Devil Fish

A “Cold” Day in the Salt Marsh
by Emma Kelley -- February 19th, 2015

We’re well into the swing of Block B here at the Duke Marine Lab and I’m busy getting started on an independent study. At this point, it looks like I’ll be exploring the shell preferences of hermit crabs in North Carolina salt marshes – mostly seeing if/when hermit crabs prefer periwinkle shells to mud snail shells and vice versa. A similar study has been completed in New England and I’m curious to see how my results compare.

Before beginning my field observations, I have to choose a few study sites. Since each block only lasts about four weeks, and we’re already in week two, I couldn’t wait for the weather to warm up a bit and headed out today to check out one option: Hoop Pole Creek near Atlantic Beach.

hoop pole

Hoop Pole Creek: A Coastal Nature Preserve.               Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

It was only about 35°F when I parked my car in an empty lot near the boardwalk leading through the forest down to the creek. Although after hearing from my parents up in Boston, I shouldn’t complain. They’re buried under more than a couple feet of snow, so I should be happy to put on a few layers under my parka and go for a nice walk down to the marsh.


My Dad and unhappy dog standing in front of our buried mailbox. Photo Credit: Carol Kelley

Hoop Pole is a maritime forest, preserved as a refuge for coastal habitat, fish, wildlife, and plants. The North Carolina Coastal Federation manages the property.  Today, I was the only person on the short trail leading from the shopping center parking lot, to the water’s edge. Imagine that on a rainy day in February….

lets go

Let’s go! Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

maritime forest

Maritime forest. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

out to the water

I made it through the forest, to the creek.                 Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

My objective in coming out was A) to get my bearings in the NC salt marshes, B) to find periwinkles, mud snails, and hermit crabs, C) to step away from my laptop for a bit and get some fresh air. Most of my undergraduate fieldwork experience was in the South Carolina salt marshes, where I first became interested in ecology. Those experiences chasing fiddler crabs and getting trapped waste-deep in mud convinced me I was in the right field. Getting the chance to return to the Carolina marshes to poke around was a much-needed break from the job search and MP work.

After taking in the view, I began my search for the periwinkles in the Spartina (cordgrass). In addition to locating my study subjects, I also wanted to make general observations. I found plenty of empty shells, but it took a while before I found my quarry.

grass and forest

Spartina and maritime forest. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley


Empty periwinkle shells. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

aha peri

Empty periwinkle shell. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley


Aha! Live periwinkles! Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

ruining day

Probably ruining this poor guy’s day. I put him right back after checking to see if anyone was home. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

Hoop Pole was mostly covered in Spartina, with no mud flats to be found, so my search for mud snails was fruitless, as was my search for hermit crabs. I’ll be checking out another site this weekend that should be more promising. Stay tuned!

path through cordgrass

Following the path along the creek, through the cordgrass. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

©2016 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff