Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Animal Blogging

The great thing about living at the beach is... the beach. One of the drawbacks is that the island I live on is heavily wooded (which I'll gladly take over the recently developed sea islands that have been denuded of trees) and most of the houses out here are rather rustic. These two things combine to encourage wildlife to come wandering into your house, and I've had various rodents, snakes, frogs, lizards, and exotic insects of all kinds show up inside my home. But this was a first.

That is a relatively large specimen of Ocypode quadrata, commonly known as the ghost crab. They are very common on Folly Beach, but they typically live in a narrow strip between the high tide mark and the inner sand dunes. They can't go too far from the water because they depend on it to keep their gills moist. This sucker somehow left the dunes, crossed over a street, made his way through my yard and into my house (I'm pretty sure the door was closed) and into my bedroom in the back of the house. That green thing under his ass is the base of a floor lamp, and I woke up to the sound of crab claws rhythmically clinking across metal. It's an interesting sound to hear when you're half asleep and you think you're alone.

So I did what any self-respecting biologist would do. I captured him and made him a pet. I corralled the crab into a long-necked vase that he couldn't climb out of, then I took an old lab rat cage I had (still with a few cedar shavings in it) and went down to the beach to get some sand. I then unceremoniously dumped him into his new home.

Not knowing how well he would take to captivity, I tossed a bit of egg into the cage, and much to my delight, he devoured it immediately. I mean, he didn't just walk up to it casually and start nibbling, he ran up to it wolfed it down, those little mouth parts moving as fast as they could. The only animal I've ever seen that acted as more of an all-purpose garbage disposal was the white rat that once occupied the cage. I guess when you make a living filtering little arthropods out of sand, a large chunk of pure protein is absolute heaven. I could throw almost anything in there and he would eat it; bits of meat, beans, vegies, a spaghetti noodle that fell on the floor, it didn't seem to matter. Below is a close-up of him eating a bit of what I think was sausage.

In the above picture, you can see some broad groves just to the sides of Zoidberg's eye stalks. (Yes, his name is Zoidberg.) Watching him, I learned that ghost crabs fold their eye stalks neatly into these groves when they sleep or when they burrow. It's awfully cute. And the eyes themselves (compound eyes, like a good arthropod) have little ommatidia that go almost all the way around the eye, giving them 360 degree vision.

He lived with me for several months before he died. I'm not sure what the normal lifespan of a ghost crab is, but I'm assuming that it was natural causes, not the stress of having a primate constantly poking him with a pencil, that did him in. He spent most of his time buried in the sand, but he'd come up every now and then to eat or to bathe in his water dish. Of course sometimes I'd have to arouse him just to look at him or to show him off to friends. And he wasn't terribly happy with that, but hey, you came into my house sucker, and I make the rules.