Friday, November 23, 2012

The mystery crab is a...


sand fiddler crab, Uca pugilator

Did you guess that? In the last post with my story about a little lost crab, I gave a few clues as to what type of crab he was:

1. When he first woke up, he saw some characters from the nursery rhyme "Hey, diddle, diddle" by Mother Goose: a cat, a fiddle with our fiddler crab, a cow jumping over the moon, a dish running away with a spoon.

2. Tevye is the main character from "Fiddler on the Roof",  and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to reference that musical! Even National Geographic played with the connection, so I know I'm not alone. The title of the musical is referenced when Tevye says, "Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!" That's why Farmer Tevye in my little story warns the crab to be careful up there.

I LOVE this musical!!!

(Next up was the chicken on the roof. He had no secret meaning. I just thought a conversation with a chicken would be funny.)

3. Having the crab go to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta gave me a place to focus my fiddler crab species search, and it also gave me an awesome opportunity to have the Charlie Daniels Band's "Devil went down to Georgia" stuck in my head for a good week! While I'm not generally a fan of his, that song is a classic that can't be ignored. If you've never heard it, it's about the Devil trying to get the soul of a boy named Johnny by challenging him to a fiddle duel. Johnny wins. Boom.

4. Finally, going to the coast led to actual biological clues to the crab's identity: seeing little holes in the sand surrounded by balls (sand from the fiddler crab excavations), feeling cooler after waving, and having one large claw and one small claw all pointed to the fiddler crab!

a flock of fiddler crabs

Georgia salt marshes have three fiddler crab species: Uca pugnax, U. pugilator, and U. minax. I was pretty smitten with the splash of purple on the carapaces of U. pugilator, and I even included a little purple on the fiddler crab stranger that waved to our crab, so that's the final species I chose (in case anyone got really nerdy and wanted to know the scientific name).

pretty in purple

Side note: the two pictures from Americana the Beautiful are from a blog entry beginning with, "A stroll along Cumberland Island...". Pfft. I "strolled" along Cumberland Island for 20-some-odd miles after having spent almost 2 months sailing on a schooner (i.e. not walking a lot), and it. was. awful. We saw wild horses and dolphins, but still. My legs were shaking by the time I got back into my bunk. And I might have cried after the sun set and we were still on the beach and had no idea how far away our ship was.

Other side note: the title of the last post, "Who am I" made me think of Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. Anyone else?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Who am I?

Come on an adventure with me and my mystery crab! Bring the kiddos!

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A crab woke up late one night with a bump on his noggin and that strange sensation of not knowing where - or who - he was. As his vision cleared, he thought he saw a cow jumping over the moon, but he told himself it must have been the dwindling remnants of a dream. Soon a cat approached him.

"Are you OK? You look a little lost," said the cat.

"I feel a little lost. Can you tell me where I am? Or, better yet, who I am?" replied the crab.

"Well, I don't know who you are, but this is Farmer Tevye's place," said the cat as he swept his tail around to show the breadth of the farmland. "Why don't you go talk to him. He may know who you are."

"Thanks" said the crab, and he was on his way.

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The crab walked towards a large red barn and found Farmer Tevye singing and picking up what seemed to be loose dishware.

"Excuse me, sir, but do you know who I am?"

"I'm sorry little fellow, but I haven't seen the likes of you around these parts before," answered Farmer Tevye. "Traditionally, if I'm trying to remember something, I head up to the roof for perspective. I don't know why, but something tells me you belong up there."

"Oh, OK, thank you," said the crab, a little warily.

"Be careful now," shouted Farmer Tevye after him, "it can be a bit shaky up there!"

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"Hmmph. Oomph." The crab climbed up to the tippy top of the barn roof.

"Bagawk!" said a resident chicken.

"Hello, can you tell me who I am?" asked the crab.

"Bock!" replied the chicken.

"My name is Bock?" asked the crab, unsure how he felt about being called 'Bock'.

"Bock, bock, bagawk!" answered the chicken.

"I see," said the rather discouraged crab. He looked out across the farmland to the dark horizon and there, in the distance, was the bright orange glow of a big city. And in the middle of the bright orange glow was a big fish-like 'G' emanating from the center of the city. What could it be? The little crab didn't know, but he took it as both a figurative and literal sign and decided he would go and find out! First things first though: he needed to climb back down.

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The little crab journeyed across the fields, up and over hills, to a magical city called 'Atlanta'. When he arrived he asked passersby if they new the significance of fish-shaped letters. One friendly gal said, "Oh yes! The Georgia Aquarium has a finned 'G' for their logo!"

The little crab was so excited! "If I'm going to find out who I am, surely it will be at an aquarium!" So to the aquarium he scurried.

As the little crab approached the entrance to the aquarium, he saw a sign that read,


... but then the Devil appeared just as the little crab was getting to the featured creature!

"Excuse me, um, sir... you are blocking the sign. Can you step aside so I can read it please?" asked the crab as politely as possible.

"I'll step aside if you challenge me to a duel first. A musical duel, that is," cackled the Devil.

"No thanks," said the crab, confused and a little put off by the devil. But he thought to himself, "If I can't find my answers here, I'll go directly to the Georgia Coast. Someone must know who I am there."

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The cool breeze and sandy beach were welcome reprieves from the little crab's hard journey from the farm, through the city, to the sea. As he scurried about happily in this new-found joy of salty air on soft, wet terrain, he spied someone in the distance. Was this someone who could finally answer his question?

The crab waved to the stranger, and instantly felt a bit cooler. "That was odd," he thought to himself. But the stranger waved back!

With a closer look, the crab realized there was something strange about this stranger: he only had one large claw. The other claw was quite small. Immediately the crab regretted waving to this unknown mutant, but the asymmetrical crab was now fast approaching him. Suddenly shy, the crab looked down at his own claws, but what was this? He too had one large claw and one small claw.

"I'm a monster!!!" shouted the distressed little crab.

"No you're not," laughed the not-so-strange stranger. "You're a _________"

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Do you know what kind of crab our little friend is? I'll be back later in the week to tell you, but feel free to give a guess if you'd like!

(Story and pictures © Marilyn Zaleski 2012)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

High 4!

Do you ever have that awkward moment where you want to high-five someone and they leave you hanging?

^ not this guy ^

Or that embarrassing moment went you say "High five," but the person only has 4 fingers? (That actually happened to me. On a boat in the middle of the Bering Sea. So I had no where to hide in shame. *sigh*)

ANYWAY, this little guy has the opposite problem. You see, crabs like to offer each other a "snap two" with their chelae, but this fellow has THREE CLAWS!

"I had a weird molting experience (probably),
so now I have extra claw-flair."

He can go lefty with no problem, but the minute a person catches him with a drink in his left claw, it's all over. Just imagine it:

"Snap two, bro!" says an unsuspecting crab.

"Um, er, snap four?" replies the embarrassed crab, offering his duo of claw craziness.

"Oh, never mind..."

Luckily our mutated little friend is staying at the Seaside Aquarium in Oregon, so at least he doesn't have to compete for food with what may be a difficult claw to maneuver.

 "You try taking a clam apart with this!"

And although the look of his claw is a bit unsettling, he's not the only crab out there to have a strange claw morphology. It can happen if the claw is injured before or during the molting process: crabs can regenerate their lost or damaged limbs, but sometimes the signalling for "build a new claw" goes haywire, and you get something like this:

an edible crab from Northumberland, UK

Nature, you're crazy!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sweet Crab Treat

My friends Rachael and Chris gave me a sweet crab-shaped cookie cutter for my birthday!

They must have known that I've been coveting a crustacean cookie cutter for quite some time, and I didn't waste any using my new toy making:

Shortbread Crabs

I used a recipe from Claire Robinson, host of 5 Ingredient Fix on the Food Network, because if there's one thing I like, it's easy recipes. And snow crabs. But 'easy recipes' is up there. The best part of this recipe is you don't actually need a cookie cutter, but if you have a crab-shaped one it makes it that much more fun.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into chunks
1 teaspoon water

everything you'll need for the cookies and the decorations

1. Add the flour, salt, and powdered sugar to a food processor and pulse to combine. Add in the vanilla, the butter and the 1 teaspoon of water. Pulse together just until a dough is formed. Put the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 5 inches long. Tightly twist each end of the wrap in opposite directions. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

I didn't have plastic wrap, so I rolled the dough in a plastic baggie

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (The original instructions called for this step at the very beginning, but who needs their oven preheating for 30 minutes or more while they mix and cool their dough?)

3. If you don't have a cookie cutter, you can cut the log of dough into 1/3-inch medallions and bake them as sweet little circles on your sheet. Otherwise, roll out the dough on a clean, dry, floured surface to about 1/3-inch thickness. Bring on the cookie cutter joy, placing your crabs on a nonstick cookie sheet or a buttered baking sheet, and re-rolling the leftover dough to make more crab cookies.

I don't have a rolling pin, but a glass does just fine

my salt and pepper shakers oversaw the cutter placement

4. Bake until the edges are just light brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool until room temperature.

golden goodness on those chelae and dactyls

 5. The fun part: decorate your cookies! I used frosting for half and left the other half plain because my husband doesn't like frosted cookies (I know, who did I marry?!?!). The plain guys got eyes before they were baked, but the frosted guys got eyes after they were all done up in cream cheesy goodness. Notice the eyes are green because they're opilios. I used mint M&Ms and they were a hit!

frosted or not, these cookies were tasty!

This made me think of the article I had read and mentioned in my last post: would a plain crab cookie taste better than one with epibionts extra toppings? I made one to find out:

see the barnacles (frosting dots) and
leech egg cases (pumpkin seeds) on the old-shell crab? 

the verdict: he was delicious!
(you can also see my sweet goldfish
in the background, mentioned here)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are old shells really that bad?

I mentioned last month that the Bering Sea snow crab fishery's quota had been reduced by about 25%, and I explained that the reduction was probably in part due to the decrease in mature male biomass that was seen during the 2012 summer trawl survey:

mature male biomass estimates in tons from the NMFS summer trawl surveys:
the fishery was declared rebuilt last year, but you can see the decrease
in males with a carapace width ≥ 95 mm from 2011 to 2012

The cut in quota wasn't due to that decrease alone; there was also a higher proportion of old-shell males within the survey. Why is this a problem? Old-shell males are not as commercially valuable as new-shell males because of their visual appeal (or lack thereof).

newly molted "new-shell" males on top and
males that have been around the block a few times, aka "old-shell" males

This article is great for explaining the issue of old-shell males in the fishery, plus it has some quotes from our good crab friend, and fishery biologist with ADF&G Kodiak, Doug Pengilly (holla!). I highly recommend you read it (you may have already if you follow Snow Crab Love on facebook) because it also mentions how the decrease in quota may or may not affect the value of the fishery. I bring it up simply because I'm curious what you all think:

Would you buy crabs that may have some barnacles growing on them or some scratches on their bodies that make them appear not-so-shiny? Or are you happy to get 'em clean?

Let me know!