Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crab Cakes

Dr. Jodi Pirtle is heading away from Alaska for a bit, so for her going-away party Miranda Westphal made these amazing marine invertebrate cupcakes:

Miranda's intertidal scene: a hermit crab, sea stars, an anemone,
a sea cucumber, scallop, chiton, and barnacles!!
(sorry for the lighting; I was using a headlamp!)

adorable marzipan hermit crab with chocolate pebbles

the artist herself with the cupcake I chose
(I love sea cucumbers almost as much as I love crabs)

I was so impressed by her craftiness that I started looking up other delightful crabby cupcakes. These were some of my favorites:

beach party!

this one's for those blue crab/blue king crab lovers

I also found cute Dungie-like cupcakes that came with a recipe! It’s from the book “A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!” by Lily Vanilli (so many good things in that sentence).


1 batch of red velvet, lemon or almond cupcakes (or any flavor of your choice)
½ batch of vanilla frosting
Large packet of marzipan (approx. 1lb 2oz/500g)
Dark pink and black food coloring
Dark red luster dust


(Make the cupcakes first and let them cool a bit; these directions are for the cupcake-to-crab transformation.)

1. Smear a small dollop of vanilla frosting over the top of the cupcakes, saving a little frosting for the crab “eyes”.

2. Reserve a small amount of uncolored marzipan to make the “eyes”. Color the remainder of the marzipan dark pink by adding a few drops of food coloring and kneading it in, ensuring that the coloring is evenly distributed. Add more coloring, little by little, until you achieve the desired depth of color.

3. To make the crab’s “shells”, roll out the marzipan to a thickness of ¼ inch. Cut out 12 circles approximately 2½ inches in diameter, or slightly larger than the top of the cake.

4. Shape the crabs’ “claws” out of marzipan, rolling the marzipan into a claw shape and then adding detail with a toothpick or a taper cone tool.

5. Brush these shaped marzipan pieces all over with the luster dust, using a fine paintbrush.

6. Lay a shell gently over the top of each cake, leaving a gap at the front and adding two dots of vanilla frosting for the “eyeballs”. Then gently tuck the “claws” under the “shell” in the position you want them, securing with some more of the frosting.

7. Color the reserved marzipan black by kneading in a drop of black food coloring. Roll into tiny balls and secure a marzipan “pupil” in each of the frosting “eyeballs”.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Australia Day!

I was going to share a paper with you about snow crabs, but when I looked at my calendar I saw that today is Australia Day (like Columbus Day for the States, so a bit controversial if I understand it correctly). So I’ve decided to celebrate an awesome Australian crab: the GIANT CRAB Pseudocarcinus gigas!

Bo Jones with a P. gigas off of Tasmania
(I got to meet him at the Lowell Wakefield conference in '09!)

The giant crab (aka Australian giant crab, giant Tasmanian crab, king crab OR queen crab) is a deepwater species that can grow up to 14 kg! Despite that, most are harvested around 4 kg, with male and female size limits = minimum carapace length of 150 mm and maximum carapace length of 215 mm. The nice thing is that, given females can be harvested too, berried females are illegal and have to be thrown back.

giant crab enjoying the seafloor

The fishery started in Tasmanian waters in 1990 and then in South Australian waters in 1992, so it’s a relatively young fishery. The giant crabs are sold either live, fresh green (ie dead), cooked, or pickled, and mostly exported.

historical catch of giant crabs for the South Australian fishery

Unfortunately, at least in 2006, an assessment of the fishery declared it “growth overfished” (other fishery info here and here). In the meantime, they are managed for their fishery and as by-catch in the rock lobster fishery.

Have a great day and good luck to the giant crab!

Friday, January 21, 2011

2011 Alaska Marine Science Symposium

Wow! I just got back from the 2011 Alaska Marine Science Symposium, and even though I was only there for 3 days, I learned A LOT! Here's some of what I caught:


In some southeast Alaska sample regions, 100% of primiparous female Tanner crabs (Chionoecetes bairdi) are infected with Hematodinium, the parasitic dinoflagellate causing bitter crab syndrome (BCS) (Sherry Tamone, UAS)

Bering Sea primiparous female snow crabs (C. opilio) had lower sperm reserves compared to the Northwest Atlantic (Laura Slater, ADFG)

Reflexes of snow crab bycatch were impaired, and potential mortality increased, when windchill was < -10° C on commercial fishing boats (Dan Urban, NMFS)

so pumped and ready to talk about snow crabs!!

OTHER FUN TID BITS (taken directly from my notes):

Sea otters are not nutritionally equal to potato chips (James Estes, UCSC)

Not all bloody herring have VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) (Paul Hershberger, USGS)

You can tag walruses with crossbows (Chadwick Jay, USGS)

seriously, crossbows!

I also ran into another Southampton College alum (other than my husband, who had a poster on organochlorine contaminants in Steller sea lion Eumetopias jubatus pups):

action shot: Adam talking with our friends and former NMFS observers

... my freshman roomie Stephanie Grassia, who works sighting bowhead whales and other marine mammals out of Barrow. This is why I love all these conferences!

Monday, January 17, 2011

SICB Lessons: You can’t trust a fiddler crab

can you believe this guy?

Fiddler crabs lie! Well, that’s not exactly true. But male two-toned fiddler crabs Uca vomeris can be misleading when it comes to their displays of strength. Males will wave their large chela to show off their guns and attract mates, but some males’ large claws have been broken off and regenerated. A regenerated claw, while being the same length, is often skinnier and weaker, as seen in U. pugilator from South Carolina:

a normal U. pugilator claw on the left compared to a regenerated claw on the right:
the regenerated claw is skinnier and missing the teeth and tubercles
(v = manus length, iii = dactyl length, iv = propodus length)

Candice Bywater of the University of Queensland monitored behavior of male U. vomeris and measured their claw strength and metabolic rates to compare regenerated vs. original claw action and strength. While regenerated claws were, in fact, weaker, that didn’t stop the males from putting their claws in the air like they just don’t care. Males with regenerated claws were basically saying, "Hey ladies, I can protect you from that other dude", even if they can't. Bywater calls this type of deceit ‘unreliable signaling’ and presented her work at the 2011 SICB Symposium.

Uca vomeris in Candice's lab

She has also seen unreliable signaling in Australian freshwater crayfish Cherax dispar males. Dominance is determined by claw size for both males and females, but while females have to back up their size with strength, male claw strength is not as important for determining social standing. Two males of similar claw size may not have similar claw strength, therefore, when they display their claws before a battle, they may be dishonest about their true strength.

fight! fight! fight!

For discussion’s sake, the congener C. destructor showed male dominance to be dependent on both size and strength while females only needed bigger, not stronger, chelae. Go figure.

I wonder what this one is trying to signal to us

What's that you say?

Bywater, C., M. J. Angilletta, and R. S. Wilson. 2008. Weapon size is a reliable predictor of weapon strength and social dominance in females of the slender crayfish. Functional Ecology 22: 311-316.

McLain, D. K., L.D. McBrayer, A.E. Pratt, and S. Moore. 2010. Performance capacity of fiddler crab males with regenerated versus original claws and success by claw type in territorial contests. Ethology Ecology & Evolution 22: 37–49.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What the devil?

A friend of mine living in London alerted me to this story: thousands of velvet swimming crabs (Necora puber) have washed up on the Thanet shore for the third year in a row! One Thanet Coast local said that the arrival of dead velvet swimming crabs along the shore in winter is not that shocking; it is simply the number of crabs that is alarming for beach combers. Estimates range from 25,000 to 40,000 dead crabs. Also among the mix are sea stars and anemones.

Thanet Coast starred

velvet swimming crab carnage

Nicknamed the devil crabs because of their red eyes, these little guys may have succumbed to Britain’s coldest December in 120 years. The velvet swimming crab is the largest swimming crab in British waters with a carapace width reaching 8 cm (3.15 in). In comparison, blue crabs Callinectes sapidus grow to about 9.06 in. Velvet swimming crabs are blue in color, but appear brownish because of their brown hairs, leading to their velvety texture.

two "devil crabs" in happier times

At first, scientists were testing for possible viruses affecting the crabs. Declines in their French population were linked to possible Hematodinium infections – Hematodinium is a parasitic dinoflagellate responsible for bitter crab disease in Chionoecetes bairdi and C. opilio in Alaska (as well as several other crustaceans). There were massive mortalities of the devil crabs linked to these dinoflagellate infections in Mor-Braz, France.

Mor-Braz (south Brittany, France): sight of more crab deaths

The British scientists concluded that it was more likely the crabs off the Thanet Coast were dying from hypothermia due to sudden drops in temperature. In a quick search I had trouble finding in what optimal temperature range juvenile and adult N. puber thrive, but in some lab experiments they’ve been held at 17 ± 1° C. Lowest lethal temperature noted for embryonic development was measured from 2 to 4° C. Does anyone know the sea surface temps for that coast in December?

coastline of crabs

In any case, I’d just like to extend a “Good Luck” to Necora puber!

Velvet swimming crab literature:

Valdes, L., M. T. Alvarez-Ossorio, and E. Gonzalez-Gurriaran. 1991. Influence of temperature on embryonic and larval development in Necora puber (Brachyura, Portunidae). Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 71: 787-789.

Wilhelm, G., and E. Mialhe. 1996. Dinoflagellate infection associated with the decline of Necora puber crab populations in France. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 26: 213-219.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Yo, that’s so SIC, B!

I just got back from Salt Lake City, host of the 2011 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting. I love this meeting because I can learn a lot about crabs and reproductive physiology, but I can also learn about snakes that glide, armadillo development, and roboclams! (Yes, roboclams.)

the roboclam next to its inspiration, a razor clam

I also bumped into some Southampton College graduates (we’re a rare bunch, since the school closed a year before we graduated) and got to learn about locomotion and feeding in silver-spotted and tidepool sculpins from Emily Kane and FoxG expression in the brachiopod Terebratalia transversa from Carlee Resh.

SC represent!

I can’t wait to share all of the things I learned about crabs from this meeting, like how Florida fighting conchs (Strombus sp.) have evolved thicker lips to hypothetically defend against stone crab (Menippe sp.) predation! (You can read the abstract here.)

So stay crabby and stay tuned!

taking in the Salt Lake City sights:
my crab pin in Temple Square

my pin delighting in the pirate-themed luminary

(Psst: check us out in the news: Juneau Empire!)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

So many crabs, so little time

Do you have too many crabs? Well don't fret, because here's a delicious recipe to help you mow through some of them!

the cats were just as excited as I was to dig in!

My husband Adam brought home 5 Dungeness crabs from work one day and we were bombarded with tastey recipes and ideas on how to enjoy them. We tried out crab cakes using a recipe by Sandra Lee (of Semi-Homemade fame) and were very pleased with the results:

Amalga Crab Cakes

12 ounces lump crabmeat, drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup herb seasoned bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon juice
10 saltine crackers
Vegetable oil, for frying

1. In a medium bowl, mix the crabmeat, mayonnaise, bread crumbs, Old Bay, egg, and lemon juice. Form 6 crab cakes and place on a baking sheet.

2. In a small plastic bag crush the saltine crackers and place into a shallow dish. Lightly coat the crab cakes with the crushed crackers and set aside.

3. In a large skillet over medium heat, add enough oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is hot, fry crab cakes in batches for about 3 minutes per side or until just golden brown. Transfer to a sheet pan or plate lined with a paper towel.

4. Serve crab cakes with remoulade and enjoy!

Adam chowing on the cakes