Sunday, August 1, 2004

Tiny frogs and enormous spiders

Squid are voracious.

Apart from their large brains and active lifestyle, cephalopods are of particular interest due to their truly enormous growth rate. With a few exceptions (most notably the chambered nautilus) the cephalopod theme is: grow fast, live hard, die young. The smaller species live less than a year, the large ones--even jumbo squid--rarely more than two or three. Most reproduce only once.

The key to this type of life is an insatiable appetite. When I visited Stanford for interview weekend, my advisor had half a dozen squid in a tank, and we spent one evening satisfying our scientific curiosity by trying to sate them. We emptied a tank of feeder goldfish and found that it was more or less impossible. I believe they ate something on the order of two hundred goldfish over the course of four hours.

We now have twenty-five Sepioteuthis sepioidea, or Caribbean reef squid, to maintain. I spent this morning in the library and learned that, compared to the UC system, the Bermuda Biological Station for Research library is totally useless. Fortunately I can connect to the UC system by proxy. Thus I also learned that Sepioteuthis prefer to eat 30-60% of their body weight per day. Anything below 10-20% is a starvation diet and they will die.

For our squid, this translates to three or four fish a day. Call it four and you're looking at one hundred fish every day. As a result I have spent most of the last few days in the water, in snorkel gear, chasing schools of little fish into a big net. Never mind the experiment, we're just trying to keep the little beasts alive.

Danna's Bermuda Summer Tan is now in its second edition, which features a jaunty tricolor look, due to two swimsuits and one pair of board shorts.

Weekend? Oh, yes, there was a weekend. I determinedly took some of yesterday afternoon off, and hopped in a taxi with the rest of the class to go to a real sandy beach for some snorkeling and relaxing. It was very nice; I saw a bluehead wrasse, my first viewing in the wild of the fish around which one of my UCSB professors has built his quite impressive career.

I also developed a rather nasty headache over the course of the afternoon; maybe too much sun, maybe lingering jet lag, who knows. We made it back just in time for dinner, but I opted out and crawled into bed instead.

I woke up three hours later and discovered my roommate had come back from dinner and was also napping. Quick aside: she's from Venezuela, and I can understand her Spanish quite well, unlike that of the two Cubanos, which is fast and fluid and often hard to catch. Between the three of them, another fellow from Argentina, the Dutch girl whose father is Argentinian, and me, there's quite a lot of Spanish going around.

Anyhow, the two of us woke from our naps and wandered outside a bit groggily, amusing our classmates, who were getting ready to go to the station's "bar," which is as much nightlife as you can easily get to around here. Again I opted out (antisocial? me?) so I could sit outside, reading Cryptonomicon, munching leftovers from lunch, and being serenaded by frogs.

Most of the frogs around here are tiny (with the occasional whopping exception) but they make a truly astonishing noise at night.

Along the theme of local wildlife, there are a lot of gorgeous lizards, blue-green on top and orange-bellied. I haven't caught one yet, but it's on my to-do list. I believe this falls into the category of things that children and stupid adults do, reasonable adults know enough not to do, and really smart biology geeks who ought to know better do anyway because they feel entitled. Picking up unfamiliar sea cucumbers and poking anemones are other members of this category.

Moving on to the arthropod population, Bermuda has truly enormous spiders. Some of their abdomens are nearly golfball-sized. This wouldn't be so alarming if they didn't stretch their webs from tree branches right over a walking path to the wall on the other side. Thus, their great bulbous bodies hang directly overhead, silent witnesses to every expedition to Whalebone Bay.

They don't bother me per se, they're just interesting in an adrenaline-pumping sort of way.

Speaking of things that don't bother me, there is a light sprinkling of ants over nearly every space upon which one might wish to walk. This includes the floor of one's room. They're quite small (not as small as the microants that so frustrate me in my kitchen back home, but small) and I don't really see them any more. However, I have taken to wearing flip-flops at all times, after I noticed the ant carcasses adhering to my toes and heels.

Fortunately, they don't seem to be the vengeful, biting type.

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