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Archive for April, 2010

Diggin’ Ducks on the Prairie

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Thanks in large part to this blog and to professional connections in the Sea Grant network, I had the amazing privilege of being a guest naturalist the April 3rd performance of the the nationally syndicated radio show A Prairie Home Companion. The show was broadcast live from the Paramount Theater in Seattle on April 3rd. I was referred as a potential guest for the show on Wednesday March 31, had a conversation with Garrison Keillor (host of Prairie Home Companion) on April Fools Day (the voice make and date prompted a double take) and on Saturday enjoyed a casual conversation about marine life in front of 4000 people and 4,000,000 listeners.

Jeff Adams and Geoduck with Nell Robinson of the Henriettas (second from left) and the Royal Academy of Radio Actors (others left to right) Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell. Photo: A kind person holding Jeff's camera

You can listen to the show (I was in the third segment 01:21:37 into the show), and see a picture of Garrison Keillor, Geoduck and me.

It was a fabulous feeling and an honor. I have to admit though… I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous. In the past, my musical alter-ego has been on stages big and small, singing everything from country to opera. This was different. I was going to be talking about something I loved, both personally and professionally, with a master of wit and improvisation… with no real preparation. Eek!

However, after watching everyone else in the show, my nerves eased and it felt natural once the time came to step up to the mic. Oddly enough, the curtain call felt even more comfortable, when I could join in a chorus of Johnny Cash’s I Still Miss Someone.

One-year-old Cisco Adams-Tres with common reaction to a geoduck. Photo: Jeff Adams

Orcas, octopuses and geoducks were the sea life we spoke most about on the show. Since a geoduck (Panopea generosa) was my companion on the show, I’ll give them a bit of attention here.

You can’t help but be immediately struck by the obscene enormity of its neck and its resemblance to something you might see in the pasture. Yet, there’s so much more to this Salish Sea icon.

This clam’s name originated from the Nisqually tribe in South Puget Sound as “gweduc”, meaning “dig deep”. As Europeans transcribed the name, they manged to go from gweduc to gooeyduck or goeduck to geoduck. Gee-o-duck? No matter how it’s written, Salish Sea residents still call them by their proper name, while those outside our region tend to be confounded by the matter.

The geoduck can be found from Kodiak, Alaska to Newport Bay, California, but it’s probably best known from the Salish Sea.  The geoduck wins the title of “world’s largest burrowing clam”, averaging over 2 pounds but sometimes weighing 10 pounds or more with necks over a yard in length. They are also among the oldest animals in the world, living in excess of 140 years

Geoduck siphon show. Fairly easily identified by the smooth, cream colored appearance of the openings. Photo: Jeff Adams

A geoduck’s long neck actually consists of two hose-like siphons. The incurrent siphon brings plankton and detritus rich water to the body, 3 or 4 feet down into the muck. The water passes across the gills which extract oxygen but also use mucus to glean food from the water before it makes the long journey through the excurrent siphon, back up out of the sediments.

Of course, you’d never know any of this from what you see on the beach. Only the tip of their siphons extends above the seafloor, though it may be several inches of the tip.

Digging a duck is a challenge since they’re so deep and so low in the intertidal. You have to race against the tide to dig deep before the tide overtakes your hole.

Geoduck siphon "show". The neck may sometimes be sticking several inches to a foot out of the sand at low tide. Photo: Jeff Adams

If you do manage to get one (from the beach or the market), you’re in for a treat. There’s a lot of meat to a geoduck, and amazingly enough, the meat is quite sweet. Tenderize it a bit, slice it up, role it and flour and toss it in a frying pan. Mmmmm. You can find several recipes and a everything else you could want to know about geoducks in Field Guide to the Geoduck by David Gordon, who is now Washington Sea Grant’s science writer.

You may also enjoy the lyrics and sheet music of Dig a Duck a Day. More recently, a Canadian band called the Bottomfeeders and a Seattle area Band called the Whateverly Brothers both have great geoduck songs. You can here the Bottomfeeders and Dig a Duck a Day on the fabulous duckumentary 3 Feet Under: Digging Deep for the Geoduck (trailer). So much great stuff about geoducks! Enjoy and may the force be with you if you hope to dig a duck a day. JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Ocean and Fishery Sciences, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Sea life on the back of my neck

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Here’s where I start to explore a broadened definition of “Sea” in Sea Life to include all things aquatic. Fresh and saltwater are one continuous body of H2O (water) molecules. However, tossing a bunch of salts in the mix makes for a major division between things that live on the salty side of the line and those that live on the fresh.

Forestfly (Nemouridae) with an Ensatina salamander. Photo: Jeff Adams

The community of visible critters in freshwater (streams, lakes, rivers, etc.) is dominated by aquatic insect larvae, but these juvenile insects are nearly absent in salty waters. There are some groups in which species have crossed over. Snails, clams, mussels, sand fleas, rolly pollies and crabs all have relative in fresh water. I’m sure I’ll touch on some of those over time, but first I wanted to get to the bug on the back of my neck.

A couple weeks ago, I swatted at something that was sending shivers down my back as it crawled across my neck. When I drew my hand away, the small, dark insect had decided my hand was an equally suitable crawling space. It was small and delicate, with long thin wings that laid flat on its back. When I finally blew it off outside, this forestfly (or little brown stonefly, Nemouridae) fluttered clumsily away from the relative safety of my hand to the dangers of the air.

Final molts (exuvia) of large predatory golden stonflies (Perlidae: Calineuria). Photo: Jeff Adams

Forestflies are a family of stoneflies (Plecoptera = Greek for braided [plekein] wings [pteryx]) and very primitive insects. Like dragonflies and several other insect groups, the larvae (or nymphs) look similar to the adult insects. Instead of having the pupa stage that a caterpillar uses to change into a butterfly, these nymphs just shed their skin one last time, extend their wings and fly. Flying is clumsy business for a stonefly though. You’ll most often find them hanging out on vegetation, relatively close to water. As a group, they are particularly sensitive to human activities in the watershed and effective indicators of stream health.

Three different forestfly nymphs. Photo: Jeff Adams

The forestflies and a few other small, vegetarian species of stonefly crawl from the water and sprout their wings  in the winter or early spring. Forestflies are particularly big fans of small streams and and are often the last of the stoneflies to remain in streams that have been impacted by human activities. They aren’t predatory like some of their larger stonefly cousins, but serve an important role helping break down leaves and other plant matter.

Forestfly (Visoka sp.) with gills on the underside of its head. Photo: Jeff Adams

Something I find pretty cool about the forestflies is that several species have gills on their neck and head. These gills aren’t like those of fish. They look more like little soft fingers but provide that important function of helping them get extract dissolved oxygen from water. Hard to imagine those gills don’t get in the way though. Because their metamorphosis is so simple, you can often spot nubs of gills on the underside of the adult’s head as well, even though they’re no longer needed.

So next time you want to squish an unseen creepy crawly, maybe try to take a closer look. Your friendly neighborhood stonefly may be paying you a visit during it’s short adult life. Hope you’re having a wonderful spring! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Ocean and Fishery Sciences, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


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