This week at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology I have begun to develop my research project. I decided that I would study the larvae of parasitic barnacles. While traditionally people think of barnacles simply as those little sharp lumpy things that encrust the coastline the parasitic barnacles that I am studying live much more dynamic lives. Instead of sitting on a rock all day and filtering through water to feed the adults leave their hard exoskeletons and infects the bodies of their fellow crustacean from which they obtains all of there nutrients. While the two adult forms of these barnacles are strikingly different form one another,their larvae have remained relatively the same.
After learning what I could about the larvae of parasitic barnacles and the similarities they share with their non-parasitic kin I decided that I would focus on researching the unique characteristics that separate them. The research that I plan on conducting will help to give science a better understanding of the naupliar larval stages in these barnacles. The nauplii have several unique feature that have not been sufficiently studies. For example, I would like to know how many larval stages (instars) or molts my species has before it metamorphoses and begins seeking out a host. I also want to learn if there is any correlation between developmental stage and the volume of the their lipid deposits. Unlike most barnacle larvae of typical barnacles the larvae of the parasites do not feed. This means that all of their metabolic energy must be provided to them from their mother during development. Considering this, I have hypothesized that the volume of the lipid stores should decease as the larvae develop.
To begin studying this we collected some hermit crabs from mussel point and checked them for the parasites so that I could have newly hatched larvae to study back at OIMB. The field work, I must say it a lot of fun. We drove up the road to a secluded spot then hiked through the wood for several minutes before coming upon a bluff which we had to scale down to get to the point. Once down there I quickly learned why they call it mussel point. The entire surface of the rock is covered in a seas of mussels! Back at the lab, I patiently waited for the eggs to hatch over the course of several days. It took a lot longer than I had anticipated, to the point I was getting worried that they where never going to hatch, but at last they finally did! I couldn’t even tell you how excited I was so see that little tiny spec swimming around in the beaker! Once I had enough to work with, I put the larvae in individual containers and began to could their molts each day as they developed. Dr. Emlet also gave me a crash course in how to take amazing pictures of them using the microscopes we have here in the lab. I think that it’s really amazing being to photograph something thats nearly invisible to the naked eye in such detail. It’s a new skill that I am very happy to be learning. Like the nauplii I am hoping to develop quite a bit myself over the next few weeks.