The river gets rocky…

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Whew, today was a long one! It was worth it though – today was one of those rare days we actually found a turtle. When you catch one turtle for every 150 crabs, it’s sometimes hard to remember you actually are doing research on turtles. Be it turtles or crabs, though, I’m happy for an excuse to be out in the field. If only crabs didn’t pinch so hard.

I’ve noticed a few interesting things – female crabs are quite rare. Maybe 1/25 crabs is female. And among those females, probably half of them are “soft shells”. That’s what you call a crab that has just molted. They shed their carapace which is too small for them, and they go through a period of vulnerability before their new shell hardens. I don’t think I’ve found more than a couple soft-shelled males.

The male crabs have a habit of finding female crabs and grabbing them with their front legs, securing the female under their body. This makes her unable to move, though now the male crab defends her with his life. It’s not really romantic – he’s just waiting for her to lay eggs so he can fertilize them. Then he’ll let her go and go off on his business.20160629_091116 - Copy20160629_091104 - Copy

It’s jellyfish season! That adds a new, exciting element of danger to our already eventful routine. And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve already been stung. It was my first time being stung by a jellyfish actually. One was caught in a trap, so I tried to shake it out. Apparently, though, one of its tentacles became detached and stuck to a crab. While a crab won’t feel the stinging nematocysts of a cnidarian, the hand with which I picked up that crab sure will. I was fortunate that I was stung somewhat indirectly. It just felt like a few bee stings, and went away after half an hour.

In the York River it’s also common to find a very small variety of jellyfish that are referred to as “moon jellies” around here. They are actually not jellyfish (Cnidaria) at all; they are of that ancient clade Ctenophora. They don’t have the stinging cells of the jellyfish, so they are a much more pleasant critter.

A few other neat things that have wandered into my traps: croakers, white perch, a striped bass, two flounders (!), a toadfish, and lots of mud minnows! I like catching fish, it breaks up the monotony. Unfortunately, being penned up with crabs is pretty harsh. Sometimes we pull up a trap that has only a fish skeleton, or a fish that has damaged fins. I always make it a priority to rescue any fish I can.

Unrelated, but all of this time out in the sun has got me really tan. Loads of people who haven’t seen me for a week or two will start off our conversation by commenting on my skin tone. It was a hard road to get here – I spent the first 2 weeks of the summer perpetually burned. It’s nice not to worry about that so much, but I am still a little worried about this wicked farmer’s tan I have now.

 

 

20160630_095632Crabs holding hands!

Comments

  1. kmnelsen says:

    Hey Patrick! Sounds like you’re having a fun summer out in the sun. There are so many creatures in the rivers near Williamsburg. Have you seen any skates or rays yet? I always see them when I’m paddle boarding in the Rappahanock river. For the jellyfish stings I’ve heard that scrapping the jelly residue off with a credit card and then applying meat tenderizer powder helps. Hope you get to see more turtles though instead of jellyfish.

  2. Matt Smith says:

    Hi! It sounds like all is going well with the traps. Do the traps you have set up now have the BRDs? If so, it sounds like they are working, at least to an extent since you aren’t too much other than crabs. That’s also very interesting about the crabs, I never realized the distribution was so lopsided! Good luck!

  3. mssmith01 says:

    Hi! It sounds like all is going well with the traps. Do the traps you have set up now have the BRDs? If so, it sounds like they are working, at least to an extent since you aren’t too much other than crabs. That’s also very interesting about the crabs, I never realized the distribution was so lopsided! Good luck!