Smooth and Shiny

Found this sizable, deceased insect on my back porch a couple weeks ago (it measured at least an inch long). After a bit of searching I was able to identify it as a female Smooth Ox Beetle (Strategus antaeus) – the males of this species sport long horns as do other beetles in that family. It is closely related to the Rhinoceros Beetle I found last year about this time.

I wasn’t able to learn much more about the species, except that the ones found here in Florida tend to grow larger and sport darker colors compared to those living in northern climates. Presumably something to do with the 361 days of sunshine we have down here in this part of Florida?

More Than Art

Mondays are free admission days at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, the official art museum of Florida. While that was enough of an inducement, I was equally delighted wandering the grounds of the sprawling 66-acre estate as I was the museum’s 21 galleries.

The compound, which currently consists of the art museum and library, Ca’ d’Zan (the Ringling mansion), two Circus museums, and a performing arts theater, as well as several distinct gardens and ponds, is perfectly situated along Sarasota Bay.

The handsome estate is an enduring legacy for the enterprenurial showman. Born in Iowa to German immigrants, John Ringling and five of his siblings began their first circus in 1870, when John was merely four years old. I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say, it’s an impressive story: from the early days of charging one penny for admission to John becoming one of the richest men in the world by 1920.

As with many rags to riches stories, this one also saw a major reversal in fortune. John lost most of his money during the Great Depression, when he died in 1936 he had only $311 in the bank. More recently, in 2017, after 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed its tent flaps forever.

The residents of Florida are exceedingly fortunate that John Ringling bequeathed his sprawling estate and art collection to the state. Though the property floundered for the first 60 plus years, it has thrived since 2000 when it was transferred to Florida State University.

I’m looking forward to a return visit when the weather cools off!

Danger Cone

I stumbled across this interesting specimen while strolling around the estate of John Ringling in Sarasota earlier this week (more about the estate soon). Fascinated by the twisted symmetry, I thought it was part of an unraveled pinecone but couldn’t spot the source tree.

Thankfully, Jesse the head landscaper was passing by and he pointed out the tree (even better, he gave me permission to keep the segment). The tree was roped off to protect visitors from the falling cones – larger than coconuts, the cones weigh anywhere from 20-40 pounds.

Araucaria bidwillii, commonly known as the Bunya Pine, is not a true pine at all, instead it is one of the last surviving species of the family Araucariaceae (all but one of which reside in the Southern Hemisphere). This particular species is found in Queensland, Australia and, like most native things down under, it has the ability to kill you.

Which reminds me of an excerpt from Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country”:

[Australia] is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish – are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. … If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.

Not only are the falling cones dangerous but you do not want to be near one when the spiked branches start whipping in the wind. On the other hand, the cones do contain large chunks of edible nutmeat, said to resemble the flavor of chestnuts.

Life > Vacation

A few years ago I read this quote from Rob Hill Sr: “My goal is to build a life I don’t need a vacation from.” It really resonated with me, especially since I was in the midst of a huge life change.

After living in four states in four years (and a few months in Costa Rica), I bought a house here in St. Petersburg last September. This area of Florida has so much to offer: tons of parks and green spaces, easy access to multiple bodies of water (both salty and fresh), dozens of social and environmental nonprofits and colleges, vibrant local restaurants and merchants, and a laid-back, artsy vibe.

After years of searching, I’m grateful to have found my happy place. Where’s yours?

Night Beauty

The climate here along the Central Gulf Coast of Florida is in the humid subtropical category. As such, any number of exotic species thrive here with little or no assistance.

I am familiar with several species of night blooming cereus from the desert southwest, so it was pleasant to see these blooming in my neighbor’s yard this past June.

I have since been able to add a few cuttings of these to my yard since someone placed their unwanted trimmings out by the curb. They are thriving right now and I look forward to their nighttime show next year!