Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Year!

Happy Leap Year!

30 Rock knows what I'm talkin' about!

I love today because it feels like a total bonus. So I thought I would give y'all a bonus post! I was inspired by Leap Day Williams (or Leap Dave Williams?) to rock out in blue and gold.

^ inspiration ^

^ inspired! ^

These crustaceans totally got into the spirit too:

from top: a yellow crab,
a yellow Callinectes sapidus (aka blue crab) shell,
and a brilliant blue shrimp

Did you do anything special to celebrate Leap Day/Leap Year?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I got a fever...

What's chitin? It is a polysaccharide made up of linked amino sugars N-acetyl-glucosamine.

Oh, that. Of course. I totally knew that.

Chitin is considered to be the second most abundant biomass on Earth! That's because it is found in crustacean and insect carapaces, snail shells, beaks of cephalopods, and even some fungal cell walls! (Apparently, chitin is the most pure in horseshoe crabs.)

Gene exploring the space uses of chitin

Recently scientists at the Vienna University of Technology have been using chitin to cheaply produce antiviral medication. You see, the current antiviral drugs are produced from N-Acetylneuraminic acid, or NANA, which runs at about US$2,691 per gram! To make these drugs more accessible, the scientists took advantage of a chitin-eating fungus (Trichoderma sp.). This fungus normally breaks down chitin into monomer amino acids, but with the addition of bacterial genes into the fungus, chitin is broken down into NANA! Woot-woot!

Trichoderma sp. munchin' on some chitin to make NANA!

Way to make some fungus do your dirty work, scientists. (Thanks for the article link, Miranda!)

"I gotta have more chitin!"

Study the Science:
Steiger, M. G., A. R. Mach-Aigner, R. Gorsche, E. E. Rosenberg, M. D. Mihovilovic, and R. L. Mach. 2011. Synthesis of an antiviral drug precursor from chitin using a saprophyte as a whole-cell catalyst. Microbial Cell Factories 10: 102 doi:10.1186/1475-2859-10-102

Friday, February 24, 2012

Somebody get a Paula-Deen-amount of butter!

Have you seen this guy?!?!?!?

Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!

I mentioned shrimp bycatch a bit here (or at least the unsustainable nature of most shrimp trawl fisheries), but I never imagined anything like this guy! "Rocky", the 27 pounder pictured above, was caught off of Maine in a shrimp net!

that's about the same size as a 3-year-old me!

The fishermen, knowing they can't keep any lobsters greater than 5 inches carapace length, brought him in to the Maine State Aquarium to share their find (and probably brag a little!). Rocky far exceeds the size limit, with an overall length of 40 inches! His crusher claw is so huge, if you had come across him while SCUBA diving there is a very real chance he could break your arm! How did he get that big? Remember, crustaceans grow each time they molt and lobsters have continuous molting (unlike snow crabs), so as long as they're alive, each time they molt, they get a bit bigger.

watch out little one: he could break you in half!

Luckily for Rocky, the behemoth lobster was released back into the Atlantic to live out his lobster days in freedom. Guess we won't be needing this, Paula:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

T-shirt craft by the Amazing Amelia!

When my big sister Amelia saw the Snow Crab Love logo, she told me she wanted it in t-shirt form. Actually, it started way back when she saw this goofy awesome picture of me from the NMFS summer trawl survey in '09:

the original design! although, admittedly, I am eating red king crab...

Amelia has a degree in elementary education, taught for a few years in public schools, and is now home schooling her 3 beautiful daughters. So, true to form, she turned her want for crabby t-shirts into a fun project for the kiddos. And she's letting me share the details with you!

First she had to gather all the materials (and she downloaded a jpeg of the Snow Crab Love logo):

This was a Valentine's Day project, hence the pink shirts,
plus Crayola Fabric Crayons - who knew?!?

extra fabric paint she had on hand from past projects

Second, she taped the print-out to the window so that the girls could color in the image with those fabric crayons. You can see that it's been placed so that their drawing will be a backwards version of the original image, and she used the window to make it easier to see. This way, when it is ironed onto their shirts, it will face the right direction!

(Yes, this was in February. And no, that's not what
my backyard looks like in February either. 
Yes, I am a bit jealous!)

Coloring! And, Amelia says, "Pressing hard"!

A finished drawing, ready for the heat!

Third, Amelia ironed the images onto each girls' shirts. I would suggest just following the directions that come with whichever product you end up using.

this is where adult supervision is handy

ironed on and ready for some glitter paint!

Fourth, everyone broke out the fabric paints for those special finishing touches:

Boo's sparkly shirt
(my sister uses little nicknames for her girls)

Bug's peaceful crab shirt

Bear's sweet shirt - I love the purple bow!

Amelia's shirt, because she's not going to let the girls have ALL the fun!

Great job girls! And thanks, Amelia, for sharing the how-to. These look amazing (WAY better than mine - I guess I'm going to have to make a new one)!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fire in the hole!

It's Crabday again! Hooray! This week I asked Courtney Lyons (from the sea lion attack story) which crab I should look into and she said the

Black-clawed Crab
Lophopanopeus bellus

a beautiful L. bellus from Peiser Island, AK

Courtney actually knew the scientific name and everything! And we all know how important (and impressive) that is. Black-clawed crabs range from the Aleutian Islands up here in Alaska all the way down to California. When researching them, I came across an amazing article about "the explosion of the spermatozoa" of this species! Can you picture it?

(original picture from here)

OK, so it really looks like this:

the top panel (A) shows normal spermatozoa
the bottom panel (B) shows exploding spermatozoa in
calcium chloride (the first one) and distilled water (the last two)

The "explosions" occur in different solutions that cause the spermatozoa to push out, or evert, the primary or secondary vesicles (labelled in panel A as v and v'). So they weren't really exploding on their own, just eviscerating themselves in when they were in solutions with lower osmotic pressures than seawater. And how did the scientist get all the spermatozoa for this experiment? Black-clawed crabs are pretty neat in that they only have one large spermatophore (unlike snow crabs who have many little spermatophores), so all the guy had to do was, "rupture the deferent ducts and the male gametes oozed out in tremendous numbers". Gotta love science from the 1920's!

"do I?"

Possible explosions and 1920's scientists are not the only things these guys have to deal with. Black-clawed crabs are parasitized by those nasty barnacles, rhizocephalans, that hijack the reproductive organs of crabs. Apparently up to 25% of the black-clawed crabs in Sitka are assaulted by them!

Yikes! It makes exploding spermatozoa sound pleasant!
(the rhizocephalan is
Loxothylacus panopaei)

Do you have a crab you'd like to learn about/celebrate in Crabday fashion? Let me know!

Explosive paper:
Fasten, N. 1921. The explosion of the spermatozoa of the crab Lophopanopeus bellus (Stimpson) Rathbun. Biological Bulletin 41: 288-300.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful day filled with the things you love, whether that's crabs, a pet, a favorite song, or someone special. Or bacon. You know, whatever makes you happy!

true *crab* love!
(from here)

If you haven't made a card already, here are 3 options:

That last one was originally a Christmas card, but since you can write whatever you want and use whatever paper colors you'd like, I can see it more like this:

...or pinch?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Valentine's Day Lobster Craft

Valentine's Day is coming up and I know you want to make something special for that lucky person/pet/study animal in your life. I was inspired by these cards I bought for my sister 2 Christmases ago from the wonderful Alaskan artist Sarah Asper-Smith (of Smack of Jellyfish fame):

The idea is she takes an Alaskan animal and says, "If you were a [catchy animal]..." (open the card) "I would [do something similar to what the aforementioned animal does in the wild]". A sweet example is her octopus card that reads, "If you were an octopus, I would grow eight arms to hold you." Aw!

I was also inspired by Trevor Corson's book "The Secret Life of Lobsters" about American lobsters (Homarus americanus). In it I learned that, to let a male know the female is ready to molt and willing to mate, she will approach his den and "waft her perfume" towards him, i.e. she releases urine filled with her pheromones towards his face. She pees on him.

poor (lucky?) guy

There's so much more to it than that, so if you're interested in lobster mating, you should pick up the book. But that's the... aromatic gist.

so sweet, and yet I can't help but laugh!

SO, I've made my own lobster-themed card a la Sarah Asper-Smith with my Trevor Corson knowledge so that you can have a special card for that special someone on Valentine's Day!

1. Download above picture

2. Print onto paper or cardstock

3. Fold in half and cut out the heart through two layers

4. Fold in half again


5. Sign it, give it to someone, wait for their unencumbered love in response

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's all in the DNA

Have you ever found yourself with a water sample and thought, "I wonder if there are larval king crabs in here"? 

I see some!
(larval kings photo: Celeste Leroux)

Pam Jensen (et al.) did (from the RACE division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center). So she developed a quantitative PCR assay to detect baby red king crabs (Paralithodes camtschaticus) and shared her work with us at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium. The "how did she do that" stuff is a little over my head, but the "why did she do that" is pretty neat: little is known about where the larval red king crabs are dispersed throughout the Bering Sea, but there are A LOT of water samples. The assay is used to screen for larval red king crabs so they can know which samples had crabs, and then they can figure out where there samples (and baby crabs) were found. Using the assay, they can detect 1/10,000th of a larva!

can you imagine 1/10,000th of one of these little guys?
(these are actually blue king crabs, fyi)

Yes, that's right: 1/10,000th! Of a larva! Those things are incredibly tiny!! That's like the ol' needle in a haystack problem, but you're Magneto so you can detect it like it's your job.

Molly: "I sense larval red kings over there"

Read more:
Pam's AK Marince Science Symposium abstract: Development of a Quantitative PCR Assay for Detection of Planktonic Red King Crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) Larvae (click on the Abstract link to download the book of abstracts and find hers on page 63)

You can also see a poster she made on the subject here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

O is for opilio

I was recently asked how to distinguish between snow crabs (Chionoecetes opilio) and Tanner crabs (Chionoecetes bairdi). The person knew the difference in eye color thanks to this post: snow crabs have beautiful green eyes while Tanners have blood red eyes. Another way to tell the difference is to read their lips epistome margins. Opies have flat epistomal plates while bairdis have M-shaped plates:

snow crab on top, Tanner crab on bottom

I like to picture the snow crabs making an "O" sound when I look at their faces as if they were saying "OOOOO-pilio"!

Um, so let's say "meatballs" represent the red eyes? Yes.
(Sorry, I couldn't think of a good "M" word.)

There are a couple other differences: generally adult Tanners seem to be larger than adult snow crabs (at least in my experience) and their bodies are shaped a bit differently. Snow crabs have rounder bodies (their carapace length-to-width ratio is about 1) while Tanners are packing wide loads (their length:width is less than 0.945).

carapace shape and epistome margin from left to right:
pure Tanner crabs, three variations on hybrids, and then pure snow crabs

That may seem like a small difference, but if you're on a boat measuring hundreds upon hundreds of crabs, you start to know who is who before you even check their eye color and epistomal plates. You can also get a feel for something awry, like if you have a wide guy but with green eyes. Then you check his epistome margin and it looks like this:

not quite flat, but not quite M-shaped...

That's right, you've got a hybrid! So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.