Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I'm glad I'm not a female snow crab

Understanding any hormonal differences between new- and old-shell males is one thing, but getting to see a new-shell male compete with an old-shell male for a female is the icing on this project's cake! Imagine my excitement when my first female molted (and wasn't eaten by her girlfriends) and was ready to mate - females mate after they've molted to maturity and are still soft. It was 6 pm and the experiment needed to be filmed for 12 hours, so instead of just waiting to start the next morning, I did what any normal person would do: asked my husband to get the sleeping bags and some Chinese take-out, and got started!

Adam at the lab

I put my new, precious, soft-shell female into the tank with two males and some herring (you know, in case they wanted a snack...) and started taping. Things were really slow for the first 6 hours, then things got crazy!

The small crab is the female, playing the edible rope in a medieval tug-of-war: the old-shell male (with white barnacles attached to his back) ate 2 1/2 of her legs! Don't worry, I took her out and put her in her own little hospice area. And then I sampled the males for their gonads.

But how representative is this behavior compared to opies in the wild? Maybe more representative than you'd think. This carnage was captured in the Bering Sea by ADF&G:

And that's why I'm glad I'm human.

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