Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

The things on land hurt as much as the things in the water…
by -- October 13th, 2011

Reefs, hermit crabs and jellyfish, oh my!

Pretty cool stuff!

I believe the best experiences in life are the ones that make you a bit scared. And we’ve had a lot of those this week! During the past two days, I’ve managed to get a bit nervous more than once.

Lest we forget, I am a liberal studies student whose last study abroad’s most adventurous sport was finding W.B Yeats’ grave in Sligo, Ireland. But this study abroad – here in Panama – has shown me that I indeed can jump off a boat in the middle of the ocean. In fact, I’ve managed to do quite a few crazy things during my time in Panama.


From lionfish to jellyfish to fire coral, we’ve all gone up close and personal with the Bocas del Toro wildlife. And working this close with wildlife has its consequences!

Emily's jellyfish sting

We spent yesterday snorkeling the coral reefs with great Smithsonian researchers who showed us specimens things like brittle stars and parrotfish. We literally swam through HOARDS of ctenophores – jellyfish-looking creatures. Unfortunately, sometimes we would mistake a real jellyfish for a ctenophore… ouch!

Professor Diaz snorkeling with us!

We then snorkeled mangrove forests. Covered in turtle grass, these shallow seas were a bit messier to navigate. We discovered some great solitary corals and observed mangrove roots in all their splendor underwater. Only after we left did Professor Diaz tell us they sometimes see crocodiles or caiman in the mangroves… thanks!

Today, our work began with the hermit crabs (Coenobita clypeatus). We headed to Bastimentos, which literally is the most perfect island in the world. The sand was perfect, the water was ideal. We were in heaven.

Then we went to look for hermit crabs. We set up our baits – control, algae, fish, crab and snail. And then we watched! Lots of the tiny guys wiggled in, and we scooped them up and put them in cups.

After grabbing our hermit crabs, we went to find land crabs (Gecarcinus lateralis). These little guys were much bolder than the tiny hermit crabs! After catching about 30, most of us had claws left in our hands and bloody fingers from the fiesty fellows. Strange how we managed to find creatures on land and water that didn’t like us much!

Every cup contains a hermit crab.

algae, 10 fish, 8 snail and 23 crab). We then set them up in their “arenas” and recorded what degree they walked when set up inside. Unfortunately, it seems that about half of our crabs died in transit. We’re not sure why, but now we’ll be heading back to the beach tomorrow to find more.

Hermit crab!

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