Posts Tagged ‘microscopic’

The Post – My Husband, Alias Fiddler Crab Midwife

February 28, 2008

Again I will note, it is my husband who thought of something crucial. I’d finally gotten the new tank so the water is clear, the nitrites aren’t too high, Scarlett O’Hara is calm and exploring the tank. I got the main tank’s water changed, so it too is in great shape. Feeling satisfied with the world, I commented that now all we need to do is wait for the birth.

My husband turned and said: “I’ve been meaning to ask you something that bothered me. You have the water filter running in the nursery tank. When the microscopic babies are born, won’t they all get sucked into the filter material?”

“OH MY GOD.” The man is right. We’ll come down some morning and Scarlett will have delivered and there’ll be no babies in the tank – just this primal cry of the thousands emitting from the cloth and charcoal filter material – the crab baby equivalent of “Oh the humanity!!”

I first thought maybe I could just pull out the filter material and just leave the water pump running, but again, my engineer husband said, “Well that will be okay I guess while they’re microscopic. But what happens when they start to grow and get a little bigger? They’ll get sucked through the pump and won’t that grind them all up?”

“OH MY GOD again.” You know, for a person who started this whole thing out with “So, we’ve spent $4 on fiddler crabs and a $100 on support gear,” and laughed at the endeavor, he is the one the babies should thank if they make it because he is the one paying such close attention to their every need. When I hedged about spending yet another $30 on a tank heater, he was like, “But won’t they need heat?”

In any event, I ran to Petsmart to buy a tank bubbler. There’s all kinds – wands, rocks, bars, then there’s pumps – all kinds of those, not to mention you have to buy the right pump to handle the volume of your tank and the right sized wand to stretch across your tank, then there’s the check valve you have to install if the pump is going to be below the aquarium instead of above it – keeps the water from backflowing into the pump in case of power loss….you get the picture. I finally settled on a pump for aquariums up to 20 gallons instead of 10. Wanted something with more power to push air in there. And I selected a wand to extend across the back of the tank to create a curtain of bubbles. I thought that might circulate the oxgen better than a bubble rock. It won’t filter the water, but hopefully the huge live rock and the bacteria I’ve already seeded the tank with from the old filter backing, will be enough to jump-start the nitrogen cycle without the filter running. The bubbler will give them fresh air. So, keep your fingers crossed.

At least Scarlett O’Hara seems to like it. She climbs up on the wand and sits there with bubbles flowing up around her. I hope she thinks it’s “surf” and releases the babies soon. My husband wonders if she is scurrying around the tank so much because it’s getting close and she’s frantically trying to find that right spot to let them go and be carried out “into the open ocean.” Sigh.

Truly, those fiddler babies owe him a lot. He is the true fiddler dad. Admiral Byrd may be oblivious and not care, but my husband surely does. It’s that whole “Caring is Catchy,” thing.

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…..