I had already worked on a project in the Childress lab when I was taking Behavioral Ecology in Spring of 2015 while juggling biochemistry, organic chemistry, and a time consuming microbiology Creative Inquiry. I was working with Thomas and two other students on PAV1 and how it affected social behaviors in the Caribbean spiny lobster only to find that lobsters from high disease areas are less active than lobsters from low disease areas. But even with these minimal results, I found that I liked being up on the fourth floor of Jordan handling the lobsters, I liked watching footage of the lobsters interacting, and I liked working with a team of people who all depended on one another.
This spring I was fortunate enough to gain a position as an undergraduate TA assistant and help with Behavioral lab set up and take down as well as doing animal care for the lab. The main job I was required to do every week were water changes on betta fish, guppies, cichlids, cray fish, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and my favorite, the spiny lobster. The spiny lobsters are my favorite; they are the crustacean equivalent to chipmunks and would get really startled if you came anywhere close to their antennae. For a sharp and pointy crustacean that had a tendency to freak out if you got too close, they’re actually kind of cute.
I never imagined I would love doing animal care so much; I never thought I would become so knowledgeable about the needs of each of the animals so quickly. I’ve since gotten attached to the animals and would feel a personal responsibility if one of them passed under my care. I remember when a lobster died. I went to do a water change and noticed that the water was kind of nasty looking and that the filter wasn’t running in that tank. I wrestled the filter out of the tank and cleaned it like I normally would and got it running again when it occurred to me that I should probably check if the lobster was alive. It wasn’t. I was angry at myself for not being more attentive and for not telling my lab mates to constantly check the filters when they feed the lobsters. Because of the personal responsibility I felt for the death of this one lobster, I became more vigilant and meticulous with my animal care. I don’t think I’ve lost a single lobster since.
Aside from animal death, the only mishaps in the lab came in the forms of filter malfunction (they just love to stop working 6 at a time as soon as you start doing water changes) and accidentally getting a mouthful of dirty lobster water; it’s a real delicacy and it’s just about as tasty as it sounds. Water also had a tendency to get EVERYWHERE due to a hose falling out of a tank, which I liked to blame on the animals. When in doubt, always blame the cray fish.
Even with some of the mishaps—the long water changes when a bunch of filters decided to stop working, or the long nights when Behavioral lab take-down required us to empty out tanks and put them away—I found myself growing attached to the animals and to the people in the lab; they’re the most dependable bunch out there. Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand when it’s needed and they’re all smart, funny, and unique. Every week is a new adventure. The great working environment and the great people I work with were a refreshing contrast to the lonely microbiology lab I previously worked in and was the perfect change of pace. My experience has inspired me to stay in the Fall and work with Ash on training the lobsters to be more social. I can’t wait!