Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Crab and Pun-ishment

As a recovering marine biologist, I have a lot of repressed memories of field work in coastal marshes. Writing about Assateague Island brought back forgotten memories of the joys of sampling. My research animal was the blue crab, fondly known as Callinectes sapidus. Suffering from the hubris that comes with being young and a graduate student, I was determined that my research would be statistically sound. This translated into needing LOTS of crabs for my experiments, all of which had to be males (don’t ask) of a certain size. So, I spent a lot of time baiting and hauling crab traps.

For the uninitiated, crab traps are large wire contraptions with openings that crabs swim into and then usually can’t figure out how to get out of. The standard bate was chicken necks bought at the local Piggly Wiggly store. The older and smellier the chicken necks, the better the crabs liked them. The idea was to bait the traps, throw them off the dock into the tidal creek and leave them until the next day, when hopefully the trap would be full of crabs of just the right sex and size. Crabs that passed the test were packed into Styrofoam coolers with Spanish moss, and taken back to the lab where I did unspeakable things to them.

One cold winter morning, I was in pursuit of the last batch of crabs for the season. I baited a trap and hurled it off the dock into the water, only to watch the rope go sailing past me. Yes, I had forgotten to tie the trap to the dock. You know how sometimes your brain tells your body to do something and your body won’t listen? Well, I stood there for quite a few minutes. I KNEW I had to go in after that rope, but I couldn’t make myself jump into icy water. Of course, I did go in after it. Moments like these separate the sheep from the goats. Baaa. I guess I’ll never make cover girl for Field and Stream.

You would think that my revenge came afterwards in the lab. Actually, though, after working with blue crabs for awhile, I came to really respect them. They are strong and scrappy, can survive in fresh water or salt water, and can really run! Sometimes one would get away from me, and as I chased it all around the wet lab, I wondered which of us was a better survivor. So, even though I stuck needles into large (statistically valid!) numbers of crabs, I never could bring myself to eat the varmints when the experiments were over. I gave them away to fellow starving graduate students with fewer scruples.

Biological Puns (thanks to Fred):

  • Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam!"
  • A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

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