The surveys and our 2011 field season are officially completed! We’ve left the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, and the volunteers have traveled back home, but there is still a lot to say. Now with better internet access, I think it would be a shame to stop the blog. As we have more time to reflect on this expedition, I know there will be more for us to share. Scientific results aside, we learned a lot on this trip, and I think it is important to continue the conversation with a broader audience.
So, for our first post-expedition post, we’re going to recognize one of our veteran volunteers, Andy Mclean, who shall now be know as the conch whisperer.
Part of our reproductive study of queen conch this year involved determining whether the animal was male or female. This is very difficult to do without sacrificing the animal, because conchs are very shy. They have that big, hard shell to protect their soft bodies, and they use it whenever they sense danger. If disturbed, a conch may retract its entire body back into the shell and stay there until it is sure that the threat has passed.
The best way to find out if a conch is a girl or a boy is to look for the presence or absence of the male’s reproductive organ, “the verge”. The verge is easy to spot if the conch is out of its shell, though it is very rare (but possible) to catch a conch extending its body far enough out of its shell.
Andy became our expert at using non-invasive, non-lethal techniques to determine the sex of a conch. He was patient. He was non-threatening. He knew just where to look when a conch decided to emerge, and make a “run” for it. (Conchs are very, very slow, so it is really more like a “crawl for it”.) As Peyton put it, “Andy’s got the urge to see the verge emerge.”
We are not sure why this talent would be useful in any other setting, but perhaps you will see Andy featured in his own T.V. show one day…