Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

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!

Cute Crustacean

Recently spent a relaxing day at my favorite spot in nearby Fort De Soto Park. As on my previous visits, I encountered something new and interesting to learn about.

This time the critter introduced itself by scuttling over my toes while I was wading in the bay. While the Longnose Spider Crab (Libinia dubia) may not win any beauty contests, it is perfectly camouflaged for the silty seagrass beds it lives in.

According to my bit of research, they are known to attach pieces of vegetation to further enhance their disguise. Pretty crafty little crabs!

The wildest tidbit about this species is that they have been found happily residing inside Cannonball Jellies. The hows and whys are still not fully understood but it would be a safe place to grow up and the food is free. Not sure how the Cannonball benefits, other than maybe bragging rights, “Hey, guys, look at me. I’ve got a crab in my head!”

Not as Pretty as It Looks

Tropical Milkweed (Asclepius curassavica)

I snapped this photo last month in a nature preserve. The showy bloom caught my eye and I was pretty certain it was a milkweed. Since I’m looking to add some milkweed to my front yard I thought this might be a contender.

Sadly, a bit of online research proved me wrong. It is a milkweed but not a native one. Tropical Milkweed is a year-round bloomer, originally from Mexico.

It is quite popular with caterpillars but unfortunately, also a favorable home for the parasite, Ophryocystsis elektrosirrha. Many monarch butterflies already play host to the parasite and transmit them when laying their eggs.

The difference is that native species of milkweed die back during cooler weather, thereby reducing or eliminating the number of Oe on the plant. Tropical Milkweed does not, so when the hungry caterpillars emerge and start devouring the plant they ingest extra Oe. Most species can successfully tolerate some parasites but when the balance tips it becomes a problem.

This bright specimen will not be added to my pollinator garden but thankfully, there are 21 native species for me to choose from.

Good Fella

Recently shared the trail with this Eastern Ratsnake (Panterophis alleghaniensis). As the common name implies this species feeds on small rodents (as well as lizards and occasionally, bird eggs). Not only is it handsome but it is a beneficial serpent to have around.

Though they are non-venomous these snakes will strike if harassed. Thankfully, their first line of defense is to remain still. A behavior that allowed me an opportunity to take its portrait (with a zoom lens from a safe distance away).

Slither on, my good man, slither on.

Pattern Recognition

When out roaming nature this time of year I’m on high alert – because it’s alligator mating season. The males are on the move searching for females and as such they are a bit more rambunctious (or aggressive, depending on your point of view).

It’s funny how quickly this pattern became ingrained in my head as a warning. I took an immediate step back in both instances, though a second later I realized it wasn’t necessary for the latter.

I am not overly afraid of them but I also don’t want to become a statistic. Since 1948, there have only been 26 recorded cases of human death by alligator in Florida. Considering the species now numbers over 1.3 million in the state, that’s a tiny fraction.

Adorable Marsupial

Virginia Opossum, Largo, Florida April 2021

I stopped by the nursery after work today to pick up a few native plants for my yard. As I wandered the backlot I met this fuzzy Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana).

I know they have hairless, rat-like tails but I still find them rather cute. They are especially good to have around considering all the ticks and other pests that they choose to dine on.

This one seemed a bit sleepy, so after I snapped a few shots I slowly backed away and gave it some room to relax.