Pretty Petiole

I viewed this colorful insect with a wary eye since red and black tend to be warning signs in nature. Turns out that Common Thread-waisted Wasps (Ammophila procera) are relatively harmless as the adults mainly feed on nectar. Vocab word of the day: petiole is the narrow waist in between the abdomen and thorax.

Unlike the male, the female has an ovipositor, which is used for egg-laying (and stinging, when necessary). She does all her parenting upfront: paralyzing a caterpillar, dragging it into a sandy burrow, inserting a single egg, and sealing the burrow, before flying away.

When the larva hatches, it consumes the (immobile but still alive) caterpillar from the inside out. Makes me glad I’m not a caterpillar!

Joule’s “Last Glimpse”

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Green Flash, Treasure Island, Florida – Photo by Robert McCoy

The first part of last month I finally saw my first green flash. As an avid sunset watcher I have been on the lookout for this optical phenomenon for years. So you can imagine how excited I was to actually see one. My only lament was that I didn’t get a photo of it.

Thankfully, my fellow jetty bum, Robert, caught a shot of it which he graciously agreed to let me share with you. Though there are different instances when these can be witnessed, all of them are the result of the refraction of light through the earth’s atmosphere (which acts like a prism).

The flattened oval in the photo above is known as an interior-mirage flash which occurs when the surface is warmer than the air above it (usually at sea level). In 1869, James Prescott Joules (a physicist) described it thusly; “at the moment of the departure of the sun below the horizon, the last glimpse is coloured bluish green.”

Black Beauty

This carpenter bee’s large size caught my attention as she* whizzed by my head on the way to a flower. If I was an entomologist, I would be able to tell you which of the two species of Xylocopa (that reside in Florida) it was, but it’s a bit tricky to discern the difference.

One would have to determine the distance between the eyes, the number of antenna segments, types of submarginal cells in wings, and abdomen and thorax color and pubescence. Fascinating details, I’m sure but I was too enthralled with her colorful, diaphanous wings and the way they resembled a stained glass window. Just stunning!

*I am fairly certain this was a female since the males tend to sport a bit of yellow on their thorax.

Bottoms Up!

Though the brunt of the storm was 300 miles away, Hurricane Laura churned up the water along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Scattered along my beach are brown clumps mixed with shells. Though they look like rocks, the brown lumps are actually soft and squishy tunicates.

Affectionately called Sea Squirts, tunicates are colonial bottom dwellers that attach to hard surfaces (including abandoned shells). The wave action also tossed up a bunch of sea urchins (and by now you should know how I feel about them).

We’ve received a sneak peek at life from the benthic level of the sublittoral zone. Since they were deposited above the normal high tideline we will get to enjoy the delightful aroma as they decay in the sand.

Tip-tail

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Spotted Sandpiper, Fort DeSoto Park, Mullet Key, Florida August 2020

I spent time with this Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) yesterday afternoon. It kept a wary eye on me as it forged along the shoreline for insects and small crustaceans. Contrary to the name, the juvenile of the species lacks spots and instead has brownish breasts with a plain, white belly.

The Ancient Greek basis for the binomial is very descriptive; aktites = coast-dweller, macula = spot. Though, in my opinion, the key identifying feature is the bird’s constant body-bobbing, whether walking or standing still. This behavior led to the appropriate moniker, tip-tail.

Coin Vine

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While technically considered a shrub, Coin Vine (Dalbergia ecastaphyllum), earned its common moniker from the shape of its flat, round seed pods and its long, lanky branches that help it climb nearby trees. The pods I found today were fresh and green but I hear they dry to a coppery brown, which would certainly be reminiscent of a penny.

Native to Florida, the plant provides a crucial service along the coast by helping to stabilize the shoreline. The early indigenous peoples of the area utilized the bark and leaves of the plant to stun fish, leading to its other common name, Fish Poison Vine.