonfly is hovering; with his mouth empty, the pickerel likely returns to his hideout with a huff.

The dance of the dragonfly and the pickerel goes twice more. Does the dragonfly tease the pickerel? An aerial predator taunting the water-bound one, like an older brother who offers the ball to his little brother only to jerk it away as he reaches for it? I don’t think this is a sibling rivalry between an invertebrate and vertebrate because the dragonfly appears to be a female. Each time she lands she curls her tail into the water; the act of egg-laying. Dragonfly larvae are aquatic. She has picked this piece of plant as her nest – a nest that risks her life, but in her odonatal instinct of maternity she has decided that this nest is best for her young. Maybe she picked this spot precisely because the pickerel is there, knowing that any fish or insects that may want a snack of dragonfly eggs may first find themselves a snack. In this way the pickerel should thank the dragonfly for luring supper closer to his jaws. But the pickerel is short-sighted and only knows the hunger of now and not tomorrow.

A fisherman arrives. He is not a sit-and-wait predator like the pickerel. I tell him about the previous drama and he casts out his lure – an orange plastic abstraction of a frog. He drags it in front of the lily pads but the water doesn’t erupt. Maybe the muscles of the pickerel are taut, ready to strike and while it may flinch a millimeter when it sees the dancing orange legs of what looks like a frog the pickerel halts when it sees it is clearly not a frog. The pickerel possibly annoyed – and confused – by a frog that swims in front of him that then jumps out of the water when it’s near land only to return to the front of the pickerel less than a minute later. Maybe it’s more than one orange frog and there is now a freeway of headless, orange frogs with strangely dancing legs in front of his lily pad. The pickerel is likely annoyed to be focused on a dinner that’s not dinner instead of keeping watch for dinner that is dinner.

The fisherman yanks his line out of the water finally. The limp legs of the headless, orange frog dangle. “Ah, there’s nothing here,” he says.

Minutes later I hear a splash. I look up and see a dragonfly hovering above the ripples.