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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

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  Archived Posts From: 2016


Boardwalk Confidential

Written on: August 18th, 2016 in Guest BlogNERRSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience visiting the St. Jones Reserve. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Boardwalk Confidential

Credit M.L. Christmas_Fiddler Crab Confidential (2)On a sizzling June day, on the sly, I hit the St. Jones Reserve’s boardwalk, in anticipation of seeing some action. Not wanting some action, no, just seeking to observe from a polite distance. I knew from prior experience that one needs to be there at just the right moment in order to get the furtive eyeful. My more-recent visits to the Reserve always seemed to coincide with when the tide was in — the estuary coyly clothed in tall grasses and high water.

This time, the tide was out.

Today, in the heat and humidity, I found the Reserve lolling about in the equivalent of a skimpy sundress: reveling in her exposed glory, her muddy banks ripening in the strong rays, and everything bathed in the scent not of sunscreen, but of the not-unpleasing odor of fermenting marsh-muck.

The timing was perfect! The desired crowds were arrayed along the boards underneath my feet, and the party was in full swing. But in attempting to mingle unobtrusively, again I found myself experiencing DNERR’s version of “The Wave”: fiddler crabs skittering, in a tiny, forward-rolling motion, into their respective burrows at my approach. They must have pretty good vision, I thought to myself. (Maggie Pletta, DNERR’s Education Coordinator, later informed me the fiddlers’ secret is not their eyes, but instead feelers/filaments on their arms that can sense movement. Who knew? do…now.)

More often than not, when peering over the rail, my gaze was met by the empty “eyes” of the burrow-openings, as if I were looking down into the top of a deep, estuarine salt(‑and-fresh-water) shaker. So I tried approaching the next batch of fiddler crabs more slowly, still thinking at that point that if it was the clomping, humanlike movement frightening them, perhaps a slower, gentler pace would make me less distinguishable from the marsh grasses. No go. Away they went!

Credit M.L. Christmas_Fiddler Crab Confidential (1)However, here and there, several macho fellows — arm hair and all — held their ground. I wanted to get a closer photo, but lowering my camera mud-ward, calling their bluffs, would surely have resulted only in better photos of the burrows, not of the crabs. So I split the difference, netting myself two grainy, fleeting photos as a result. The images’ gritty, almost black-and-white appearance makes them look like covert photos from some seamy, cinematic spy-thriller.

Doing some further reading once home, I learned the large-pincered jobbies are the males, and they display their availability to females by waving their large arm and trying to lure them into their respective love nests. They also use the arm-display to try to intimidate rivals or threats.

As to the latter, I could have flipped them a view of my recently purchased, lobster-shaped keychain from Maine. (Oh yeah? You call that a claw? Well, I see your one big claw and raise you two!)

And as for that mating thing, not only am I happily married, but also I am not “into” crustaceans in that way. Besides, I would never fit in that burrow.

Photos and text by M.L. Christmas

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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

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