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Natural Perspectives: Invertebrate 'hunting' provides good biology lesson

August 10, 2011|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
(Courtesy Vic Leipzig )

Vic and I searched for marine invertebrates at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve last week. Accompanying us were 18 young men and women from the Orange County Conservation Corps. Our task was to collect a variety of marine invertebrates for docents at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy to take to a group of kindergarten classes later that morning.

Although it is a lot of fun to catch these critters, I should point out that collecting animals from the ecological reserve generally is not allowed. We were working under a permit issued to the Bolsa Chica Conservancy. The crabs, snails and other critters were removed from the reserve for only a short time and treated with special care. We put them into buckets of seawater, which were then put into ice chests with ice packs to keep them cool. After the animals had served their educational purpose, they were returned unharmed to the wetlands.

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A valuable by-product of the assignment was that Vic and I explained something about the biology of each invertebrate to the corps members as they collected them. So in addition to educating kindergartners, the marine critters also educated the corps members. In fact, the teachers at the John Muir Charter School that the corps members attend after work gave them two hours science credit for the morning's activity.

Vic and I arrived at the wetlands about 7 a.m. at low tide to set a crab trap. I baited it with a frozen squid. I keep a bag of squid in the freezer, because I never know when I might need one. I bought some squid at a bait shop a couple of years ago, spread them out on a cookie sheet and froze them. Once they were frozen, I put them into a bag in the freezer so it would be easy to take them out one at a time. But over time, they had become stuck together. I had to chisel one apart from the smelly block of squid with an ice pick. What a way to start the morning.

We tossed the baited crab trap into the water, tying a thick string from the trap to a secure post on land so it wouldn't float away on the tide. The trap has a narrow conical opening at the end of a funnel on both ends. The crabs are supposed to find their way into the trap to get the squid, but are then unable to find their way back out. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.

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