Doodlebug Compound

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Antlion Pits, Little Manatee River State Park, Florida July 2020

Antlion larvae prefer to excavate their inverted cone traps in soft sand under trees where ants and other insects might traipse. This must’ve been an ideal spot, I’ve not seen this density in one location before – it was a plethora of pits!

There are over 2,000 species of antlions found mainly in warm regions around the world. They are classified in the family Myrmeleontidae which stems from two Greek words; ant (myrmex) and lion (leon). As for the common name, Doodlebug, that derived from the strange designs they create in the sand while searching for the perfect pit spot.

Depending on resources (or lack thereof) antlions can remain in the larval stage for up to three years. After pupating, they emerge as delicate, flying objects that resemble lacewings. They also undergo a lifestyle change, many of them subsisting on nectar and pollen for their brief adulthood (roughly a month).

There were antlions in the Sonoran Desert where I grew up and I spent many a summer day tickling the side of a trap with a blade of grass, trying to coax one into grabbing hold so that I could pull it out of the sand and examine it. I don’t find them visually appealing but I do admire their hunting prowess. As you can see in the video below, they have some mad skills!

Bittersweet Solace

This showy bush caught my eye a couple months back but the photos ended up buried in my archive until recently. As the shape of the leaves, flowers, and fruit all suggest, Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is in the same family as the tomato.

Native to Europe and Asia it has been in North America since the 1800s, probably brought over for its many medicinal purposes, including warding off witchcraft. Necklaces were woven from the branches and worn for protection from the “evil eye”. *

The first part of its binomial actually refers to this attribute, stemming from the Latin root word for solace. The second, describes the taste of the fruit which, while favored by birds, is mildly poisonous to humans.

*Now that I know this maybe I’ll bring some home. I’m not necessarily superstitious but with the way this year is going, it couldn’t hurt. At the very least, it might be pretty.

The Sunshine City

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Mural, St. Petersburg, Florida July 2020

I live near the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Treasure Island. While I really enjoy my little community, my experience here has been greatly enhanced by my proximity to the vibrant city of St. Petersburg, which spans the southeastern part of the Pinellas Peninsula.

St. Pete was founded in 1888 and, I was surprised to recently learn, is currently the fifth largest city in the state. During my explorations it certainly hasn’t felt like a big metropolis.

Though the Burg is loaded with history, nature, and cultural attractions its main claim to fame is as “The Sunshine City”. I hail from Tucson which averages 360 days of sun a year, so it is no surprise that I should feel at home here in this area (which bests that record by one day). St. Pete is even in the Guinness Book of World Records for most consecutive days of sunshine with 768 days (1967-69).

Final note, it’s been 74 years since a hurricane has directly impacted the city. Here’s hoping that streak continues…

 

Searching for Shark Teeth

Took advantage of a lovely afternoon to zip down to Manasota Key near Venice, Florida. While my beach is wonderful, the sand down along this stretch of coast is famous for offering up fossilized shark teeth.

Venice is known as “The Shark Tooth Capital of the World” thanks to the erosion of the Peace River Formation. These loosely consolidated limestones and gravel beds formed 20 to 2.5 million years ago and are loaded with marine fossils. Since a single shark can produce over 25,000 teeth in its lifetime it is no surprise that there’s an abundance of these in the fossil record.

I was a woman on a mission; in all my beachcombing outings along the Pacific, Atlantic, and the Gulf I had never found a shark tooth. I was determined to end that unfortunate streak today. Spoiler alert: mission accomplished!

The beach was relatively empty but I encountered one nice lady who gladly showed me her treasures and offered some helpful tips. I have pretty good eyesight so I was prepared once I understood the key identifiers.

While some folks dig and sift, I opted to amble along the swash line looking for dark-colored objects (ranging from red to black) that were triangular-shaped and shiny.

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No Sifting Needed

After a few hours, I had a pocketful of permineralized dentitia and a some other fossils that are fragments of either whale or fish bones.

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Fossilized Shark Teeth

I didn’t stumble upon any real trophy pieces, most were badly eroded, but one still had serrated edges which is cool. What a wonderful way to spend a day!

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Fossilized Shark Tooth Showing Serrations

Just a Hop, Skip, and Jump

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Treasure Island, Florida August 2020

Yesterday evening I walked south on my beach for the first time in months. I lingered outside of Ka’Tiki to listen to the band for a few minutes and noticed this sign across the parking lot.

According to this arrow, my childhood home is just over 2,000 miles away. The vast majority of those miles would be on good ol’ I-10, a road I know well. I’ve already driven the entire length twice in my life and I imagine I’ll do it again someday (but I’m not in any hurry to do so).