Cornish Critters: Part I

Long time no post, as I have been busy with a variety of things: purchasing equipment for the two new labs we’re moving into (in the ESI building at Tremough Campus and in the clinical microbiology lab in the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro; hope to post pictures very soon), following a pedagogy course and a variety of other things, such as attending a Natural Environment Resource Council (NERC) community meeting in Manchester at the moment. I have never been as busy, but luckily I now live close to the sea and am able to unwind by going rock pooling and catch critters for my aquarium.

Just like my colleague Will Gaze, I started out as marine biologist. In the Dutch system, you do a Masters before you do a PhD, and at my Alma Mater the University of Groningen, a Masters degree consists of two five-month research projects (plus two one-month literature studies). In my first project ‘Qualitative and quantitative flow analysis of active filter feeding in the barnacle Balanus crenatus’, I placed barnacles in an aquarium, seeded the water with tiny plastic particles, and illuminated these particles using a laser sheet as they were propelled by the beating barnacle legs. Particle movement was tracked by imaging software from frame to frame in order to calculate flow parameters. I had one problem: the laser light was reflected by the grey-white calcareous plates surrounding the barnacle, obscuring particle movement close to the barnacle legs. To counteract this, I wrapped individual barnacles in black velvet. As the inventor of the barnacle poncho, the easy thing would have been to rest on my laurels for the rest of my life, but no, I decided to move on as a microbial ecologist.

Before that though, I did a second marine biology project at the famous Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution (home of the submersible ‘Alvin’). This time the title of my project was even more catchy: ‘Neomenia clarki, a new Neomenioid Aplacophoran Mollusc from the Pacific with partial descriptions of three other large Neomenia species’. This particular deep sea creature manages to bear uncanny resemblances to penis, vagina and butt crack alike (see here). A panda it is not. Anyway, I still am fascinated by marine invertebrates and fish and the nice thing is that I am still able to study them as a hobby. Below is Flushing beach where I do my rock pooling; Falmouth is in the background.

Two colour varieties of the dog whelk Nucella lapillus, a predator of other molluscs as well as barnacles (surrounding them in this picture).The beautiful colony-forming tunicate Botryllus schlosseri attached to a red seaweed. Although looking ‘weird’, they are more closely related to us than for instance crabs. ‘Tadpole’ tunicate larvae have a notochord, a flexible rod that is a primitive back bone.The edible crab Cancer pagurus, very tasty!

A squat lobster Munida rugosa on its way to my aquarium. Very shy animals that quickly retreats behind a rock when you approach the glass. A dog whelk, a cushion star Asterina gibbosa and a top shell Calliostoma zizyphinum in my aquarium. (For more posts like this, see my rock pooling/snorkelling/aquarium keeping blog An Bollenessor.)I will post some more pictures of other critters at a later point.

cheers, Michiel

P.S. for more posts like this, see my rock pooling/snorkelling/aquarium keeping blog An Bollenessor.

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One Response to Cornish Critters: Part I

  1. yourothermotherhere says:

    What a fascinating profession. Thank you for sharing the information and pictures. Barnacle poncho… I’ll be smiling about that for a while!

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