Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

My, What Big Eyes You Have!

While relaxing in my hammock recently at Fort De Soto Park, I felt someone watching me. Turning carefully around, I encountered this intriguing-looking insect.

Despite the common name of Eastern Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus), the ovate white rings are not sensory organs. Instead, they are an example of a defensive mechanism designed to thwart predation.

At roughly two inches long this is not a tiny insect and those false eyes certainly make it appear larger. But that’s not all, as a click beetle it can also spring away quickly (which makes a loud clicking sound). I wish I had witnessed this action. Maybe next time!

It Flies! It Walks! It Croaks!

Sea Robin, Treasure Island, Florida June 2022

Meet the Sea Robin aka Gurnard (Prionotus carolinus), a bottom-dwelling fish. The first common name honors their wing-like pectoral fins. These special fins not only help them “fly’ through the water but the three modified fin-rays (visible in the photo above) help them “walk” along the sea floor. The second moniker mimics the croaking sound the fish makes during mating season (or when it is pulled from the water).

The three inch long fish in my photo is a juvenile while adults can reach about 17 inches. Long considered a trash fish or unwanted bycatch, this mild tasting, light, flaky fish is now gaining in popularity in the kitchen. Maybe someday I’ll get to try one.

Upside Down?

Went fishing at Robinson Preserve in Bradenton earlier this week. The fish weren’t playing but we were entertained by some interesting creatures, including this Upside-down Jellyfish (Cassiopea xamachana). It was my first encounter with this species of sea jelly and it was fascinating to watch it “swim”.

As best I can tell, this sea jelly was actually upside down as it pulsated by (or is that right side up). Unlike most sea jellies, this species lives life tentacles up, using their bell to secure them to the sea floor.

Yesterday, I posted my video of a juvenile Horseshoe Crab that swam by upside down, I’m sensing a trend here…

Little Swimmer

Robinson Preserve, Bradenton, Florida June 2022

This was the first time I’ve seen an Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) swimming and this little “saucepan” was cruising! This is not the normal way they swim. Not sure how but apparently, this one had been turned over. Or maybe he’s just a unique creature that likes doing things differently.

I do know that being upside down on land can be fatal, there’s even an outreach program in Delaware that asks people to flip them over (complete with a catchy theme song).

Four O’clocks

My very generous neighbor recently gave me a couple of these small bushes, Four O’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa). She’s lived in this neighborhood for 27 years and as a fellow plant geek, her garden is now out of control. In exchange for me doing some light yard work she sends me home with plants. Talk about a win-win!

During the heat of the day, the flowers close but as the common name suggests, in the late afternoon they burst open. And not only are they stunningly bright but the scent is amazing. Almost as fragrant as a gardenia. They are now my third favorite floral scent, after citrus and gardenia (sorry jasmine, you’ve dropped down to fourth).

The first part of the binomial is Latin for wonderful, which is really quite fitting. I wasn’t previously familiar with this plant but I’m so happy to have it in my yard!

Glory Be!

Last fall I collected a handful of seeds from a field of Cutleaf Morning Glory (Merremia dissecta) vines and planted them in my yard. So far, two have sprouted and the larger of them just bloomed.

Unlike their common name, these tend to flower in the middle of the day, adding a cheery pop during the heat. I’m hopeful that these groundcover vines will continue to spread along the outside of my fence. Especially since they are native and won’t require any attention from me.

Orange Dog

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly larva, St Petersburg, Florida May 2022

Discovered another welcome addition to my growing pollinator habitat this week. I was about to trim a branch off my Meyer Lemon tree but once I noticed this caterpillar (cleverly disguised as bird poop) I changed my mind. My little tree will remain lopsided until after my “orange dog” completes metamorphosis.

It will be worth the wait, the aptly-named Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest on our continent!

Birds on the Block

Stopped at a tiny pocket park before work this afternoon. While the neighborhood kids played on the swings I was surprised by some feathery friends: Great Egret in breeding plumage, juvenile Wood Stork, and a Muscovy Duck with two of her ducklings.

This is one of many urban park spaces that provide for both people and wildlife in the St. Petersburg area. Interestingly, at the beginning of the month, the Trust for Public Land released its 2022 report and St. Petersburg is ranked number 14 in the nation. Pretty impressive!

Side note: Did you catch that the birds represent the various stages of life? From young to teenager to mature adult.

Goober Pea*

I recently removed some elderly hedges that were at the end of their life expectancy. After cutting down the five foot bushes I spent a couple days chopping and digging up the roots. I smoothed out the soil and covered my new planting bed with mulch while trying to decide what should go there.

This week, I walked out my front door and was greeted with a couple pops of green. My first thought was that somehow I missed a few persistent roots. Upon closer inspection I discovered that I am now a peanut farmer.

I already know who the culprits are, my noisy local flock of Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata). I don’t know anything about growing peanuts but I’m about to find out.

I figure if it’s good enough for a couple of our former Presidents (Jefferson and Carter) then it’s good enough for me! If all goes well, in four months the jays should get a 4000% return on their investment.

*Brought from Africa during the slave trade these legumes were originally called goober peas (derived from nguba, a Congolese word).