Things Are Not Always as They Appear

Met this Eastern Glass LizardĀ (Ophisaurus ventralis) in my backyard a couple days ago. At first glance I presumed it was a small snake, thankfully it let me take a photo before moving under my wood pile. A bit of research and I was surprised to learn this was actually one of the two legless lizard species found here in Florida.

The vertical white bars behind the head differentiate this one from the Slender Glass Lizard. The glass part of the name comes from their ability to break or shatter their tail as needed.

Unlike snakes, legless lizards have moveable eye lids and external ear openings but they lack flexible jaws (which limits the size of their prey). While they can reach lengths up to 42″ this one was relatively small (about 15″) so it probably eats mostly insects. A welcome addition to my yard for sure!

Tiny Two-fer

I discovered this petite, maroon beauty growing along the canal across the street from my house yesterday. The aptly-named Cow Pea (aka Phasey Bean Macroptilium lathyroides) is a high-protein legume commonly used as a forage crop for cattle (added benefit for the farmer, it is also a nitrogen fixer which helps replenish depleted soil).

Native to South and Central America, Cow Pea was introduced to Florida for agricultural use but in 2013 it earned a spot on the state’s invasive species list. This adaptable little plant not only self-pollinates but it can tolerate wet locations, sandy or clay-filled soil as well as salty areas. Another key to its success? Two pounds of Cow Peas contains roughly 119,000 seeds – that’s a lot of potential for spreading!

On the plus side, it is favored by local pollinators, including butterflies which some think the flower resembles.

A Different View

Looking North to Downtown St. Petersburg, FL September 2021

My explorations yesterday led me to Lassing Park in the Old Southeast part of St. Petersburg. This wide swath of green space borders Tampa Bay and serves as a buffer for storm events when tides rise.

While all the hustle and bustle and new high-rise condos are happening downtown, Old Southeast is a quiet, older area with a funky vibe. Established in the 1950s this neighborhood flies under the radar yet the views can’t beat.

Colorful City

I’ve had this mural on my “Things to Do and See” list for months and today I finally took the time to capture it. I love the vibrant paint but be sure to look closely at each of the letters – they contain iconic images from this area (red brick roads, oranges, craft beer, sea turtle, blue water, palm tree on the beach).

St. Petersburg hosts the SHINE Mural Festival every October and since 2015 over 100 murals have been added to the cityscape. Last December I shared a photo of one of the cool murals from the 2020 festival. I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s additions!

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!

Art or Nature?

Last weekend, after Hurricane Ida swooped by, I found one of the most complete Pen Shells (Atrina rigida) I have yet come across here along the Gulf Coast. Since it was such a nice specimen I brought it home.

I set it on my kitchen windowsill, my preferred location for recent finds that I want to spend more time examining later. In the morning light I noticed that the shell rather matched my accent tile – the interior nacre had a similar iridescent sheen and color.

As Dante Alighieri said, “Art imitates nature as well as it can…”