Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A homecoming of sorts

The last few weeks I've been in ecstasy... I'm at Friday Harbor Laboratories (part of the University of Washington) on San Juan Island, not too far from my old stomping grounds in Victoria. I'm taking a course, but the course is basically all about deep and abiding love for all things spineless (sorry boyfriend and family and friends -- you have all taken a back seat to adorable invertebrate babies).

The course is officially called "Comparative Invertebrate Embryology", but deep down, it's just about raising as many cute invertebrate babies as you can, and drawing pictures of them. Sometimes taking photographs. This involves starting with the basic ingredients of eggs + sperm. Which are obtained by a variety of entertaining and somewhat icky methods. Sometimes it's easy: turn animal upside down and warm slightly. Spawning! Yes, I am scaring animals into thinking that they are going to die, and that it is their last chance to reproduce. Sometimes it's more difficult: inject substances into the animal that tell them to spawn. Usually a hormone or something that changes their neural chemistry enough to trick them into spawning. Sometimes it involves vivisection and smooshing gonads through a seive. Less pretty, but often effective. Sometimes nothing works. The tricky part after that is to keep your babies alive long enough for them to grow into sickeningly cute juveniles. That can be difficult, and more so now that we have about a billion species in lab to look at.

Today I spawned not one, but two different species of mollusc, and as a result watched not one, but two different kinds of cleavage*. It was fantastic. I have pictures, but I'm too lazy to put them here. Eventually I will get some of them onto my flickr site, so if you're interested in cleavage(s), keep an eye out.

Oh yeah, I also went to the best wedding ever thanks to my best friend ever. So it's pretty much been an amazing time out here.

In a couple of short weeks I will say goodbye to the west coast (but I'll be back... I just don't know when), and hello rodeo. A week in AB visiting family and friends, followed by a cross country check up before I get on a plane to Panama again. I haven't thought too much about that part of the summer. It's only a few weeks, but it feels very far away.

* Yes, cleavage. I play with sperm and then watch cleavage all day long. Welcome to invertebrate embryology.

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