Parasite Party


Few people would let out an ecstatic cheer upon finding a mussel full of worms. So you can just leave that very special role to me.

I ended my previous post with a – dun dun dunnn – major cliffhanger. My last months on the island of Texel (along the coast of Holland) were mostly spent running around trying to gather my last bits of data. Two months before, I had exposed mussels to parasite larvae (of the invasive species Mytilicola orientalis), intending to study the parasite’s effects.

I am extremely focused (ahem... See what I did there?)

The last filtration measurements were a relief to complete, but I still had to measure, weigh, dissect, dry, and re-weigh each and every mussel in my experiment – not a small task. And I wasn’t even sure if the infection had worked! Luckily for me, I had tons of help from my advisor and lab group.

Now for the prognosis. Drumroll please …. It worked!! There were celebratory whoops coming from my lab the day I found parasites in my mussels. “Poor mussels!” you say, and I suppose you’re right. But this is important: this parasite is invasive to this area, it could have unforeseen consequences, and without this experiment we cannot determine the impact. The next step for me is to do the statistical analysis.

Parasites I found inside a mussel’s intestine, proving that the process of infecting the mussels worked!
Next up: what was the parasite’s effect?

Celebrating the parasite success in lab with a flask. You've got to live a little.

While summer on Texel was absolutely beautiful, winter is unambiguously less so. (The upside is that the short days and dreary weather could not tempt me to play hooky when I had so much to get done.) Weekend activities typically involved staying indoors as much as possible, but two outings did leave a lasting impression.

The quaint fishing town of Oudeschild has an charming museum that houses an immense collection of flotsam and jetsam gathered over the years from the Texel shore. Perusing these curiosities inspires questions about their origins, at first. But the exhibit delivered another message to my conservation-primed mind: all of these items are the waste that we, as a society, have discarded into the environment.

At this museum you can browse through all the bizarre (and bizarrely mundane)
items that have washed ashore over the years.

One particularly dramatic storm really drove this lesson home. After the skies cleared, I went out for a stroll on the beach. The storm had washed up all sorts of debris and the high tide line was littered with everything from oil bins to rubber gloves to hand sanitizer bottles.

The North Sea coast after a storm, littered with manmade trash.

What we use and dump frequently winds up in the sea. Most of it will not find its way into a museum collection of oddities with mysterious backgrounds. Most of it is simply sinking away, out of sight out of mind – or worse, being consumed by marine life.

By the time of this posting, 2015 isn’t even that new anymore. I’ve left Texel, visited California, and am getting back into the swing of things back in my university town of Groningen. There’s still a lot ahead: getting my experiment results, taking classes, attending conferences (I’m glad Melissa broke the ice on that one) – not to mention my new year’s resolution to reduce my waste and my not-too-distant graduation. Phew. I’m ready.

During winter break I went for a snorkel in Laguna Beach and contemplated 2015, from my
resolution to reduce my waste, to plans to –
gulp (cue mouthful of saltwater) – graduate.

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