Posts Tagged ‘estuary’

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 – What to Feed the Babies and How Salty Should the Water Be?

March 1, 2008

Just a reminder that coming up over the next week, the next few installments on the journey of my Under the Pier novel. I had to take a break from those for taxes, actually finishing some more chapter revisions, and of course, taking care of the “grandchildren.” But stay tuned. More to come on Under the Pier.

Re the grandchildren:

What wonderful goings on! Soooo many little black dots in the nursery and they are definitely swimming around. Many are hiding out in the shadows of the live rock caves. So tiny and already they know to hide and avoid “predators.”

I am feeding them three times a day with a mixture of ground up mini-freeze dried krill, some ground up flake food, a few drops of the liquid Small Fry baby fish food, and a little distilled water mixed in. We shall see how it goes. And no, I am not grinding the mini-krill with my husband’s lovely stone mortar and pestle that he uses for grinding up herbs and spices in the kitchen!!

Regarding salinity – it’s a tricky call. While Uca minax, which are the type of fiddler crabs I have, are seen furthest up the estuary in areas of lowest salinity, there seems to be evidence that for at least the first two weeks of their larval development (zoeae) , they actually survive and do better at a higher salinity. However there is also evidence that for the next (megalopae) stage to metamorphose into crab Stage 1, this species does best with the lower salinity seen in the upper estuary environment that the adults live in. I will post more information tomorrow including the links to the two papers I found today on this subject. Long story short today though, is that zoeae of all the species of fiddler crabs, seem to need a couple weeks of “being at sea,” hence higher salinity.

I’ll also explain about the three species used in one of the studies and how their selectivity for salinity levels puts them in different spots in the estuaries and thus probably keeps them from competing with each other for resources and food.

Also to come – I dug out the small microscope I had as a kid and will pick up some microscope slides. So to follow, descriptions of babies, under the glass.

A couple of other notes – courtesy again of my engineer husband. He noted a bunch of white things all over the gravel and wondered if the babies had already molted. Maybe they have but these white dots were too big and irregular in size for baby shells. I believe it’s salt crystals that didn’t dissolve in the water before I added it. I added more water to bring the salinity up closer to a marine environment. I started at 1.010 (brackish) when they were born and over the course of yesterday raised the salinity first to 1.012, then by last night 1.015. Today I’ll finish raising it to 1.020. Then in two weeks I’ll bring it back down to 1.010-1.012, the optimal range for Uca minax adults.

Sand. Again, my husband was watching the babies swim – it is amazing to see these tiny things whiz around the tank – but he shined a light to see if they would follow the beam. The article I posted in yesterday’s gift mentioned that the babies will go to the light. My husband didn’t see evidence of that, but what he noted was that many little babies had worked their way down between the gravel bits, all the way down to the bottom of the tank. Unless they figure out how to get back up to the water, they’ve had it. Now let’s face it. Their parents had a brain the size of a pinpoint. How large a brain do you thing babies the size of a pinpoint have? So the odds of them getting back to the surface are not good. I said “evolution at work. Anybody who tunnels down in the gravel probably won’t live to reproduce. ” My husband noted that gravel is less than optimal for this (engineers talk like this by the way, things are optimal, less than optimal, sub-optimal 🙂 ).

The real important point though was his next comment: “The NEXT time we do this, we should use sand.” There you have it folks. My husband has fallen in love with the fiddler crabs. In all truth, he has. He watches them, thinks about how to make their lives better, anticipates the babies getting ground up in the water filter…..those babies are lucky to have him!!!

Anyway, stay tuned for the links on those two articles about optimal (yes, OPTIMAL) salinity levels for fiddler crab larvae.

 

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 – Scarlet O’Hara Lives! And How I Came to Love Fiddler Crabs

January 25, 2008

After almost 10 days without a sighting, FINALLY yesterday afternoon, I spotted Scarlet O’Hara. I wasn’t sure at first if she was just a corpse, dangling upside down inside the Live Rock with her eyestalk hanging down, but shining the flashlight into the rock’s cavity at 5 minute intervals, I was able to determine that a) she actually had moved her position, and b) on the second and third times, she reacted to the light beam and flinched. This latter point was important because it meant the movement was deliberate, not the result of her just being bobbed around in the cavity by the water’s movement.

Relieved to know she wasn’t dead, I went ahead and did the water change. (More on that below) Then last evening, Scarlett O’Hara emerged from the Live Rock Cavity, and slowly started moving around. She resembled a patient just released from the hospital – someone tentative in her steps and tired after her ordeal.

Okay. Right about now, I’m sure anyone reading this is wondering what the hell I am talking about. Let me back up to the beginning and give you the Readers’ Digest version of events. I am contemplating setting up a separate blog – Crab logs – to capture all the events since the beginning of this endeavor, for those purists who only want the “lab notebook stuff.”

As I’ve mentioned I am writing a mid-grade novel called Under the Pier. At least that’s the “working title.” The protagonist of the “under” the pier side is a hermit crab. While I had no trouble pinning down facts about the creatures in that world, those chapters lacked “heart.” They read more like a nature guide. My husband read the first few animal chapters and noted that frankly, he didn’t care about the creatures. That’s a death knell for any book, whether the characters are human or animal. The whole point of reading a story is to feel what the characters feel, live through the story struggle with them, and stay along for the ride because… you CARE about them. If my husband didn’t care about them at chapter 2, I had a problem. So, back to research.

It occurred to me that I just hadn’t captured what it felt like to be an undersea creature. Since I can’t live underwater, an aquarium is the next best thing. I couldn’t have a marine hermit crab like the one in my story as a pet because that meant setting up a salt water tank, something reputed to be very difficult. PetsMart had something called “freshwater crabs.” A freshwater aquarium meant cheap, at least cheaper than a saltwater one, and easier. I’d had aquariums as a kid. I figured I could set up a small tank very inexpensively, get a couple crabs, and voila….live research that would teach me how to emotionally bond with something I normally eat in garlic butter. As I’ll describe below, “cheap” didn’t take place, but emotional bonding did. My husband noted that I bought myself $4 worth of fiddler crabs, and $100 worth of support gear. 🙂 In reality, it’s been way more than that by now, but . . . more about that later.

Anyway, I bought two males, not through any particular strategy. Those 2 just happened to wander into the net the teenage employee swished through the store’s tank. I rushed home with my new “pets” and all my gear and rapidly set up the tank. Normally, when you set up an aquarium, they recommend getting everything established before bringing home your fish. However in this case, I figured why bother setting it up ahead of time when the saleslady made it sound like all these guys needed was some water and a bubbling air tube. Again, more later.

The larger male immediately ran around his new tank, explored every aspect, took command of the gravel hill (they need an area where they can be out in the air for up to 50% of the time), and showed no fear. Given his apparent “explorer” mentality, we named him after the South Pole explorer, Admiral Byrd. The smaller male immediately bolted under the water filter and stayed there for 2 or 3 days. Even when he came out, he skulked around in the background. My husband noted that he acted like the Peter Lorre character in the movie, the Maltese Falcon, so we named him Peter Lorre.

I’m going to skip over the travails of learning I should have set up the aquarium first before buying the crabs, the fact the people had us buy the wrong food (how are bottom-dwelling crabs supposed to eat krill shrimp that only float on the water’s surface and don’t sink?), and the many things that made me realize these crabs really do need more than a bubbling air tube if they were to live longer than the 2 weeks PetsMart’s written guarantee said they would.

As it turned out, Peter Lorre made it about 3 weeks before he died. I think his poor little body just wasn’t up to the stresses of toxic nitrite and nitrate levels, not to mention the fluctuating salinity levels (see below). By the time I learned about Live Rock and how it speeds up the nitrogen cycle in the tank and makes things healthy and non-toxic, Peter Lorre just stopped walking one day, tumbled off the live rock, and dropped headfirst to the bottom of the tank, dead. I was heartbroken…he was the quiet timid one, and I did like him. My husband couldn’t understand how I could care about him given that I ordinarily do not hesitate to go to a seafood restaurant and consume his cousins with great enthusiasm. Doing a twist on that line from the Godfather movie about things not being personal, but business, I said to my husband, “This is personal, not lunch.” When things get personal, you go to Google for answers.

Now, for any aquarium geeks – a couple things. Live Rock, as mentioned above, is rock taken from a tropical coral area, and contains microscopic sea life and bacteria. By adding a1 pound chunk of cured Live Rock (ie has been allowed to sit in a salt water tank and age and no longer smells like a salt marsh) to the tank, it essentially seeded the tank with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. They speed up the establishment of the Nitrogen cycle. That’s where toxic ammonia and nitrites generated by the biologic wastes in the water, are converted to nitrates. Eventually the levels of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates drop to zero. The Live Rock also has the benefit of leeching calcium into the water. This comes in handy for keeping things like pH and calcium at stable levels. Crabs need high calcium for molting. Anyway, once I added Live Rock to the tank, the toxic conditions subsided rapidly. But not in time for Peter Lorre.

I also learned that the crabs I bought were “red-jointed fiddler crabs,” otherwise known as Uca minax. Sometimes PetsMart sells the yellow-clawed ones, Uca pugnax, or mud fiddler crabs, but I definitely got the red ones. While these crabs can survive in freshwater, it apparently shortens their lifespan considerably. I read somewhere that they can live a year or more if kept at the right salinity. I figured salinity meant “marine.” After all, if they weren’t freshwater crabs, then they were salt water crabs. I went out and bought aquarium salt and made it up to the regular marine aquarium specifications, a minimum specific gravity of 1.020. I eagerly added the water to the tank figuring my guys would react with glee. Instead, Peter Lorre went into a daze and foamed bubbles out of his shell. Admiral Byrd bolted out of the water like I’d just added sulfuric acid and literally tried to climb the walls of the tank to get out. I didn’t understand it. I’d followed the directions and they “should” have liked the water, but obviously they didn’t. Even fiddler crabs deserve not to be in pain so I added some plain water to dilute things. They settled down.

In hunting around some more on Google, I discovered that these crabs are in reality, brackish water critters. That is that “estuary” type environment where the rivers meet the sea. The water is neither freshwater nor saltwater. Brackish water has a much lower level of salinity. Further, I found a study of fiddler crabs in the rivers of Delaware that really illuminated the problem. Uca minax – the red-jointed guys – prefers water with a specific gravity of around 1.008 – 1.018. Any higher than that and the LD50 (the time it takes for 50% of the population to die) is 2- 3 weeks. Same if you put them in freshwater.

Interestingly, according to the study, the yellow-clawed guys LIKE the higher salinity. If I’d had Uca pugnax crabs instead of Uca minax, they would have loved the higher salinity water. But my guys hated it. They needed….brackish. That’s how it goes with me. I start out to have a simple freshwater tank, then accept I must make it marine, only to find out I have to actually set up a brackish tank…something by the way, very few people do probably because there’s no books on the subject. In any event it’s been quite the adventure, and I sure have learned a lot, becoming a bit of an expert now on maintaining a good brackish water environment, a source of pride for me. However, this should explain now, my husband’s comment about $4 worth of fiddler crabs, and a $100 worth of support gear. It goes without saying I needed a gauge to monitor specific gravity not to mention water conditioner, solutions to decrease the ammonia until the Live Rock bacteria kicked in, and test strips to check the water…a lot. 🙂

Anyway, end of geek moment and back to the story:

Well, now that Peter Lorre was dead, Admiral Byrd was beside himself. He sat in his little cave tunnel near Peter Lorre’s dead body and just twitched. I thought he’d eat Peter Lorre given that they are scavengers, but apparently fiddler crabs don’t eat their friends. I removed Peter Lorre and gave him a proper pet burial in our front yard, next to the gerbils, hamsters, and pet rat buried out there. Then I set out to buy Admiral Byrd more friends.

I found this amazing aquarium store on the outside of Raleigh, NC – Fish Pros – Fishprosnc.com SALT WATER TANKS and ALL KINDS OF GEAR and PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING!!!!. In fact some of their staff are marine science students or professors at NC State University nearby. In any event, I left there with not just ONE more friend for Admiral Byrd, but three. And this time, there would be WOMEN!

I figured keep the numbers even, so I bought 2 females and one more male. The man at the store noted that having the females would produce some neat “claw-waving” mating behavior in the males – the crab equivalent of “Hey baby, check me out!” Also, since females weren’t territorial, it was possible to have more crabs in the tank without having fights. Needless to say, Admiral Byrd perked right up when he saw he had friends, and when he realized there were ladies, well, he hasn’t stopped waving his claw since.

In any event, the male struck my husband as the “Rhett Butler” type, so, the new guy became Rhett Butler. That meant following the Gone With the Wind motif for the ladies names. The larger female demonstrated an overbearing, fearless, almost aggressive streak. She became Scarlett O’Hara. The more timid, fragile female, is Melanie Hamilton.

Again, for whatever reason, we lost one of the crabs – Rhett Butler lay dead in the back of the tank. No outward evidence of “foul play” ie – Admiral Byrd killing him off for territory or women. Again, another pet burial in the front yard. However, since then, the remaining three crabs have done fine. Yes, the women get fed up with Admiral Byrd chasing them around. And Yes, Melanie Hamilton got tired of Scarlett O’Hara stepping on her to get to the food pellets. Melanie Hamilton spends most of her time living INSIDE of the Live Rock chunk. She does peek out the front or side entrances long enough to grab a food pellet and pull it inside, and every now and then she will climb out and wander around, but she’s very skittish and races back in the rock at the slightest provocation.

My Scarlett O’Hara concern started about 10 days ago. She enlarged the front entrance to the Live Rock, ie, pulled out a bunch of gravel and tunneled under it to get inside it with Melanie Hamilton. For a few days I could see them both crammed inside the Live Rock if I shined a flashlight into one of the rock’s openings. But for the last 10 days I could not find a trace of her. At first I figured she went in there to molt. Molting takes a few hours. So, I figured give her another day or so to rest and she’d be back out. No dice. No matter how often I shined the light into the rock, all I could see was Melanie Hamilton. By yesterday I’d decided Scarlett must have died and I needed to pull the rock out of the tank, if only to remove her dead body for burial.

However, just before I did that, I shined the light into the Live Rock and lo, that’s when I saw Scarlett O’Hara. She was clinging to the roof of the cavity, and I could see her eyestalks hanging down. Since she emerged from the rock, all is back to normal. Scarlett O’Hara and Admiral Byrd run the tank and wander constantly, seeking food. Melanie Hamilton peeks out of her cave and pretty much stays out of sight. As odd as it sounds – I am so HAPPY!!! I really felt bad at the thought she died. Seeing everybody doing their usual thing, it’s like “aaahhh, back to normal.”

Oh – one last geek moment, a moment of pride for me. I did a 33% water replacement in the aquarium yesterday – almost double the 18 % change the time Admiral Byrd freaked out about the salinity, and more than the recommended 25%. I didn’t have much choice given that the water really needed changing. I added the water and held my breath, keeping a close eye on Admiral Byrd. Apparently, this time I did it right. The tank water was at a 1.010 specific gravity, and so was the new water I was adding. Not only that, but the other parameters were great : pH 8.0, total hardness (GH) >300 ppm, total alkalinity (KH) 300 ppm, chlorine and nitrite 0, and nitrates “okay” at 20 ppm. (I’ve been using the Jungle Laboratories brand Quick Dip 6 Tests in One strips). And Admiral Byrd? He just kept right on eating through the whole thing. Never once climbed the walls…he never even left the water. SUCCESS!!!

Now I’m saving my allowance to buy …. two land hermit crabs!!!! Stay tuned soon for their adventures.

And stay tuned…working on getting pictures of Admiral Byrd, Scarlett O’Hara, and Melanie Hamilton…if she ever comes out of her cave!