Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Long Beak Problems

I spent a decent part of a morning watching this American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) preen. While the feathers from the neck down looked well-cared for, the ones above appeared a little disheveled. Clearly, there are a few disadvantages to having such an extended mandible!

I read a study from Florida that determined an adult ibis spends well over half the day roosting during nesting season. The birds occupied a good portion of that time with their personal hygiene.

I was surprised to learn that, though they nest in large colonies, they do not practice allopreening (except during courtship). I had presumed they would help each other reach their inaccessible areas but apparently, they just go around half-bathed.

 

Doodlebug Compound

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Antlion Pits, Little Manatee River State Park, Florida July 2020

Antlion larvae prefer to excavate their inverted cone traps in soft sand under trees where ants and other insects might traipse. This must’ve been an ideal spot, I’ve not seen this density in one location before – it was a plethora of pits!

There are over 2,000 species of antlions found mainly in warm regions around the world. They are classified in the family Myrmeleontidae which stems from two Greek words; ant (myrmex) and lion (leon). As for the common name, Doodlebug, that derived from the strange designs they create in the sand while searching for the perfect pit spot.

Depending on resources (or lack thereof) antlions can remain in the larval stage for up to three years. After pupating, they emerge as delicate, flying objects that resemble lacewings. They also undergo a lifestyle change, many of them subsisting on nectar and pollen for their brief adulthood (roughly a month).

There were antlions in the Sonoran Desert where I grew up and I spent many a summer day tickling the side of a trap with a blade of grass, trying to coax one into grabbing hold so that I could pull it out of the sand and examine it. I don’t find them visually appealing but I do admire their hunting prowess. As you can see in the video below, they have some mad skills!

Bittersweet Solace

This showy bush caught my eye a couple months back but the photos ended up buried in my archive until recently. As the shape of the leaves, flowers, and fruit all suggest, Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is in the same family as the tomato.

Native to Europe and Asia it has been in North America since the 1800s, probably brought over for its many medicinal purposes, including warding off witchcraft. Necklaces were woven from the branches and worn for protection from the “evil eye”. *

The first part of its binomial actually refers to this attribute, stemming from the Latin root word for solace. The second, describes the taste of the fruit which, while favored by birds, is mildly poisonous to humans.

*Now that I know this maybe I’ll bring some home. I’m not necessarily superstitious but with the way this year is going, it couldn’t hurt. At the very least, it might be pretty.

Searching for Shark Teeth

Took advantage of a lovely afternoon to zip down to Manasota Key near Venice, Florida. While my beach is wonderful, the sand down along this stretch of coast is famous for offering up fossilized shark teeth.

Venice is known as “The Shark Tooth Capital of the World” thanks to the erosion of the Peace River Formation. These loosely consolidated limestones and gravel beds formed 20 to 2.5 million years ago and are loaded with marine fossils. Since a single shark can produce over 25,000 teeth in its lifetime it is no surprise that there’s an abundance of these in the fossil record.

I was a woman on a mission; in all my beachcombing outings along the Pacific, Atlantic, and the Gulf I had never found a shark tooth. I was determined to end that unfortunate streak today. Spoiler alert: mission accomplished!

The beach was relatively empty but I encountered one nice lady who gladly showed me her treasures and offered some helpful tips. I have pretty good eyesight so I was prepared once I understood the key identifiers.

While some folks dig and sift, I opted to amble along the swash line looking for dark-colored objects (ranging from red to black) that were triangular-shaped and shiny.

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No Sifting Needed

After a few hours, I had a pocketful of permineralized dentitia and a some other fossils that are fragments of either whale or fish bones.

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Fossilized Shark Teeth

I didn’t stumble upon any real trophy pieces, most were badly eroded, but one still had serrated edges which is cool. What a wonderful way to spend a day!

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Fossilized Shark Tooth Showing Serrations

Pollinator Party

Spent part of a hot and humid day roaming the trails at Lake Chautauqua Park last week. No surprise, very few creatures were stirring; I only saw two other humans and no wildlife.

Unless you count pollinators; the bees, ants, and flies were very busy! Considering it is the height of summer they had a nice variety of flowers to choose from. As proof of their hard work, there were also lots of berries.

The least showy of the blooms was easily the most fragrant. It took me a moment of searching to find the source for the pleasant floral scent that hung over the trail. I ended up following the buzz of bees to an unimposing bush in the back of a thicket (and I am sad to admit, I still do not know the name of the shrub).

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Oh, Sh*t!

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Manatee Manure, Treasure Island, Florida July 2020

I occasionally glimpse Florida Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) in the shallows as I stroll along my beach. Even if I don’t get a good visual I know they are nearby since I often find their feces on the sand. Fun fact: their poop floats!

If you have ever been out on a nature walk with me, you know I find animal excrement fascinating. There’s a whole story packed into fecal material, just waiting to be “read”.

So, I was thrilled to find this video about Manatee dung. As a self-professed “scatologist” I think Betsy Stoner and I would get along really well!

Head Shot

It was incredibly hot and humid that afternoon, in other words, it was a typical summer day in Florida. I pulled into a convenience store to purchase a refreshing iced beverage and, strangely enough, parked next to a Sandhill Crane.

Smartly standing in the shade of a small tree, the bird had no interest in leaving so I was able to snap a few photos. In lieu of sweating, the crane was gular fluttering (like panting) in an effort to cool down.

A bit of research and I learned that this is actually a subspecies, known as the Florida Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis pratensis). If it had been during the winter I would not have been able to differentiate this crane from the migratory Greater Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis tabida).

Burrower

I spent a few moments with this Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Little Manatee River State Park last week. I felt fortunate to have that opportunity since this terrapin is considered threatened in Florida.

Consummate diggers, Gopher Tortoises are considered a keystone species as their extensive holes are often appropriated by others. Biologists have noted at least 360 other species (burrowing owls, mice, snakes, rabbits, frogs, etc) seeking shelter in their burrows.

Last note, of the five tortoises in North America, four of them live west of the Mississippi River.