Friday, March 18, 2005

The price of research

As I mentioned before, behavioral research in the lab can be stressful on your subjects, and sometimes animals pay a heavy price, taking a serious turn for the worse literally overnight. This was the case a few days ago when one of our colorblind experimental animals was looking very poorly. He was not eating well, he was floating, his color was bad, his mantle was funny looking, and he seemed to have some sort of infection and lesion. The decision was made to euthanize him. Although we have lost several animals since I began my internship, this was the first time I actually assisted in euthanizing one, and it was a sad day for me. The process is done by slowly adding 100% ethanol to the animal's seawater until it gradually slows down and then dies. It ends up being about a 10% ethanol solution that will work. The animal care staff informed me that this is the most humane way they have found. And in truth, who wouldn't like to get drunk before they go. *sigh* It's sad that animals must pay the price for research, but it's a fact that every biologist must come to terms with. Rest in peace little cuttlefish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Origin of Motility in Eukaryotes

I was able to set aside my normal duties today and attend a lecture by a visiting professor, Dr. Lynn Margulis. She is a professor at UMASS-Amherst. Her talk concerned the origin of movement and motility in eukaryotes. It was a very facinating lecture. She believes that motility arose from a symbiosis of two bacteria, a spirochaete and an archaebacteria. This goes along with the theory of how mitochondria and plastids developed, called the Serial Endosymbiosis Theory.

Dr. Margulis' research seems to support her hypothesis thus far. She has found current marine models which support this; instead of an archaebacterium though, Thiodendron is symbiotic with a spirochaete. Also, cytoplasm in the cells produce relatively large amounts of sulfide, which one would expect as a remnant from the original syntropy of hydrogen sulfide oxidizing spirochaetes and sulfur oxidizing archaebacteria. Her next step is to try and find symbiotic archaebacteria and spirochaetes in Woods Hole, MA.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Paging Dr. Karena!

There's something about using a syringe that makes me feel so.... medical!

Sometimes one of our animals becomes sick or is just not acting like its normal, active, hungry self. When this happens, we usually put it on antibiotics. We do this by injecting its normal diet of fish chunks with Baytril or chloramphenicol. However, when the animal refuses to eat, we need to try and tempt it with something yummier, which usually translates to live prey. This ends up being something like grass shrimp which we usually have on hand.

Now, you may be wondering how I go about getting the antibiotic into something as squirmy as a shrimp (or you may be wondering just how squirmy a shrimp is, in which case the answer is very much so). Well, wonder no more faithful readers for I shall enlighten you. Grass shrimp are very small and only grow to a maximum of about 2 inches. Most of the ones we feed to the cephalopods never even reach that size (MUAHAAHAHAHA....ahem). You may think it would be easiest to simply inject the antibiotic into the underside of the shrimp which is the softest side, however this typically results in a very inanimate shrimp which isn't very interesting to an octopus or cuttlefish, especially one not having such a great day. So it's actually best to try and gently insert the needle just under the carapace on the back and inject the antibiotic that way. All of this needs to be done while carefully holding onto the shrimp which obviously isn't thrilled with the whole procedure and would rather take its chances bouncing off into the unkown (don't ask me why, shrimps have small brains).

However, it's worth it when the your little invalid octopus or cuttlefish realizes what a special treat it's getting :)

Sometimes cuttlefish can be cuddly

When working with animals enough, you get to know the personalities of certain individuals, especially with animals like cephalopods which have large brains. I've come to like one little cuttlefish in particular who is always very curious about me. He's always willing to rise to the surface, and peer up at me; I can't help but wonder what is going on inside that brain. He even seems to like the attention and will tolerate my clumsy attempts at petting him- up to a point. You're probably wondering how you would go about petting a little cuttlefish which happens to be as long as your index finger. I basically just gently touch him with the tip of a finger, just barely touching him. You just can't do this with cuttlefish without them freaking out but this little guy doesn't seem to mind so much. In fact, he's even curious enough to reciprocate with his arms sometimes. I haven't given him a name yet and I don't know if I can as it will be hard to say goodbye when my internship is over, but I thought I would introduce you to this special little guy.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Why you should never invite a cuttlefish to dinner

Although I'm interested in all cephalopods, I've been learning the most about cuttlefish because that's what we have the most here at MRC. And one thing I've noticed is that cuttlefish have absolutely atrocious table manners. As I may have mentioned, nearly everyone gets fed once a day in the morning. When I arrive, everything is calm and quiet in cuttlefishville. Once they see me coming, a few curious individuals will perk up and wonder when they will get their breakfast.

However, bedlam quickly ensues once I break out the fish. It's no-more-Mr.-Nice-Cuttlefish as everyone rushes to get their share and their neighbor's share if they can manage it.

No one thinks twice about stealing a piece of food or two even if they are currently munching on some already. And if another cuttlefish nabs the piece of fish you were going for, then they may just as easily become a tasty morsel. If a cuttlefish is lucky, he can dodge and escape using ink blobs. If he's not, he can end up badly scarred.

And just as quickly as it started, the mad dash for food is over.

Everyone goes back to their corner until the next cuttlefish quibble. Of course, no one bothers to clean up after themselves.

Instead, they leave their discarded leftovers intermingled with their waste for me to take care of for them. For those of you who've never seen it, this picture is cuttlefish poop.

And what do I get for my trouble? Ink in the face. Ungrateful creatures. Instead of cuttlefish, they should be called cuttlepigs.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Octopus on the lam!

As I mentioned before, we have five octopuses. One large O. vulgaris, two medium sized O. bimaculoides, and three small O. joubini. Well, while feeding them this morning, I found one was not where he was supposed to be and it's not the one you may expect. I was a little surprised to find the delicious (?) morsel of capelin I offered this morning was not eagerly grabbed by waiting arms as usual and upon closer inspection of the little tube which makes up the home of one of our pygmy octopuses, I found it empty (!!!). Well, needless to say, I was a bit stunned. We set a brick on each of the lids of the tanks to prevent escapes, however this little guy decided he was Hercules, or so he will be dubbed from now on, as he was able to lift up the lid, brick and all, and left behind part of an arm as evidence of his daring dash to freedom. Unfortunately, the area beyond the tank was not the wide open ocean he had hoped for and alas he really had nowhere else to go so I found him sitting somewhat confused right next to his neighbor's tank. With the help of my animal care supervisor, Janice, I was able to recapture the renegade octopus and replace him unharmed back into his tank, safe and sound. To show I had no hard feelings, I even offered him a piece of capelin, which he promptly accepted as though nothing had happened.

Here's the little renegade himself giving me the eye after his escapade. Isn't he a bold one?