Urchin Incarceration

August 13, 2019

Carmel, California


A prickly kind of science.


Beneath the surface of Carmel Bay, a horde of purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) swarms the outer walls of a small underwater cage. The prisoners behind bars? A red urchin (Mesocentrotus franciscanus) and brown turban snail (Tegula brunnea), serving time for science.


The invertebrates under house arrest are part of a project run by Emily Donham, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student researching the growth of kelp forest critters in variable environments. The temporary caging allows the urchins and snails to be studied in situ as a control against laboratory conditions.


Despite the undersea incarceration, there's no need to feel bad for them - the prison food is good. So good in fact, within mere minutes of imprisonment their purple friends tried to break in to steal a bite of caged kelp for themselves. It's an urchin-eat-urchin world out there.


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