It's a wintry morning here in Connecticut, so I decided to add a little bit of desert sunshine to the world. I have been unpacking a new shipment of Moroccan fossils that we just received, and I came across this little beauty:
I know the picture isn't great, but I don't have a full camera set up out there. Maybe soon I'll take some close up shots with the microscope so that you can see its gills!
"No. 7. Isotelus megistos, with cotemporary fossils, Adams County, Ohio. Restored from fragments Nos. 1 to 5 inclusive, by Locke." - thus reads the label on the back of my favorite specimen in the entire collection. It's a plaster reconstruction. It's a little bigger than it should be (but only a little). It has plaster casts of other critters that lived at the same time surrounding it like garnishes around a Thanksgiving turkey. I love it. No matter what kind of beautiful specimens I come across, I always fall back on my old favorite - No. 7.
In cataloging some reprints here at the museum, I came across a guide leaflet from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from 1929. It is a small leaflet entitled, "Outposts of the Sea," by Roy Miner, and it details some aspects of intertidal and shallow sea life. It also has an awesome subtitle, "The animals of the tidal realm - Marine hosts that today assail our continental borders, endeavoring to repeat the conquest attained ages ago by the ancestors of the present land-animals." How awesome is that? I am now envisioning an army of lobsters crawling onto the beach with their chelae (claws) raised in protest at our occupation of the land.
Roy Waldo Miner (curator of Marine Life at the AMNH) wrote an informative and enlightening look at the shallow seas that surround our country and the creatures who inhabit it. He touches on all of the major groups including arthropods, echinoderms, molluscs, cnidarians, and an assortment of "worms".
What initially caught my eye about this leaflet is the drawing on the cover that shows a lobster attempting to grab a crab in its claws. My first thought was that this was a cute bit of whimsy, but not knowing much about lobster and crab interactions I left it at that. There is another picture in this leaflet that shows the same type of scene: a photograph of a diorama in which a lobster is attempting to "catch" a crab.
Curiosity finally getting the better or me, I asked our resident crab expert about the paper. Much to my surprise, I learned that the American lobster (Homarus americanus) does indeed catch and eat crabs (notably Cancer borealis and C. irroratus). A recent paper published by J. M. Hanson found that half of a lobster's diet (this being a lobster with a carapace of at least 4cm) was made up of rock crabs (Cancer irroratus). While it has been suggested (see Drew, 2011) that the Cancer crabs are evolving thicker, stronger carapaces in the eternal arms race of the sea, my money is definitely on the lobster winning in the lobster-crab showdown.
Drew, D. J. 2011. "A Comparative Morphometric Analysis of Cancer borealis Stimpson, 1859 and C. irroratus Say, 1817 (Decapoda: Brachyura: Cancridae) in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean." Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, vol. 52, no. 2, p.241-254.
Hanson, J. M. 2009. "Predator-prey interactions of American lobster (Homarus americanus) in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada." New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 43, no. 1, p.69-88.