Friday, April 29, 2011

Belize Expedition: A riveting experience

Belize Expedition, 2011

Picture yourself on a tiny island. We're on a 0.74 acre barrier reef island in Belize called Carrie Bow Caye, home to the Smithsonian's Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystem Program. Though the island may feel small to most humans, it is reasonably large for a hermit crab. Among our underwater pursuits, we are investigating resource-use behavioral dynamics in Coenobita clypeatus hermit crabs, a mainly terrestrial crab with a marine larval phase. Here on Carrie Bow, there are approximately 1100 hermit crabs, which we measured a few years ago in a mark-recapture experiment in collaboration with Dr. Sara Lewis (Tufts University).

Despite the small size of the island it is still too large to conduct our behavioral experiments effectively, so we have reduced the area available to our experimental hermit crabs by creating enclosed arenas.

To keep experimental hermit crabs successfully in (or out) of our arenas, we used aluminum flashing because it's one of the few things that hermit crabs can't climb. Hermit crabs are expert climbers - though you might not guess it, they can scale walls, trees, and PVC pipe (to name a few).

Apparently, these are also Pete enclosures. :-)

There are no hardware stores on this island; we brought all of our materials with us. If we need something else, we have to create it ourselves given the resources at hand and our own ingenuity. Today was all about building. We built a variety of different things in the shop. Like any good workshop, this one has all the basics... but there is what there is. No more. We riveted our hermit crab enclosures to PVC frames to brace them against the wind. Finding creative solutions to unique island problems is indeed a riveting experience. :-)

More soon,

Pete and Randi

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