Tag Archives: molluscs

5/27/19 We Set Sail on a FriendShip


Today I was a human sacrifice. Remember the Mangroves of Death? We ran through them on our first day on the island. Well, today I voluntarily returned to them in the name of science. Today’s project was examining the way marine debris accumulates on the island, asking what washes up and where, so we wanted to have four sample sites on the island…unfortunately the mangroves had to be one of those sites (or else our data would be skewed and insufficient and that’s just not allowed). Kaela, Amy, and I bravely suited up and filled three garbage bags with flip flops, plastic bottles, toothbrushes, ropes, and everything else in thirty minutes (and also had some pieces of a boat that we had to carry separately). In total our class collected almost 4000 individual pieces of trash (and found that it collects mostly on the windward side of the island because currents).

All suited up. Note that my pants are tucked into my socks and I’m wearing a rain jacket to cover as much as my body as possible to prepare for the mosquito’s wrath

In the afternoon was dissected some Lionfish that Dr. Solomon and one of our guides had speared themselves while we were doing various other snorkeling throughout the week. My buddies let me use the scissors so I got to cut up the little dude very gently so we could examine his insides (a great improvement from when I dissected a Perch in middle school, accidentally severed the ovaries, and got eggs everywhere). Afterword our guides made some Lionfish ceviche for us, which was apparently very good but I didn’t have any (fish are friends not food, duh).

Today was the last full day on the island. No molluscs today. Everything was done. After dinner we gathered on the dock and had a little party under the stars. We joked about a contested class loudness scale and watched shrimps swarm the dock. We even saw some rays swim by and a giant Nurse Shark. Somehow it was both the perfect ending yet anticlimactic. It was weird to not be working on a project or hiking or snorkeling or filling every last second with “adventure”. But to end as just friends hanging out on a dock underscored the most valuable aspect of this trip: we’ve all been through so much together, and along the way became, well, friends.


5/26/19 Ask and You Shall Re-sea-ve


Today was very long, but good long.

In the morning we collected sea urchin for a project examining reef health. We used urchins as a proxy for herbivory, which we could then use as a proxy for reef health because increased herbivory means decreased turf/macroalgal cover (and algae competes with coral). Pretty much it was an Easter Egg hunt but for sea urchins, and it was exactly the right mix of goal-oriented and challenging for me. Finding urchins wasn’t the hard part, getting them out of their crevices was. I’m still a little surprised how willing I was to stick my entire arm in a crevice and poke around for a spiny thing I couldn’t see, or to grab an urchin perched next to some fire coral and get my whole hand stung (we got the urchin though, so worth it). We spent the afternoon analyzing our data on numbers, sizes, and species of urchins we collected.

Honestly I was completely enthralled by the urchin hunt and wasn’t even looking for molluscs, but we did run into two. Dr. Solomon showed me an Amber Penshell (Pinna carnea), which was awesome because a living bivalve was the last little guy I needed to complete my set (I’ve given up on finding a polyplacophoran). It was actually kind of funny; this morning I was talking to Dr. Solomon and Dr. Shore and we were making our daily “requests” for the wildlife we’d see (I said I wanted a living bivalve).Then on our way back to the boat I saw a weirdly shaped fish…upon investigating it was in fact a squid, a Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea).

Amber Penshell (Pinna carnea)…not nearly as “amber” as I was expecting
My friend, the Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea)

We finished our day with a night snorkel, which unfortunately wasn’t my favorite. It was cool to be in the water under all the stars, but I really couldn’t see anything underwater. My mask was super foggy and we all clustered together so I kept getting kicked in the face (to be fair, everyone kept getting kicked). Also, I lost my dive buddy early on and trying to find him in the dark was impossible. I spent most of the snorkel looking for my buddy instead of looking at the cool night creatures (found him by the end though, with help).

Our super cool instructors, Dr. Amanda Shore and Dr. Scott Solomon, after our night snorkel

Today was our last day in the water, and tomorrow’s really our last day in Belize. Hopefully we get one last full day of exciting activities and not one full of bug bites.


5/25/19 I Squid You Not


Today we dove in both the morning and afternoon, which made for a very tiring, very seasick day for most of our class. The morning was to sample a second set of MPA/Not-MPA patch reefs for our project, and the afternoon was to explore the forereef while we had calm weather (the forereef is where there’s the most wave action so we could only go in calm conditions)

Many thanks to Brendan for capturing actual evidence of me also snorkeling

Sampling these reefs was a little more difficult because they were deeper than yesterdays. I felt kind of like a shark because I had to swim down and count a bit, then I’d float up, circle, and come back down and count some more (and I must have circled ten times per quadrat…we did ten per site). Luckily our communication was better today, because the water was deep enough that it would’ve been really hard to try and tread water and communicate at the surface. I didn’t see any new molluscs while out sampling these sites, but I did see a Spiny Lobster that I thought was cool.

Team Epiphytes in action, sampling the Not-MPA

The forereef in the afternoon was super cool and an epic battle between breathing and buoyancy (hold my breath so I can dive down for longer or exhale as a I go down so I can go deeper). The forereef is the edge of the reef before the drop-off into deeper waters, and it’s before the reef crest so it gets all the wave energy (which it channels into spur and groove formations). The groove channels were pretty deep (for me at least), but I was able to swim through some schools of small fishes congregating on top of the spur formations. They were beautiful up close. And! Just before we were leaving I spotted two Caribbean Reef Squids! They were in the sand outside the spur and grooves, so I couldn’t get down deep enough to really get close, but Dr. Shore swam down and got a video of them. She got so close that she spooked one, and in her video you can see it change colors then dart away.

Me: *squeals*, shouts “I’m going to go make some friends”, *dives down to get pictures of squids*

I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, but for everyone’s sake I hope the weather stays nice and calm.


5/24/19 So Much to Sea


Today was a pretty awesome, mollusc-filled day. In the morning we used quadrats to measure live coral cover on a reef patch within the MPA (Marine Protected Area) and then on a reef patch outside of the MPA. Then in the afternoon we collecting specimens for our own touch tank!

Brendan and I on the boat between patch reefs

I didn’t see any molluscs within the MPA but I did see a Brain Coral with Black Band Disease. Black Band is caused by a bacterial pathogen; it’s progressive and incredibly distinctive because there’s the live tissue, then a dark band of bacterial mat, then a white band of newly dead tissue, then old dead coral that’s been colonized by algae. I’m a little sad that I saw it, especially in the protected zone, but also excited that I was able to spot it in the wild after learning about it in classes. It was also cool to be able to visualize microbes in action. My topic lecture was Microbes, and one thing that I personally find a little frustrating is that microbes are so small you can’t always see the impact they have so clearly.

Not going to lie, when I took this picture it was because I didn’t think I could be looking at BBD and I wanted Dr. Shore to see it and tell me what it actually was…she was also shocked to see BBD

Outside the MPA we saw a whole bunch of Flamingo Tongue Snails (Cyphoma gibbosum) and I learned that if you scream underwater because you’re excited people will think you’re in trouble. The Flamingo Tongues are super brightly colored and generally easy to find because they’re usually on Gorgonians, so I was turning over sea fans left and right looking for them. Also, not a mollusc, but I learned what Fire Coral is at this patch reef…that was…fun…they don’t like to be touched.

LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL SNAIL! Its bright colors are to show that its tissues are toxic; it sequesters toxins from the Gorgonians it eats. Also, the shell isn’t that bright, its actually white, but the Flamingo Tongue stretches its colorful tissue out over its shell and can retract it when threatened

In the afternoon we got a ton of molluscs for our touch tank! We got four Queen Conchs (Stombus gigas), two of which were very friendly and came out of their shells to slime around in my hand. We also got three Milk Conchs (Strombus costatus), which had broader flatter shells with shorter spires, had a bright red interior, and were not nearly as friendly. We had two more critters in the Gastropod department, but I’m not sure what they were yet. One had a shell that looks like it could be some kind of Murex snail, and the other had a rounded spiral shell with no spire and a circular operculum. Lastly, and most exciting, Kaela caught an octopus and used the guides to identify it as an Atlantic Pygmy Octopus (Octopus joubini). It was very small, had large eyes, and could change colors, but the identifying feature was how long and thin the arms were.

This beautiful bean jumped right out of his shell to be my friend…I will consider no other explanations for this behavior
No seriously. LOOK. AT. HIM.

In only a few days we’ve found so many molluscs, but the search isn’t over. We still have to find a sea slug (I keep picking up algae thinking it’s a Lettuce Slug and being disappointed), a living bivalve (I keep finding sad empty shells), and a Caribbean Reef Squid (we already have a Cephalopod, I just want to see this one).


5/23/19 Caught in the Crosshairs


Today was better. Communicating with my buddies is still hard, my mask keeps fogging, and some water inevitably always getting caught in my snorkel, but maneuvering is a little easier in the deeper water. Yesterday I was getting really frustrated trying to stand in one place with my feet anchored to the ground, but today I just had to kick a little and float in the same place (the same place being sort of relative).

Also, remember how before I left Houston I said I wanted to learn how to use a quadrat effectively? We’re definitely working on that here at Glover’s. We spent the morning using line transects and quadrats to measure coral skeletons from rocks/other things at a coral graveyard on the other side of the island (yay stability on land). Then in the afternoon we took our transect tape and quadrats out to a seagrass bed and measured seagrass vs algae vs other things in the ocean. We counted all the things under the crosshairs of the quadrat (the places where the strings intersect). I thought writing on the clipboard or staying still enough to count would be the hardest part, but actually the hardest part was getting our transect tape to stay in place in the sand.

Team Epiphytes in action! This is Pierce using the quadrat to count seagrass and algae cover, then giving hand signals to Michael who is writing down the data on waterproof paper. I’m taking the picture

After measuring the seagrass beds we got to swim out to a patch reef for a little bit (keep in mind it took us nearly 2 hours to do the measuring, now we’re voluntarily in the water longer to see these reefs). At the patch reef I saw my mollusc of the day: a Queen Conch (Stombus gigas). At least I think it was a Queen Conch based on shell size/shape. Usually you would also use shell color pattern to help identify the mollusc, but this guy’s shell was completely colonized by algae so I couldn’t see if it was the characteristic orange/pink.

One of may future “tag yourself” memes Brendan captured

Tomorrow we’re taking our quadrats to the next level: measuring a patch reef!


5/22/19 Ocean Blues


Unfortunately, today was not my favorite day…which was probably definitely not that bad, but disappointing because I was so excited for the reef. We spent pretty much all morning on a small boat getting here, which I got a little nauseous and a little sunburned on. Then in the afternoon we tried to snorkel, but we had a whole bunch of problems. My mask kept fogging up (probably because I’m still not very good at not breathing through my nose), I kept losing my buddies, and writing notes/taking pictures/general functioning were near-impossible tasks in the current. Also, we got ravaged by mosquitos while crossing the Mangroves of Death. I am sore and sad, but still optimistic about the next few days we have here on Glover’s Reef. A good night’s sleep and some nice weather tomorrow will hopefully make things better. Making quadrats after lectures tonight was fun, and I’m excited to use them on the reefs.

Also, we saw some molluscs! There were a whole bunch of little snails on sea fan. Based on their shell shape/pattern I think they might be a type of Cerith snail, but they were really small and my picture isn’t great. I’ll see if I can consult some field guides in the coming days to get a better ID.

Unidentified snails on a dead sea fan in the seagrass bed

I miss my reptiles, but luckily they’re not totally in the past. There’s a ton of Spiny-Tailed Iguanas, Common House Geckos, and Anoles roaming around Middle Caye.


5/13/19 We’re Leaving Tomorrow?!


I’ve just about finished the last pre-class assignment, so I suppose it’s as good a time as ever to write my first blog post. I definitely underestimated the amount of work that would go into making taxon cards and presentations and readings and quizzes. On one hand I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but on the other I feel wildly underprepared and that I should be reading a million papers this very moment to become some sort of expert (can one become an expert in under 24 hours???). Needless to say, I’m nervous about how prepared I am (or not prepared I am) academically…then there’s the bugs and sunburns and imminent physical exhaustion and nagging worry that I’ll be too busy worrying instead of having as much fun as I’m supposed to. That aside though, I expect to learn a lot and be very tired (in a good way) for two straight weeks. Generally, I hope to learn new field survey methods (like how to actually effectively use a quadrat) and conquer my fear of bugs. Cautiously optimistic.

In terms of the rainforest, I’m excited to go birding and to see representatives of my assigned taxon: the reptiles. I might actually burst with excitement if Dr. Solomon will let me hold a snake or a lizard or something (the safe-ish ones obviously, not like a fer-de-lance or coral snake or any other of the five venomous guys I highlighted in red every place I could on my pre-class assignments).

On the reef I’m really excited to see some healthy corals. Most of my experience with corals is with sad corals, be it while snorkeling back home in South Florida or in Dr. Correa’s lab at Rice. I also really hope we see some Caribbean Reef Squids doing weird things; from what I learned while studying them for my other assigned taxon (molluscs), they school, change colors, and sometimes jump right out of the water.

I guess now it’s time to repack my suitcase one last time (or let’s be honest, two or three more times) and maybe I’ll feel prepared enough…then adventure!


Shenanigans on Airplanes

Sadly, today was our last day. We set out from Middle Caye at 7am and stopped at two other Cayes on our way back to Belize City.

The first Caye we stopped at was Carrie Bow, which is a Smithsonian Institute research site. It’s a super small island near South Water Caye, and it’s beautiful. They gave us a tour and we got to talk to a crab researcher who has been working there almost since they opened in 1972.

The second Caye we stopped at was Twin Caye, which is a mangrove island split down the middle by a channel. We walked in the mangroves and I got to see the pores that the red mangroves use for getting oxygen. We also got to see the yellow leaves that the mangrove diverts salt to in order to save the rest of its leaves.

After walking in the mangroves we snorkeled through the channel. I sadly did not see any sea hares, but I did see some clams on the mangrove roots. I also saw the sponges that mangrove roots have a symbiosis with, a whole ton of baby fish (mangroves are fish nurseries), some magnificent feather duster worms, and a huge barracuda. The barracuda was hiding in the roots of a mangrove and I almost didn’t see it until I was basically right in its face. It flashed its teeth at me as I backed up.

After the Cayes we had our last meal in Belize at Calypso. They took a predictably long time, but it was still very tasty having fresh fish while looking out at the ocean it came from. Our plane ride was short and bittersweet, and although we had to sit on the tarmac for awhile, it seems like our curse of terrible transportation has been defeated.

I’m sad to be going, but I’m sure I’ll be back.

Tough Love

Our last day here on the reef has been a little sad for me. I will absolutely be coming back here at some point in my life, but leaving tomorrow is gonna be difficult for me.

We started the day by wandering around in the back reef and collecting biodiversity in a bucket so we could identify it. I identified a species of chiton (the fuzzy chiton) and some genus of snails (cerithium and trochus snails). We also found a donkey dung sea cucumber, some box jellies, some huge hermit crabs that were using queen conch shells, and a few mantis shrimp.

As we were collecting stuff I got stung by something on my elbow and it was hurting for the next couple hours. Eventually it calmed down, but I’m still not sure what stung me. Possibly some kind of jelly.

In the afternoon we dissected lion fish to look at their size and the contents of their stomachs. Then we made lion fish ceviche which we will be eating any minute now.

After the lion fish dissection, we boated over to south-west caye and had a few drinks and watched the sun set. This place is so beautiful that it’s impossible to describe in pictures or words. I sat and watched the stars for awhile on the dock and thought about how amazing it would be to see this many stars every night. I’m gonna miss this when I got back to Houston. Despite the stings, bug bites, rashes, and layers of dirt and salt, I would love to spend huge quantities of my life here.

Rock the Boat

My stomach is strong, as are my legs, and I am now very confident in my ability to weather choppy waters on a small boat.

We explored the different areas of the reef today starting at the fore reef and the reef crest and ending the day at the back reef. The fore reef and the reef crest were so choppy. Part of the reason that the rest of the atoll isn’t as choppy is because the fore reef bares the brunt of the wave action coming from the ocean. Everything was moving back and forth constantly and it was really hard to even stay in one place while floating above the reef.

The fore reef was amazing, and we got the chance to see many rays, a nurse shark, and amazingly we saw both species of acropora (cervicornis and palmata) in the wild! Acropora were mostly wiped out in the Caribbean due to white band disease, so it was a unique experience being able to see them. We also got to see an eagle ray swim by underneath us, which made me super happy. They’re HUGE!

Eagle ray
Eagle ray
Acropora palmata
Acropora palmata

My camera died before we got to be on the back reef at the end of the day. They definitely aren’t as waterproof as they say they are. I opened it up and there was water in the battery!

At the back reef I saw so many queen conch (probably hundreds). I also got to see a milk conch, which is the only other conch I’ve gotten to see on this trip. While digging through the rubble on the back reef I saw a few species of cone snail living in some unoccupied shells of former molluscs.