Collecting Moon Snails in Maine!


I believe that everyone should visit the ocean with a marine biology professor at least once in their lifetime. Somehow, the ocean renders flora, fauna, and rock indistinguishable from one another. Sometimes, the animals look like plants or the rocks look like animals or the animals are actually plants. But a Marine Biology professor knows the difference.  Accompanying one to the sea is like bringing a dictionary, and several ocean guidebooks. But the marine biology professor is slightly more talkative and has a tendency to point out the cool things you didn’t even notice in the first place.

During our stay in Brunswick, Maine, Katie and I embarked on several animal collection trips. With us on these trips were Professor McAlister, his PhD sibling John, with whom we were working for a week, and John’s students, Matthew and Amanda. In our quest for moon snails, sea stars, and sand dollars, we encountered beaches both sandy and rocky, mud flats, tide pools, and giant docks.  The trips required us to visit the ocean shore at low tide, which, unfortunately for our sleep schedules, coincided with the sunrise.  We left Brunswick at 6am or earlier the three days we were collecting. Thankfully, Frosty’s Donuts in town opened at 4am which meant we could collect our sea creatures while caffeinated!

                         Katie and I (with Matthew and Amanda) in the water on the Moon Snail collection day

     Our collecting trips led us to find many interesting creatures. These included brittle stars, moon snails, sand dollars, and urchins. Professor McAlister pointed out small lobsters and tunicates under rocks in the tide pools. While we were walking around, He and John demonstrated the proper way to hold a crab without getting pinched (on the sides of the shell, behind the claws!) while naming native algae species.

                       Everyone looking for Moon Snails on the beach and in the water

Finding the moons snails was very difficult. They are about the size of a quarter and have a white foot, which doesn’t provide much contrast with the sand. They also look extremely similar to the other common snails that live in the area. Hermit crabs can inhabit the shells of deceased moon snails. This meant that the majority of the shells we saw were not the shells we wanted. However, after a couple hours of searching we found roughly 40 snails.

                             A Moon Snail with its white foot showing on the sand

Matthew and Amanda used the moon snails for one of their experiments at Bowdoin’s Costal Marine Studies Center. When we visited them at the lab they told us about the moon snails. We learned that one of the main predators of the moon snail is the sea star, which were kept several tanks away. When we put the sea stars by the snails, they rearranged their slimy coat so that it moved from inside their shell to outside their shell and fully covered themselves. This self-protection measure is very efficient because it prevents the tube feet on the underside of the sea stars from attaching to its shell. If we placed the snails in a tank with the sea stars they could don this slimy coat within a minute.

                                               The tube feet of a sea star, up close!

Our Maine trip held several more adventures which Katie and I are excited to share with you! Stay tuned for our next post which will take you with us while we hunt for Sand Dollars!

Over and out,

Sydney and Katie


Day One of Our Maine Trip

July 10, 2018:  Day One of Our Maine Trip

The first day of our 7-day Lab trip to Maine sent us to the marine biological facility called Shoals Marine Lab, located on Appledore Island. The Island is six miles off the coast of the mainland and is the largest of 9 islands which make up the Isle of Shoals. The entire Holy Cross Marine Organismal Biology Lab (MOB) was present for this beginning part of the journey, requiring us to take separate cars on the way to the 9:15am boat which would take us to the island. Katie drove Safa and I while we followed Professor McAlister and his son Colin in their own car on way there. The drive up was filled with random conversation, some beachy tunes, and waves from Colin from Professor McAlister’s car. The boat ride to the island was the perfect way to fully wake up. Nothing is as refreshing as salty, sea air blowing in your face.

When we got to the Island, we were greeted by some of Shoal’s faculty and staff that Safa and Prof.  McAlister knew from their past stays on the Island. We spent the morning traversing the island’s rocky coast. Along the walk, Prof. McAlister pointed out landmarks on the neighboring Isles of Shoals. He peppered the walk with interesting tidbits about the island’s history and told us about such thing as a fire that wiped out both a historic hotel and Cecelia Thaxter’s gardens, the foundations of which are still around. We bonded as a lab while finding sea glass, skipping rocks, and munching on June berries from wild plants on the side of the path. Prof. McAlister was especially fond of the June berries.


Figure 1: A rocky beach on Appledore Island                                                                     Figure 2: Prof. McAlister picking June berries along the path

In our free time after lunch, we spent some time exploring the Island, learning about research that was ongoing at shoals, and chatting with other Holy Cross students that were on the island. After dinner, Prof. McAlister gave a ‘Rock Talk’ — a lecture given by visiting researchers on Appledore Island. His talk detailed his past and ongoing research with slides explaining the research of the students in his lab; Safa, Katie, and I. The slides of his students’ research had pictures of us in the lab… and the shirt I was wearing in lab the day he took pictures was the shirt I happened to be wearing that night. That detail did not go unnoticed by the members of the room as all eyes turned to us when we were mentioned. It was embarrassing. However, it was very cool to have our research projects explained to a scientific audience that found it equally as interesting as we do!

That night after the talk we were invited to the Island Director’s house for a reception which featured chocolate cake and interesting conversation with some visiting professors. The rest of the night was spent trying to fall asleep to the sound of many, many, very loud seagulls (Fun fact: Appledore Island is a Seagull Colony site 😊).

Our day spent on Appledore Island was a great way to start off a week of marine science! Keep an eye out for our next post which will detail part of our trip and stay at Bowdoin College and our time at their Marine Research Facility!

Over and out,

Sydney and Katie

Figure 3: A picture of the Holy Cross Marine Organismal Biology Lab group (featuring our youngest, guest member) on a boat, leaving Appledore Island.


Hello Holy Cross Community!
This is Sydney Grosskopf ’20 and Katie Foley ’19 from Holy Cross’s Marine Organismal Biology Lab writing to tell you about our Summer Science Research trip to Maine! This trip is providing us the wonderful opportunity to share with you our experiences, findings, and fun stories from our weeklong trip off campus to do field Marine Science! To give you some background on our on-going summer research at Holy Cross, here is a quick summary of our projects.
Sydney: I am working on a series of food preference tests of various rocky intertidal algae for sea urchin larvae. It is accepted among the Marine Science community that urchin larvae consume phytoplankton, or single-celled micro algae, however a recent paper by Feehan et al. has showed that kelp detritus, or eroded bits of kelp, can serve as a competent food source for sea urchin larvae as well. This paper grabbed my interest and I was curious about the various algae and urchin species located in the Atlantic Ocean around MA. I have been spawning urchins and collecting common algae from the ocean this summer to run my experiments. This trip to Maine will allow me to collect Sand Dollars, so I can hopefully see if their larvae also consumes the common algae found in their rocky intertidal habitat, and more algae to continue my preference tests!
Katie: My work involves running biochemical assays on sea star eggs. The assays are tests that determine the average amount of lipid, carbohydrate, and protein constituents per egg. We’re comparing three different groups of sea stars– one cold water species, one warm water species, and the hybridized form of both species. By comparing the data from these three groups, we’re hoping to determine the evolutionary significance of different size classes of eggs and how egg size relates to energy content as a life history strategy.
In Maine, we will first be attending a lecture that our Lab advisor, Professor McAlister is giving at Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island, ME. Then we will be traveling to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME to work with scientists at their Schiller Costal Studies Center and to collect sea star eggs for Katie’s project, Sand Dollars for my project, and various algae for my project as well.
We hope that you will follow along with our travels and maybe learn a thing or two about Marine Biology along the way!