Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Belize: Searching for stomatopods

Belize Expedition 2012

Introductions from Randi
This guest post comes to you from Amanda Franklin. She is a PhD student at Tufts University, having recently completed her masters degree at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She's studying sexual selection in stomatopods (more on that later!) and is working in the lab where I did my PhD work, carrying on the torch, so to speak! We're collaborating out here as she scouts her new study system. Meet other scientists I've overlapped with on Carrie Bow here.

Guest Post from Amanda Franklin
I woke up early Wednesday morning hoping that I was prepared for my first trip to Carrie Bow Cay and my first jaunt into fieldwork for my PhD. My aim for the trip was to find stomatopods (more commonly known as mantis shrimp), which are a small crustacean known for their complex eyes and lightning fast ‘punch’. They are popular aquarium animals because they are charismatic creatures which are usually brightly coloured. Three flights and one boat ride later I received my first glimpse of the tiny island that was to be home for the next week. I must say, fieldwork on a small island surround by reef in the tropics is quite a nice way to start my PhD.  So with high hopes I donned the snorkel gear and hit the shallow reefs around Carrie Bow.

I’ve never searched for, or seen, a stomatopod in the wild before, so I was hoping that my pre-trip research would pay off. I looked in burrows, between seagrass and in every crevice and hole I could see. Eventually I saw a little one, about 50 mm long, peeking out of a hole in a large rock. I was excited to see my first stomatopod, however, I was stumped as to how to get it out. The rock was much too big to take the lot and the stomatopod was much too fast.  Eventually deciding it was a lost cause, I moved on and kept looking.  After some further searching I found another one in a hole in a small piece of coral.  By the end of the day I had found and collected 6 stomatopods, all hiding in holes in corals, rocks or conch shells.  It seems that shallow water (about 0.5m) with patchy rubble and seagrass is the ideal habitat to find this species.

Heading to the microscope, I had a fair idea what genus this species must be in. Nevertheless, I started to key it out from the Family level. Some characteristics which are important for differentiating species, genera and families of stomatopods include the structure of the telson (tail area) and the raptorial appendage (‘punching’ arm) and the presence/absence of spines on the telson and rostral plate (near the head). I soon discovered that the species which I had found was Neogonodactylus oerstedii.

During the remainder of my time at Carrie Bow, I searched for more stomatopods and observed their behaviour in the lab. I found many more of the same species, as well as 3 other species (Pseudosquilla ciliata, Lysiosquilla sp. and the third I’m yet to identify). Living up to their name, they proved to be very territorial in the lab. Individuals would fight over cavities (PVC pipe in this case) by striking each other, with the larger individual coming out victorious. Cavities are an important asset for stomatopods as there are a limited number available and remaining in the open dramatically increases the risk of predation.

The exploratory research has been very beneficial for me as now I know what species are present in Carrie Bow, which species are more abundant, where to find stomatopods and how to house them in the lab. From here, I hope to begin researching their reproductive behaviours. As yet, I am unsure which direction my research will take, but there are many unanswered questions related to communication during courtship and mating (there are visual, auditory and chemical signals used), sexual selection (e.g. sperm competition) and the effect of environmental change on reproductive behaviours. So after this amazing week at Carrie Bow, it’s back to the books to learn more about this fascinating group of animals, and, more importantly, discover what is not yet known!

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