Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Expertly Entitled

This little crab caught my eye as it swam rapidly past me in the gulf yesterday. Since most of the crabs I’m familiar with tend to walk sideways on land (or the seafloor), my curiosity was piqued.

I used a nearby cluster of floating leaves to gently scoop up the crab and carried it to shore for a quick photo op. The crab didn’t seem all that perturbed by the detour, it occupied its time by chowing down on algae scraped from the leaves.

I’m glad I went to the effort because it was a rather handsome specimen – just look at that opalescent purple! Though I didn’t uncover a wealth of information about the species I was at least able to identify it as a male, Iridescent Swimming Crab (Portunus gibbesii). A very descriptive moniker!

And yes, he was carefully returned to the water afterwards.

Natural Imitation

While we’re still talking about Pen Shells (Atrina rigida), a friend pointed out that this one’s dark spot resembles the tail spot on Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus).

Looks to me like the mollusk had encountered a grain of sand and dealt with the irritating intruder by encapsulating it (essentially forming a small pearl). Nature is endlessly interesting!

Smooth and Shiny

Found this sizable, deceased insect on my back porch a couple weeks ago (it measured at least an inch long). After a bit of searching I was able to identify it as a female Smooth Ox Beetle (Strategus antaeus) – the males of this species sport long horns as do other beetles in that family. It is closely related to the Rhinoceros Beetle I found last year about this time.

I wasn’t able to learn much more about the species, except that the ones found here in Florida tend to grow larger and sport darker colors compared to those living in northern climates. Presumably something to do with the 361 days of sunshine we have down here in this part of Florida?

Danger Cone

I stumbled across this interesting specimen while strolling around the estate of John Ringling in Sarasota earlier this week (more about the estate soon). Fascinated by the twisted symmetry, I thought it was part of an unraveled pinecone but couldn’t spot the source tree.

Thankfully, Jesse the head landscaper was passing by and he pointed out the tree (even better, he gave me permission to keep the segment). The tree was roped off to protect visitors from the falling cones – larger than coconuts, the cones weigh anywhere from 20-40 pounds.

Araucaria bidwillii, commonly known as the Bunya Pine, is not a true pine at all, instead it is one of the last surviving species of the family Araucariaceae (all but one of which reside in the Southern Hemisphere). This particular species is found in Queensland, Australia and, like most native things down under, it has the ability to kill you.

Which reminds me of an excerpt from Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country”:

[Australia] is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish – are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. … If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.

Not only are the falling cones dangerous but you do not want to be near one when the spiked branches start whipping in the wind. On the other hand, the cones do contain large chunks of edible nutmeat, said to resemble the flavor of chestnuts.

Tiny Telson

Juvenile Horseshoe Crab, Fort De Soto Park, Florida June 2021

While I’ve encountered the remains and molts of adult Atlantic Horseshoe Crabs before this was my first meeting with the young of the species. It was so perfectly camouflaged that I only noticed it when it bulldozed through the sand in an effort to avoid getting stepped on.

I couldn’t resist spending a few minutes with this little one before releasing it on its merry way. While formidable in appearance even at this age, the tail (or telson), is mainly used for steering.

Pretty, Pernicious

The Water Hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes) originated in the Amazon Basin but has since been introduced around the world, for better or worse.

While beautiful (and in some cases, useful) this species has amazing regenerating super powers: not only is it one of the fastest growing plants on the planet (up to 16 feet in a day), it can also spread by stolons as well as by seed. All of which make control or eradication near impossible.

This rapid reproduction means the species can quickly cover a body of water, disrupting an entire ecosystem. On the plus side, they excel at removing heavy metals from waterways which can be helpful in a water treatment system. The stems are fibrous and can be woven into a multitude of useful items.

Looks like Floridians better start learning to weave!