Posts Tagged ‘algae’

The Post – Fiddler Babies Thrive in the “White Cloud.”

March 30, 2008

The white cloud in the babies’ tank continues, yet the water quality is GREAT.

What mystifies me is the absolute ?attraction the fiddler babies have for the aragonite sand and the reef rock. They swarm all over areas of the sand, stirring up clouds of dust, and bouncing down against the aragonite sand, then move on to another area. They are equally attracted to the reef rock, which is nothing more than a hunk of petrified coral.

On the flip side, while they swim by the live rock, they do not seem to be interested in it to any great extent, even though there is a wide variety of algae growing all over it.

The aragonite sand is Seachem’s Meridian Marine Tidal Substrate. The reef rock is “Carib Sea Reef Rock.” Both products help to maintain proper pH and calcium levels, as well as encourage the growth of coralline algae and beneficial bacteria. In fact, I suspect it is the cloud of aragonite dust in the water that may have helped spur the bacteria on, resulting in the nitrite levels in the tank dropping to zero. It just seems counterintuitive to me, to have a tank of water I can barely see through, yet have it be so healthy by the numbers.

I shine the flashlight in the tank and can see thousands of babies swimming around, digging in the sand, or clustering on the reef rock. All are in motion, so they are most definitely alive. I have to wonder if there are already lots of microscopic algae on the surfaces of the sand and the reef rock, and the congregating of the fiddler babies is about eating what’s there.

I am currently feeding them 4 drops of Wardley’s Essentials Small Fry Liquid Food and a 1/4 tsp of Kent Marine’s ZooPlex, 3 times a day. I’m being very careful not to overfeed, and monitoring ammonia and nitrite levels 2-3 times a day.

I’ve also started the live brine shrimp hatchery going, though I have to say, I’m not sure if that’s something I want to deal with on a regular basis. Just one more job I have to do and as one of the sites mentioned, if you can’t get live food, frozen brine shrimp is the next best thing. I know I saw cubes of frozen brine shrimp at PetsMart and I may yet change to that. But for now, I’ll see the “sea monkey” hatching project through and see how it goes. I expect I’ll have hatched brine shrimp by tomorrow so I will try some of that instead of the liquid feeds and see what happens.

Just as an aside, I found a page on About.com that mentions their top picks for “small fry” food.

While these are primarily small fry as in baby fish, they all contain the multitude of nutrients need, and in an accessible, easily digested liquid form for young aquatic creatures. So I’m not too concerned.

Frankly, even though the Kent Marine ZooPlex is supposed to be for larval invertebrates, I have to say I’m more happy with the “dispersal” ability of Wardley’s Small Fry food. Wardley’s is a milky liquid that spreads completely and uniformly through the tank, so the most food and nutrients are available to the most number of critters.

The Kent’s on the other hand, is like ground up bits of brine shrimp in a pink liquid. The instructions say a teaspoon per 50 gallons, and since I’ve only got a 10 gallon tank, I am giving 1/4 tsp of the stuff. However it seems like precious little food, that probably isn’t getting to anywhere near the number of baby fiddlers that are hungry and needing to eat. So at least so far, I’m not that impressed with the Kent Marine ZooPlex and will stick primarily with Wardley’s. From there it’s live or frozen brine shrimp.

I raised the salinity of the aquarium yesterday to 1.017 from 1.012. I’d be happy to get to 1.020, which is close enough to a marine environment. I’ll leave it there for a couple weeks then, and gauge the appropriate time to lower it back down to brackish. I want to match that to the development of the more advanced crab forms from the initial larval stages.

As to the adult crabs – they’re doing fine in the main tank. Admiral Byrd, flush with mating success these days, never stops waving his claw. In fact, yesterday, I no sooner put Scarlett O’Hara back in the main tank, and he was right there saying “hi.” She hid behind the water filter to eat…though not too hidden, he actually lay backwards and slightly upside down on the water heater near her, and waved his claw at her upside down. Talk about “never give up.”

Anyway, so far, so good. We’ll see how this progresses over the next few days. It would be nice to keep many alive to actually make it to adult crab stage. Stay tuned!

The Post – Odd Goings-On in the Fiddler Tank – Is Scarlett Acting Pregnant Again?

March 16, 2008

When I first I walked by the fiddler tank yesterday morning, I was sleepy and oblivious. Then I did a double-take. Sitting at the front of the tank was the discarded molted shell of somebody. On closer examination, and with my husband’s consultation too, we both agreed it was Melanie Hamilton’s discard. That means she is at the moment most likely to get pregnant if Admiral Byrd invites her in.

At the same time we noticed that Scarlett O’Hara was sitting on top of the water filter….again. The last time she did that, we noticed shortly afterward that she was pregnant.

Admiral Byrd of course, was marching up and down the tank, claw arm held high, and waving.

To continue – Scarlett O’Hara spent the entire day and evening yesterday, on top of the water filter. She is still there this morning. She has never done that before or since, except when she was pregnant. I know she is still alive because she is “blowing bubbles.” Crabs foam sometimes when they’re out of water, to moisten their gills.

Even when I freaked out Admiral Byrd yesterday, and scared Melanie Hamilton out of her live rock because I was cleaning the tank and accidentally bumped the live rock, Scarlett O’Hara didn’t leave the filter perch. She just moved down into the filter for a bit, then climbed back up. Admiral Byrd meanwhile kept trying to climb the heater power cord up to the top of the filter to be near her, but he couldn’t quite do it with that large claw.

Yesterday afternoon we noticed that Melanie Hamilton remained outside the live rock, sitting there on the gravel serenely watching Admiral Byrd flex his claw. Then she spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in his cave lair. This morning she was resting just outside his lair, picking algae off the rock. He was napping inside.

With any luck, we can try the larvae thing again somtime soon?

I am in the middle of re-establishing the nursery tank. I had emptied everything from the original set-up, cleaned out the tank, put down the one inch or so of the calcium-releasing sand, and added the water. Now I did forget to rinse the sand out, so the tank water was cloudy at first, but it has settle out by now. I’m not sure how one effectively rinses sand out anyway without half of it going down the drain. I will say the white sand really makes the inside of the tank bright when the light is on. If we get babies again, it should be much easier to see them in such a bright tank.

I couldn’t decide whether to make the 3 gallons of water I added marine or brackish. I guess I should start brackish because first we’ll have to move the mom, whichever one of them it is, from their tank, which is brackish into this one. I wouldn’t want to shock them. Right now the tank is on the “marine side” of brackish. I’ll adjust the salinity with a bit more water shortly.

The live rock is back in the tank hopefully doing its thing to establish the nitrogen cycle. Both the air filter AND the bubbler are running and so hopefullly the tank environment will establish itself as quickly as possible. Rather than replace the old water filter cartridge and lose whatever nitrogen-fixing bacteria that had started to thrive in it, I left everything in place and returned it to the tank.

An interesting about the old water in that tank. I tested it before I emptied it out just to see if the nitrite levels ever came down. They read zero, and the nitrates were in the “okay” zone. I guess once I stopped using the live phytoplankton and let the water filter run for a few days, that was what it needed. So the phytoplankton was most likely the culprit in the high nitrites. In any event, I dumped the old water and just started with fresh sea/brackish water all over again.

One thing – that Reef Calcium product that I’d hoped would raise the alkalinity but not raise the pH, when added to half strength Instant Ocean… maybe it didn’t raise the pH but it didn’t solve the problem of the pH being too high from the Instant Ocean even when I used that at half strength. So I still had to use a pH lowering solution and this morning it is about 8.0 vs 8.4 that it was yesterday. So that’s perfect . At least though, the Reef Calcium did raise the alkalinity.

I will keep you all posted on any news from the adult tank. Keeping good thoughts for a new crop of larvae babies. Stay tuned.

The Post – Baby Food Specifics, and Those Salinity Research Papers

March 2, 2008

First, I knew that Fish Pros in Raleigh NC would come through for me. I really wanted some kind of live plankton food for the babies as that’s what they would get in the ocean. I figured ground up TetraMin Tropical Flakes and ground up Tetra MiniKrill (freeze dried plankton) mixed with some Wardley’s Small Fry Liquid Food and distilled water would be as good as it gets, and I think it’s a pretty good mix. But I wasn’t sure I could grind the foods small enough for the pinpoint babies. Yesterday I took a ride to Fish Pros and lo, they had a bottle of DT’s Live Marine Phytoplankton – Premium Reef Blend. So this morning I mixed ground mini-krill in a 1/2 tsp of the phytoplankton and added a few drops of Small Fry in a little distilled water and put it in the tank. For other feedings, I’ll use ground up Tropical Flakes in the phytoplankton and Small Fry liquids. That should give enough of a mix of animal and plant material in their feed. The pet food link below for the Wardley’s Small Fry says that “live food” is best but for quick backup and unexpected births, the Wardley’s Small Fry is a good substitute. The DT’s phytoplankton is live.

For those truly geeky enough to want to know a bit about what’s in these foods:

DT’s Live Marine Phytoplankton: contains live Nannochloropsis oculata (yellow-green algae), Phaeodactylum tricornutum (diatoms or algae), Chlorella (green algae)

Wardley’s Small Fry: water, egg product, yeast extract, freeze-dried Calanoid Copepods (planktonic crustaceans that make up the biggest protein source in the ocean), and some vitamins and preservatives

TetraMin Tropical Flakes: fish meal, brown rice, shrimp meal, dried yeast, wheat, oat meal, fish oil, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Tetra MiniKrill – Freeze-dried Plankton: freeze-dried krill – Euphausia pacifica (shrimp-like invertebrates that are part of the zooplankton)

The Tropical Flakes can stay out at room temperature. Supposedly so can the Small Fry, though once I opened it, I am refrigerating it. The minikrill are in the freezer (yes, next to the loaves of bread but I don’t think I’ll mix them up), and the DT’s phytoplankton must be refrigerated. But again, I don’t think I’ll grab the phytoplankton when reaching for my husband’s bottle of blueberry juice. 🙂 So, that’s food.

The two articles for salinity in larval crabs:

Salinity Preferences in the Stage I Zoeae of Three Temperate Zone Fiddler Crabs, Genus Uca, Paul S. Capaldo, Department of Natural Sciences, Roger Williams College, Old Ferry Lane, Bristol, RI 02809; Estuaries Vol 16, No. 4, p. 784-788 December 1993

Dispersal and Recruitment of Fiddler Crab Larvae in the Delaware River Estuary, C.E. Epifanio, K.T. Little, P.M. Rowe, College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware, Lewes, Delaware 19958, Marine Ecology – Progress Series Vol. 43: 181-188, March 24, 1988

The first article mentions the three species of fiddler crabs in the study: Uca minax (red-jointed fiddler crabs, which is what I have), Uca pugnax and Uca pugilator, the latter two preferring high salinity areas. Uca minax prefers low salinity found higher up in estuaries, nearer to fresh water sources. The latter two are located in areas closer to the ocean, pugnax in salt marshes and tidal creek banks, and pugilator in the silt and silt-clay areas. The article notes that even though all three may inhibat the same salt marsh, because of their preferences for different salinities and locations, the competition for space and food between the three groups is greatly reduced.

So, today’s entry for all those who wanted geeky specifics on food and salinities. Enjoy!

The Post – Extra!!! We Are Grandparents!!! Scarlett O’Hara Delivers

February 29, 2008

I came out of the gym and my cell phone went off – the vibrating beep to indicate a text message. It apparently came earlier, but given the facility is blocked I only just received it. My husband sent it – a few simple words: We’re grandparents!” I understood immediately – our pregnant fiddler crab, Scarlett O’Hara delivered her thousands of babies.

When I left this morning, she was wandering around, not really interested in eating. Just walking around. Ed noted the same thing before he went upstairs to do some work. When he came down, he said she was just sitting there eating a shrimp pellet … and she was skinny. He did a double-take and noticed the babies were gone from her abdomen, and all these little teeny really teeny black dots, floating around the tank!!!

As soon as I got the text, I raced to PetsMart to pick up the liquid baby fish food called “Small Fry” and raced home. Did you ever notice how many asleep drivers there are on the highway when you’re trying to get home fast?

I quickly got Scarlett out of the nursery tank as my husband reminded me, because at this point, Scarlett’s maternal instincts are probably done. In fact she may view them as floating “cheeseburgers” and start munching. So I moved her back into the main tank. It was like she never left. Not even a second to re-adjust for her. She just walked over to the live rock and started picking off algae and eating. Kind of like “Ahhhh – good to be home.” I don’t think Admiral Byrd has noticed her return yet. Not sure about Melanie Hamilton. She’s been in seclusion since Scarlett O’Hara left the main tank, probably hiding out from Admiral Byrd who has been waving his claw non-stop these days. I expect Melanie may be relieved to have Scarlett back.

Anyway, just had to let you all know she has successfully birthed. I will keep you posted on what happens from here. We’ll see how many, if any, of the babies survive!!! 🙂

The Post – Under the Pier: Next Step – Scaffolding

February 26, 2008

Okay. Besides sitting in the chair playing 20 questions with my stories, what else happened as Under the Pier took shape? I spent a lot of money at Office Depot and Staples. Let me back up.

In the early stages of the journaling and “assessing what did I have” it wasn’t obvious at first that I was combining all of these various stories into one big one. I am a stubborn person. I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the reality I’m supposed to confront in life. I was still trying to “finish this story fast” so I could go to my to-do list and say “Yup! Finished a story, mailed it, waiting for the money, move on to story number two.” Yes, I told you I learn slowly. So I tried to make the animal story into a chapter book. I thought about making the Max-Jamie problem into a chapter book. Chapter books are longer than than the picture books I couldn’t write and shorter than the novels I didn’t want to write. It was just my last vestige of resistance and it didn’t last long. God finally hammered it into my head that 1) you have to write the story that’s meant to be written, not the one you can cross off your list fastest, and 2) if you’re not going to do it right, why bother? In any event, the bottom line – novel.

I think it was about this same point that it suddenly occurred to me I might have something bigger than a simple novel. That’s how I am. One minute I’m trying to get away with writing a sound bite, the next minute I decide to go for the other extreme – TWO novels intertwined. And that’s what this has become – the story of a girl and her world above the pier, the story of the hermit crab and his world below the pier. The two worlds intersect at points until they meet at the climax, then go off their separate ways. The two worlds reflect similar struggles, and mirror the question “will I reach out for connection or run away?”

Now that I’d finally gotten the message it had to be a novel AND figured out the one line premise, there was that whole HOW in God’s name do I combine all this and keep track of details? How do you remember who did what in the various chapters, never mind between two different worlds? For that matter how could I keep track of who was who? And then what about when the worlds intersected? Lots of places to drop the ball. Hence – I needed infrastructure. Scaffolding.

Some people can do all this in their head, or their computer. I need to “see it on a wall.” I need paper. Sorry, trees. And I had to tackle this like a business otherwise the brain says “hobby…play” and nothing gets done. Writing is a business. A novel is a project. When I worked at Glaxo, we had project planning – calendars, files, SOPs, to-do lists, wall charts. I had to manage multiple projects at once. If you don’t keep track of details, it all comes crashing down. So, manage two novels at once when I’d never even written ONE novel? Yup – go back to what I know. Organize.

That meant binders, index cards, binder section separators, page protectors with binder holes, stickies, markers, highlighters, cork boards, Styrofoam boards, push pins, a spare toner cartridge for the laser printer, pens, crayons, large sheets of paper to plan on…. Yes, I go to Staples a lot.

I set up binders for character bios – animal and human. I made short “at-a-glance lists” of characters for both sides of the story, so I could quickly know who was who, saving the binder bios for the complete facts. I also made an index card for every invertebrate, fish, algae, plant or mammal that might show up in the story, with scribbled references on the back to find more elsewhere. More on these in the research post.

There are binders for the settings above the water and binders for the places below. I had binders for all the research I did and the background info I created. Again, I’ll discuss this separately under the research post.

As I reviewed all the journaling I did on the story line, I established a “time-line” and figured out what times in the story would be covered and in what chapters. Once I had a rough idea of chapters, I took a cork board and huge sheet of paper. I drew a large box on the paper for each chapter/time point. Any idea, shred of paper, page of journaling that pertained to the events on a certain day, I tacked up in the appropriate box. Every time I thought of something new, another note got tacked up under that day. Some of those days had an inch thick stack of idea notes.

I made a wall chart that showed at a glance the chapters in the novel, human on the top half, alternating with the animal chapters on the bottom half, and listing on each, the chapter number, human or animal, exactly what day of the week each took place, and relevant plot points in each chapter. On this same chart in the middle between the human and animal chapters, I graphed the rise and fall of emotions and action for the plot. I wanted to see at a glance how the story tracked for rising and falling action, both in each chapter, and in the story overall. I knew the story needed to have balance – not all snoring nor all white-knuckle rides, but a mix of intensity with catching your breath. However, I did want to make sure that overall, the trend of emotion kept rising until the crisis/climax, and then dropped for the resolution. Hence my chapter graph.

I made a chart of the human world characters – their family trees and interrelatedness with the other characters and locations in the story. This was helpful actually, because I discovered a couple of characters who didn’t really connect to anyone and hence I cut them. If they don’t connect to anyone in the story, why have them?

I made a chart of all the chapter happenings on the animal side of the story- where the action happened underwater for that chapter, which critters were involved, what happened. I wanted to make sure that 1) I wasn’t having the same thing happening in 3 different chapters, 2) I had the right animals in the right place at the right time, and 3) if the animal appeared in both the human and animal chapters, I made sure the action matched up

I kept a running to-do list of things to check on, research, fact check, people to call. I have logs for each chapter in each draft of the novel and can tell you the dates I worked on a particular chapter in a particular draft. I made organizational charts to show the chapter numbering changes from draft one to draft two and there’s charts on foam boards of all the elements to check on when revising the stories – one board for the human story, one for the animal side, one for elements of revision applying to both worlds.

And calendars. Yes. I kept a calendar. I even set deadlines for finishing certain milestones. In business, you have deadlines. It’s the only way your product gets out the door. Now, most of the time I missed those deadlines because things always take longer than expected. Still, the thing about deadlines is that you set them. Even if you don’t meet them, you’re a hell of a lot closer to the end goal, than if you never set one.

So, lots of infrastructure. Other authors may be ripping their hair out. This may not be their way to work. I may not be this detailed for another story. This is not the only way to write a novel. It’s probably not the best way. It’s simply my way – what my brain needed. I’d never written a novel before. Also, given the complexity of this one, the level of technical, scientific, and real-life detail, and the fact that I was writing two stories at once that intertwined, infrastructure was the only way I could keep anything straight.

Next : The First Half of the Scientific Approach – Define Your Hypothesis, Assemble Your Gear, Do your research

The Post – Nursery Update, Ethics, Parenthood, Friendship, and Just Being a Mere Mortal

February 25, 2008

Just a quick note this morning as I’m on the run. The next installment of my author journey is partially written. Those take me a bit more time. Pondering, reflecting, remembering. Lots to sift through. So those will resume this week.

For now, just to update – Scarlett O’Hara is still alive in the new tank – the “nursery.” Frankly, I was worried. I’d have felt better if I’d set that tank up last week and it had a week to run and settle out. I just hadn’t come to the point of “embracing” trying to raise larval crabs and when I did finally decide this weekend to try, it seemed like birth was imminent. Kind of a go/no-go response needed to be made ASAP.

Last night she just wouldn’t settle down in the new tank. Kept running back and forth, kept trying to climb the sides of the tank. Was there something wrong with the water that was hurting her? All the parameters looked great, in fact the water in the new tank was better than the original – that one’s overdue for a water exchange and the nitrites and nitrates in that tank are rising. So this one is actually healthier. However, certainly there’s other parameters I can’t measure. So my worry was that I’d put her in something I thought was better for her, but maybe I was killing her and couldn’t tell?

I wondered if she was just disoriented and couldn’t find a place to climb out of the water to get air. I noticed air bubbles escaping from her mouth at one point and was afraid she would “drown.” She has this lovely live rock with all kinds of crevices she could hide in, better than her old live rock, AND it’s much bigger so she can climb on top of it, but I thought that maybe in her stress she couldn’t find it. So I scooped extra gravel out of the original tank and put it in the new one and built her two gravel hills so she could walk up the hill and be partly out of water. She found them, but that didn’t seem to be the problem. She just kept running back and forth and climbing the walls.

My husband wondered if she simply couldn’t understand why the sides of this tank were so clean and where was all the microscopic algae she likes to eat? The other tank, though the glass sides look clear, apparently have microscopic algae on them because the crabs are always “picking stuff off” the sides and eating it.

Or maybe she was just so stressed out, she couldn’t relax and would kill herself with exhaustion?

I also noted last night that the formerly clear water in the new tank was now cloudy. I was convinced something awful was taking hold and maybe the live rock had something bad in it. If so, you would expect the nitrites to be rising. I repeated all parameters last night and the water looked good.

So by this point, who is more stressed? Her or me?

My husband said little, just said “It’ll be what it’ll be. You’ve done all you can.” I told him it’s not easy being “God.” He patted my back and said “At least not a God who cares.”

Anyway, I struggled with “should I just bag this whole thing and put her back in the original tank?” I decided not to add any more stress to her by moving her back. One of those – just let it go and see what happens, moments.

This morning the tank looks less cloudy. My husband said he came down and she was sitting quietly in the water, “tending” to her egg mass – ie – giving it pushes and pokes, as if turning them. When I came down, she had found her way to the top of the live rock and was just sitting there on top of her world, soaking up heat from the lights and appearing totally relaxed. (Or is she dead? Should I poke her? 🙂 Just kidding).

All joking aside about my being so worried, I guess I felt guilty. As I said to my husband – Did I put her at risk of dying because I so wanted to try and raise the babies? Did my ego cause harm in this and should I have just left it all alone?

The ethical questions are never clear or easily answered. It’s like being a parent. You try your best, knowing that even when you do, you don’t know if you’ve made the right choices. And in your less than perfect moments, and we all have them, you wonder, will they be okay? Why does God entrust such a big job to mere mortals?

I think Lee Woodruff’s final comments in her book, In An Instant, apply here, at least for being parents, maybe not for being God to fiddler crabs. She worried about how her kids were affected by all the turmoil and intensity when her reporter husband, Bob, was in the hospital with a head injury. She had to be away for long periods to be with him. Things were in an upheaval even though family and friends were looking after things. I so loved her observations, because they are the truth. In thanking her kids she added:

“May you always remember that there are no perfect parents, just mothers and fathers doing the very best they can. And there are no perfect spouses either, just those who love each other enough to stand by “for better or worse.” Don’t be fooled: that kind of endurance is, perhaps, the greatest expression of love.”

I think she could only come to that lesson because of the messiness of life. I think it’s the messy low moments that teach us the most about being human, and about understanding the “human moments” in others. Those times teach us about being compassionate to ourselves and to others, especially when life is at its least pretty. We all want to look like we’ve got it together. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. Life gets messy. Thomas Moore, a former Catholic monk, in his book, Care of the Soul, I book I read, reread, dog-ear, highlight…in three different colors, quotes something from the Renaissance humanist Erasmus, that applies. Erasmus wrote in his book, The Praise of Folly, that “people are joined in friendship through their foolishness. Community cannot be sustained at too high a level. It thrives in the valleys of the soul rather than in the heights of spirit.”

So, from one very imperfect human, friend, wife, mother, fiddler crab God, go gently into your Monday. It’s really okay, no matter how it goes.

The Post – Is Birth Imminent?

February 24, 2008

I will be returning soon to the evolution of my novel, Under the Pier, but given the goings-on here, I have to take some time to tell of events unfolding in the fiddler crab world.

I decided to see if it is possible to raise at least a few of Scarlett O’Hara’s and Admiral Byrd’s babies, should they survive birth. It’s a long shot, but I want to try. Scarlett looked really pregnant yesterday – that abdomen of hers is large and when she pushes at it, it’s like jelly. I have these observations again from my husband.

It is TRUE LOVE when your husband acts as midwife for your pregnant fiddler crab, keeping close eye on her while I ran out today to get a chunk of live rock for the aquarium. He even called me on my cell phone at the aquarium store to tell me that Scarlett was picking at the larval mass, pulling out a brown thread here and there and planting it in the gravel. He felt birth was getting close and I should hurry home with the live rock. I tell you, is that a friend or not? How many people would call you on your cell phone to let you know your fiddler crab is getting ready to deliver? 🙂

To back up, we went to Petsmart last night and picked up a new 10-gallon aquarium, tank top, light, light bulb, thermometer….. yes, another whole set-up. My husband is laughing but then, he is a geek, just one with different interests, so he respects this endeavor I’m involved in.

In fact, he is working on setting up his own blog that will have all kinds of tweaky things that reflect his interests. When it’s up and running, I’ll be sure to mention it. He finds the most unusual and interesting things out there. To give you a sample of the man, when we are out on a date it is not unusual to walk through the parking lot and have him explain to me the mechanisms for the inner workings of car backup lights and such. I just love it. Going somewhere with him is always interesting and an adventure. Sometime I’ll have to share how he and I hunted down the overgrown boarded up command bunker for a former Nike missile launch site in Newport News VA. 🙂 But a story for another time. Those are the kinds of dates I love. Anyway, I’ll let you know when his geek site is up and running.

To get back to fiddlers, I spent last night setting up the tank. This time I started with distilled water. We have a small water distiller and I proceeded to use up our drinking supply to make up salt water for the “nursery tank.” Mixed up Instant Ocean powder in the distilled water, set up the filter, and within a couple of hours, got the water parameters just about where I wanted them: pH 7.8, alkalinity 180, hardness >300, chlorine, Nitrite, and nitrates all zero. Salinity was about 1.008, a little lower than I wanted because I want this tank’s water to be an almost exact match for the main tank.

This morning I used some marine buffer to bump the pH up to 8.0 and alkalinity closer to 300. Added a bit more Instant Ocean to get the salinity up to 1.010. I seeded the new filter with a strip of “very well colonized” filter material from the old tank to jump start the nitrogen cycle, and brought home from Fish Pros the MOST amazing chunk of live rock – ALREADY had all kinds of marine invertebrates and microscopic algae on it because it had been in another tank that had just been dis-assembled. So, the live rock is well underway growing organisms and probably has another dose of nitrogen-fixing bacteria ready to go.

I debated about what to do with Scarlett O’Hara, leave her in the old tank and struggle with where to release her babies or put her in the new tank with plenty of room for all. Finally decided to take a chance and I’ve moved her into the new tank. She seems to be doing okay in spite of being rattled by being moved. I’m hoping it didn’t disturb her too much. It always shakes them up a bit to move them around. I have done my best to make her a good nursery and here she is free from Admiral Byrd’s claw-waving. I even took the heater from the old tank and gave it to her in the new one. I ordered a new heater for the main tank which should be here Wed. But I figured Melanie Hamilton and Admiral Byrd will be fine for a couple days with the tank lights to keep them warm. I figured “momma” needed it more.

By the way, the tank heater I use is a small one geared for 3 gal aquariums. It’s pre-set and can be mounted sideways with suction cups, and there’s no risk if it touches the gravel. It’s a Marineland Shatterproof Heater (10 watts) part number VTMD10 and found it online at That Pet Place.  Since my tanks are only a third full of water (to allow space for the crabs to get out in air), regular heaters won’t work. Not enough water for them to be fully submerged. And regular heaters are generally large and have to be vertical.  This guy is short and can be sideways. Keeps the tank in the range of about 78-80 degrees F. So for what it’s worth.

So…the nursery is up and running. So very much hoping that 1) Scarlett will do okay in the new tank; I would feel terrible if she doesn’t make it because of the move 2) the babies do okay.

Then all we have to worry about is how to sell off many many many many many grandchildren? 🙂 I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, if you want to have a few seconds of just staring at some nice marine creatures swimming amidst coral, click on the Instant Ocean link above. Neat intro.

The Post – How Long Do Fiddler Crabs Stay Pregnant?

February 23, 2008

I spotted this question on a Google search and decided to follow up on it. It has been the question in our house – Scarlett O’Hara seems to get bigger every day with the larval crabs she’s carrying. How long will she carry them? What will she do with them? I’ve learned that female fiddler crabs usually like to hang on to the babies until the right set of tides and conditions so that their babies will be carried out to the open ocean. Apparently they do this because the larval crabs stand a better chance of finding food, and of not becoming someone else’s food, out in the open ocean. That gives them the best chances for reaching adulthood.

The question in our minds here is: we have no outgoing ocean tides in the “aquarium estuary” so when will she release them?

We’ve noticed she keeps hanging out on top of the water filter. In fact yesterday she was deep down INSIDE the water filter. She’s also been ripping the filter backing apart and eating whatever she’s pulling off the fibers. Since fiddler crabs like to eat a lot of microscopic algae, I assume that’s what she’s found. I keep wondering though, is she going to release her babies in the “currents of the water filter?” If so, I wonder how she will decide which currents are “outgoing tide” to that imaginary open ocean we don’t have. 🙂

Anyway, two good articles I came across in my search:

1) When ‘in a pinch’ won’t do: Ultra-picky female fiddler crab cited in UCSD (Univ of California at San Diego) study.

Apparently the female California fiddler crabs are VERY picky about their mates and have REALLY high standards for what kind of “house” the male is offering them. On average the female passes up 23 offers before finally selecting a male. In one case a female passed up 106 offers before choosing her mate. Now…I don’t know who to be more impressed with – the female fiddler crab who passed on 106 males before choosing one? Or the human researcher who followed this female fiddler crab around and kept track of how many males she turned down before choosing? In any event, an interesting article on the life cycle habits of the California fiddler crab.

2) The SC and C FAQ Database: it has a large number of questions and answers about crabs, shrimp, and crayfish. Question # 16 is about 3 pregnant female fiddler crabs and how long their gestation period lasts. Apparently in an aquarium, the female will release the eggs in about a week. We shall see. …Also it has information on what to feed the newly released babies, which might actually let them survive in an aquarium and grow to adults. Hmmmm 100,000 grandchildren. Needless to say my husband is thrilled with the news we might actually be able to help the babies survive in a tank! 🙂 Now all I need to do is find micro-plankton, like Infusoria, to feed to them…..

The Post – Admiral Byrd was NOT Worshipping Me or The Aquarium Light

February 11, 2008

Over the last 2 days my husband noticed that Admiral Byrd has been spending a LOT of time, meaning almost ALL of his time, up on top of the gravel hill or the decorative cave rock, or the live rock, or just about anywhere else in the tank, waving his claw. He looked so funny up on the cave rock. He seemed to be staring up at the aquarium tank light, waving his claw as if paying homage to a god. We figured either he held the aquarium light or my hand in high esteem.

My husband has joked that he thinks the crabs go inside the live rock so much because it’s actually their holy site. He thinks they’ve cobbled together a crude altar made of gravel and on the altar they’ve fashioned a shrimp pellet image of their deity, the hand that feeds them . . . basically mine. As he put it, imagine that every day a hand comes down out of the sky and places steak or shrimp or pancakes in front of us. That’s what it must be like every time my hand drops algae or shrimp pellets near them.

In any event we weren’t sure why Admiral Byrd decided to spend an entire day paying homage to me or the light. Why all of the sudden? There’s been nothing new going on in the tank otherwise, all three crabs have been actually pretty placid, out and about feeding, and generally happy. Was this some sort of designated crab “Holy Day” that just happens to coincide with Lent?

As it turns out, alas, neither the aquarium light nor my hand are the object of Admiral Byrd’s devotions. Melanie Hamilton is.

From the Fiddler Crab page on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s bay restoration site:

“When looking for a mate, he stands near the edge of the burrow, often alongside a string of other males and their (similarly well-maintained) burrows, while the females, returning from foraging, walk past. The male waves his large fiddler claw until he attracts the attention of an interested female, who then stares at him for a short period.. The male resumes his claw-waving, and if the female remains receptive, the male runs toward her, then runs back to his burrow, and repeats this motion several times until she either moves on or follows him to the burrow. ”

Apparently, mating behaviors take place not just when the female forages, but also when she molts. I happened to notice this pale, upside down body lying under the water filter this morning and immediately my heart hurt. I thought “Oh no! Melanie Hamilton died!” But not so. Looking closer, I saw that it was the pale ghost of Melanie Hamilton. It was that eerie translucent white, like Scarlett O’Hara’s was, though much more petite given that Melanie Hamilton is so dainty. Melanie Hamilton sat right behind it. I would have gotten pictures for this blog but she had tucked herself and her tiny ghost so far under the water filter that I could not get a shot. If only I had fiber optic cable, maybe I could get footage! I have concluded that the fiddler crabs have designated the “under the water filter space” as the “molting place.” All 3 have used it now. I think it has enough stretching room to shrug off the old shell, but is sheltered enough to keep everyone else away while their new shell hardens.

Admiral Byrd of course, was well aware of events in the tank. He was standing just a few inches from the water filter hoping to catch her eye. Alas, while Admiral Byrd is a true romantic and his efforts were truly heroic – I mean he has to be exhausted after almost 24-hours straight claw-waving – Melanie Hamilton is having none of it. She has turned her back on him and remains secluded under the water filter.

But anyway, the mystery is solved. Admiral Byrd doesn’t give a darn about the tank light or the hand that feeds him. He apparently can sense the approach of “molting” and was doing the crab Valentine’s Day equivalent of serenading his lady.

Sorry no pictures, though. I told my husband if he ever decides to spend money on expensive jewelry or clothes for me, I would prefer one of those borescopes like they use for colonoscopies. That would work GREAT in the tank for closeups of everybody! 🙂

Coming up this week:

Now that you’ve gotten to know me a bit – a cross between sea life maniac and soulful – I’ll start to introduce some of the projects I’m working on. I’ll share what I’ve done, what I’m doing and where I see myself going. Children’s writer and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz, described three stages of a writer’s development at a conference about 12 years ago. I’ve kept them as a kind of road map in my development and will use them to describe what I’m doing.

Also to come, a Writer’s bio page of what I’ve already written.

Happy Monday!

The Post – The Ever Reclusive Melanie Hamilton, Exposed

February 1, 2008

fiddler-crabs-007.jpgfiddler-crabs-015.jpgfiddler-crabs-028.jpgfiddler-crabs-033.jpgfiddler-crabs-043.jpg

After several attempts over many days, I can at least prove there IS a Melanie Hamilton. Again the shots are a little dark. Flash won’t work due to the glass sides of the tank, so that leaves long exposure times to get enough light. The only problem with the latter is that unlike fashion models who will hold a pose so their best side shows, crabs won’t hold still. Make the exposure time too long and all you get is a blur. I have a lot of those. So I had to sacrifice some light for clarity.

The first picture shows just how much like Howard Hughes Melanie Hamilton can be. Most of the time she barely peeks out of her live rock crevice. Here all that shows are a couple of legs.

The second shot no doubt annoyed her. With the aid of a long exposure time on the camera and an Ever-Ready 5-volt flashlight shining in her face, we finally get a glimpse of Melanie Hamilton hiding in the ornamental cave in the tank. She looks grumpy.

After escaping the flashlight, Melanie now peeks out from behind the cave, probably to see if the coast is clear.

The last two pictures show her in a rare foray outside of the live rock. She seems to like the ornamental cave, and spends part of her time eating microscopic algae off its sides. They do that with fluid movements of their two front claws, delicately picking off invisible algae with the pincers on the claws.

Soon, the dashing and cute Admiral Byrd.