18 Dec 2007

FSL: Fiddler Sign Language

Dear Blue Lobster:

so wat can u tell me abt fiddler crab sign language?

-cherise

Dear Gentle Sir:

Fiddler crabs (Uca sp.), known for the male's oversized claw, communicate by a series of complex movements and gestures. It is thought that Fiddler sign language, or FSL, developed around the same time the oversized claw and associated mating rituals did, some twenty to twenty five million years ago.

Despite the relatively high level of communication, one Uca species can not understand the other's sign language. For the Uca genus, this dictates speciation as two physiologically identical species, such as U. volens and U. spiralis, will not breed or cohabit with one another. Thus signal communication dictates that the two will eventually drift further physically like other, less distantly related species like U. hoh and U. vula.

The lack of communication between species leads to unique behavior in Uca where one species will not only defend their territory from another but will attempt to completely wipe out neighboring Fiddler crabs. Typically one species signs are interpreted as offensive to another, with one study showing an increase in circulation and pheromones when crabs of different species were exposed to one another. In nature this results in different Uca species seeking to wipe out others until only one remains dominant on the beach, allowing for interspecific combat thereafter.

This crustacean genocide is thought to serve as a means of increasing the chances of successful breeding. With up to fifty percent of Fiddler populations reduced during breeding season from predation by fish, bird, monkeys, other crabs, and humans, population density is one way to ensure successful reproduction.

FSL isn't as complex as human sign languages, of course. Fidders, for instance, have no concept of the past or a past tense in their signs. Everything happens in the present tense for a Fiddler. This includes the immediate future. For example, a herd of Fiddlers will begin signing for food as soon as they detect an appropriate scent and will continue this gesture throughout the course of the meal. Likewise females sign for pregnancy before eggs are visible and continue until their young are newly hatched.

Research into the origin and development of FSL continues. A tentative family tree based on similarities and differences in FSL is being worked out, and research at National University in Australia hopes to link it to a molecular data family tree.

9 Oct 2007

Ethiopian Aquaculture

Dear Blue Lobster:

My name is Jerry Bailey and I am just getting started in aquaculture in Ethiopia which is a landlocked country and has no access to salt water. As of now, we are planning to start out farm ponds with Tilapia and Red Claw Crayfish.

I have tried to search for a species of freshwater prawn of commercial size that could complete its entire lifecycle to include hatchery phase in freshwater. I have only read about Macrobrachium Amazonicum as being a possible species but have not found any source of post larvae to experiment with.

Grateful if you could let me know if you know of any total freshwater prawns that reach at least 8 cm in length that I might consider.

Most grateful for your assistance.

Jerry

Dear Gentle Sir:

Before investing in a crayfish farming venture in Ethiopia, consider Africa's dark past: there are no crayfish in Africa today because of a virulent Crayfish Plague that began in the middle of the last millennium.

The Plague originated in the Congo Basin in the 13th or 14th century. Jespersen (1981) cites an origin in Lac Tumba or Lac Mai-Ndombe, while Dench (1984) postulates an origin in the Atlantic. Recent molecular studies by Sibelius (2002) and Schröder (2005) show that the bacteria in question — Aquavirex negropontis — is virtually identical with a non-disease causing bacteria found endemically in coastal lobster populations.

When the Kongo Empire was exposed to European trade, the stage was set for Black River Mold, as it was called then, to spread over the entire continent. By the 18th century only Mozambique and Tanzania had any crayfish populations; by the time of the Great War, modern European colonialism had diminished these populations as well. Only Madagascar, geographically isolated from the continent, has an extant crayfish population.

Today, though farming is done in some areas, crayfish export from Africa is strictly controlled. Farming itself is an expensive prospect as every aspect of it must be carefully monitored and kept completely separate from natural environments to prevent introduction of the Plague to farming stocks.

Today there are few alternatives though research into immunity, both inherent and genetically engineered, is progressing. At this time data concerning M. amazonicum are lacking but some other species seem viable given proper environmental considerations.

2 Oct 2007

Genderqueer Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have a question about the electric blue lobsters. I know that right after they molt, they are kinda pinkish, but what if they stay pinkish for over a week after molting? He isn't eating right but seems healthy. Is it possible that he isn't hardening for some reason? My friend has over 50 blue lobsters, plus he now has hundreds of babies, none of which look pink except right after molting. Is it that the water is too warm for them? I have 2-3" blue lobsters in a 20 gallon tank and they both pretty much avoid each other. There are no signs of fighting and the other blue lobster is blue as can be. Also, should you let them eat their own shell or take it out after they molt? I would appreciate it if you could address this issue for me and give me some tips. Thank you for your time!

Cindy

Dear Gentle Sir:

To address the least important question first, the old shell should be left for the cray to munch on. In this way the crayfish replenishes its low stores of calcium carbonate, which it uses to harden a new shell. Remove it only after the cray ceases to eat it lest it spoil the water.

Your crayfish's change, however, is a much more complicated topic.

Genderqueer theory is one drawn from many traditions, movements, and cultures from the last few thousands of years. Current genderqueer activism and lifestyles deal primarily with equal rights and support in Western and emerging Third World societies, which are almost usually hostile to the concept.

Crayfish who wish to question their physical and self-identified genders don't have it any easier than humans do. Crayfish culture is a harsh, brutal one based on male/female breeding. foodstuff acquisition, and territoriality. As such, violence is inherent to crayfish interaction and a cray that strays outside the male/female opposition might find life difficult.

For example, a recent study done by the Kansas Institute of Astacology housed a population of five Devil Crayfish (Cambarus diogenes) in a hundred gallon tank. Their diet requirements were met adequately and the population was stable. When one female cray was injected with a special chemical and began exhibiting male behavior, the dominant male intervened and both died in brutal combat. The three remaining females then fought for dominance and eventually died of their injuries.

To avoid such turmoil in your own aquaria, keep a keen watch out for genderqueer crays. More obvious signs, such as the shell color change you described, are good tip-offs, but more subtle differences such as cross-gender association (i.e. your male acting like a female or vice versa) are important too.

If you have identified a possible genderqueer, remove it at once if its community is unstable. A solitary cray housed without other crayfish won't have much to worry about but one in a community tank as cited above would be at risk of violent reprisals. A simple five or ten gallon tank with water taken from the original aquarium would work until your cray has sorted out his identity.

Above all else, it is important to remember that your crayfish, despite questioning or adjusting its gender identity, is still a crayfish and as such deserves the same rights and responsibilities as any other cray. Attend to it with dignity and respect to ease its progress down a non-traditional and sometimes scary path.

25 Sep 2007

Quick Cure or Quick Kill?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have a Blue Crayfish in my tank with several Cichlids and two Plecos. A recent fish purchase has put my tank in chaos and have already had 3 fish lost to a fungus, parasite, or disease. I purchased a product at my local fish store but it doesn't appear to be doing ANY good. After some research online I have decided to dose my 100 gallon tank with "Quick Cure" which contain malachite gree and formalin. From what I've seen online it may "harm invertebrates." 1) Will my Blue Crayfish be harmed? 2) If he will be harmed, what is the best course of action to take to save my fish and keep my handsome crayfish safe? A quarantine tank? I love your posts. Thank you for your help

Crayfish mom

Dear Gentle Sir:

Quick Cure works by poisoning the less complex organisms in your tank. Plants survive only because of their cell wall, which other organisms lack, and vertebrates have complex enough metabolism to detoxify the active ingredients in Quick Cure. Any invertebrate or fungus will be wiped out.

A quarantine tank will work for to keep your cray out of the toxic soup, but knowing when it's safe to return it to the tank is another matter entirely. The composition of your tank is important to consider.

Do you have a clay substrate? Are the rocks in your tank hard or soft? If you have aquarium plants, do they fix compounds from the water? All of the above may absorb and then slowly leach the Quick Cure back into your water, slowly poisoning your crayfish.

Another alternative would be to remove all the fish from your tank, leaving your crayfish the sole tenant of those premises. You could then add some ghost shrimp and have a crustacean-only tank. An aquarium without fish is an aquarium without problems, and all the better for your cray.

11 Sep 2007

Crayfish Abuse & Neglect

Dear Blue Lobster:

Is it possible for a fresh water blue lobster to survive in a mini tank without a water pump? A heater? or both together?

Mitchyslik3

Dear Gentle Sir:

Is it possible for you to survive in a broom closet without circulation or heat? Or both? If you have a question about your crayfish's living conditions, reflect upon your own personal needs first.

A blue lobster can survive many challenging environs when it needs to. For the purposes of petkeeping, however, maintaining an optimal environment is important for both your pincered friend and your enjoyment. Without proper heat, light, oxygen, and food your cray will suffer mentally and physically.

The only time it's appropriate for a cray to live in subhuman conditions — such as what you described above — are when breeding, rearing, moving, or aspunishment. Unless your cray has misbehaved in a manner befitting isolation, don't even think of putting it in an uncirculated, unheated "mini" tank.

Just remember to always ask yourself this question: What has my cray done to deserve time in the brig? Otherwise, that's where you might end up after you've been convicted of crayfish abuse or neglect.

14 Aug 2007

Invasion of the Sideswimmers

Dear Blue Lobster:

I was was in a boat on Lake Erie and I threw a bucket down on a 150ft. of rope and dredged for a while. I wanted to see if I could find any Zebra Mussels. I found some, as well as a strange white crustacean that looks like a cross between a shrimp and a water flea. What the heck! I had no idea anything like that lived in the lake. I will never go swimming here again. What was it?

Thanks,
Terrence

Dear Gentle Sir:

What you encountered was Gammarus tigrinus, commonly known as the Sideswimmer. This species is native to the North Atlantic Coast but has been introduced to the Great Lakes in the last decade in a controversial effort to limit the Zebra Mussel population.

Instead, the Sideswimmers have joined the mussel in the benthic zone of the lake, feeding upon valuable plankton. Fish populations, such as the small mouth bass, are in a freefall thanks to this meddling by scientists.

One positive aspect of the infestation of this invasive species is that the lake, heavily polluted by post-World War II industry and subsequently cleaned up by the Zebra Mussel in the Eighties, is now even more pristine. Thanks to the Sideswimmer, you can now enjoy a glass of water straight out of the lake.

Measures to control the Sideswimmer population are in order. A genetically engineered virus is being tested that would render adult Sideswimmers infertile. Wildlife officials are also stocking a Bluegill/Pumpkinseed hybrid (Lepomis gibbosus × macrochirus) in hopes it will eat the Sideswimmer.

As these silent underwater wars go on, rest assured the lake is still safe to swim in. These tiny creatures generally don't come to shore, instead preferring the dark silence of the bottom. Perhaps you'd like to take the Sideswimmer home and study them, along the some Zebra Mussels, in your aquarium!

8 Aug 2007

What Makes a Rusty Crayfish Red?

Dear Blue Lobster:

i caught a rusty crayfish and my cousin says its red because it is in hot water. i think it's red because its parents were red. my paw paw says it's because god made it that way. who's right? what makes a rusty crayfish red?

scooter

Dear Gentle Sir:

The Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) is red because that is its natural colour morph; that is, it is red due to its genetics just as your skin colour was inherited from your parents and their parents, etc. This is called a heritable trait.

Orconectes rusticus became red, however, because its ancestor habited areas with high concentrations of ferrous oxide, commonly known as rust, in the water. Because of this the Orconectes expressed red and orange colors and since they matched the environment better these colour morphs eventually became endemic to their population. This resulted in the speciation of rusticus.

Today you can hunt Rusty crayfish with a metal detector thanks to their high iron content and doctors often prescribe the species to anaemic women during pregnancy as well. One may even find carnival-goers during the Mardi Gras dressed in costumes made of scrap metal painted red replete with refrigerator magnets honouring bebe rouillé, the little red bug.

1 Aug 2007

Can Crayfish Get Goitre?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I can see the need for iodine in salt water or brackish water animals, but fresh water crays have no natural source of iodine. Has anyone seen any studies that prove it is beneficial?

In the shrimp world we've established that in small doses it dooesn't hurt, but long term keeping in side by side tanks have shown no benifit at all.

badflash

Dear Gentle Sir:

In marine environments, the level of dissolved minerals generally satisfies a crustacean's need for iodine. Fresh water, however, lacks the dissolved minerals and crayfish, as well as other crustaceans, may experience iodine deficiency. This can result in a number of disorders.

Goitre, as you mentioned, is one such consequence of hypoiodinism. In crays this manifests itself as a large goiter just the under the head segment, often making the cray look as if its head were about to explode. Native North American tribes would avod eating such specimens, as their flesh was loose and sickly; animals too avoid bulbous-headed crays.

Sluggishness and mental retardation are other symptoms. If your cray is acting slow, weak, or generally lethargic, lack of iodine may be the cause. Likewise, a cray that eats its own appendages or feces may suffer from iodine deficiency.

Some crays have developed numerous methods to obtain it in other ways. One tropical species combs the brackish deltas of the Amazon and its tributaries for kelp detritus with antennas adapted to detect iodine molecules from up to eight kilometers (five miles) away.

If your cray is not lucky enough to have these adaptations, there are ways to introduce iodine to your aquarium. The simplest way is to add iodized table salt. Add one ounce a week until symptoms subside.

If your cray is sensitive to salt, add pure iodine crystals to the water. To obtain these, empty a bottle of iodine tincture onto a flat plastic container and leave in the sun. When the alcohol and water have evaporated, use a straight razor to scrape the remaining crystals into your cray's tank. Stop when the water begins to take a lavender hue.

24 Jul 2007

I Think My Fiddlers Hooked Up

Dear Blue Lobster:

I recently found myself babysitting a fiddler crab. I set up a small tank for him with rocks to climb and shells to hide in. I bought another crab and the only one I could find in my small city was missing one claw. I’ve had them together now for about one month and the new crab seemed very dominate, hogging food and chasing the other away whenever he got close, so I assumed I had a male. Well, last night they both holed up in the same large shell, which was a shock for me. Today she is hiding out. Should I be concerned? I’m afraid I may have a pregnant crab showing up soon. If that is the case, what do I do with all of the eggs? I read she will have hundreds of thousands! I’m not prepared for that at all! I’ve put a lot of effort into saving the life of the male and after reading your website, I do think I need to do more for the crabs. I’ve grown quite attached to them.

Thank you!
Vicki

Dear Gentle Sir:

It appears as though your Fiddlers have "hooked up," the scientific term for mating. Do not confuse the term with current popular teen slang, however. Fiddlers actually do hook up using their specially adapted swimmerets, kept hidden within their curled tail, to grasp on to one another as the male forces his sperm load into the female.

There are a few ways to tell if your female is pregnant. One is to watch for odd behavior. If she begins eating unusual foodstuffs, such as aquarium plants, gravel, or her own feces, something has definitely changed physiologically within her. Depression and mood swings are another telltale sign. Is she staying in her cave longer than usual? Another way to detect pregnancy is to watch for mucus forming on her underside, which precipitates before her eggs flow down from her ovipositor.

So what do you do if your female is indeed pregnant? Comfort her. Her man has kicked her out and will no offer care for her children — in fact, he may try to eat them! Make sure she has plenty of nice landings she can climb out of the water onto and many deep caves she can disappear into.

Also supply her with round-the-clock food. Fiddler crabs are detrivores, meaning they'll eat just about anything as long as it's small. Makes trips to your local food co-op or farmer's market to procure organic veggie leftovers from their trucks and bins. Food from supermarkets are often sprayed with chemicals and wax, which are definite no-nos for a pregnant crustacean.

Once she's in berry (visibly carrying eggs) the eggs will hatch within two weeks. At this point it's time to decide how to isolate her and her brood from the other creatures in the tank, who will without doubt see the crab larva as tasty treats. You can relocate her, which threatens her and her brood with new water chemistry, move the other creatures out of the tank, which may be convenient depending on the number of tankmates, or install a partition which limits her space but makes life for the aquarium owner the easiest.

The children will need fed nothing special in particular since in their earliest stages they'll eat microscopic algae and detritus. As they settle down and begin molting, however, give them a small crumble of flake food daily. In some cases, where the crabs were isolated from food for too long, scraping your skin or shaking dandruffy hair into the tank will give them enough nourishment for the time being.

After the crabs begin to grow, only a small amount of the total will make it to adolescence. Use the Chimwich-Hayes equation to arrive at the ideal number of crustaceans for your aquarium and use the Internet to sell the others. Some species of Fiddler crab young can net as much as 69¢ per pound!

Good luck to you and your Fiddlers. Motherhood is a special blessing indeed.

18 Jul 2007

Crayfish vs. Blue Lobster

Dear Blue Lobster:

I am a soon-to-be crustacean mother and I have an empty 100 gallon tank I won a few years ago I hope to add a Blue Lobster and Fiddler crab to, in addition to Ciclids and hopefully a Pleco. However, I'm quite confused by the whole Lobster vs. Crayfish information I've been getting online and in stores. Are ALL Blue Lobsters, Crayfish? And visa versa? Or is there a diffference? If so how do you tell? My tank is certainly large enough to sustain a 2 pound lobster (the size the store clerk told me the Lobster, NOT CRAYFISH mind you, would grow), and I don't want my children fighting or eating each other! I am also concerned my Lobster or Crab will eat or attack my bottom swimming Pleco, although I hope the size of the tank will allow for each to claim it's own territory. Thank you so much for all the wonderful info.

Concerned Mother To Be

Dear Gentle Sir:

Lobster and crayfish are the non-scientific names for different, though closely related, groups of decapod crustaceans. Crayfish refers to three families of freshwater species. Lobster, on the other hand, has traditionally represented the Homarus genus, which includes the saltwater American and European lobsters. The term is also used for other marine species of various types.

In the aquarium trade, exotic animals sell for higher prices than mundane native animals, and so to advertise their animal shops often blur an animal's name. To directly answer your question, all freshwater lobsters sold in pet stores are crayfish. Electric Blue Lobsters are almost always either blue color morphs of Procambarus clarkii or Orconectes alleni.

The connection gets muddier more recently, however, as dying the cray's water blue or subjecting the cray to special lighting which causes the cray to temporarily change color. In some cases dealers actually inject blue dye into the cray which shortens the cray's lifespan considerably.

True blue crays are rare in nature but are being bred more reliably as time goes on. In turn, the price of (true) blue crays should fall, but the aquarium industry is a notably lavicious one and prices may remain high. The fraud inherent in the cray trade makes for a tricky and sometimes dangerous foray into crustaphilia. Approach blue lobsters with skepticism and care.

10 Jul 2007

How to Be a Good Molt-Sitter

Dear Blue Lobster:

Just two days ago I purchased a Watermelon Fiddler at a local pet store. Currently, it is lying on its back motionless. I have read your posts on molting, and I would like to know how long it typically takes for a fiddler crab to molt. How long I should wait before I consider it to be deceased? It has a strange arm-like structure rising from its underside. Thank you for your time, I appreciate your advice and love your site.

-Josh

Dear Gentle Sir:

I regret to inform you that your crab has died during a bad molt.

Death by ecdysis is a common way for crustaceans to bite it. One of the risks of ecdysis is that the process may leave the animal in a lethal, half-molted state as your crab was. The only way to ensure the molt goes as well as possible is sitting, or closely monitoring the molting process.

While sitting your crab, you'll need a notebook and pen, a camera (digital or otherwise), some sort of audio recording device, a flashlight, fresh bottled water, and an intimate knowledge of the molting process. You also can not molt yourself while sitting for your creature during its molt.

Your best bet if the crustacean appears distressed is to remain quietly watching it; molting is a slow process and reaching in with the surgical scissors too soon is just as harmful as doing so too late. This is the classic "do no harm" vs. "don't just sit there, do something!" dichotomy.

All difficulties aside, here are some general tips for molting:

  • Turn the tank off or, if they're set to a dimmer, down. Your cray will need to relax during the molting process.

  • Keep inquisitive or predatory creatures away during and after your cray's metamorphosis. They will smell the cray's condition and attack.

  • Do not offer food, as the cray won't eat during the molt and any food in the tank will spoil.

  • Keep your filtration system turned down as the suction can crush your soft cray faster than you would be able to rescue it.

  • Play nature music. Underwater recordings mimic the birth process which is similar to your cray's molt.

Good luck and remember to watch our for that "third arm" that is the telltale sign of a molt gone bad.

19 Jun 2007

The Clawed Ant Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

Yesterday I happened across a strange little creature that I was hoping you would be able to identify. I had never seen anything like it before, so I will describe it the best I can in hopes that you will be able to shed some light on this mystery.

At first, it looked like an ant crawling around at my feet, but upon closer inspection, I noticed that this ant-like critter had what appeared to be lobster claws. Is it even possible for crustaceans to be that small? Or am I just trying to make an erroneous connection?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

-Steve Kissinger

Dear Gentle Sir:

I assume you were speaking of an experience in a creek, pond, or river?

If so, the creature you observed that resembled a small clawed ant is none other than the Clawed Ant Crayfish (Pacifastacus myrminex), a member of a wide and varied Californian genus that includes several small cave and aquifer species. The myrminex is one of a few that lives topside.

So named for its small size and dark coloration, the Clawed Ant Crayfish lives in slow-moving creeks with sandy bottoms. It is a detrivore, feeding on tiny organic matter such as algae and insect larva. They grow to no more than two centimeters but their claws are, by proportion, the largest of any cray species.

This relatively uncommon species is endangered due to their high sensitivity to chemical pollutants. Indeed, until the Eighties, many people dumped ant poison in their watersheds thinking they were combatting their ant problems. Instead, they decimated the Clawed Ant population.

Today these gentle crustaceans are making a comeback thanks in part to environmental awareness and strict pollution laws. Please be sure to leave the Clawed Ant Crayfish unmolested should you observe one.

12 Jun 2007

孫子兵法

Dear Blue Lobster:

Hello, I have two Johanii cichlids, 2 kenyi, 1 mbuna, 1 regular pleco, a Chinese algae eater, a red rainbow shark, and a fire mouth American cichlid. These are all in a 20 gallon tank I plan to upgrade to a 75 this coming winter.

I would like to add an electric blue lobster my only fear is what it will do to my pleco as it likes to dwell on the bottom as well as my Chinese is this highly not recommended? What are your thoughts?

Tom

Dear Gentle Sir:

That's quite a tankful you have there. For those size fishes, the seventy-five gallon tank is a must. If you can afford the extra expense, get a hundred gallon tank. The Chinese Algae-Eater alone can grow to gigantic proportions.

A crayfish in such a crowded tank is anything but a good idea; in fact, it guarantees at least some altercations if not mutually assured destruction.

Once you acquire your new tank, an Electric Blue Lobster or any other kind of crayfish could live happily and safely so long as you follow some simple rules, such as providing hiding spots, such as jars and pipes; plant coverage, which you can purchase at your local pet store; and feeding your cray high quality food.

You may want to find a steady supply of live earthworms, leeches, maggots, and shrimp. A nice steak once in a while is a good idea, and poached eggs will help keep the cray's shell shiny.

With these guidelines in mind, your cray should be able to live a tumultuous, violent life in your new aquarium. To that end I recommend Sun Tzu's The Art of War, a valuable strategy guide for both you and your cray that addresses combat and living in hostile situations.

For example, your cray may succeed in eating all of your fish, in which case he could enjoy complete and total peace not to mention quite a few nice meals. But after that, in the period of peace, his skills would begin to degrade and any new threat would surely topple him.

Other dangers lie ahead before victory, however. Your cray should learn to bow low and fart to the emperor, or in this case, the Chinese Algae-Eater; thus, hiding spaces are important. An empty sack fills no bellies; therefore, keep your cray well-fed, etc.

With these points in mind, and this book in hand, your cray will acclimate to your aquarium community as a sharp warrior of the claw.

6 Jun 2007

The Roman Sewer Crab

Dear Blue Lobster:

recently i had the pleasure of rome and there were these cute little freshwater crabs that look like fiddlers that walk around the streets eating garbage and being silly. i asked a native what they were and he said sono greci and spit. what does this mean?

thanks,
phillip

Dear Gentle Sir:

This crab goes by a number of common names. For example, historians know it as the Etruscan Crab or Trajan's Crab while Sicilians call it the Greek Bug. It's generally known as the Roman Crab throughout Italy and Europe in general while local children call it a sewer bug. Its scientific name is Potamon fluviatile, which means little river-goer. Its characteristics are just as interesting as its names.

This crab was imported from Macedonia at Trajan's behest during the Cancercalia, Rome's pagan crab festival. Wishing to impress the populace, he had the crabs hauled into the center of his forum and dumped on open ground. Children ran after the crabs, catching them, while their parents cooked and ate them. Some of the crabs inevitably escaped and lived in the sewers the Etruscans had built centuries before and have thrived there ever since.

Compared to populations in nearby lakes, rivers, and ponds, the sewer crabs are more robust. Just last year, a survey on the crabs revealed that they are, on average, one and one half times the size of non-sewer populations. The reason probably lies in the fact that the omnivorous scavengers have an easier time finding food in the old sewage system. Indeed, a few specimens of this species kept as pets reach the large size of sixty centimeters.

30 May 2007

Moving My Tadpole Shrimp

Dear Blue Lobster:

I am soon going to move to a new house, and I have a longtail tadpole shrimp (Triops longicaudatus) at home in a small plastic aquarium (10 cm by 10 cm by 15 cm). Short as its life is, the tadpole shrimp might live to see our moving day. Now, I have started planning how I will move him; I have a smaller jar with a lid where I once kept tadpole shrimps, and I'm going to wash it with distilled water and then put him in the jar along with some food. Do you happen to know how I can move him safely, if there is a way at all? It is about 5 km from my current home to the new house.

Sincerely,
Mikhail Makogonov

Dear Gentle Sir:

The travel itself will not present as much of a challenge as moving him from tank to jar to tank again will. The same water from his tank must be used in the jar, but in doing that you disturb any silt and leftovers and old shells still in the water, which will suffocate your shrimp. So what is the solution to this catch-22?

Freezing.

Yes, the simple act of freezing your shrimp might be the thing to save it during the move. As with crayfish, lowering the body temperature of the crustacean in question slows its metabolism to the point where it doesn't need to breathe, eat, sleep, or perform any other metabolic function. In this hypothermic stasis, the shrimp can be taken great distances while incurring no injury.

Freezing the shrimp follows much the same steps as freezing a crayfish. However, if you're only traveling 5km, you may want to just chill him. This would require removing any heat sources from his tank — lights and heaters — and allowing the water to fall to room temperature. Afterward, you must then place the shrimp and water from the tank.

Using a banana boat, mayonnaise jar, or some other small but sealable container, scoop up enough clean water from the tank for your shrimp to swim in, followed by the shrimp itself. Immediately place the container in a cooler with ice and transport. It is important to estimate how long the trip will last since the cooler won't prevent the shrimp from warming past an hour or so.

As for the tank, now is the time to clean it. Do not remove the water, however. Simply clean the tank of all debris and then, once in your new home, let it set until any remaining dust has settled. Afterward you can dump your frosty friend back into his home and watch him regain motility. Be sure to keep an eye on him for odd behavior, but he should return to normal within a couple hours.

Failing all of that, you could just flush him down the toilet.

23 May 2007

Decorating for Fiddlers

Dear Blue Lobster:

i am going to buy two fiddler crabs and i want to know the best way to decrorate their tank

Anonymous

Dear Gentle Sir:

Fiddler crabs are gregarious creatures who love companionship and a lively environment in which they can explore. So on top of the stones and gravel and rocks and plants that any Fiddler tank should provide, you can also feel free to liven it up in a number of ways.

Fiddlers love light. In addition to the default imitation sunlight lamps you can mix things up a bit with colored bulbs. For Christmas, try a red and a green bulb, and for Easter purple and yellow. Halloween might be a fun time to try out a black, or "UV" bulb that can bring out some interesting patterns in your crabs' shells. To recreate sunset on a Hawaiian beach, try GE's new pink bulbs that produce a soft, dying-sun glow that can send you and your crabs straight to the tropics. The only thing missing will be the piña colada.

Underwater caves and grottos are important too: your Fiddlers need to feel safe, secure, and at home. A meeting place created by conjoining pipes or crevices can give them a secret meeting area in which they can molt or mate.

Filling the tank with free-floating plants enables your crabs to enjoy hours of acrobatic fun, jumping and floating from one bunch of plants to another. And if the plants include an extra crayfish or shrimp, all the more fun! Just make sure the crays or shrimps aren't larger than your crabs or you will be left with a Fiddler holocaust.

Posters of teen idols can augment the morale of your tank. After reaching breeding size, the Fiddler lives to interact and breed on the beach. This perpetual childhood can be celebrated by using collectible trading cards as "posters" taped to the outside of your tank for the crabs to enjoy. Kirk Cameron, Scott Baio, the Coreys, and Michael J. Fox are all appropriate choices. Cards with their visages can be had on eBay for little more than the cost of shipping.

With these ideas in mind, the possibilities for aquarium decoration are endless. Just recently I set up a Fiddler crab tank with pink lights, rooted plants, and a couple trading cards of A.C. Slater and Zach Morris in the background to recreate the Malibu Sands episodes of Saved by the Bell. The Fiddlers have never had more fun!

16 May 2007

Jamaican Crab Festival

Dear Blue Lobster:

I'm going to Jamaica this week for this crab festival thing my friend has gone to before. do you know what it's all about? i want to get stupid drunk and eat crab all week.

thanks,
antoine

Dear Gentle Sir:

It's that time of year, in the Ides of May, when local populations in Jamaica gather to celebrated the natural wonder of the mangrove crab's fantastic journey to the sea during the breeding season.

Mangrove crabs are the many species that inhabit forests and swamps near ocean shores. In Jamaica, this means about thirteen species from three different families. The crabs range from grey to green to red, and some have adapted color or shell patterns to match tree bark, leaves, and even fruit.

In the Spring, the crabs molt into their breeding phase which is often marked by bright color patterns or additional spikes or mottling of their shell. One species even grows an additional set of foreclaws during this time.

After their molt, the crabs begin migrating from their mangrove home to the beach, where they will congregate and mate for a period of only seventy-two hours.

During their migration, the crabs walk overland, covering the surface with the clattering of their chitinous legs. During pre-Columbian times, the native Carib tribe held fertility rites. Today, commerce and business stop for the three days of crab travel and the locals take part in helping the animals toward the sea.

Jamaicans consider it bad luck to kill or harm a crab during this period and contests are held to see which child can collect the most trapped or endangered crabs and do not eat any seafood during the week in observance of this holiday.

Harming or molesting crabs during this time is considered a criminal offense, so Americans traveling to Jamaica are advised to follow the letter of the law. Sorry, but eating crab during your vacation seems like a bad idea.

9 May 2007

Do Crayfish Have Souls?

Dear Blue Lobster:

This morning I woke up and walked over to my tank to find my crayfish not moving attached to a plant. I used the net to pull him out and while he is moving occassionally, he is pretty still. Is he about to molt or has he passed on?

Thank you for your time.

Dear Gentle Sir:

Indeed, your cray has passed on, or as some in the profession called it, "crossed over." What hasn't been established at this time, however, is whether crustaceans have a soul to enjoy some sort of pleasant afterlife with. It is a long, ugly debate that is still currently raging within crustaceology circles today.

Most recently Pope John Paul II announced that animals do posses divine existence beyond this world. The sticky point, however, is that since the word "animal" as used by non-scientists usually only refers to amphibians and their descendants, do arthropods, and therefore crustaceans, possess divine essence?

Current research by crustaceologist Dr. Henry Philamore has further compounded the issue; he published a paper regarding strange electrical emissions from crayfish upon expiration which he claims to be evidence of a soul escaping the cray's body. Opponents to the theory claim it is only a maelstrom of electrical activity in the cray's nervous system before death and nothing more.

As the debate continues, pet owners can bet safely and treat their dead friend in the manner most comfortable to them. Some flush their crays down a toilet while others bury them in the back yard. One young girl actually made a biodegradable coffin from a shoebox complete with a tissue-paper tuxedo and tophat for her cray; the ceremony gave her the closure she needed and the coffin and its contents were decomposed completely within a year.

The choice between a flush or funeral is entirely up to the owner of the departed crustacean and their own personal religious or philosophical beliefs. I wish you well in this time of sorrow, gentle sir.

25 Apr 2007

Hermit Crab Nudity

Dear Blue Lobster:

don't you think hermit crabs when they are out of the shell are disgusting? they gross me out

alison

Dear Gentle Sir:

The hermit crab is an ancient creature representing the superfamily Paguroidea and its seven families that has existed for some 70 million years.

In the hermit crab's unique evolution it came to depend on ammonite and gastropod shells to serve as auxiliary protection. As they evolved, however, their tails became completely soft and the hermits then needed to house their now-vulnerable abdomens within shells. Only the Coconut Crab (Birgus latro) is capable of roaming free.

Humans first noticed the hermits' "nudity" and exploited its potential symbolism over 30,000 years ago when tribes of aborigines in Australia used them in fertility rituals. The men of the tribes would hold a crab to their genitals where it would clasp on with its claws. They would then dance about until a woman gave them a shell, into which the hermit would move.

As clothed, shameful human beings, any animal that appears "naked" — be it a shaved dog, a shedding snake, or a hermit after molting — unnerves and distracts us. But unlike we humans, other animals don't perceive nudity. The only animal with a problem here is the human one.

I recommend you spend some time with your hermit completely nude. Strip completely naked and take your hermit out of his terrarium. Stroke his shell and antennae and tickle his chin. Let him, in turn, crawl around on your prone body: the arch of your back, the crease of your upper thigh, your underarm.

As you explore one another's bodies realize that clothes are just another version of the hermit crab's shell, temporary and deceptive, and that shame of nudity is a yoke of societal concern — not one for you and your crab.

18 Apr 2007

Why Are Crays Eating My Waste?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I specialise in waste treatment facility discharges, inspecting large-volume fluid discharge systems to ensure that everything is running smoothly in terms of mechanical structures, flow paths, and artificial and environmental blockages in flow systems.

Crayfish have begun to make their way up into the facilities. They occasionally need to be purged when the crayfish buildup becomes too dense. If crays were there just to harvest nutrients from the waste, why is it that is no other wildlife to be seen other than these crays?? I am stumped.

Best regards,
Benjie Saunders

Dear Gentle Sir:

Your problem is a puzzling one. You don't mention your geography, but crayfish in general are opportunistic scavengers and so would be attracted to any palatable biomass which became available in their habitat. The factor that does not make sense is the human feces, which crays do not regard as food.

Despite the fact that crayfish feed on rotting organic material, they are not coprophages. The bulk of human feces is bacterial matter and that, combined with the fact that the human gut is efficient at absorbing nutrients from food before it is passed, leaves only a few possibilities to explain your cray problem.

One is that the waste you are processing is not simply solid human waste. Are there perhaps cat or dog feces in the mix? Their high protein content would attract crays. Has there been a large epidemic of diarrhea recently? Undigested materials passed in leaky stools would afford the cray nutrients by the gallon.

Perhaps the best measure is to chemically examine the sludge and, once certain properties that might attract crays are established, track down the source of the attraction. In the meantime, a shovel or spade and a good tight wetsuit are in order. Good luck!

11 Apr 2007

Crustacean Acne: White Spot Disease

Dear Blue Lobster:

My shrimp Arty has white spots they look like pimples i think he is embarrassed because he doesn't eat much and twitches a lot. please help if you can i want him to grow up big so i can eat him.

dirk

Dear Gentle Sir:

Your shrimp does not have acne; in fact, crustaceans are immune to that disease thanks to their tough shells. Instead, your shrimp has what is known commonly as crustacean acne or bug blight, but is known in veterinary circles as White Spot Disease.

White Spot Disease is caused by Topicalis albinus, a fungus not unrelated to the band of fungi that cause our own Athlete's Foot and ringworm. In crustaceans, the fungus grows in the soil and during the warm months releases spores into ponds, streams and lakes where they then infect crustaceans.

The fungus enters through the mouth parts or any holes or abrasions in the shell. After it has infected its host, the fungus enters a secondary life-cycle where it releases spores to the lake or stream through the crustacean's exoskeleton, where the fungus then finds its way back into the soil. The spores are the small white spots we see in our pets.

The only treatment for White Spot is copper, which kills invertebrates in high enough concentrations. The trick is avoid killing your shrimp at the same time. Begin by droppering in copper aquarium medicine a few drops at a time. Use a snail as your "canary," as it will die when the concentration is high enough to kill the fungus but before your crustaceans succumb.

Another tactic is to remove the infected crustacean from your tank, scrub it with low-grit sandpaper or pumice stone, and restore it to a fresh change of water. Some owners of large lobsters and crabs have used electric grinders as well. If the crustacean is too sick or young, however, the abrasive nature of this treatment may well tear it to pieces. Use caution when scrubbing!

One thing to keep in mind is that crustaceans with White Spot Disease are highly toxic. Never ingest one even after thorough boiling. You may catch an internal form of the fungus, a serious and potentially chronic medical condition requiring copper treatment that can result in topical patina.

28 Mar 2007

How Can I Tell My Cray's Gender?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have two fresh water blue lobsters and I hope to breed them. I can't tell if there male or female. Can you help me determine their gender? How can you tell if they are male or female? Also, does it matter if one is about 1/8 of an inch smaller than the other?

Mitch

Dear Gentle Sir:

Unfortunately, checking a cray's gender is not as easy as lifting its legs and peeking. It involves being able to classify your cray by species, molting phase, and health. It's no surprise that even most professionals can only guess at gender and typically use breeding pools instead of breeding pairs.

Knowing your cray's species is the first step: Do you have a Red Swamp Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) or a Red Bayou Crayfish (Procambarus kentii)? Without first knowing the species, gender identification becomes difficult, if not impossible, as we shall see below.

A crayfish's phase is the next important thing to know. A phase is simply a morphological structure the cray adopts for mating. Their phase changes at molts and comes during breeding season. Crays exposed to videos of mating pairs have also molted into a breeding phase.

The structural differences are unique among genera and species. For instance, a male Red Jaconda Cray (Cancerita rojoña) during non-breeding Phase I resembles a female Clouded Cray (Cancerita nublado), a closely related species. As you can see, this gets complicated.

Overall health is one last factor. Obviously, a cray whose appendages have been chewed off completely will be difficult to sex, as will one which is too small to study closely. Also, not all cray species exhibit sexual dimorphism, so size isn't a good identifier unless you first discern the species.

One method of sexing crays scientists have had some success with has been taking cray whose gender is known, grinding it into a paste, and releasing the paste into a holding tank with other crays of the same species. The crays that respond first will be members of the opposite gender to the ground cray, as they respond to the pheremones in the offal.

Good luck identifying your cray's species, gender, and phase. If you're lucky you'll have a well-known species you can identify quickly and without much mess.

21 Mar 2007

Why Does My Cray Change Colors?

Dear Blue Lobster:

I have two electric blue lobsters and when I got them they were blue but now they seem to be brown with a little orange here and there. What would cause this: Could they be molting and how can I tell. How long does it take for them to molt?

Thanks,

Tracy

Dear Gentle Sir:

Cray color can be influenced by a number of factors, including genetics, environment, breeding, and lighting.

If the cray is genetically blue, it will remain blue for its life, though its shade may vary. As noted in other columns, crays can be bred for different colors and patterns. One notable new color morph in Procambarus clarkii is called the "Ice Morph," where the cray is entirely white save for its eyes and resembles an albino or a cave species. It is rare and goes for hundreds of dollars.

Sometimes crays will change color slightly to match their environment. Again, the Procambarus clarkii is highly adaptable and can be naturally found with red, orange, brown, green, and gray color morphs, all to match their environments. A cray living in dense weeds will tend towards green while one living in a creek with heavy iron deposits will grow orange. You may find a cray that changes from light to dark or vice versa depending on your tank lighting and gravel shade.

During mating season, the cray will molt in anticipation of the coming intercourse and exhibit color changes. This is called the second, or mating, phase of the cray's color patterns. The Orconectes rusticus will change from a dull tan to a dark grey with vivid red, white, and black stripes on its claws. Cambarides coccus, the Peacock Cray, turns from a dark brown color to a motley of yellow, green, red, and blue spots before it sets out to find a mate. The next molt after mating season will put them back into their first color phase.

Lighting can do some spectacular things to your crayfish too. Using fluorescent lights that mimic natural sunlight, the cray is likely to take on stronger hue and vibrancy. Using old incandescent lights can result in more muted tones, and colored incandescence can alter the undertone of the cray. Using Day-Glo lights will result in crays that glow in the dark, giving off an eery psychedelic luminance. One species of cray even phosphoresces due to the deposits of the mineral in the water where it lives, which helps constitute its shell.

To answer your question directly, unless your cray is crawling out of its shell it's not actively molting but color changes can indeed happen directly after molts: The changes have been there all along underneath its old shell waiting to come out. Think of the cray's new colors as the real him opening up to the world saying, "This is just who I am!"

14 Mar 2007

The Highland Lobster, Homarus Hebridum

Dear Blue Lobster:

My family are Scotch-Irish and I am a huge crayfish fanatic. Since it's almost St. Patrick's Day, I was hoping you could tell me about the subspecies of the European Lobster that lives near northern Great Britain.

Thanks,
Brian MacGliomach

Dear Gentle Sir:

The lobsters of northern Britain are currently in taxonomic flux.

They differ from other populations of European lobsters by being somewhat larger and greener. It is thought that the cooler waters of the North Sea and North Channel have made the populations there hardier. There is debate as to whether they should be classified as a species (Homarus hebridum) or as a subspecies of the European lobster.

These lobsters also have incredibly long life-spans. One specimen captured was 2 meters long and weighed 80 kilograms and is thought to have been over 350 years old. Most European lobsters live about 50 years at most.

Behaviorally, the populations around northern Britain exhibit unique characteristics. During the mating season in the Spring, the males of each population gather at a certain point on the sea floor. No one yet understands how they know where to navigate to, as the location changes each year. There they fight one another until only one remain.

When the corpses are tallied and only one remains, the final lobster has such a powerful life force that it then proceeds to mate with all of the females in the region for days on end. At the end of this sexual spree it buggers off to live a peaceful life, dying alone but knowing that millions of its progeny will soon flood the water column as plankton.

Molecular research continues in hopes of one day decoding the secret of this population's unique characteristics.

8 Mar 2007

The New Caledonian Neoglyph

Dear Blue Lobster:

I read about some ancient lobster that was found near Australia. What can you tell me about it? Is it really a "living fossil?"

Thanks!!!
Toni

Dear Gentle Sir:

Discovered in the remote sea near New Caledonia, the creature you refer to — the New Caledonian Neoglyph — has captivated scientists and laymen alike.

Discovered in 2005 and described in a 2006 paper, the new species represents an extant type of crustacean thought to have gone extinct long ago. Indeed, it has many interesting behavioral and physiological characteristics that will make it important in understanding pleocymate taxonomy in years to come.

The term "living fossil," however, is a bit of a misnomer. It actually just means that a certain organism has changed very little over long spans of time. The scientific term for this is "archeomorph," which means "ancient form."

A sister species, the Fenix Lobster (Neoglyphea inopinata) was discovered early last century and together with the N. neocaledonia represent a group of crustacrans thought to have gone extinct some 50 million years ago in the Eocene. The glyphids have eyes suited for scouring the benthos, or deep-sea floor, and specially-modified chelicerae for picking through the cold detritus at the bottom of the ocean.

To the casual observer, the Neoglyph resemble a cross between a shrimp or prawn and a lobster, and indeed scientists believe it is an ancient lineage early in decapod evolution closely related to early lobsters or shrimp groups, possibly dating from almost 400 million years ago. Molecular testing will soon place the family taxonomically. It is thought to belong with Reptantia.

Several specimens of the New Caledonian Neoglyph are now on display at the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra, Australia. The zoo is attempting to initiate a breeding program for the creatures.

6 Mar 2007

Meet the Larsen Ice Shrimp

Dear Blue Lobster:

Is it true that someone named a shrimp after gary larson, the guy who drew the far side cartoon?

thanks,
w. "pappy" brimley

Dear Gentle Sir:

While there is a shrimp called Larsen, it's not named for the cartoonist but instead an Antarctic habitat recently revealed to science.

After the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed in early 2002, scientists discovered a completely new ecosystem untouched for the last 12,000 years, along with a completely new decapod species. Called the Larsen Ice Shrimp until it can be classified, this crustacean has the uncanny ability to freeze and unfreeze itself within seconds in order to dodge predators and conserve energy during the hard winter months.

The Ice Shrimp uses its freezing abilities by means of alcohol, which it produces from foodstuffs in small quantities and circulates throughout its body. When it is threatened, it releases the alcohol through its anus, which causes its body to freeze solid. The alcohol free in the water also serves to disorient predators. When danger has passed, the shrimp releases a chemical that rapidly converts stored food into alcohol, defrosting it.

In the Winter season, from March through August, the Ice Shrimp enters two different metabolic states in order to conserve energy. In torpor, it remains viable but motionless, simply waiting for food to come along rather than scouting for it. If it has gone more than a month without food, it will bury itself in the substrate of the ocean floor and then freeze itself until September, when the Summer season begins and food becomes more abundant.

Scientists are now studying the Larsen Ice Shrimp in hopes of more effective treatments for hypothermia as well as one day being able to stockpile human organs for later transplantation.

3 Mar 2007

The Case of the Upside-Down Crabs

Dear Blue Lobster:

We have 12 tropical red crabs 6 of whom have in the last 24hrs taken to living UPSIDE DOWN. They twitch and stretch and my poor girlfriend is convinced that they are going to die. Please can you reassure her that they are fine and just looking for a different perspective on life?

Thanks for your help.

Sam

Dear Gentle Sir:

While crustaceans sometimes strive to see the world from a different point of view than they are accustomed to, crabs are more likely to just remain cantankerous or "crabby," as their name befits them. I will be both blunt and honest: Your crabs are either molting or dying.

In the case of the former, keep the water temperature and chemistry as they are now. If the other crabs seem aggressive toward them, introduce a tank divider to keep the molting crabs safe while they are soft, or as the crabbing industry calls them, "turds."

If the latter is the case and your crabs are expiring, by the time this response is published it may be too late and for that I am deeply sorry. I will include your crabs in my vigils.

If they yet live, check healthy crabs for odd behavior. If it's a tank chemistry problem, all of the crabs are likely to die at some point. If there are high levels of nitrids in the water or the pH is more than a few tenths of a point away from neutral, fix these problems immediately! Remove any pennies from your aquarium and turn your tank filter up to eleven.

I also point you to the case of the upside-down crayfish, a similar but ultimately tragic situation.

28 Feb 2007

Domestic Abuse in Crayfish

Dear Blue Lobster:

My yabby recently molted (is that the correct terminology?) And looked really good with its new and enlarged body but then last night I noticed that both arms and most of his legs were missing! He has a partner living with him and they get along fine. Would the loss of his arms and legs be the result of an attack? He is much bigger than his partner and now he has only one back leg on his left side and two back legs on his right and he seems to be struggling to move and around and eat.. Is there anything I can do to help it and how long til the legs grow back?

Thank you for your time.

Lizzie Loh

Dear Gentle Sir:

Indeed, molting is the proper terminology for what scientists call ecdysis, the process by which an arthropod sheds its exoskeleton in order to grow. It is a dangerous process for your cray and can often result in dropped limbs, depression, and even suffocation.

In your yabby's case of missing legs, however, it sounds like domestic abuse is at play.

Domestic abuse in pets — especially crustaceans — is a little-heard-of and oft-ignored issue. It is thought that among arthropods alone, negelct and abuse account for 90% of injuries and death. Most forms of abuse are passive; that is, the owner doesn't realize they are mistreating their animals. In some cases, like yours, the abuse is carried out by fellow crustaceans.

In domestic relationships, molting is a time when tensions mount due to the preparation for the molt and subsequent recovery. When the molting cray is naked and vulnerable, the other cray will often tear limbs off or otherwise physically abuse its partner in the hours before a new exoskeleton forms.

In the future when one of your crays is about to molt, isolate it until its new exoskeleton has set. You can do this by means of a fry box, a separate aquarium, or a tank divider. You can tell the cray will molt when it begins refusing food and remains idle most of the time. Either that, or it's about to die.

In future molts, your cray's limbs should regrow, though they may be undersized. After a few more molts they will funtion normally and your cray will be healthy. In the meantime, with its reduced mobility, it might be a good idea to isolate the cray or feed it with chopsticks directly to its mouth.

Good luck on its next molt!

14 Feb 2007

300 New Crustaceans from the Phillipines!

Dear Blue Lobster:

my bros told me they discovered some new kind of giant lobster near the phillipines. what can you tell me about that?

asian pride!
Bunga

Dear Gentle Sir:

French researchers have documented hundreds of species of crustaceans from observations made between 2004 and 2005, up to 300 of which may be new to science. Most of the new species found were shrimp and prawn, but there were several crabs and lobsters as well. It is expected to take five years to categorize the new species using molecular testing.

In the meantime here are some physiological reports that showcase some very unique and exciting characteristics.

  • Banana Shrimp. A stunning bright yellow, this species has a curious adaptation: its claws have evolved to pick out detritus from deep within coral, so its front arms resemble long yellow bananas. It grows to a length of one meter.

  • Chameleon Shrimp. This species can change its body color to match its surroundings. It does this by releasing chemicals into its blood that color its flesh, visible through its clear shell. The process takes less than half a second and can be repeated as often as necessary until the shrimp swims away. It also changes its colors based on mood, especially while breeding.

  • Easter Shrimp. Actually a prawn, this species is a dark purple hue and has a heavily segmented tail which resembles eggs squeezed end-to-end. Its young cling to its tail by means of a mucus secretion and feed on microplankton.

  • Spike Ulang (Tagalog for "spiked lobster.") Growing to lengths of 1.2 meters, The Ulang has thorny protrusions along its rostrum, head, thorax, and claws and turns a bright orange during mating season. The female devours the male alive after it has deposited its sperm in the female's cloaca. A pod of about thirty of these creature were observed and it is thought that they form social groups during the dry season.

  • Sponge Crab. The Sponge Crab is a member of the Portunidae family but is unique among them in that the female gathers and cultivates sponge in its cloaca after every mating season. In this way it prevents unwanted fertilization by males until its brood has matured.

  • The Z Crab. The Z Crab, dubbed so by Dr. Yuri Zhukov of the Chiba University in Russia, is a medium-sized member of Brachyura with oddly-shaped claws that are thought to be used to attract mates. Dr. Zhukov reportedly keeps a live Z Crab specimen in his home aquarium.

Research continues...

17 Jan 2007

How Do They Make Blue Lobsters?

Dear Blue Lobster:

How did they make the Lobster blue?

chris

Dear Gentle Sir:

There are many species of lobsters, crayfish, crabs and other decapods in nature that occur blue naturally or can be made to turn blue with some effort. Indeed, the same holds true for any color morph. Among the methods for inducing color morphs, such as eugenics, lighting, dyes, psychotherapy, painting, and oxygen deprivation, simple selective breeding is the most widely-practiced.

In all crustaceans, different concentrations of pigments in their exoskeleton are responsible for their color. These varying color patterns are controlled by the animal's genes, which are the results of generations of adaptation and breeding. Selective breeding then, just as with dogs or cats, can be used to induce different color patterns.

By breeding two blue crayfish parents, for instance, more than half of the resulting brood will be blue. After several generations of blue-breeding, not only will entire broods be blue (expressing the dominance of the blue color), but different shades of blue will start to emerge.

Likewise, crossing two different color crays can result in a third color, though it is much more difficult. In breeding a pair of Lousiana Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), one red and one blue, most of the brood will be red since it is the dominant color. Some, if any, of the offspring will be blue. Once in every few hundred generations, however, the two color expressions will merge and create a purple crayfish. Due to the fleeting nature of that morph, creating a breeding population of purple clarkiis is impossible.

It's also possible to change a crustacean's color patterns. The Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) is usually a flat green-grey color with red spots on its sides and the tips of its claws, but thanks to selective breeding by hobbyists a speckled red-and-green line has been established and is now known as the Christmas Cray. Conversely, the Peacock Shrimp (Lysmata cyanea) is a bright blue with pink pleopods and yellow mottling on its claws but has been bred into a simple neon-blue morph.

Selective breeding for color morphs is something you can try at home. Have two different colors of the same species? Force them to breed and see if you can spot a new color in the hatchlings. Want to promote a certain pattern of stripes? Pick the two specimens and mate away! Who knows? Perhaps you could be the first person to unlock some unseen morph, like a red-and-yellow checkerboard crab or a purple-and-pink polka-dotted crayfish. Good luck!

1 Jan 2007

Khasilon, Blind Israeli Cave Shrimp

Dear Blue Lobster:

i heard that there's a new species of shrimp discovered in israel do you know anything about this as the jewish people are forbidden to eat seafood

thx,
ari

Dear Gentle Sir:

Back in June of 2006, scientists announced the discovery of a new subterranean cave system found near the city of Ramle in Israel complete with several new unique species. Among these new species were a decopod crustacean the scientists have dubbed khasilon, which is Hebrew for shrimp or crab.

Five million years ago, the Mediterranean Sea formed when the tectonic plates of Africa and Eurasia broke down upon collision. Since then, the sea has shrunk slightly and one underwater cave system was left with a sampling of lake species. In the millions of years since they were cut off from the rest of the sea, they evolved to match their changing environ and eventually became what scientists discovered last year.

One species is a completely translucent scorpion that has evolved the stinger on its tail into a claw like those on its forelimbs.

A species of spider has apparently grown so large that it can catch fish, and does so by trapping an insect in its web, then lowering the creature down to the water on a single thread. When fish come to investigate the bait, the spider reaches down, entraps the fish, and takes it back up to its web for later dining.

There are also species of fish with no eyes but large gill plates that serve as echolocation receptors, species of lichen that glow in the dark, and a centipede that grows up to a meter long and can the eat its own posterior segments when food is scarce. The most interesting new species found in these caves, however, is the khasilon.

A blind, white decapod pleocymate crustacean, the khasilon has not yet been classified. It most resembles a shrimp, but has features of known crayfish and lobster species and scientists are currently awaiting molecular data before they assign it a scientific name. Its behavior and physiology are well-documented, however, and are one-of-a-kind in the animal kingdom.

Though most specimens were found in brackish water, others were found in fresh and salt water, meaning the species has a high tolerance for different water chemistries. It also has a unique way of catching food: the khasilon remains completely still in a shallow pool of water and waits for an animal to fall into the water, rarely moving otherwise. And its sedentary nature also matches its metabolism.

As a means of adaption to a habitat without light, the khasilon ages incredibly slowly. Most specimens found were five to eight centimeters long and took up to thirty years to reach that size. One moulted exoskeleton exceeded 60 centimeters in length and was thought to belong to a khasilon that was over 1,000 years old, a record-holding age among animals.

Labs are currently processing DNA tests of the khasilon and other species, hoping not only to place them in current taxonomy, but also to find clues to how life exists in extreme environments. Stay tuned as more information becomes available on this mysterious ecosystem!