Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Don't Pet the Sea Life: It might follow you home or worse.

When snorkeling, I try to follow the rule "touch nothing."  It simplifies my life, because I don't have to remember which things are dangerous and which are not.  I can simply enjoy myself, and the sea life appreciates it, too.


OK, I admit I break my own rules, but I knew this was a harmless cowry (also spelled cowrie);
and after taking its picture, it went back to the tidal pool where I found it.

Bill doesn't always follow the do-not-touch rule.  Most notably was the time we were walking on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico.  Bill handed a large shell to his young son to hold up to his ear and listen to the sea.  Only after Eric handed the shell to me and I tried to listen, did we discover it had a large hermit crab residing inside.  I envisioned my son wearing living hermit-crab earrings.  Bill laughed at his mistake, and it cost him.  We took two crabs home in a plastic box with moist towels, and I bought a large saltwater aquarium and all the expensive supplies that entails.  The crabs were fun and educational.  We purchased a collection of larger shells, so that they would have a "house" to move into as they grew and molted.  We kept the hermit crabs for two years and then made a 400-mile trip back to the coast to return them to the ocean.  The aquarium tank later went on to house an iguana, then baby chicks.  I'm sure Bill wishes he'd never picked up that crab!    

The typical hermit crabs one finds on the beach are not like the land crabs people purchase as pets.  The aquatic crabs need a saltwater aquarium.  Instead they are hardy saltwater aquarium pet that you can take out of the water and hold.  A few months after we set up our saltwater aquarium, we purchased a damsel fish.  It was quite different from the tropical fish I'd enjoyed in the past, because it spent almost all the time hiding.  I did some reading and found that I should have purchased a captive-bred fish.  I found a place that had farm-raised fish and purchase another damsel fish.  What a difference, this bold fish had always been around people, and it made a much better aquarium guest.  The main reason not to purchase wild-caught saltwater reef fish (about 90% of what is sold) is that the aquarium trade is destroying the reef.  People take the coral that the animals depend upon, and they take the fish that clean the algae from the coral.  To make matters worse, most of these fish die in transit or soon afterwards.

Years later Bill handed me another beautiful shell while we were walking along the beach in Grand Cayman.  Eric was grown, but I still envisioned him as a young boy holding a hermit crab to his ear.  I asked Bill if he'd checked the shell for a crab.  He said, "Yes." Later his hand was stained a bright purple that lasted for days.  Searching on line to get more info on the purple snail dye (plicopurpura patula) lead me on a quest where I read about another snail for the first time:  The lovely yet poisonous cone snail.  Some have enough toxins to easily kill an adult.  Before that, I never would have imagined that picking up an occupied shell could be deadly.  (Check out cone snail on wikipedia).

Yep, best not to touch!