Diamondback Terrapin

One of the students who came to the marsh today found a baby diamondback terrapin. The excitement among the students was quickly contagious.   Some of them had never held a turtle or turtle species before. The baby terrapin was quick to try and get away but everyone held on.

It was tucked in the peat along with the ribbed mussels, fiddler crab burrows, melampus snails, and spartina grass.  We put it back in the water after photos were taken.  The water is the safest place for it as they are easy pickings for seagulls and other birds looking for a quick snack.  We hope it makes it to maturity and adulthood.

Diamondback terrapins can only live in the brackish, mixture of salt and fresh water, that is found in a salt or tidal marsh.  The females make long journeys to lay their eggs.

The marsh where I docent the tours for local school-aged children and their parents and guardians is about 1/3 left of the original size that it once was.  Most of the marsh was taken for a nearby small airport.  The airport has it’s own politics involved.

Most people don’t realize that the females are the larger species of terrapins because they need the larger body to hold their eggs.  They breed with males near the airport and then must undertake a treacherous journey across to very busy roads and what is left of the marsh to lay their eggs in the sandy barrier beach that is next to the marsh.

Many are killed trying to cross one of the roads.  I found a smashed female with her eggs last year on one of them.  If the female makes it across, her eggs and the newborn hatchlings can be eaten by any number of predators including deer, fixes, birds and raccoons while incubating in the nest. Or they bake in the hot sun and pavement.

Their shells need to stay constantly moist.

If you see one, their best bet is to get into the water as quickly as possible.  They are great swimmers and swim long distances.

 

CaCO3

CaCo3 + chitin help make up the horseshoe crab’s shell.

(See earlier post for information on chitin.)

People complain that it is tough and hard if they step on one.  These two elements are the reason why.

One question I always ask the students who come is: what are your bones made out of? The sad fact is that the majority do not know.  They  know about the TV commercials telling them to drink milk for strong bones but they don’t know WHAT makes their bones strong.

Calcium is the link between all living creatures that have bones and shells.  Calcium is the fifth most abundant element on earth and has many variations (I’m not getting into more than basic chemistry here).  One of the variations that link us to the horseshoe crabs and all of the other shelled animals like oysters and lobsters is CaCO3, or calcium carbonate.

Calcium carbonate is a calcium compound.  We use it all the time and use products that contain it all the time like toothpaste, vitamins, almond milk, as a calcium supplement, and when we eat dark green vegetables like kale.

Calcium carbonate may have the ability to neutralize acid rain in river water and river ecosystems even though it is not soluble, or dissolves, in water.

CaCO3 is the reason we have fossils of horseshoe crabs going back 450 million years.  It is also the reason their shells are so strong and tough.  It is their home, their refuge, their protection.  CaCO3 is the reason they can travel hundreds of miles through the water and then make it to the shores to lay their eggs.

Calcium carbonate is the reason we get to see them now.

 

Chitin

One component of the horseshoe crab’s shell is chitin (pronounced ki-tin).  Another is calcium carbonate (more on that later).

Chitin is all around us and is related to keratin which we as humans have in our hair and nails.  Our hair and nails shed and grow and crack thanks to keratin.  And thanks to chitin, the exoskeleton shells of horseshoe crabs molt (break off and regenerate) as they grow from infancy to adulthood.  The exoskeletons also protect the horseshoe crabs in three major ways: defense from being eaten, protection of their inner organs, and protection from dehydration.

Chitin is also related to glucose (sugar).

Exoskeletons are outer shells and we humans have endoskeletons, our bones are inside.

Exoskeletons are present throughout nature.  Think of all the animals you know and how many have exoskeletons.  How many can you think of and how many can you name?  (Some may surprise you.)

The more one learns about chitin, the more fascinating it is.  Besides helping test the cleanliness of medical equipment (see earlier post “Blue Bloods”), chitin is used in surgical thread that decomposes as the wound heals, whipped dessert toppings, it may help to reduce and help cure certain illnesses, it helps clean the water supply, is used as a fertilizer, and is used in paper.  There are many other uses in the medical, food industry, and biotechnology fields.

Basically without chitin, we wouldn’t have a lot of the materials and products we do now.

A sad side note: many horseshoe crabs are killed by fisherman as an easy source of bait and also killed by other people and used as a source of fertilizer.  There are alternatives to this, including composting food scraps and alternatives have been developed in the fishing industry to catch fish the fishermen use horseshoe crab bait for.

One of my first experiences seeing and teaching about this was finding horseshoe crab shells scattered in the local marsh.  They were all females, females are preferred, and all of them had had their insides scooped out by hand.  It was obvious because all of the insides were gone unlike with the birds the insides are pecked out.

It takes a a decade for horseshoe crabs to mature and sad they were killed for momentary pleasure.

They may be another animal that holds the key for a cure for a disease like cancer.

Vice Away

Spoiler: Without some kind of vice……..

The hardest part about English is that one word may have several different meanings in different parts of speech.  I was working with clients today and going over prepositions (are you falling asleep yet?) and they asked about the word “away”.  Away is not a preposition.  It is mainly an adverb but can also be a noun.

Okay, on to the word “vice”.

In English we have Vice President, viceroy, vice.  Vice comes from Latin and is one of those words that didn’t change over between the languages.

Viceroy is a ruler.

Vice President is second in command.

A quick search also showed that “vice” can mean a substitute for another but is not a common usage.  But you never know….

Most people are familiar with vice in regards to criminals.  For example, the show “Miami Vice” and most police departments have a narcotics and vice division.  Vice is what society deems illegal.

But everyone has their vices, whether it is chocolate or gambling.

Without some kind of vice, we are not human.  Something to ponder.

Take a Hike

Whenever I teach English idioms, this can be one of the tougher idioms to walk through, no pun intended.

What does “hike” mean to you?  A hike can be a long walk, a long period of travel, or with regards to money, money and prices can hike, they can go up.

On the base level, we know to take a hike means to take a nice walk, a tough, challenging walk in nature.

However, the idiom goes to another level.  When we tell someone to take a hike, or someone else tells us to take a hike, it means to leave in a negative way.  Leave, good-bye.

Hopefully that hike will be a better to a better place.

Review: Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach

This is an awesome book.  Elise Broach covers the topic of Shakespeare and the controversy surrounding the question of, who is Shakespeare? with great articulation.  This book is great for ages seven (7) and up.

I went through this on audio, read by Jennifer Ikeda, who does a superb job with the narration and the different characters.

I listened to this with family members.  One who always likes to ask when going through a book, who is the bad guy?  This book opened the opportunity to explain about protagonist and antagonist and that the “bad guy” may not always be clear or there may not be a bad guy per se.

This book also helped to introduce Bob Dylan and some of the Bard’s plays.

What is Shakespeare’s secret?  You have to read it to find out.

Crossroads

I’m sitting here and don’t feel like the usual blah-blah.

This word, this theme, has been on my plate a lot recently.  One truth I’ve realized is that life is always a crossroads.  You cross roads everyday.  You cross paths, roads, with people either for a short time or a long time.  No matter what experience you have, it usually involves at least one other human being.

A professor of mine once said that even if you become a hermit, you still need human contact in some form: you can’t provide everything for yourself.  He was complaining about the over-commercialization of Christmas and even if you are a hermit, tucked in some cave in some obscure mountain region, you can never hide.

And the more I live, the more I agree.

People have been given the image of Robert Frost with roads not taken.  True.  Yet maybe the path isn’t the one for you now or you want another path that isn’t there right now.  It has to be found in its own time.

Other people sometimes change your path for good or bad.  Yet is it ever truly your path? No matter what you do, it involves other people.

You bring people, willingly or unwillingly, into your crossroads.  People do the same with you.

Some people you wish to never see or hear from or hear about again and still you do.  You have to learn to smile in the storm and just keep living.  Cry if you need to but keep living.

Keep living.  Keep living.  Keep living. Keep living.  Keep living.

Find those crossroads.  They are always there.  Keep living.